NSS: Labour plans to reform House of Lords must include bishops

Posted: Thu, 13th Jun 2024

Labour manifesto pledges modernisation of House of Lords but omits lords spiritual.

ukhouseoflords, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

The National Secular Society has urged the Labour Party to abolish the 'bishops' bench' in their election pledges to reform the House of Lords.

Labour's election manifesto, published today, says that if elected, the party will scrap "indefensible" hereditary peers as part of their proposal for "immediate modernisation" of the upper house.

But it makes no mention of the two archbishops and 24 bishops ('lords spiritual') who have automatic seats in the House of Lords as a result of the Church of England's established status.

The NSS, which campaigns to separate religion and state, has said bishops appointed as of right to the House of Lords are "just as unjustifiable" as hereditary peers.

Like hereditary peers, the bishops are unelected and are appointed due to their hierarchical position in the Church, rather than on merit.

No other religious leaders are given seats as of right in the House of Lords.

The manifesto says reform of the House of Lords is "long over-due and essential".

It says it will also "seek to improve the national and regional balance of the second chamber". Critics of the bishops' bench have pointed out that automatic appointment of Church of England bishops skews the House of Lords towards England's interests.

The manifesto says Labour will also introduce a mandatory retirement age of 80, strengthen the circumstances in which disgraced members can be removed, and reform the appointments process "to ensure the quality of new appointments".

It adds that Labour is "committed to replacing the House of Lords with an alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations" and will consult on proposals.

The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Reform UK have also called for a reformed second chamber in their manifestos.

The Isle of Man, which also has a Church of England bishop in its legislature, is considering a bill which would remove the bishop's vote. Yesterday it progressed through the island's upper house, the Legislative Council.

NSS: Bishops' bench "perpetuates the archaic elitism of our upper House"

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "We welcome the commitment given by Labour and other parties to address the out-of-date elements of the House of Lords. But any reforms must include scrapping the undemocratic and unjustifiable bishops' bench.

"The UK is less religious and more diverse than ever before. Appointing people to our legislature because of their rank in a religious institution is absurd and perpetuates the archaic elitism of the second chamber.

"We therefore say to Labour and all other parties: don't let this unequal and undemocratic state of affairs continue. Abolish the bishops' bench."

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Tags: Bishops, Disestablishment