Come on board for Lords reform, bishops urged

By staff writers
11 Mar 2010

Grassroots democracy campaign Power2010, members of the public and civil and faith groups are urging Church of England bishops to help achieve a reformed and accountable Second Chamber for Parliament.

The religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, Unlock Democracy, Progress, Republic, the Student Christian Movement (SCM) and the British Humanist Association are among those teaming up with Power2010 in an online and in-person initiative (http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith) to urge Church of England bishops to take a lead in reforming the House of Lords.

Individuals, local churches and others are being encouraged to contact the bishops, and to ask them to support the ‘bottom up’ campaign to reinvigorate democracy, which saw 100,000 votes cast in Power 2010's recent public poll - many in support of a reformed Second Chamber.

Several bishops have previously spoken favourably about Power2010, which is based on popular support for five key UK political reforms - including proportional representation, scrapping ID cards and the 'database state', and a written constitution.

A public vote, which finished on 22 February 2010, saw an all-elected Second Chamber supported as the third most popular reform.

Bishops are now being urged to support the results, and in particular some core principles for reform of the House of Lords that ensure:

* people of faith participate alongside others in public life through civic action, free debate and good example - not through special reserved places and exemptions

* members of the second chamber are elected, publicly accountable and recallable - not based on the appointed status and privilege for a few

* legislation is scrutinised for its impact on the most vulnerable in society - not primarily the rich and powerful

* membership is open to independent and minority elected voices - not dominated by the big party machines

* Parliamentary business is discussed and voted upon in ways that encourage common action, co-operation and understanding of differences - rather than division and confrontation.

From today, people are able to email all the bishops with a fully customisable message set up through the Power2010 website: http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith Hundreds have done so already, say organisers.

The Student Christian Movement, which has members in colleges and universities across the country, is among those backing the change. Its patron is Bishop John Saxbee.

At present, Church of England bishops sit in an unelected House of Lords as of right. Britain is the only democracy where non-elected all-male representatives of one religious denomination have a place in the legislature.

As a specifically Christian think-tank examining religion in public life, Ekklesia has argued for some time that the current situation is wrong both constitutionally and Christianly, and is urging bishops themselves to recognise the need for change and to seek a properly accountable Second Chamber.

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow, commented: "Faith can play a vital role in promoting justice, generosity, peace and possibility in the political arena. But it can only do so by good example, alongside others of goodwill, not by clinging on to privilege or trying to dictate terms in a democratic order. That is why unelected bishops in an unelected House of Lords is an unhelpful anomaly - but one the bishops themselves can help to change."

Jonathan Bartley, the Ekklesia co-director who recently publicly debated the role of bishops with the the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, the convener of the Lords Spiritual, said: “During the debate, the first of its kind in the precincts of parliament, the Bishop of Leicester spoke about the importance of democracy and mentioned Power2010 by name. Other bishops too, have spoken favourably about the initiative in the House of Lords itself."

He continued: “Reform of the Second Chamber is an inevitability. The debate about the role of religious people has often been conducted in a defensive way. But now religious leaders have the chance to put the case for positive change, which will benefit everyone for years to come. The bishops should take a lead in this.”

Power2010 is a campaign to give everyone the chance to have a say in how our democracy works. What is unique about the Power2010 coalition is that it is involving the public directly in 'changing politics for good' and reforming a system many now regard as rotten, says supporters.

At the forthcoming election Power2010 will work to ensure every candidate commits to reforms people have voted to see as part of a nation-wide campaign to reinvigorate our democracy from the grassroots. http://www.power2010.org.uk/

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Email all or some of the bishops and archbishops quickly and easily with a fully customisable message through the Power2010 website here: http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith

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