Comments: Reform of the House of Lords

So, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are automatically members of the new House of Lords (as they were of the old). That makes 5 bishops.

There are then a further 7 (making a total of 12) selected from other bishops. At present, the selection is made by seniority of appointment, but the draft Bill allows them to be selected by any means.

No other faith has an automatic place, although no doubt senior faith leaders will be eligible for one of the ordinary appointed places just as they may at present be given life peerages on an ad hoc basis.

The senior Roman Catholic layman, the Duke of Norfolk, loses his place in the House of Lords despite retaining the office and ceremonial duties as Earl Marshal.

Posted by badman at Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 5:17pm BST

Isn't it positively bizarre to think that 12 bishops can have any legitimacy in an otherwise wholly elected House?

Posted by Lister Tonge at Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 5:24pm BST

The Lords isn't all!- I heard a couple of days ago from faculty members that the UK's oldest and largest theology faculty at Oxford is very soon due to be replaced with a Department for Religious Studies.

Along with several other similar changes...

What is the world coming to?

Posted by andyT at Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 6:23pm BST

The British Humanist Association complains that these proposals actually increase the proportion of bishops in the House of Lords from 3% now to 4% in the proposed (smaller) House.

http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/808

Posted by badman at Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 7:49pm BST

I've summarised some of the salient points here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lords_Spiritual#House_of_Lords_Reform

Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winch stay as "named Lords Spiritual"; the other 7 (initially 16, then 11) are "ordinary Lords Spiritual" and are chosen by the Church from the other diocesans (initially only from the currently Lords Spiritual).

No mention is made about whether their terms (1 electoral period (3 elections)) are renewable, but one presumes they must be...

Posted by Dan Barnes-Davies at Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 8:17pm BST

This sounds like good sense. The old seigneurial idea of lordship in civil government is surely in need of urgent review. It survives in the Church by tradition - a tradition that stems from a mainly patriarchal understanding of God's rule over God's people. This concept has changed to the point where society has come to realise that, as Saint Paul reminds us, even in the Church: "In Christ, there is neither male nor female" etc.

Therefore, it is maybe the right time to abolish the idea of male-only representatives of the Church of England in the Upper House of Parliament thereby ensuring equal representation of the broad concept of 'Church' in that institution - while it is still functioning as part of government process

12 C.of E. Bishops would seem to be quite enough to represent the State Church. Perhaps, also, in a more pluralistic society, the matter of other Faith groups ought now to be considered as worthy of representation - besides the Church of England - as part of the non-elected membership of the House of Lords. This would be more democratic.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 12:45am BST

'it is maybe the right time to abolish the idea of male-only representatives of the Church of England in the Upper House of Parliament'

Oh dear, Fr Ron... I should have known you would be able to make this about equality and women's ordination. Of course, when women do become bishops, they would have just as much right to sit in the House of Lords.

This proposal demonstrates the Govt's complete lack of understanding about its own processes. The Upper Chamber is there for revision and scrutiny - if it is mostly elected, then as the good Bishop says, we will have just another set of professional politicians who bring their own agenda for power... And anyway, voter apathy is fairly high these days, and so turnout is low. What is to be gained by asking people to vote in yet more elections?

Posted by Fr James at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 8:21am BST

The fundamental problem with trying to make representation of religious faiths more equitable (aside from increasing the entanglement between church and state) is that many denominations/religions either have doctrinal obstacles to representation (the Church of Scotland, the other quasi-established church in the realm; and the Roman Catholic Church) or have internal organizations that do not allow for representation (Quakers, Congregationalists, Muslims, Jews). Members of those religious groups have to express their preferences the way that other ordinary people do: at the ballot box. I would be interested to know whether anyone can name another legislature that has religious representatives in it, who sit simply by virtue of their office. (The Iranian Council of Guardians doesn't count, because it's more like a Council of State; the only one I know of is Bhutan, which until 2007 had representative Buddhist monks... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tshogdu)

Posted by Scot Peterson at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 9:42am BST

It's fascinating how those who advocate disestablishment or the unseating of Bishops in the House of Lords can and do at the same time argue that Parliament should be able to override the General Synod, should the women bishops legislation fall. Just an observation!

Posted by Benedict at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 4:44pm BST

Yes, Scot, the Tynwald of the Isle of Man has the Bishop of Sodor and Man in it as of right.

Posted by Wilf at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 9:06pm BST

The White Paper seems to be a little bit woolly when it comes to defining what a bishop is. It doesn't make explicit that it means diocesan bishops (excluding Canterbury, York, Durham, London and Winchester, not to mention Sodor & Man and Gibraltar) are eligible for the 7 other seats, and not various assistant bishops. After all, the latter are too busy being bishops! The White Paper also has uneasy wording like "A vacancy would arise if a Bishop ... ceases to be a Bishop".

I think the official CofE response is pretty good, pointing out the dangers of party-political control of the Upper Chamber. However, I am uneasy with the theological implications of bishops as legislators in the first place.

Posted by Gareth Hughes at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 9:22pm BST

Fr James: "What is to be gained by asking people to vote in yet more elections?"

I think that was pretty much the way the bishops opposed to the Reform Act were speaking c.1830. Fortunately, their opinions were ignored, after a certain amount of ridicule and obloquy had been directed at their right reverend persons, and Britain went ahead on the path to modern democracy despite them.

Posted by Fr Mark at Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 10:15pm BST

"Oh dear, Fr Ron... I should have known you would be able to make this about equality and women's ordination. Of course, when women do become bishops, they would have just as much right to sit in the House of Lords." - Fr. James -

Precisely, dear Father. That is what I would have expected. If Bishops must be in government via the House of Lords, then, by all means, let half of them be women. At least there would be a modicum of real wisdom in that House.

There might have to be a change of name though: House of Peers? Men do need their peers (women) to work efficiently - in both Church and State.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 19 May 2011 at 10:28am BST
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