Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Archbishop gives evidence on House of Lords reform plan

Updated again Sunday 4 December

The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared yesterday evening before the Joint Committee on the House of Lords Reform Bill.

The draft bill, together with explanatory notes, is available here (PDF).

There is also a House of Lords Library research note on Religious Representation (PDF).

This Library Note provides background information on the role of Bishops in the second chamber, and in the context of the Government’s proposals for reform of the House, it examines arguments made both in favour and against their continued membership. The Note then considers further issues arising from the Government’s proposals, as well as arguments made regarding the formal representation of other denominations or faiths in Parliament.

The written evidence previously submitted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and York is over here (PDF).

Parliament TV has archived its video coverage of the session.

Update A transcript is now available as a PDF file: Draft House of Lords Reform Bill - uncorrected oral evidence from: The Archbishop of Canterbury, THEOS, and the British Humanist Association.

News reports concentrated on one aspect of his remarks:

Telegraph Martin Beckford Archbishop of Canterbury backs ‘fast-tracking’ women bishops to Lords

Guardian Riazat Butt Rowan Williams urges fast-tracking of women bishops to Lords

The same session also heard from Theos and the British Humanist Association. The former submitted this written evidence (.doc file). The latter has published this: Church and humanists clash over Bishops in parliament.

Update
Nelson Jones at the New Statesman has written A very British anomaly.

…In what was perhaps his most audacious comment in favour of the status quo, Rowan Williams suggested that for him and his fellow prelates to be ejected from a reformed second chamber (something that doesn’t form part of the present reform proposals) “would be to send a signal that the voice of faith is not welcomed” in the legislative process. It would represent, in other words, not just a snub to the Church of England but for religion as a whole.

But that’s nonsense. In no other democracy would such a confusion of religious leadership and law-making even be imagined. Bishops, and other faith leaders, play a valuable and significant role in society. So do members of both houses of Parliament. But it is in no sense the same job. Taking bishops out of the House of Lords would free them to devote more time to their diocesan responsibilities; to become better bishops. Sometimes the only thing to do with an historical anomaly is to end it.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 9:50am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

The BHA statement points out - correctly, as far as I know - that 'The UK is the only democracy in the world to have reserved seats for clerics in its parliament'.

However, it neglects to mention that this is a two-way street: the Church of England is the only church (or similar religious or atheist organisation) in the world to make itself accountable for its doctrine and practice to the people at large, through vesting the top-level powers of visitation in a democratic state (section 8 of the Act of Supremacy 1558 still being in force).

I happen to think this democratic accountability is a truly progressive constitutional arrangement, and a great benefit to Church, state, and people alike. But with it comes the need to recognise that, while the Church of England makes itself uniquely subject to the will of Parliament in this way, then it has a moral case for unique representation in Parliament.

Posted by: Feria on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 11:54am GMT

'..while the Church of England makes itself uniquely subject to the will of Parliament in this way, then it has a moral case for unique representation in Parliament'

That is a very good argument, Feria, and worthy of serious thought. I have never thought of it in those terms.

However, don't you think ++Rowan rather undercuts your argument by stating that the role of Bishops in the HofL is not to represent the CofE, but to to represent a “non-partisan, civic perspective”?

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 9:53pm GMT

Yes indeed Feria! Let's not forget that parliamentary discussions about women bishops were posted on this site only a few days ago. Legislators don't seem to have any objections to debating the finer points of Anglican ecclesiology in parliament, do they?

Posted by: Fr James on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 11:02pm GMT

Nelson Jones FTW!

"Taking bishops out of the House of Lords would free them to devote more time to their diocesan responsibilities; to become better bishops."

