Lords’ Reform and the C of E Bishops

Oh, who will rid us of these troublesome bishops?

The first sign of the shape of proposals to reform the House of Lords has just been published and disappointingly seems to advocate retaining a privileged position for Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords. It does suggest dropping the number from 26 to 12, but that just raises more questions than it answers. If religious leaders in the legislature are in any way desirable then surely we should have more of them. If they are not desirable, why not get rid of them in one go.

I struggle a bit with the idea of the House of Lords at the best of times. It’s a complete hotch-potch. Relics of the old system of aristocracy linger on with the remaining hereitary peers. Bizarrely they are elected and elected using the Alternative Vote system – the electors having the vote by virtue of birth. Then you have those who are there by virtue of office – the 26 C of E Bishops. Their existence gives us the distinction of being a country with clerics automatically serving in parliament. This is a way of providing parliamentarians in Iran and where else? Then you’ve got the Life Peers – those there by virtue of patronage, which is just as curious a way of selecting those who will shape laws as the others who find themselves there. Who knows what they’ve done to be seen to deserve a place.

The whole thing is a mess but what is being proposed is simply a new mess. An 80% elected chamber with 20% still being reserved for bishops and others.

Here’s what I’d have liked to have been included in the consultation:

  • Doing away with a second house and increasing pre-legislative scrutiny (anyone noticed that we don’t have an Upper Chamber in Scotland?)
  • Turning the whole thing into a learned society or standing Royal Commission on Parliamentary Affairs
  • A 100% elected upper house
  • English Devolution

In none of these would I have liked to have seen the C of E get their seats by right of privilege. Those in the business of shaping legislation should be in that business because some rational system has been devised which will simply include individuals because they have been perceived to be good people to face the task in hand.

Having a mitre does not seem to me to suggest that one automatically possess either the skill or the mandate.