Thousands of letters ask C of E bishops to back Lords reform

By staff writers
12 Mar 2010

[Update 14 Mar 2010 - over 51,000 letters have now been sent, with the latest target re-set to 75,000]

Democracy campaign Power2010, which is aiming to "change politics - for good", is achieving an extraordinary response to its online initiative encouraging Church of England bishops to back parliamentary reform.

Over 31,000 letters have already gone to the bishops and archbishops, asking them to become involved in developing an elected and accountable Second Chamber in Parliament (http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith).

The idea was put together by Power2010 with the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, and now involves hundreds of individuals alongside a diverse range of political reform, faith-based and secular organisations.

Originally the target was 10,000 letters, but this was exceeded in a few hours yesterday. A further push is being made by the Student Christian Movement (SCM), Unlock Democracy and others today - with another twist to come on Monday 15 March.

At present 26 bishops from the Established Church hold reserved places in an unelected House of Lords - Britain being one of the the only countries in the world, alongside Iran, to have non-accountable religious leaders from a single denomination in its legislature.

George Gabriel of Power2010 commented (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/11489): "Faith does have an important role in public life. Not as some "lone voice for values" in a parliament of realpolitik, but as one of many voices on the fundamental questions of how we should live together."

"Reform of the House of Lords is now inevitable," said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow today. "The breadth of this initiative, the fact that a reformed Second Chamber came high up the Power2010 public vote, the unsustainability of a non-elected legislature in a modern democracy, and the extraordinary response to this call to write to the bishops (http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith) all shows that the time for real change is now upon us."

Barrow added: "We need a new way of doing politics, and rather than just 'bashing bishops' for being caught up in a constitutional arrangement which dates back to Henry VIII, the idea behind this initiative is to encourage them to become part of the solution - rather than being seen as part of the problem."

The Ekklesia co-director continued: "Objections have rightly been raised about the way unelected representatives of the Church of England have used their influence and votes in parliament to defend their vested interests - as in scuppering equalities provisions, and over financial matters where the Church stands to lose or gain. But bishops have also spoken out positively and courageously on racism, asylum, poverty and other concerns - so what many would like to see now is some constitutional radicalism from them, together with a willingness to step down from their privileged positions and seek to address public issues as equals, on the basis of civic action, free debate and good example - not through special reserved places and exemptions."

Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy (formerly Charter 88), said in a mailing to supporters this morning: "It is ludicrous that at the beginning of the 21st century the UK, along with Iran, should be one of the only countries that gives the state religion a formal say over what should or should not be law."

In 1911, parliament passed the first Parliament Act, which curtailed the powers of the unelected House of Lords. It stated that: "it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation."

Facey commented: "Ninety-nine years later we are still waiting. Almost everyone now recognises the need for a democratic second chamber where public opinion is properly represented and no-one is given a job for life simply for currying favour with the Prime Minister."

Republic and Progress are also promoting the write-to-the-bishops campaign, along with the British Humanist Association, which has produced a detailed briefing on 'Religious Representation in the House of Lords' (http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/BHABriefing-BishopsintheLo...), setting out the detailed case for constitutional change. It emphasises that backing for reform comes from faith as well as secular sources.

Those wishing to support Second Chamber reform and encourage the bishops to do so too, are able to email them with a fully customisable message set up through the Power2010 website: http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith

[Ekk/3]

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