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Copyright House of Lords 2018 / Photography by Annabel Moeller
Archbishop of Canterbury House of Lords bishops Copyright House of Lords 2018  Photography by Annabel Moeller.jpg
Copyright House of Lords 2018 / Photography by Annabel Moeller

Report calls for Bishops' automatic place in House of Lords to be removed

by Cara Bentley

A group of Humanist MPs have written a report on the religious aspects on parliament they would like to be left in the history books. 

The Humanist all-party parliamentary group, which is associated with lobby group Humanists UK, says the population is 52 per cent non-religious and only 14 per cent Anglican and that the House of Lords should therefore represent the country more accurately. 

It recommends removing the automatic right of the 26 longest serving Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords, arguing that bishops have changed the outcome of votes and have privileges over other members, such as when a bishop wants to speak and other peers are expected to give way. They also get to meet those who write bills, such as Government ministers, as they are collectively considered a 'party' which needs consulting, whereas other religious leaders are not grouped in this way. 

Speaking to Premier, Richy Thompson from Humanists UK said: "There are only two legislatures in the world that afford such an automatic right to religious leaders, this and Iran and that's not to say that there shouldn't necessarily be religious leaders in the House of Lords but they shouldn't be there automatically to represent a particular faith, they should instead be appointed on the same merit-based system that other peers are appointed on.

"Of course, it's important that a range of perspectives are heard in Parliament but that doesn't mean that any one particular perspective should have an automatic right to be heard, uniquely, from others."


The Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Rev David Urquhart, sits on the red benches and told Premier the bishops don't just represent their own interests. 

"We're summoned as independent and non-partisan members of the House and come as people who are informed by diverse communities and belong to regions right across the country and our role, I think, is very much in the area of moral and ethical insights as Christians. It's clear that in our experience of serving the country and serving Parliament in this way that it's valued by all faiths and none.

"We've come as people who also, unusually, have full-time other jobs across the country, so we bring all the experience of our regions and of our communities. For example, in particular areas recently, the reform of gambling has been led by the Bishops of St Albans and the issue to do with the two child limit on the Universal Credit rules has been challenged by the Bishop of Durham. Just recently, the issue of paupers' funerals has been spoken about by the Bishop of Winchester."

Other religious leaders are in the House of Lords, for example the Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs, and followers of other religions are also present, such as Baroness Uddin, but they are given peerages on merit, rather than by default. 

No other Christian denominations get automatic seats either, as Bishop David explained: "There are, of course, members from other denominations. For example, Leslie Griffiths, who sits on the front bench of the Labour Party in the House of Lords, a former senior Methodist and others, but of course all faiths are represented in the House. It's actually a good idea to have as wide range of faiths represented as possible and we do work with the appointments commission, which looks at the merits, but also the spread of diversity in the House and we're very keen to see more denominations and other faiths in the House of Lords."

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