AS THE Bishop currently at the head of the queue, the Bishop of
Lincoln might have been expected to be a little put-out by plans to
enable his female colleagues to enter the House of Lords before
Instead, as the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill received its first
parliamentary reading, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, welcomed the
"On the one hand, this is quite frustrating," he said on
Thursday, "because greater Lincolnshire is under-represented in the
House of Lords. . .
"However, far more frustrating has been the wait for women to be
able to be ordained bishop, and for an anachronism to be consigned
to history. For that to happen completely, it is absolutely right
that women bishops are fully represented in all levels of society,
parliament and the Church, and I look forward very much to seeing
If passed, the Bill, first mooted by bishops in April (News,
11 April, 2014), will mean that, for a period of ten years, the
most senior eligible female bishop will fill any vacancy that
arises on the Bishops Bench, in preference to the most senior
eligible male bishop. An explanatory note attached to the Bill
states that, unless the law is changed, it would take "some years"
before a newly-appointed female diocesan bishop were eligible.
Under the current law, the two Church of England Archbishops and
24 of its other diocesan bishops are entitled to sit in the House
of Lords, as the Lords Spiritual. Five are summoned automatically,
on the basis of the sees they occupy (Canterbury, York, Durham,
London and Winchester). The remaining 21 are summoned on
the basis of seniority: how long they have been a diocesan
This Bill enables women diocesan bishops to skip the queue -
currently 14 bishops long.
On Thursday, a statement from the campaigning grop WATCH said
that it had "always campaigned for women and men to be bishops on
equal terms, including as members of the House of Lords.
"Sometimes, however, equality is so far distant that some
speeding up is necessary to make it happen within a reasonable time
frame. . .
"The Bill recognises the fact that for the first diocesan
bishops who are women, this hasn't been a level playing field, and
they will not have had the same opportunities historically to be
able to fulfill their full and true callings."
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who is
convenor of the bishops in the House of Lords, said that women
bishops would "enrich and strengthen our voice in the House of
Sir Tony Baldry MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner, expected
a "widespread welcome" for the legislation.
The change in the law was requested by the Archbishop of
Canterbury, after consultation with Bishops. His request was
welcomed by the leaders of all the three main political parties. It
was introduced in the House of Commons by Sam Gymiah, the
parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office.
If no female diocesan is waiting, male bishops will continue to
enter the Lords on the basis of seniority.
Provided that it is granted Royal Assent before Parliament is
dissolved on 30 March, the Act will come into force on the day
Parliament first meets after the general election.
The last Bishop to enter the House of Lords was the Bishop of
Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, on 8