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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and archbishops don’t vote for an elected second chamber

In a response to the Government’s consultation on its proposals to reform the House of Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have argued that the bench of bishops should remain and should be joined by senior members of other religions.

They wrote: “If, as successive governments have accepted, there is a continuing benefit to this country in having an established Church, the presence of the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords is one of the most important manifestations of that special relationship between church and state.”

The Government’s Draft Bill proposes a House of Lords of 300 members, with 80 or 100 per cent of peers elected by proportional representation. If the Government decided upon a wholly elected House, the bishops’ seats would be abolished altogether.

But if the House of Lords were to maintain an appointed element, the number of Church of England bishops would be reduced from 26 to 12. Paradoxically, such a reduction would actually make matters worse. The number would be a higher proportion of peers than at present, and the twelve representatives would be likely to be career lobbyists and much more intrusive than the rota of bishops taking a day off from their dioceses. It would also inevitably open the way for other religious leaders to be appointed to the Lords in order to satisfy “multi-faith” demands.

Published Fri, 18 Nov 2011