Bishops 'recognise need' for Lords reform
Published 28 June 2012
The Bishop of Leicester has acknowledged the need to reform the House of Lords but has raised questions about religious representation and the number of bishops.
The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, who is also Convenor of the Lords Spiritual, challenged the proposal in the draft Bill to leave the number of bishops at 12 whilst raising the total membership from the 300 originally proposed to 450.
Echoing previous concerns raised by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Bishop Stevens: “A decision to raise the proposed size of the House to 450 from the original proposal of 300 suggests that the proportion of bishops at the number of 12 may be too low if the total number is revised upwards.”
Speaking in the Lords yesterday, Bishop Stevens suggested that a reformed Lords needed to reflect the broader civil society by ensuring diverse religious representation.
He said: “As your lordships will be aware, the Church of England has always argued for diverse religious representation in this House so that it properly reflects the diversity of civil society as a whole.
"The Government appears not to have accepted the Joint Committee’s recommendation that it is necessary for the Bill to make explicit reference to the inclusion of major faiths in a reformed House.
“Can the Leader explain to us how it is proposed that the Appointments Commission can ensure that a reformed House will reflect the religious heritage and cultural diversity of Britain today?”
In their response to the Joint Committee on Lords reform, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had argued that there was a "strong case" for ensuring the presence of senior leaders of other Churches and faith groups.
Bishop Stevens continued: “We on these benches recognise the need for some reform of this House and we welcome the opportunity that this Bill will give for thorough debate about the future of Parliament.
“In particular we are pleased to see that the Government endorses the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the continuing contribution of the Lords Spiritual to a reformed House.”
The bishop questioned whether the primacy of the House of Commons would be compromised if the Lords were to become more assertive as a result of having an almost entirely elected membership.
“As a member of the Joint Committee [that scrutinised the Government’s earlier Draft Bill], I remained puzzled during the whole course of its work about how the expressed desire of the Government for a more assertive House could be squared with the confident assertion that a reformed House could be relied upon to exercise the necessary self-restraint required to guarantee the primacy and effectiveness of the House of Commons," he said.
“Can the Leader of the House help us be as certain as he appears to be that the Parliament Act will prevent a serious risk of dysfunction in the relationship between the two Houses?”
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