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BHA: MPs speak out against bishops in parliament

The proposals to retain reserves places for Church of England Bishops in a reformed House of Lords was widely criticised by MPs in a House of Commons debate yesterday (Tuesday 10 July), however, due to widespread disagreements with the proposals, they are unlikely to return for further discussion before Parliament’s summer recess.

A range of MPs objected to the continued presence of the bishops. Karl Turner MP said ‘Surely if we are trying to increase democracy and legitimacy, having ex-officio religious positions is, in itself discriminatory.’

Thomas Docherty MP’s comment that ‘I do not believe that the Church of England should sit in the House of Lords or the senate’ received audible support in the chamber. 

Graeme Morris MP said 'My constituents have been unanimous in their view that this reform is an opportunity to end the automatic right of bishops to sit in the Lords' and that the members of a reformed chamber ‘should be there because the people have put their trust in them at the ballot box, rather than because they hold a particular religious office’.

Mark Lazarowicz MP agreed with arguments that ‘by giving a privileged place to leaders of one faith group, we discriminate against every other faith group, let alone against agnostics and atheists.’

Willie Bain MP reflected on the fact that ‘the UK would remain one of only two legislatures in the world, along with Iran’s, to continue such religious representation, even though 60% of the public say that bishops should not sit in Parliament’.

Member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Nia Griffith MP offered a detailed contribution on why the Church of England is not the established Church of the United Kingdom. She also went on to talk about the Church of England’s record on equalities which went against legislation in relation to discrimination. She concluded her statement by saying ‘I oppose reserving the 12 places for bishops of the Church of England in the second Chamber because it is not the established Church of the whole UK, because the appointment of bishops does not conform to the spirit of equality legislation and because it is high time that we separated Church and state. If this is really a reform for the future, it is a good opportunity not to include bishops. I ask the Government seriously to consider that issue.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs commented ‘The two day debate demonstrated the resounding opposition in Parliament to the presence of the bishops. Our ‘Holy Redundant’ campaign has led to thousands of people writing to their MP’s urging them to speak out against entrenching privilege for people of one religion. As we have maintained from the beginning, it is unfair, unpopular and most certainly unjustified.

‘Moving forwards we hope the government will realise this is a key issue on which to give concessions’

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 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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