Abolish bishops’ bench, NSS urges commission reviewing HoL

Posted: Mon, 3rd Oct 2022

Abolish bishops’ bench, NSS urges commission reviewing HoL

The National Secular Society has told a commission on political reform that bishops should no longer have automatic seats in parliament.

The Commission on Political Power, which was established to examine potential legislative and structural reform of the UK political system, is consulting on reforming the House of Lords.

In its submission, the NSS said if any reform of the House of Lords is to be initiated, "the bishops' bench is an obvious place to start".

The NSS said it was wrong for any religion to have a privileged position in the upper chamber, and that it was long overdue for the bishops' bench to be removed.

It said there is "no reasonable justification for allowing Church of England bishops to act as ex-officio legislators" and that the bishops' bench is "an anomaly in a modern, liberal democracy".

Currently two Church of England archbishops and 24 bishops are given seats in the upper house and are able to vote on legislation.

Their position grants them other privileges, and they are given deferential treatment by other members.

The current settlement is "both divisive and unrepresentative", and on some issues the bishops do not even represent the views of their own laity, the NSS said, citing marriage equality as an example.

Just last month, the archbishop of Canterbury (pictured), a sitting Lord Spiritual, re-affirmed the Anglican Church's 1998 declaration that gay sex is a sin and gay marriage is illegitimate.

It was "indefensible" to maintain the status quo, the NSS said, with 2021 YouGov polling showing only 16% of the public believe bishops should be given seats automatically.

The NSS also stressed its opposition to replacing or supplementing bishops with leaders from other faiths. Such a move "would further erode the franchise of the increasing numbers of non-religious people, and indeed of the many liberal religious people," it said.

The Electoral Reform Society has also criticised the current role of the Church of England in the House of Lords.

NSS: 'The existence of the bishop's bench is an anachronism'

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: "The church is, of course, welcome to implement its political agenda through the democratic channels that everyone else in this country is subject to. But the UK is both more irreligious and religiously diverse than ever before. Less than 1% of Britons regularly attend Anglican services.

"In a country that claims to uphold the equal treatment of all its citizens, the existence of the bishop's bench is an anachronism. It is high time it was consigned to the annals of history."

Image: House of Lords 2021 / Photography by Roger Harris

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Tags: Bishops, Disestablishment