Now wouldn't THAT be refreshing? ;-/

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 11:08pm GMT

Edward - looking at paragraph 34 in particular, it looks like the Archbishops use the word "representative" to describe what constitutional theory textbooks call a "delegate", i.e. someone who is directed how to speak and vote by his/her constituents. They then use the word "connector" for that which the textbooks call a "Burkean representative", i.e. someone who, although they represent a constituency, decides how to speak and vote according to his/her own conscience. If that reading is correct, then the Archbishops' description of the relationship between the Lords Spiritual and the Church corresponds to the classical understanding of the relationship between MPs and their constituents.

Posted by: Feria on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at 5:55pm GMT

I am so glad that when we here in the USofA decided to be independent that we went out of our way to be as un-British as possible. We don't have these problems.

(Of course one could argue that the problems we have are no better, and perhaps even worse, but it's good that we have no clerics permenantly installed in civil government.)

Posted by: Deacon Charlie Perrin on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at 6:48pm GMT

Feria: "the Church of England is the only church (or similar religious or atheist organisation) in the world to make itself accountable for its doctrine and practice to the people at large, through vesting the top-level powers of visitation in a democratic state"

No, the Church of Denmark and the Church of Norway have Government Ministers for the Church who tell the organisation what to do. I think the disestablished Church of Sweden still has a much wider democratic accountability than the C of E too. I would imagine that in Iceland and Finland the situation might well be similar. Others here will know better than I.

There may well be other churches in similar positions: to assert in a sweeping way that C of E is uniquely accountable to a democratic state is wild Anglocentric exaggeration of the sort that betrays a certain insular unawareness of our near European neighbours and fellow members of the Porvoo Agreement churches.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at 8:27pm GMT


Fr Mark - I did consider the case of the Scandinavian (and Netherlands) Churches. I thought I'd managed to avoid implying anything false about them, by being specific in my international comparison about the mechanism of accountability being visitation. Was I wrong about that? In either case, you're right to point out that there's some valuable democratic accountability going on in those Churches too.

Posted by: Feria on Thursday, 1 December 2011 at 11:41am GMT

Feria: what do you mean exactly that the mechanism of accountability is visitation? It's not a phrase I would have used about the C of E, though I understand how it used in relation to Oxbridge colleges, for example.

The Queen of Denmark is head of the Danish Church; the King of Norway is head of the Norwegian Church; I believe that the King of Sweden is still head of the Swedish Church, though it has been disestablished (and he certainly is prominently seated when attending the meetings of Svenska Kyrkan's synod). The Scandinavian countries (nearly?) all have Church Ministers who tell the church what to do in rather more direct terms than Parliament does in England, I think. But then they all have much wider popular participation in church governance through the election of the bishops by a broad franchise of all church members in each diocese (i.e. all those who pay church tax). So, I would say that they make themselves much more accountable to the people at large than the C of E does, being the ever more inward-looking gerontocratic oligarchy that it is at the moment.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 2 December 2011 at 4:40pm GMT


Fr Mark: If you're familiar with the concept of visitation as it relates to the Oxbridge peculiars, then I think you've got the right idea of what I meant by it in the context of places that are not peculiars. As the OED has it, 'an official visit of inspection, esp. a bishop's examination of a church in his diocese' - or an archbishop's examination of a diocese in his province, or the Crown's examination of a province in England. Visitation wasn't, in itself, particularly crucial to my original argument, not least since other means of democratic accountability are much more commonly applied these days.

Nevertheless, when I previewed my first post, with its sentence about "the only church in the world...", and remembered that the Scandinavian and Netherlands churches are also accountable to democratic states, I reassured myself 'That's OK: in that sentence, I have - more by luck than judgement - been so specific about the mechanism of accountability that my claim about "the only church in the world" is technically true.'

Reading around the subject, it looks increasingly likely that - at least in the case of Norway - my self-reassurance was simply wrong. I apologise for that.

Posted by: Feria on Saturday, 3 December 2011 at 1:44pm GMT

Well to compare apples with apples, in all the other senior Dominions the Anglican church is not established, and life has gone on apace for all.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Monday, 5 December 2011 at 3:20am GMT
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