Opinion Former Article

Lords reform proposals strengthen place of bishops in Parliament

Proposals announced today to reduce the number of peers sitting in the House of Lords will in fact increase the voting power of the Church of England bishops, Humanists UK has observed. This is because the report by the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House, which aims to reduce the number of peers by from around 800 to 600 introducing time-limited terms, does not reduce the number of reserved seats for bishops from the Church of England. Humanists UK has expressed dismay at this fact and is writing to the Committee to demand change.

The report states that ‘the number of Lords Spiritual (26 Archbishops and Bishops, who must retire from their posts at the age of 70) could only be reduced through primary legislation. Accordingly, we make no proposals in respect of the Lords Spiritual, while noting that like hereditary peers they will make up a larger proportion of a smaller House.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is unfair, unjustified, and unpopular that we remain the only democratic sovereign state to have religious leaders sit as of right in our Parliament. This has long been true but is only becoming more so as our society gets more diverse. It is time that the Lord Speaker’s Committee listened to the overwhelming view of the public and recognise that the bishops no longer have a place in our Parliament.’

Context to the proposals

The UK is the only democratic sovereign state in the world that gives seats in its legislature to religious representatives as a right. Currently, 26 bishops from the Church of England are selected automatically to sit in the House of Lords. These bishops vote on legislation, make interventions and lead prayers at the start of each day’s business.

Any proposed reduction in the overall size of the House of Lords without a corresponding reduction in the number of seats reserved for bishops will result the Church being a more effective voting bloc able to further the church’s agenda. This is despite the recent British Social Attitudes Survey revealing that only 15 percent of the public describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England, with this figure falling to 3 percent among young adults.

The removal of the bishops is a popular proposal with an opinion poll from 2012 revealing that 74 percent of the public, including 70 percent of Christians, believe that it is wrong that Church of England bishops are given an automatic seat in the House of Lords.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK's Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read more about the Humanists UK's campaigns around bishops in the House of Lords: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/secularism/constitutional-reform/bishops-in-the-lords/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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