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Women bishops Lords Spiritual Bill nodded through

23 January 2015


Last century: The Passing of the Parliament Bill, (1911),  by Samuel Begg 

Last century: The Passing of the Parliament Bill, (1911),  by Samuel Begg 

A LAW to fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords has been passed by the House of Commons unopposed.

The Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill was nodded through by MPs on Monday afternoon, where the Bill's Second Reading, Committee Stage, and Third Reading were held in a single sitting. The Bill would tweak the rules to ensure that future women diocesan bishops could take their seats as Lords Spiritual much faster than the existing rules allow.

Five bishops automatically sit in the Lords (the two Archbishops, and the Bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester). A further 21 seats are occupied by the longest-serving diocesan bishops.

If the Bill becomes law, however, for a transitional period of ten years women diocesan bishops would succeed retiring Lords Spiritual, supplanting any male bishops who had served longer. Bishops must retire at 70, at which point they also cease to sit in the Lords.

All parties backed the Bill, enabling it to be rushed through the Commons. It is hoped that it can be passed by the House of Lords and receive Royal Assent before the General Election in May, so that it can come into force at the start of the next Parliament.

The change in the law was requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who observed proceedings from the gallery above the House of Commons chamber, after the promulging of the women bishops Measure last year.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Conservative MP Sir Tony Baldry, told the Commons that they might see a female Lord Spiritual sooner rather than later.

"Several diocesan vacancies - in Gloucester, in Oxford, and in Southwell & Nottingham - are [currently] being considered by the Crown Nominations Commission. It is perfectly possible that one - or indeed all - of those new diocesan bishops could be a woman. We could see a woman bishop in the House of Lords very speedily."

Introducing the Bill, a government minister, Sam Gyimah, said that it was a "modest but important" change to the law. Stephen Twigg, the Opposition spokesman, strongly supported the proposal. "It is about recognising the important reform that the Church has undertaken, and ensuring it is reflected fully in Parliament," he said.

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