THE Government must now seriously consider holding a referendum on Lords reform, a church spokesman has said.
The Joint Committee on Lords reform published its report this week, endorsing the Government’s suggestions for a reduced chamber — to 450 members — and backing the continued presence of bishops in the House of Lords.
But the committee of 26 MPs and peers, including the Bishop of Leicester, Rt Revd Tim Stevens, was deeply divided, with half of its members publishing an alternative report.
This alternative report said that the Government’s plans for reform were unworkable. It called for a “Constitutional Convention” to assess the relationship between the Lords and the House of Commons.
The Joint Committee backed calls from the Archbishop of Canterbury, made when he gave evidence to it, that the exemption on Lords Spiritual on disciplinary matters be removed.
The Archbishop had also raised concerns about the impact that a partially elected Lords would have on the primacy of the House of Commons; concerns which have been echoed in the Committee’s report.
In a statement released after the Joint Committee report, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said that the Government should now “pause for thought before embarking on any rapid plans for change”.
He said that proposals for a referendum must be seriously considered, as it had been recommended by both the Joint Committee report and the alternative report.
David Cameron is not personally in favour of a referendum, but has also been careful not to rule one out.
Bishop James also welcomed proposals to increase faith representation in the Lords by considering religious affiliation as part of diversity criteria for appointment.
He said: “It is good therefore to see the Joint Committee suggesting that faith representation should be one of the criteria that the Appointments Commission ought to consider when choosing the non-elected membership.
“The Lords Spiritual welcome the Joint Committee’s endorsement of the Government’s proposals for continued places for Church of England bishops. We are grateful, too, that the Committee has accepted the Archbishops’ suggestions on how the Bill could be changed to allow more flexibility in how Lords Spiritual are chosen to serve, and to bring the bishops in line with other members on the disciplinary and tax measures."
A Bill to reform the Lords is likely to form part of the Queen’s Speech next month. It will face a rocky ride, however, both in the Commons, where many Conservative MPs are opposed to the proposed changes, and in the Lords.