Saturday, 24 March 2007

Fewer or none?

Updated Friday 30 March

In last week’s Church Times Paul Bickley of Theos wrote an article about the bishops and the House of Lords, under the title Fewer Lords Spiritual, or none at all. In it he argues convincingly that:

The game is almost up for the bishops in the Lords. The only option for them is to put forward a counter-proposal of their own, with a radically reduced number of bishops to be part of a potential appointed element of a reformed chamber. They have not done so in the Lords’ debates on the subject this week. But five, six — even two — bishops, appointed on the basis of ability and capacity, and released from some diocesan responsibilities, could ensure that the national Church could maintain its excellent work in a reformed second chamber.

This article follows on from the Theos report Coming off the bench: The past, present and future of religious representation in the House of Lords which was published in February and can be downloaded from here. At the time, Bill Bowder reported on it: Report finds bishops too political.

This week’s Church Times has letters in response to the article, including from Frank Field and Colin Buchanan.
Update These letters are now available, see If the bishops want a future in the Lords, they need to work on it.

Frank Field writes:

…The impression given by the bishops is like that of their predecessors sitting around, sharpening their quills, and waiting for Prime Minister Peel to come and begin ecclesiastical-committee meetings. This time round they are simply awaiting reform.

The House of Bishops needs to become proactive and introduce its own Bill reforming the place of the Lords Spiritual in the Upper House. But to do this the bishops need to have thought through what is their place in a “modernised” Second Chamber.

Despite the increase in attendance of bishops now, compared with the Thatcher era, most bishops who have places in the Lords do little to justify their existence…

And Colin Buchanan says:

…I wonder whether a few one-line shafts of the obvious would help?

First, if there were 16 bishops taking their seats on the present pecking-order basis, all but the top five would get about nine months’ membership of the House before retirement.

Second, if there were the Bickley solution of “six, five — even two — bishops appointed on the basis of ability . . . and released from some diocesan responsibilities”, then (a) who would appoint them? (b) what would count as “ability”? and © what diocese would want them in absentia?

Third, surely the issue of “100 per cent elected” should be addressed in its own right, not simply on the grounds that it unseats bishops?

Fourth, when will anyone start to couple a changed future for bishops in the Lords with an end of Downing Street’s final say in their appointment as bishops, indefensibly staked, as it is, upon the current expectation of their proceeding to the Lords?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 12:43pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

There should be no unelected religionists in parliament at all.

If people wish to make decisions on our behalf, go and get elected.

Posted by: Merseymike on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 4:19pm GMT

Bishops running scared of this secular Government...their cowardice is shameful...
the best thing that could happen for Christianity in the UK is for the Anglican Church to break free from the state. Then we could sort out the real Christians from the pretenders and disturb the comfort zones of the Anglican Bishops, Clergy and lay members who are only involved with the church for the status and the state privileges and comforts that go with it. I hope these hangers on leave in droves when the Anglican Church breaks free from the Government's secular control.

The Christian tree in the UK has needed pruning of it's dead wood for many many years!

Posted by: Simon Icke on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 4:21pm GMT

I wonder exactly how many members of this 'Christian tree' actually exist in the UK.

A tiny minority, I would say - who should thus be treated like any other pressure group.

I do tend to agree that the CofE largely supports establishment because of the benefits which flow from it. I used to think it kept the church moderate and in touch but lately that doesn't seem to be the case, and I think that the church is moving in a very different direction from contemporary society. To be frank, I prefer the latter.

Posted by: Merseymike on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 5:30pm GMT

Hmmm, cutting the bishops out of the House of Lords sounds to me like a recipe for boosting secularization in Great Britain, especially if Christians embrace the reform as an excuse to remove everyone who isn't sufficiently committed to the causes popular in some Christian circles at this time. While increasing secularization would be good for defending against the errors popular in the church today it would make it significantly harder to defend against the errors popular in the rest of society. All in all, it's probably a bad trade off.

Jon

Posted by: Jon on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 7:04pm GMT

So you'll be staying then, Simon Icke?

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 8:08pm GMT

I agree with Craig Nelson's suggestion that we have 26 rabbis in the upper chamber Or at least more than now -- is Julia Neuberger the only one ? Is Jakobovits still there ?

I would propose Lionel Blue, Jonathan Romain, Jonathan Sachs, Sheila Shulman and Hadassah Davies for starters.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Saturday, 24 March 2007 at 9:57pm GMT

Merseymike wrote:
If people wish to make decisions on our behalf, go and get elected.

