Bishops’ dozen in reformed Lords
by a staff reporter
|BISHOPS are to remain in a reformed House of Lords, it has been recommended, though their number will be reduced from the present 26 down to 12.The reduction is proportionate to the overall reduction in membership of the House of Lords, from 800 to 300, 80 per cent of whom would be elected, and 20 per cent appointed.
The recommendation has been made by the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, which has been considering plans for reform of the Second Chamber for the past year. It is to publish its final report on 23 April.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, said that the recommendation to keep the Lords Spiritualwas “very good indeed”, and was in part due to the work of the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who served on the committee.
Mr Baldry said that reform was still a long way ahead, and that there would be a battle in the House of Commons to have the proposal as it stood accepted. “We are a long way off the end game. The House of Commons has yet to agree any proposal on Lords reform; so we are in very unpredictable territory,” he said.
The draft Bill proposes that the bishops are to remain able to claim allowances as other peers do. In matters of the “serious offence provision”, the draft Bill assumes that the bishops would be “subject to the disciplinary procedures established by the Church of England”.
The General Synod would need to reconsider how bishops were appointed to the Lords in future, he said, and in particular whether it kept seats for the two Archbishops, and the Bishops of Winchester, London and Durham, as has always been the case.
Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the joint select committee on the draft reform Bill that the House of Bishopsaccepted the need for “a proportionate reduction”, but he said that bishops “would have to face how we best facilitate the participation of smaller numbers of bishops in a more demanding regime” (News, 2 December).
Dr Williams said that the bishops “are not there to represent the Church of England’s interests: they are there as bishops of the realm, who have taken on the role of attempting to speak for the needs of a wide variety of faith communities.”
This could well be the first step to discussion in the British Parliament about the extant tradition of the ‘Establishment’ status of the Church of England, and the need for some reform in the direct role of the Church in government.
There are those in the Church who would like to see ‘disestablishment’ as a move towards the acceptance of other Faith communities as equally welcome in the House of Lords – on the basis of their spiritual significance, as is, at the moment, the situation of the Church of England in her relationship to the Crown. The Queen nowadays accepts that she is the ‘Defender of Faiths’ rather than merely the Defender of the Faith of the Church of England.
The reduction, in the meantime, of the number of Church of England prelates in the House of Lords might just allow a more focussed concentration upon those matters where the influence of the Church can be brought to bear on what is deemed to be the best interests of every citizen – not just the Anglican Church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand