Remove bishops from House of Lords, says commission

Posted: Wed, 29th Mar 2023

Remove bishops from House of Lords, says commission

Bishops should no longer sit as of right in the House of Lords, a commission on political reform has said.

In a paper published today, the Commission on Political Power has said Church of England bishops are an "anomalous" presence in the House of Lords and recommended their removal in a reformed second chamber.

The National Secular Society called for this reform in its submission to the commission in October.

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

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

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

The commission said reform of the House of Lords is "urgently needed", with many questioning its undemocratic nature and "legitimacy within Britain's political system".

The commission has called for the House of Lords to be replaced with a representative Senate and recommended removing the bishops' bench as one of ten ideas for reform.

It said the presence of bishops is "anomalous as representatives of the established religion".

It added that change would require primary legislation.

The commission also said any appointments commission for the House of Lords "should take into account the balance of faith representation".

NSS: Scrapping the bishops' bench would "remove an unjustifiable religious privilege from our legislature"

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Ending the arrangement whereby representatives of one religious denomination are given seats as of right would remove an unjustifiable religious privilege from our legislature and make for a more equitable and democratic second chamber.

"Whilst it would be reasonable for an appointments commission to take into account the balance of faith representation in a reformed House of Lords or Senate, any attempt to build in religious-based representation, whether ex-officio or appointed, would be a divisive and retrograde step."

Image: House of Lords 2021 / Photography by Roger Harris

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Tags: Bishops