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House of Lords reform and the bishops

Updated

The Church Times reports that the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform has recommended retention of 12 seats for bishops.

See Bishops’ dozen in reformed Lords.

…The draft Bill proposes that the bishops are to remain able to claim allowances as other peers do. In matters of the “serious offence pro­vision”, the draft Bill assumes that the bishops would be “subject to the disciplinary procedures established by the Church of England”.

The General Synod would need to reconsider how bishops were appointed to the Lords in future, he said, and in particular whether it kept seats for the two Archbishops, and the Bishops of Winchester, London and Durham, as has always been the case.

Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the joint select committee on the draft reform Bill that the House of Bishops accepted the need for “a proportionate reduc­tion”, but he said that bishops “would have to face how we best facili­tate the participation of smaller numbers of bishops in a more demanding regime” (News, 2 December).

Dr Williams said that the bishops “are not there to represent the Church of England’s interests: they are there as bishops of the realm, who have taken on the role of attempting to speak for the needs of a wide variety of faith communities.”

Not everybody is pleased about this, including the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association.

Today’s Observer has an article by Catherine Bennett titled Lords reform: Will nobody finally rid us of these bumptious buffoons? and a strap line: As bishops remain in the upper house, hopes of any substantial change in this antiquated chamber are dying fast.

Yet more evidence for the power of prayer: Anglican bishops are to remain in a newly legitimised House of Lords. How else do you explain it? It seems unlikely, anyway, that popular, sublunary opinion was involved in this decision by the joint committee on House of Lords reform. Polls indicate that three out of five think these religious professionals should not have seats in the legislature. Last week the BBC reported that there would be, contrary to previous reports, room for 12 bishops in a reformed house, down from the current 26. Not so much a reform then, as an economy.

Guaranteed places for a dozen male prelates who are guided by religious laws and selected by a church hierarchy which denies equal rights to women and gay people and the dying, but incapacitated: if this is any measure of the democratic zeal of the joint committee on House of Lords reform, you wonder if they shouldn’t just give up now to save disappointment, or legal challenges, later. If the churchmen, with only historic precedent to justify their seats, can survive in a much smaller, reformed house, then a similar case can be made – and apparently is being made – for the continued existence of the Lords’ vast numbers of bumptious hereditaries, placemen, poltroons, soaks, spongers and, in a smaller yet equally tenacious way, perjurers and thieves? Not forgetting a host of eminent appointments from the world of telly. Brown’s protege, Lord Sugar, for example. He has voted 14 times out of a possible 273. And now Lord Fellowes, who appears to have spoken four times in the last year (keen for a lord) since being honoured for his services to Downton Abbey…

According to the Observer last week though, those who attend least frequently will be the first to be ejected, see Lazy peers to face axe first in Lords reforms.

Chris Bryant writing in the Indendent yesterday though the bishops should go:

…There’s a lot of moaning in the Lords, and it’s not just the threat of the Lords Reform Bill that is causing coronetted coronaries. There’s also the matter of their lordships’ recess as there is a threat that they will rise early before the new session. This is going down badly as peers lose £300 every day the House is not sitting. This includes the bishops, even though they are paid full-time stipends by the Church of England and are provided with rent-free palaces, cars and chauffeurs (or a chaplain).

Last October, for instance, bishops claimed £15,300 in attendance allowance, including the Bishop of Chester’s £2,700, Leicester’s £2,250 and most extraordinarily, London’s £900. Which brings me to the joint committee on Lords reform, which has voted to keep 12 of the 26 bishops. I just don’t get it. How can a national legislature have the representatives of just one church from only one of the four nations?

Wouldn’t it be kinder to release them from their rochet and chimere duties so that they can tend to their dioceses? After all, the Catholic Church seems to make a far more effective political splash than the CofE and its clergy are not allowed to sit in a parliament.

George Pitcher, writing in the Mail thought otherwise, see Our bishops have been handed a God-given chance in the House of Lords to end religious bickering.

Update

Andrew Copson has just published Getting the Bishops out.

I’ve just come back from a series of local BBC radio interviews on the place of Bishops in House of Lords reform. This is following the disappointing news that the parliamentary Joint Committee on Lords Reform is to recommend Bishops remain in a reformed chamber. I gave oral evidence to the committee last year but obviously they liked Rowan Williams’ evidence more.

