Sunday, 1 April 2012

House of Lords reform and the bishops


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.


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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Categorised as: Church of England

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

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 1 April 2012 at 9:55pm BST

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.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 12:17am BST

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.

Posted by: Kennedy on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 8:44am BST

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 Quakers, Unitarians and Jews (who seek it for themselves, not to impose on others);
4. Letting Welsh and Scots bishops into the legislature, suggested by Martin on April 1, entails repeal of Acts of Union 1706/7 and Welsh Church Act 1914.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 10:11am BST

What Iain said.

Posted by: Scot Peterson on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 10:50am BST

Ah..... a master class .... thanks Iain!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 11:25am BST

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....

Posted by: kennedy fraser on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 11:44am BST

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....

Posted by: david rowett on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 1:48pm BST

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.

Posted by: robert Ian Williams on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 4:54pm BST

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?

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 5:35pm BST

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.

Posted by: Clive on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 5:37pm BST

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

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 7:02pm BST

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. There probably have been others, but I clearly remember a "Father Drinan" being a very effective voice for liberal points of view on the floor of the US House of Representatives in the early 1970s -- until the Roman Catholic Church literally told him to shut up, finish out his term, and report to a monastery.
So, why not have no Lords Spiritual, let each faith make its own rules about clergy or minister participation in politics, and let them seek public office the way any other person in England would seek to run for Parliament or the reformed House of Lords?

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 7:53pm BST

'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 ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 10:22pm BST

Irony, Laurence.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Tuesday, 3 April 2012 at 11:44am BST

"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.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 3 April 2012 at 11:49am BST

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.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 4 April 2012 at 1:35am BST

Irony, Laurence.

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

Oops ! Thanks Lapinb

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 4 April 2012 at 3:48am BST
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