THE Government dropped its plans to reform the House of Lords
during this Parliament on Monday, which means that the 26 members
of the Bench of Bishops are safe for the time being.
The Bill had proposed that the Lords' membership be reduced from
826 to 450, and that 80 per cent of members be elected and the
remaining 20 per cent appointed. It also proposed reducing the
number of bishops from 26 to 12, to reflect the smaller size of a
reformed Second Chamber (
News, 29 June).
On Monday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced that
the Bill had been abandoned because the Prime Minister had been
unable to persuade a sufficient number of Conservative MPs to
Mr Clegg said that the Government did "not have the Commons
majority needed to ensure this Bill progresses through Parliament.
It is obvious that the Bill's opponents would now seek to inflict
on it a slow death: ensuring Lords' reform consumes an unacceptable
amount of parliamentary time." He said that "an unelected Lords
flies in the face of democratic principles and public opinion".
Responding to the announcement, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt
Revd Tim Stevens, who acts as the bishops' convener in the Lords,
said: "Having served on the Parliamentary Committee looking at the
Government's draft proposals, I know that some of the more complex
and important questions about the implications of the reform plans
had not been resolved, and I understand, therefore, the lack of a
"Reforms that would have seen a simple substitution of the
existing House for a largely or wholly elected Chamber risked both
removing what is best about the present Lords - the independence
and expertise that its membership brings to bear - and undermining
the current conventions between the Houses that prevent damaging
gridlock between the Commons and Lords."
Bishop Stevens said that the decision not to proceed with the
Bill "gives Parliament and the country a welcome opportunity to
pause and think again about what it wants a Second Chamber to do. .
. It also means that Parliament will be able to focus without
distraction on the most pressing economic and social challenges
that face our country now and in the months ahead."
Bishop Stevens said that the Lords "still needs a measure of
reform, not least to formalise its disciplinary procedures and to
resolve the problem of its ever-increasing size". He described Lord
Steel's Private Member's Bill, which contains more modest reform
proposals, as "certainly worthy of support".
Giving evidence to the Joint Committee last year, the Archbishop
of Canterbury said: "The bishops are not there to represent the
Church of England's interests: they are there as bishops of the
realm, who have taken on the role of attempting to speak for the
needs of a wide variety of faith communities" (
News, 2 December 2011).