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BHA: 'Deeply disappointing' Bishops retain reserved seats in Lords Reform Bill

Heavily criticised proposals to strengthen the unjust influence of the Church of England in Parliament have been today revealed in the form of the House of Lords Reform Bill. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has condemned the Bill, which if implemented without modification would embed special privilege at the heart of our political system.

The Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill proposes to continue reserving seats in Parliament for the representatives of the state Church in the form of ‘Lords Spiritual’. From 2025 the number of Lords Spiritual will be set at 12, with their numbers decreasing incrementally from their present 26 over the course of 3 election periods.

Not only will the Church of England’s unjust presence be maintained, but it will be emboldened by the granting of novel powers. The Church will, for example, gain new powers to select which of its bishops are afforded a seat in the Lords. Further, the Lords Spiritual will not receive a wage from Parliamentary authorities. As such, the Church of England will command an increasingly independent and unaccountable block to advance its agenda.

The Government has made these proposals in abject disregard for public opinion on the issue. Through the BHA’s ‘Holy Redundant’ campaign, well over 2,000 people have written to their local MP and the Rt Hon. Nick Clegg MP to urge them end the privileging of special interest groups in Parliament. On 23rdMay, Mark Harper MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office, revealed that of all the letters received by the Government on Lords Reform, the majority had concerned the bishops.

Commenting on today’s announcements, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘This is deeply disappointing. The proposals revealed today are patently at odds with the evidence submitted to the Government and goes against society’s understanding of fairness, accountability and democracy.

‘Not only do arguments to retain Bishops possess no intellectual credibility, they are also unpopular with the public, with polls indicating 74% of the population –including 70% of Christians – believe it is wrong that Church of England Bishops are given automatic places.’

‘Representatives of the Church of England will retain the right to sit in the House of Lords by virtue of their faith, denomination, gender and vocation. In a Britain which is not only religiously plural, but also increasingly non-religious, there is absolutely no justification for maintaining the Church of England preferred status. It is an affront to the principles of democracy and equal citizenship.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or andrew@humanism.org.uk

Holy Redundant campaign site www.holyredundant.org.uk

Read Andrew Copson’s oral evidence to the Committee on Lords Reform

Read BHA written evidence to the Committee on Lords Reform

For more information read the BHA’s briefing on Bishops in the Lords

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief. 

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