Opinion Former Article

BHA: Lords Reform Bill debated in Commons for the first time

During the first of two parliamentary debates on the reform of the House of Lords, the Government’s proposals to retain Church of England bishops have come under sustained attack. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has denounced the proposals, which would continue to reserve seats exclusively for men of the Anglican Church, as ‘unjust, unpopular and unfair’.

Labour MP for Rhondda, Chris Bryant, stated it was ‘bizarre’ to reserve seats for bishops of the Church of England. ‘It makes no sense for only one denomination representing one geographical area to be appointed to the House of Lords.’

Referring to events at the Church of England synod, Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, noted that the bishops’ privilege was ‘even more inexplicable on this day when the Church of England has decided not to appoint women bishops.’ Mr Lucas MP went on to suggest that in effect placing a gender-ban on a number of seats in the legislature may be a breach of the European convention on human rights.

Responding to claims that the removal of the bishops would amount to disestablishment of the Church, Anne McGuire, Labour MP for Stirling, commented that ‘if the establishment of the Church of England depends on 12 bishops sitting in the House of Lords, it is in a worse state than the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks it is.’

Despite their manifesto and longstanding commitment to a secular state, no voices were heard in opposition to the retention of the bishops from Liberal Democrat benches.

With the debate continuing today, the BHA has once again urged MPs to oppose the privileged access of the Church of England to Parliament. Commenting on yesterday’s events, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘The House of Lords Reform Bill poses a once in a generation opportunity to reform the House of Lords for the better. We need a House which treats all equally, affording no particular interest group any special privilege. A House fit for the 21st Century should not reserve seats for men of one faith and one denomination.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 07738435059.

Visit the Holy Redundant campaign website

Read yesterday’s Hansard

Read the BHA briefing sent to MPs for the Second Reading

Read the BHA’s 2011 report, Religious Representatives in the House of Lords

Read more about the BHA’s work on House of Lords Reform

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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