Independents, archbishops and the Second Chamber

By Jonathan Bartley
June 10, 2010

It was good to see the Archbishop of Canterbury make an intervention during Lord Lucus's Question in the Lords on Tuesday, about the future of the Second Chamber.

Williams expressed concerns that proposals put forward by the Deputy Prime Minister would increase the partisan nature of the House of Lords.

I spoke to the ABC briefly a couple of weeks ago about the prospect of Proportional Representation for Westminster, and his eyes lit up. He was also one of the signatories to a letter I organised to Blair in 1998 over the changes to the system for electing MEPs, expressing support for proportionality, but concern over the party-list system (which made the front page of the Mail on Sunday under the headline "Bishops attack Blair on 'morals'). Williams has a long standing interest in such issues, and I hope he will throw his weight behind the "yes" campaign for the Alternative Vote when the referendum comes.

The churches of course, are quite capable of being partisan themselves when it comes to defending their own interests. The debate over church schools is a good example, where those responsible for church schools with the Church of England have consistently attacked those who would urge their reform as "anti-faith". The first casualty is always truth when party-spirit kicks in, as I wrote about the Independent a few months ago - whether it be inside the church or the House of Commons.

So the Archbishop is amongst those who are raising a very important point. We need a more democratic and representative second chamber (which of course should mean getting rid of 26 places set aside for men from England, appointed by an external religious institution which represents just one denomination within one faith). But we also need one that isn't partisan, but maintains what is best about the current arrangements, and that is the 200 or so cross-benchers who bring so much to the debate.

Sadly, Lord McNally's response to the Archbishop's intervention doesn't signal much in the way of hope:

"I understand the interest that has been expressed. I can say only that the committee will take such considerations into its deliberations. Its conclusions will be reflected in the final draft Bill which will be presented for scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses."

See also our paper on independent politics: and the survey we commissioned on people's attitudes to independent MPs

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