CHURCH officials and advisers are considering ways to speed up
the entry of women bishops into the House of Lords, the Bishop of
Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, confirmed on Monday.
Episcopal admission to the House of Lords is determined by the
Bishopric of Manchester Act of 1847. This limits the number of
places for Lords Spiritual to 26. The Archbishops of Canterbury and
York and the Bishops of Durham, London, and Winchester are
ex-officio members of the House of Lords. The remaining places on
the Bishops' Bench are held by the 21 diocesan bishops who have
been in post the longest.
On Monday, Bishop Stevens, the convener of the Bishops in the
Lords, said: "The discussion is about whether it would be helpful
to the Church, and, indeed, to Parliament, for the Bishops' Bench
to be both male and female in rather quicker time than the present
process would naturally allow. . .
"We have started to consult about this, including consulting
with some senior ordained women about what their views would be
about some positive affirmative action."
The proposals will not be put before the General Synod. Rather,
both Houses of Parliament would have to pass an amendment to the
Bishop Stevens reported that "a significant number" of
parliamentarians would like to see women bishops appear more
quickly than they might under the present system.
Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden, said: "At
present, many ordained women have reported feeling that they are
still regarded as second best, which will persist unless we are
success-ful in getting a mix of men and women bishops in the Upper
And, on Tuesday, Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland,
said: "To have places reserved solely for men brings into question
the legitimacy of bishops in the Lords in a modern democracy. Since
the seats are currently allocated on a seniority basis, changing
this will require legislation, which the Labour Party will be happy
Nothing can be done until the General Synod has passed the
legislation to enable women to become bishops, which it will have
an opportunity to do in July. "This is not a bunch of people
assuming that it is done and dusted," Bishop Stevens said. "We all
want to respect synodical process, but we are starting to have some
consultations so that . . . things will be able to move reasonably
quickly before the end of this Parliament."
Shortlists discussed. Women could not be
considered for vacant sees until the women-bishops legislation has
been approved by the General Synod, the Second Church Estates
Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, reiterated on Monday. The earliest
that this could happen would be November, when the relevant canon
might be promulged.
Mike Truman, a diocesan-synod member in Guildford, said last
week that he was "surprised" to learn that the Crown Nominations
Commission would not consider women candidates when it met to find
a new bishop for the diocese on 21 and 22 July, after the General
Synod vote in York on giving the Measure final approval. "It seems
perverse to ignore the likelihood that the law will have changed
before the appointment is made."
He urged the Commission to consider shortlists that included
women, "provided the interviews are taking place after the July