Thinking Anglicans

Religion or Belief in the UK Parliament

The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group in the UK Parliament has today published a report on Religion or Belief in the UK Parliament: Time for Reflection. Much of it is devoted to the 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords; the report calls for an end to their automatic seats.

There is a comprehensive summary of the report on www.politics.co.uk which starts

MPs, peers call for overhaul of place of religion in Parliament

Humanist MPs and peers have today called for a major rebalancing of the relationship between religion and state in the Westminster Parliament. Their new report calls for parliamentary prayers to be replaced with a ‘time for reflection’ inclusive of all, for the Commons speaker to consider introducing additional forms of religious and pastoral support alongside that provided by the Anglican chaplain, and for an end to automatic seats in Parliament for Anglican bishops.

Time for Reflection: A report of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group on religion or belief in the UK Parliament examines these matters in more detail than ever before, uncovering issues which have restricted non-Anglican parliamentarians from fully participating in the life of Parliament as equally as their Anglican colleagues…

Other coverage includes:

The Guardian Report: C of E’s right to 26 seats in Lords should be repealed.

inews Why the UK has the only parliament with reserved places for clerics – aside from Iran

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James Byron
James Byron
1 year ago

Ironically, their graces’ continued presence in the Lords is a boon to secular humanists: it conjures an utterly false impression that Christianity’s a powerful force in England; and they get to revel in an equally illusionary victim status. Reality’s the precise opposite. Post-WW2, English cultural reformers have cunningly left the outward forms of Christendom intact while gutting its substance, from England’s divorce laws to her courts ruling that Christianity’s of no special status under equality laws. Just compare the situation in America, where Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the living embodiment of a Chick tract atheist, persuaded the courts to drive Christianity… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
1 year ago
Reply to  James Byron

Ms. O’Hair isn’t the living embodiment of anything, she’s quite deceased, and I’m sure she would have told you prior to her being in the state of deceased that she intended to be in that state, once she deceased, for time immemorial. As far as backlash in the USA, I and many others find conservative Christians’ outsize influence on issues such as abortion and gay rights is worrisome. They have a moral point of view, but it should be only one point of view among many, even in Christianity, never mind other religions or ethical systems. The moral implication of… Read more »

James Byron
James Byron
1 year ago

Carving out narrow religious exemptions to wholesale social change is a world away from real power. If the church still had that, equal marriage would never have been enacted in England. Instead, bishops made fools of themselves in opposing the bill in the most overwrought terms and being flatly ignored. I’m all for a ban on religious rites, including prayer, in public (in the American sense) schools. Not only does school prayer unfairly discriminate on religious grounds, the spectacle of bored agnostic teachers parroting words they don’t believe makes a mockery of religion, and turns kids off it. Just wish… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
1 year ago
Reply to  James Byron

“the spectacle of bored agnostic teachers parroting words they don’t believe makes a mockery of religion, and turns kids off it.”

Yes, sir!
I fully agree, and I feel the same way about requiring (USA style) public school students in the USA to recite the (USA) Pledge of Allegiance daily, from their entry into the public school at age six to graduation twelve years later: After the first 20 or 50 or 100 or 500 or 1,000 times, it just becomes a rote exercise to be gotten over quickly, without any thinking about what the words means.

Jo B
Jo B
1 year ago

And yet flag-worship remains very common in the US, and I wonder whether the pledge might have something to do with that.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
1 year ago

Other denominations and, indeed, other religions are represented in the House of Lords, but they enter it through the different door of life peerages. The late Lord Soper, a Methodist, was as prominent in debate as the C of E bishops. Few would have denied the value and strength of his contributions on moral and ethical issues. In the present House are a former Chief Rabbi and several Jewish peers and a Sikh. Doubtless there are Roman Catholics (although not ordained). The presence of the C of E bishops both reflects the fact that it is the Established Church and… Read more »

James Byron
James Byron
1 year ago

Oh, it shouldn’t stop with the bishops. The Lords lost its purpose in 1911, when it ceased to represent the aristocratic estate (agree or disagree, at least this was coherent), and became an absurdly extravagant revising chamber, work that could easily be done by an ad hoc committe of experts.

Mixing secular and religious power corrupts both, turning politicians into moral busybodies, and prelates into, well, politicians. Whether the Lords should be abolished entirely or transformed into an elected Senate, the church is best off out of it.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
1 year ago

The Jewish, Sikh, Methodist and other members of the House of Lords with non-CofE backgrounds attained their positions through the usual procedures open to all who meet the qualifications, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Their religion is incidental to their position. By contrast, the CofE ALWAYS has an allotment of Lords Spiritual. It doesn’t matter whether the full complement of Lords Spiritual, or only one or two of them, are there. The CofE has an advantage no other religion or ethical system has. Their position is dependent on their religion. Lords with a spiritual background may all be… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
1 year ago

I doubt that that is wholly the picture, e.g., in relation to the Chief Rabbi. But very little respect is being paid on this thread to the constitutional position of the HL, as to which I defer to the more expert contributions below from Anthony Archer and Froghole. We are very fortunate to have an enlightened Monarch who, whilst being Supreme Governor of the Church of England, has always taken a wider interest and concern for other religions and denominations. Her relationship with the Chief Rabbi is one example. She is also known to have referred to Basil Hume as… Read more »

Stevie Gamble
Stevie Gamble
1 year ago

As ever, it helps if you’ve read the paper you are commenting on. For example, had you done so you would have known that the place booked by the person attending prayer is booked for the entire day, whether it be in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. That seat greatly increases the chances of being called upon to speak, again in both Houses – see page 18. Thus, the MP seeking to represent his/her constituents is therefore given a choice between honesty about their religious views, and thus possibly disadvantaging their constituents, or taking part in… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
1 year ago
Reply to  Stevie Gamble

