Role of bishops in House of Lords criticised by MPs

By agency reporter
November 16, 2017

The place of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords has once again been criticised by MPs during a debate yesterday (15 November 2017)in Westminster Hall. MPs were debating proposals set out in a report by the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House published last month. The proposals include a reduction in the number of peers from around 800 to 600 and the introduction of time-limited terms, but make no mention of reducing the number of reserved seats for Church of England bishops too. Humanists UK, which has written to the Committee about the omission, has welcomed the MPs’ remarks.

Leading the debate, Tommy Sheppard MP – Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group – criticised the report for failing to recommend any reforms regarding the Lords Spiritual, stating, ‘It is ridiculous in our multi-cultural, multi faith society that if any spiritual leaders are to be appointed anywhere in our legislature that that should be the preserve of just one faith and one church in this country. That is an affront to people of others faiths and of none and it is something which is urgently need of reform. And I say this knowing that many people within the church of England would agree with and seek that reform themselves.’

Following the publication of the report, Humanists UK, which does not believe that any religious representatives should be given a seat in Parliament by right, noted that the proposals would actually increase the voting power of the Church of England bishops, given that they will make up a larger proportion of a smaller chamber. Sheppard, too, made this point, adding that the report itself "admits that the influence of the Lords Spiritual in the upper chamber will increase under these proposals rather than reduce.".

This is despite opinion polls demonstrating that an overwhelming majority of the population – including a majority of Christians – believe that it is wrong for Church of England bishops to be given automatic seats in the House of Lords.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, "The UK is the only democratic sovereign state in the world that gives seats in its legislature to religious representatives as a right. This is undemocratic, fundamentally unsecular, and incredibly unpopular too. The Lord Speaker’s Committee ought to listen to both public and MPs and acknowledge that bishops have no place in the House of Lords."

* Humanists UK


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