Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bishops must go in Lords reform

Responding to the

Ministry of Justice White Paper
, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has urged the Government to ensure that there will be no reserved places for Bishops in a reformed House of Lords.

Andrew Copson , BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, commented, 'The UK is the only Western democracy to give religious representatives the automatic right to sit in the legislature. Modern Britain is a society with a great diversity of religious and non-religious beliefs and it is outrageous that both Labour and Conservatives are proposing that this anachronistic policy should continue.’

The BHA believes the arguments against privileging religious representatives in a democratic parliament to be irrefutable and that the arguments in their favour are insubstantial:

§ The claim that Bishops are uniquely qualified to provide ethical and spiritual insights is factually incorrect and offensive. People from many walks of life and from many religions and none are at least equally qualified if not more so - for example, moral philosophers and experts in medical ethics.

§ Religious 'leaders' cannot speak for the whole population – their views are often controversial and rejected by people with equally deeply held religious or ethical convictions.

§ Bishops may not necessarily even represent the views of Anglicans. A pertinent example was the vote on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, where polls show that 81% of protestants 'think that a person who is suffering unbearably from a terminal illness should be allowed by law to receive medical help to die, if that is what they want' (NOP, 2004) but the bishops opposed the Bill.

§ The Anglican Church claims only 1,650,000 members in the UK and its Sunday services are attended by only about 1.9% of the adult population. Only 12% of the adult population are members of any church. Many polls have provided evidence of high levels of unbelief in the UK .

§ The presence of Church representatives in the legislature has ceased to be an accurate reflection of UK society and, indeed, increasing numbers of people are opposed to political privileges for religion ('Religious groups and leaders' are the domestic group that people are most likely to believe has too much influence on government (MORI, 2006))

page 6

There would be no reserved seats for Church of England Bishops in a wholly elected second chamber. If there were an appointed element in the second chamber, there would be a proportionate number of seats reserved for Church of England Bishops.

page 9

The Lords Spiritual are senior bishops from the Church of England, who are members of the House of Lords. There are 26 Lords Spiritual. They include the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, and the 21 next most senior Church of England diocesan bishops.”

page 37

4.77 The Conservative Party favours a First PastThe Post system for elections to the second chamber. In particular, they favour using the 80 constituencies proposed by Jenkins, leading to a total membership of 300 (of which 60 who would be appointed), plus the Bishops.

page 46

6.8 The Government proposes that there should be no reserved seats for Church of England Bishops in a wholly elected second chamber. It also proposes that if there is an appointed element in a reformed second chamber, there should be a proportionate number of seats reserved for Church of England Bishops.These seats would not count towards the proportion to be filled following nomination or application to the Appointments Commission.The Church of England would be invited to consider how it would in future select Bishops for membership of the second chamber.

page 46

The Liberal Democrats propose that there should be no reserved seats for Church of England Bishops in a reformed second chamber if it includes an appointed element. However, Bishops or other representatives of the Church of England could be nominated or apply to the Appointments Commission in the usual way.

page 49

6.21 The Cross-Party Group expressed a variety of views on the idea of ‘automatic’ nomination to a reformed second chamber.The Government considers it would be difficult to justify ‘automatic’ consideration for membership for any one group above others, with the exception of serving Church of England Bishops (see paragraphs 6.45 – 6.52).

page 54

Church of England Bishops
6.45 The Church of England’s unique place in society and the valuable role it plays in English national life,both religious and secular,is widely recognised.Within England, the position of the Church of England is that of the Church by law established,with the Sovereign as its supreme Governor.The relationship between the Church and State is a core part of our constitutional framework

More ... search for bishops in this document.

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