With respect, Mr Gamble, please read Anthony Archer’s and Froghole’s posts below for more balanced and reasoned, and, dare I say, more courteous responses. I tend to use the term MP in its traditional connotation of membership of the House of Commons where the Speaker’s Chaplain says prayers – no involvement or presence of bishops there and, of course, the Speaker’s Chaplain does not speak in debates. In the HL the ‘duty’ Bishop can be called to speak at short notice and I accept that it is not always wholly a success, but he/she does not necessarily sit in the… Read more »

Stevie Gamble
Stevie Gamble
1 year ago

Actually, I was striving for the charitable interpretation of your misrepresentation of the facts as deriving from your ignorance of the facts. The alternative was that you were aware of the facts but were deliberately misrepresenting them, and that is something I do not assume. The facts remain unaltered; the paper does not confine itself to the position of bishops and voters have every right to question why it is possible for one particular sect within one particular religion to obtain a sizeable advantage in speaking in both Houses of Parliament and thus unduly influencing legislative outcomes which apply to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
1 year ago
Reply to  Stevie Gamble

My apologies if I may have addressed you incorrectly. I see I was now mistaken in thinking your name was ‘Steve’.

Father Ron Smith
1 year ago

Interesting that the only other theocratic states are in the Muslim world!

James Byron
James Byron
1 year ago

I doubt even the most bloated episcopal ego would claim that their mere presence in the Lords (where they’re listened to politely then ignored) makes England a theocracy!

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
1 year ago

In the US, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have their own Chaplain who opens each day’s session with prayers.

ACI
ACI
1 year ago

absurd

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
1 year ago

This APPG Humanist Group report Time for Reflection contains predictable conclusions which it disingenuously states do not consider establishment. However, the recommendations strike at the heart of establishment, regardless of the semantics. It recommends inter alia that the automatic right of certain bishops to sit in the House of Lords should be removed. That could be achieved at a stroke by repealing the Bishoprics Act 1878 and the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015. If enacted, that would of course fatally undermine the rationale for the Prime Minister’s role in their appointment. It also recommends that existing Church measures should cease… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
1 year ago
Reply to  Anthony Archer

Many thanks for this. I spent some time in the Lords in the mid-1990s when reform was in the air, although there was a rather misguided assumption that a new Labour government would have better things to do than tinker with the constitution (especially after the abortive attempt by Crossman to effect changes to the chamber in 1968-9, defeated by the unholy combination of Foot and Powell). My view was that Labour would definitely attempt to reform the Lords precisely because they would not be consuming valuable parliamentary time by attempting to nationalise anything. I did ask one of the… Read more »

Susannah Clark
1 year ago
Reply to  Froghole

I thank my Lord Froghole for his introduction of the term ‘witenagemote’ to these hallowed chambers here at Thinking Anglicans. Superb! It is reassuring to know such erudition still stalks the corridors of this place, enlightening debate, and reconnecting us with that pulse of Saxon Christendom that His Honour has doubtless drawn upon in his tireless circuits across the English countryside, and the stocky Saxon church towers scattered reclusively across fields of time, calling labourers to worship in the rhythm of the agricultural year and the cycle of the seasons. Residual fragments of a now lost world. What’s left, it… Read more »

James Byron
James Byron
1 year ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

“I thank my Lord Froghole for his introduction of the term ‘witenagemote’ to these hallowed chambers here at Thinking Anglicans. Superb!”

As a ‘Last Kingdom’ fan, I heartily approve!

Froghole
Froghole
1 year ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

Susannah: Many thanks! However, I must hasten to add that I am no peer, and that my short time there was spent as work experience whilst a student. The argument I was advancing was an attempt to rationalise Dick Taverne’s bill by an appeal to precedent, as a debating point. However, the argument can quite easily be put the other way: that bishops are there not as barons but qua bishops. After all, in the middle ages it was possible for a baron to lose his right to sit if his income fell below a certain level (I live only… Read more »

Kate
Kate
1 year ago

Personally I find life peers appointed by politicians to be more of a problem.

There are various alternatives for the House of Lords. Personally I favour any MP who loses his/her seat spending ten years in the House of Lords and ineligible for re-election. It would tend to give a second chamber of opposite political polarity to the Commons.

Father David
Father David
1 year ago

Many will recall Bishop George Bell’s courageous speech in the House of Lords during the Second World War which cost him preferment to the primatial see of Canterbury. It is good to have a Christian perspective in the High Court of Parliament.
Thinking of Canterbury I notice that the rather lugubrious statue of Christ has been temporarily removed from the entrance to the cathedral Close, has any date yet been set for the unveiling of the statue of George Bell who served as an exceptional Dean of Canterbury prior to his becoming Bishop of Chichester?

JustSayin
JustSayin
1 year ago

I was not the only one in this diocese to notice how often our former diocesan went ‘missing’ once given a seat in the Lords. Benefit to diocese, C of E, national political debate ?I’ve always felt if the Established Church really wanted to re establish some semblance of credibility with the largely non church going public it would help to renounce these and other dubious ‘privileges’.

Charles K
Charles K
1 year ago

As someone who believes that the Lords Spiritual have something very important to offer, I agree to some extent with this report. Parliament needs some element of moral, ethical and spiritual input, but that needs to be broadened. In addition, there is an issue about workload. The Bishop belongs in his diocese, but those in the House of Lords spend a disproportionate time there. As one bishop said “don’t be fooled that the House of Lords is seductive.. its not .. its really, really, really seductive”. Those bishops who spend too much time on red leather and not in their… Read more »

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