Well, I suppose it depends what you mean by 'elected'. After all, bishops are elected -- they are elected by the Prime Minister from a choice of two names given him.

Seriously though, this comes down to how all the members of the Upper House should be chosen, and I am utterly utterly unconvinced that this should be popular election of professional politicians: we already have a system like that for the Lower House, so what on earth is the point of doing he same or similar for a second chamber? Do we really need another house of full-time professional politicians?

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Sunday, 25 March 2007 at 4:04pm BST

On the effectiveness of Anglican bishops, compare the courage of Pius Ncube, RC archbishop of Bulawayo, in openly opposing Robert Mugabe (who, incidentally, was raised and educated by Roman Catholic priests), with the craven-ness of the Anglican communion in dealing with Nolbert Kunonga, Anglican bishop of Harare. It is difficult to conceive of a more thorough-going example of episcopal corruption than bishop Kunoga, yet when Rowan Williams recently "confronted" him, the communique issued did not amount to a slap on the wrist for the bishop. Would seem that Williams has a terminal case of post-colonial guilt.

Posted by: lapinbizarre on Sunday, 25 March 2007 at 5:59pm BST

Would that no bishop were willing to serve in a government that bears the sword. The real reason to disestablish is to free the Church from entanglement with the State's violence. But don't hold your breath. In the U.S. the Church is disestablished but still entangled.

Posted by: Bill Carroll on Sunday, 25 March 2007 at 6:22pm BST

My view is clear the chamber and elect everyone, and then elect them when they retire or resign - it weakens the power of whips, makes it more likely people are elected for who they are even if parties put people up, and far more likely that experience will count. As the years pass the legitimacy of the long ago elected would reduce against the regular House of Commons, but they would still have status. Bishops could stand for such elections and they could produce leaflets laying out what they believe and think. Come to think of it, why not have, er, elections inside a Church too? Head patting can follow on from actual election.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 25 March 2007 at 8:42pm BST

Simon ; I simply don't believe that those who legislate over us should be unelected.

The role of the second chamber should be different but I see no reason why it needs to be appointed. If expertise is needed, then co-options (non-voting) at committee level can be brought in

I would also have the second chamber elected by PR to ensure no party would ever have a majority. There are creative methods available in order to elect a second house, but I would rather have professional politicians than bishops, who I think should definitely not be in the second chamber. Religion and politics should be separated.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 25 March 2007 at 10:21pm BST

Although a Catholic I would strongly oppose the removal of the bishops from the House of Lords. The constitutional formulae- e.g.'...with the consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal...' appear to require their presence. Organisation of systematic representation from other religious or spiritual currents is unrealistic (for instance Catholic clergy are barred from undertaking a legislative role).A diminution in their number would be interpreted as a weakening of Christianity in neighbouring countries, e.g.(but not only) France where its traditional form is under attack. The abolition of the bishops would justify a unicameralist solution as all link with the original composition of the Lords would thereby be lost.

Posted by: Clive Sweeting on Monday, 26 March 2007 at 11:52am BST

Simon et al

I mourn the passing of church involvement in State politics. But if we want to solve the problems of terrorism, then we need to make theology accountable to the public good. We also need to make it clear that a desire to control the running of an economy or state is idolatry. We also need to make it clear that desiring the repression of one sector in theology's name, is Baal-like theolgy and not from God. We need to set the precedent in States that have not yet run amock, or there will be no States that have not run amock.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 27 March 2007 at 12:47pm BST

Oh, yes, let's. We simply must find a way so that bishops can continue to be implicit in killing; there isn't enough of that.

And, certainly, it's crucial for the church to have this wonderful outlet to embarrass itself by opposing gay rights legislation over and over again, while its own theology says that gay people should have civil rights.

And isn't it wonderful the way the House of Commons can order the church around.

So, more directly and less sacrastically:

The bishops are in the House of Lords not because this is a way of giving the church a voice, but because it is an excellent way of suborning them and stifling their voice. It is time for the precious Erastianism of the Church of England to wither on the vine.

But there aren't enough bishops who refuse their seat in the House of Lords, because they just look so *pretty* against those lovely red couches.

Posted by: thomas bushnell, bsg on Tuesday, 27 March 2007 at 6:58pm BST
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