The Church Times reports that the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform has recommended retention of 12 seats for bishops.
…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.”
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)…