THE Government on Wednesday published
its long-awaited House of Lords Reform Bill. As predicted (News, 30
March), it proposes reducing the Bishops' bench from 26 to 12,
reflecting the smaller size of a reformed Second Chamber.
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd
Tim Stevens, who convenes the Bishops in the Lords, has challenged
that figure. The Church of England agreed to 12 when the size of
the Second Chamber was to be 300. Now the proposed size has been
increased to 450 (down from the present 826), but the Bishops'
places have not been increased proportionally.
The Bill, which was published by the
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, proposes that, in the reformed
Second Chamber, eighty per cent (360 members) would be elected, and
the remaining 20 per cent (90 members) appointed.
The first elections for the Lords
would take place in May 2015. One third of the members would be
elected at the 2015 General Election, a second third in 2020, and a
final third in 2025. Elections would take place using a "semi-open
list electoral system, giving voters the choice of voting for a
party or for an individual in their region", a statement from the
Cabinet Office said.
The Bill proposes that the five most
senior posts in the Church of England - the archbishoprics of
Canterbury and York, and the bishoprics of Durham, London, and
Winchester - should "be permanently represented" on the bishops'
bench. It says that "the identity of the remaining seven bishops
would be a question for the Church of England."
The Government's response to the Joint
Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill said that there
should be "adequate representation" of faith groups among the 20
per cent of peers who were appointed to the reformed Second
Chamber. They should reflect "the diversity of the population of
The Government rejected the Archbishop
of Canterbury's request that future women bishops should be
"fast-tracked" to the bishops' bench (News, 2
December). The Joint Committee had taken on board Dr Williams's
suggestion, recommending that the Bill "allow greater flexibility"
so that "women bishops . . . can be eligible for appointment in the
second transitional parliament."
But the Government said that "the
purpose of the transitional period is to ensure that there
continues to be representation of members with experience of the
present House, to provide a degree of continuity in our
The Bill also removes the bishops'
exemption from "disciplinary provisions". They will be "subject to
the provisions on disqualification, discipline, and taxation" which
will apply to other members of the reformed House of Lords. This
was recommended by the Committee and agreed by the Archbishops of
Canterbury and York.
Under the provisions of the Bill,
members of the reformed House of Lords would serve for 15-year
terms, and would be allowed to serve for one term only.
Speaking in the Lords on Wednesday, the Bishop of Leicester, the
Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who acts as the bishops' convenor in the
Lords, said: "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.
. ." Bishop Stevens served on the Joint Committee that drafted the
He did, however, raise three concerns. The first was the
relationship between the two Houses, which, he said, was at
"serious risk of dysfunction".
"As a member of the Joint Committee, 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."
The second concern was about religious representation. "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."
The Bishop's third concern was the Bill's proposal to increase
the membership of the Second Chamber from 300 to 450, without also
increasing the number of seats for the bishops above the original
Bishop Stevens echoed earlier concerns expressed by the
Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their submission to the Joint
Committee. The move suggested that "the proportion of bishops at
the number of 12 may be too low if the total number is revised