Updated Friday 30 March
The game is almost up for the bishops in the Lords. The only option for them is to put forward a counter-proposal of their own, with a radically reduced number of bishops to be part of a potential appointed element of a reformed chamber. They have not done so in the Lords’ debates on the subject this week. But five, six — even two — bishops, appointed on the basis of ability and capacity, and released from some diocesan responsibilities, could ensure that the national Church could maintain its excellent work in a reformed second chamber.
This article follows on from the Theos report Coming off the bench: The past, present and future of religious representation in the House of Lords which was published in February and can be downloaded from here. At the time, Bill Bowder reported on it: Report finds bishops too political.
This week’s Church Times has letters in response to the article, including from Frank Field and Colin Buchanan.
Update These letters are now available, see If the bishops want a future in the Lords, they need to work on it.
Frank Field writes:
…The impression given by the bishops is like that of their predecessors sitting around, sharpening their quills, and waiting for Prime Minister Peel to come and begin ecclesiastical-committee meetings. This time round they are simply awaiting reform.
The House of Bishops needs to become proactive and introduce its own Bill reforming the place of the Lords Spiritual in the Upper House. But to do this the bishops need to have thought through what is their place in a “modernised” Second Chamber.
Despite the increase in attendance of bishops now, compared with the Thatcher era, most bishops who have places in the Lords do little to justify their existence…
And Colin Buchanan says:
…I wonder whether a few one-line shafts of the obvious would help?
First, if there were 16 bishops taking their seats on the present pecking-order basis, all but the top five would get about nine months’ membership of the House before retirement.
Second, if there were the Bickley solution of “six, five — even two — bishops appointed on the basis of ability . . . and released from some diocesan responsibilities”, then (a) who would appoint them? (b) what would count as “ability”? and © what diocese would want them in absentia?
Third, surely the issue of “100 per cent elected” should be addressed in its own right, not simply on the grounds that it unseats bishops?
Fourth, when will anyone start to couple a changed future for bishops in the Lords with an end of Downing Street’s final say in their appointment as bishops, indefensibly staked, as it is, upon the current expectation of their proceeding to the Lords?