Comments: House of Lords reform: what about bishops?

Pardon a yank's observation but isn't the whole House of Lords nothing but special privilege based on ancient prerogatives gained by money along with raping and pillaging the losers in the mists of history?

Posted by Canon G at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 4:20pm BST

Canon G's viewpoint might be true if the HoL were still largely populated by the hereditary peers. Most of these were removed as members a few years ago.

The present Upper House includes a substantial proportion of eminent individuals from many walks of life who bring a level of expertise to its debates that the Lower House does not always possess. The Bishops bring the experience of daily active engagement in their dioceses (very useful to a chamber where many are retired from their main careers).

There are too many superannuated politicians, some of them reputedly awarded seats there in order to ease them out of the Other Place. The reforms will tackle this; though I am not alone in having some qualms about replacing superannuated politicans with second rate current ones!

Posted by David Walker at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 5:21pm BST

A visitor from one of our former colonies asked: "isn't the whole House of Lords nothing but special privilege based on ancient prerogatives gained by money along with raping and pillaging the losers in the mists of history?"

Is that better or worse than having a Senate filled with those who have bought their way into special privilage with money gained by raping and pillaging (metaphorically perhaps) the losers of the present day?

Personally I have no desire to see the present HoL replaced by a clone of the 'other place' and filled with professional party politicians claiming some sort of mandate because they have managed to persuade a minority of the electorate to support them!

I'd prefer a reforming chamber filled with 'Lords' who have already proved their worth in other areas of public life - the professions, the arts, politics, sports, the church, the military and the civil service (etc, etc) and appointed in a transparent and public process.

Anyway, few worthy Bishops, as well as Rabbis, Imams, and even some representatives from the 'anti-God' squad would makes sense *serving* alongside those from many other sectors. The most important thing is that they have a genuine sense of serving society rather than their own personal or sectional interests.

Posted by andrew holden at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 5:47pm BST

The Bishop of Exeter said this about it (from Hansard):

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and welcome the White Paper. We on these Benches will play our part fully in the debates on the recommendations, including those that seek to secure a proper representation of all communities of faith in these islands. Given the evident interest in the future of these Benches shown by many noble Lords, not least during the reading of the Statement, perhaps I could comment on some of the recommendations that relate to the Bishops. While noting that there could be no continuing place for Lords Spiritual in a wholly elected Chamber, we welcome the fact that there would be a place for them within a partially elected Chamber. We therefore acknowledge that in a House with a reduced membership, consideration would need to be given to the appropriate number of Lords Spiritual, which currently stands at 26. We have long held the view that the minimum number required for an effective service to be offered to this House would be 20 and we would therefore welcome a commitment by the Government to discuss this issue with the church. In this context we would be happy to respond to the invitation in the White Paper to review the current system of selection to the Bishops’ Bench—

Lord Bach: My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate for interrupting him, but I wonder if he could ask a question. A great many Members want to come in with their questions, and we have such limited time.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, in welcoming the continuing presence of Lords Spiritual in this House, would the Minister affirm that, whatever the final outcome regarding the place of Lords Spiritual

14 July 2008 : Column 1000

in the House, there is an assurance that there would be no fundamental change in the relationship between church and state?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can gladly so affirm.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 6:31pm BST

A hereditaery legislative chamber is impossible to justify.

However, an all-appointed one is worse.

In removing the bulk of the hereditaries a few years ago, Tony Blair made the Lords a pale imitation of that peurile institution, the Canadian Senate.

And the Canadian Senate is a festering pustule on the arse-end of Canadian democracy.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 6:59pm BST

The last thing we need is more politicans. I suggest random selection. Excluding criminals and members of political parties.

Posted by jake at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 11:06pm BST


I happily nominate myself for Global Overlord. Who's with me?

Posted by Walsingham at Tuesday, 15 July 2008 at 11:37pm BST

Malcolm+ appears to be of the opinion that purchasing a seat of power, whether in the former upstart colonies or in the Lords (cf Lord Black of Cross Harbour - referred to in one satire as Lord Black of Cross Dressing, now of a rather different address than the Lords thanks to a Chicago judge) is somehow preferable to being appointed because of some demonstrated ability to contribute to the governance of a nation. Neither option is perfect; both have their advantages, disadvantages and possibilities for manipulation and outright mistake. But personally, I do not believe that the ability to purchase preferment (viz., simony) or to manipulate public opinion is a primary qualification for participation in government.

Posted by Nom de Plume at Wednesday, 16 July 2008 at 2:10am BST

But is there any need for a second house of Parliament?

Normally, dividing a legislature into separate chambers represents the fact that there are different groups which have separate legal identities and functions. In the feudal era, the landholding aristocracy had special privileges and duties, so it was appropriate to separate them from city merchants and other commoners. In General Synod, Bishops have a separate function and status so it is appropriate to separate them from clergy and laity. In the United States, the Senate serves to represent states which have residual sovereignty in the federal system.

In Britain today, feudal privilege is abolished, and despite some devolution of authority to local legislatures, there is no federal system. So why bother with a second body? If the purpose of such a body is to offer a check upon rash decisions made by the Commons, then requiring multiple approvals or super-majorities can surely provide the same sort of check. And it the idea is to get outside knowledge or expertise, then royal commissions or a system of notice and comment can do the same thing.

Posted by John Bassett at Wednesday, 16 July 2008 at 4:19pm BST

Perhaps, nomdeplume, you'd do me the courtesy of reading what I wrote instead of attributng to me positions created by your fertile imagination.

The Lords, as it was, is a democratic abomnation.

The Lords as it is, or as the Canadian Senate has always been, is worse (since all members are beholden to recent appointees).

It is only by completely overturning my comments that any sane human being could possibly approve of either option, or of the odious person of Babs Amiel's convict hubby.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Wednesday, 16 July 2008 at 7:59pm BST

Step One:
Retain current arrangements for Hereditaries and Bishops. Automatically grant a life-peerage to all members of the supreme court ; who become entitled to sit in the Lords (as ‘Law Lords’) upon their retirement from the court.
Step Two:
A Bill placing a limit on the total number of peers there can be (whether sitting in the Lords or not), at any one time. I suggest 1750 people.
Step Three:
The Life Peers to select 25% of their numbers to sit in the Lords (the remaining 'pool' of Life Peers could, like the pool of Hereditaries, be voted back into the chamber, upon the death of a sitting Life Peer).
Step Four:
100 New Category Peers, selected entirely at random, maybe by a form of national lottery, phased in 20 per year. Replaced one at a time, on the death of one of their number.

Our main focus should be on the house continuing to do what it does best, and strengthening and improving upon those things. There is no public clamour now for the complete removal of the Hereditaries. It is the number of Life Peers which is becoming unwieldy. Meanwhile, the introduction of Random 'Jury' Peers would be a simple and direct way of engaging the general public in parliamentary business.

Posted by Matt at Sunday, 6 June 2010 at 3:35pm BST
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