Friday, 10 May 2013

Scrap seats for bishops in the House of Lords?

In the Independent today there is an article by Frank Field MP titled The new Archbishop should stop this gesture politics. It begins:

It is about time the Church became serious about politics. The debacle over its opposition to the Government’s welfare reform programme offers the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, a God-given opportunity to totally reshape the role of bishops in the House of Lords.

A week before the House of Lords voted on key aspects of the Government’s welfare cuts [in March], 43 bishops issued a statement to the effect that this was the most vicious attack on children since Herod slaughtered the innocent. The welfare cuts are serious in the impact they will have on the living standards of some families, but let’s leave aside the judgment as to whether the cuts were almost of a criminal nature. What did the bishops do?

And it continues with this:

…Why doesn’t the Archbishop introduce his own House of Lords Reform Bill? It would surrender most of the bishops’ places that lie unused which should then be redistributed to the different denominations. This bill should give the Archbishop the power to appoint bishops and senior women to the places that would be designated to Anglicans.

Included in the redistribution of seats should be those groups who assert that they have no faith in a Godly presence, but have shown themselves to be concerned about the ethical standards by which individuals and groups live their lives. It would be up to those groups to elect their representatives. If they fail to do so they will find that the political tide runs strongly against them.

Such a move would set both the temper and basis for further reform. It would speak loudly on how voters regard representation as being a fundamental part of our democracy. It would also set in hand how the new House of Lords would be elected, but not on absurd party lines…

The Independent also has a news report about this, Exclusive: Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, urged to scrap most bishops’ seats in House of Lords

A Church of England spokesman said: “This article is an interesting contribution to debate but it does not look as if there is a favourable political context for returning to the subject of constitutional reform just at the moment.” Lambeth Palace did not comment.

Some Church figures believe that Mr Field has misunderstood the way the bishops in the Lords work, saying they do not “vote as a bloc”. They said six bishops voted a total of 14 times on welfare on 19 March.

And an editorial: Editorial: The bishops in the House of Lords are the least of the problem.

There is a curious mistake running through all three of these pieces, namely that the number of seats for bishops is misstated. The correct number is 26.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 10 May 2013 at 9:21am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

"There is a curious mistake running through all three of these pieces, namely that the number of seats for bishops is misstated. The correct number is 26."

I think that this is because Parliament publishes a weekly list of members of the House of Lords online. At present it shows 25 bishops.

It does seem odd at first that the bishops have not asserted their right to influence legislation directly. This seems to be fairly routine, though, which I suspect simply demonstrates that even bishops cannot be everywhere they would like to be.

Good suggestion by Frank Field. A related suggestion: legislation to allow the General Synod (or the individual bishops themselves, or some other body) to nominate alternative clerks in holy orders (or lay persons?) to grace with presence the spiritual benches in the House of Peers. Clerks and persons who do not have the separate and very significant responsibilities of serving dioceses in the way bishops do might properly be expected to sit when the House sits.

Posted by: Jonathan Bell on Friday, 10 May 2013 at 10:24am BST

Yes, there is a vacant seat at the moment, because the Bishopric of Durham is vacant, and likely to remain so for several months, while the CNC is deliberating on the matter, and then the usual delay before the person selected takes up the post.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 10 May 2013 at 10:53am BST

"A Church of England spokesman said...."

Do we know who these people are? It seems the CofE has no problem making quick statements about policy issues, but for whom exactly do these spokesmen speak? If a spokesperson for, say, the Prime Minister says something, he's clearly trying to say what the PM would want said, but who does a spokesman for the CofE think he's speaking for?

Posted by: MarkP on Friday, 10 May 2013 at 2:28pm BST

I'm reminded of the bishop who dreamt that he was making a speech in the House of Lords and woke up only to discover that he actually was!
Would you want to voluntarily give up your seat in the best Dining Club in London?

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 11 May 2013 at 8:03am BST
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