I can’t think of a single good argument for automatic places for bishops remaining in a reformed chamber. We don’t know what the committee (one of the members of which is himself a bishop) will give as the rationale for its poor decision but it’s bound to be one or more of the following fatuities (all of them were made by the Bishop of Hereford at some point this morning)…

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Laurence RobertsFather Ron SmithLapinbizarre/Roger Mortimerpeterpi - Peter GrossClive Recent comment authors
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Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

It had been rumoured that Wales and Scotland Anglicans would get a seat …..

Father Ron Smith
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There are no Bishops in the single House of Parliament in Aotearoa/New Zealand, but I don’t see that as a great difficulty for the governance of our freely-elected parliamentary system.

Christians ought not align themselves completely with any system of government – except perhaps their own – but preferably not with world-domination as a prospect.

Kennedy
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Kennedy

It had been rumoured that Wales and Scotland Anglicans would get a seat …..

Just checking the date before replying….

From a Scottish perspective… Why? The SEC is not an established church.

Iain McLean
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Iain McLean

Most TA readers already know, but: 1. 12 C of E bishops in the legislature, all male, scales up to about 57 faith representatives total, mostly female, if you are to represent faith (and what about non-faith?); 2. Church of Scotland, Baptists, and Catholics all rejected the 2000 offer of representation in the legislature for their own theological reasons (all good, and all different); 3. The bishops have acted as protectors of an interest group, not as protectors of religion. See their behaviour over Equality Act 2010, and behaviour of some of them in attempting to block religious freedom for… Read more »

Scot Peterson
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Scot Peterson

What Iain said.

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

Ah….. a master class …. thanks Iain!

kennedy fraser
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kennedy fraser

I seem to have fallen victim to a hunt-the-gowk as I looked at the date/time on my RSS feed rather than the original post….

david rowett
Guest

Always strikes me as faintly amusing when the secularising left wing (and I speak as a quondam ‘Guardianista’) delivers paeans of praise to the bishops when they vote against repressive government policies (eg the benefits cap) and then forget this speedily as soon as it is convenient. The comments about opposition to euthanasia, for example, neatly ignores the majority opinion against it by medics! But what the hell, any stick….

robert Ian Williams
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robert Ian Williams

Disgusted..that a denomination that has less than a million regularly attending its services and baptizes less than a fifth of the new babies is given such a privileged position.

Father David
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Father David

Twelve bishops in the Lords sounds quite Biblical to me. Presumably Cantuar, Ebor, Londin, Dunelm and Winton remain but how will they decide which other seven overseers join them on the red benches to become the Lords Spiritual?

Clive
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Clive

For once I find myself in agreement with the mainstream view on TA 🙂 No Bishops in government, and time to disestablish the church and let the monarch hold whatever faith he or she chooses – or none at all.

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
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Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

Something to be viewed and understood in the context of historical accident, RIW – like the bishop of Rome as head of the universal church.

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

I want to echo or parallel Fr. Ron Smith’s comments. There is no official established church in the USA — it’s flatly forbidden — but despite this, nay, BECAUSE of this, religion flourishes. And, despite very noisy protestations by the self-martyring wing of the Christian religion to the contrary, religion is quite active in the public square. Too active, IMHO, but then I fall victim at times to what david rovett so succinctly describes in his first sentence. Furthermore, there is no bar — except internally within religions themselves — to the ministers of any faith running for legislative office.… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
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Laurence Roberts

‘like the bishop of Rome as head of the universal church.’

What are you talking about ?

NO, no, no , no. Never.

Read JC Ryle’s ‘The True Church’ pleeease.

If you confuse the RC denomination with ‘the universal church’ are you an Anglican ?

Why do so many here concede so much to Rome ?

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

Irony, Laurence.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“like the bishop of Rome as head of the universal church.” – Crazy-Rabbit –

I really thought that the pope was only Head of the Roman Catholics. He certainly does not have any jurisdiction over the Orthodox Churches of the East of any of the ‘Separated Brethren and Sistren’ of the numerous other Christian Churches.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Lapin, I sometimes enjoy irony on this site. However, we do have an odd sort of irony appearing from time to time from, for example; RIW, who is actually a Roman Catholic who seems to be much more interested in dismissing the politics of his old love – evangelical Anglicanism.

It does help to post under one’s own banner – so to speak.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Irony, Laurence.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Oops ! Thanks Lapinb