Handful of bishops vote on future of constitution

By staff writers
March 15, 2007

A handful of Church of England bishops voted last night against a democratically elected House of Lords.

Just four of the 26 male bishops who are appointed to Parliament's Second Chamber turned up to vote on the future of Britain's constitution.

As expected all - the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Bishop of Rochester, and the Bishop of Chelmsford - voted against the House of Commons preferred option of a completely elected second chamber.

The votes last night followed two days of debate, which were also attended by only a handful of bishops.

The Archbishop of York however said that he had tried to get back for the end of Tuesday's debate but was delayed because of a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. The Bishop of Chester was also taken ill, and so had to leave early.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor suggested to peers last night; "Although it looked as though the Church of England was rather depleted at the end of the debate, it was for unavoidable reasons — acts of God, one might say."

The Lords vote was in line with expectations. The government has said that it is to push ahead with plans for electing members to the House of Lords despite peers' emphatic rejection of the idea.

Jack Straw is to chair a meeting of the cabinet's constitutional affairs committee to consider the government's position, before reconvening the joint committee on Lords reform, which includes main party frontbenchers from the Commons and Lords, as well as bishops and cross-bench peers. A draft bill could appear by the summer recess.

One ministerial source told the Guardian newspaper: "I don't think it changes things drastically. The message from the Commons is pretty clear. There is a clear mandate for an elected element."

Much still depends on the priority Gordon Brown gives to the issue if, as expected, he takes over from Tony Blair in the summer. Mr Straw has yet to rule out proposing that the upper house includes a 20% nominated element, an idea backed by MPs - albeit by a smaller majority of 38 - including Mr Straw himself, by the Conservatives' leader, David Cameron, and by the leaders of the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the Lords.

Such an option would leave open the possibility that a small number of bishops might remain in the House of Lords.

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