Plans for a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords have been shelved until after the next general election, Jack Straw announced yesterday, but bishops would remain in a reformed Second Chamber if it is not wholly elected.
The justice secretary unveiled a white paper containing plans to elect 80% or 100% of members in a reformed second chamber, which would be known as the Senate, for a single, non-renewable term of 12-15 years.
Senators would be elected at the same time as MPs and would number no more than 450.
That is 250 fewer than in the current House of Lords.
The 92 remaining hereditary peers would be ousted, but if the 80% option is chosen, then bishops would remain.
Bishops would lose their seats if the second chamber was fully elected. But, to heckles from some Labour backbenchers, Straw said they would keep some of their places in a mainly elected chamber.
Bishops in the past have been traditionally chosen in consultation with the prime minister. However Gordon Brown has said that he will give up his part in the process of selection, meaning that the bishops who would sit in Parliament having be selected purely by the Church of England.
Straw said that the white paper would form the basis for a comprehensive package of reforms that would be put to voters as a manifesto commitment at the next general election.
"An effective second chamber plays an invaluable role in holding the government to account and in scrutinising legislation.
"Our belief is that the proposals in the white paper will lead to a more legitimate and strengthened second chamber," he said.
But Jonathan Bartley co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia said: "Under the proposals, the Church of England, an external institution with its own particular agenda, would be able to parachute whomever it chooses into the second chamber of Parliament as a matter of right.
"This would not be a step forward but a step back into the dark ages of special political privilege. With the Prime Minister's power to appoint bishops being ended, that section of the House of Lords would be more unaccountable than it has ever been."