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Bishops reject Labour plans to abolish House of Lords

09 December 2022

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ABOLISHING the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected Second Chamber, as a Labour Party report proposed this week, would be a mistake, Lords Spiritual have said.

On Monday, the Labour Party’s Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, published its report, A New Britain: Renewing democracy and rebuilding our economy.

Among its proposals is to “clear out the indefensible House of Lords and replace it with a smaller, more representative and democratic second chamber”. This, it says, “should perform a function that a second chamber is best able to do: ensure that the constitutional limits on government power are obeyed, that power is truly shared with the devolved legislatures and across England, and give voice explicitly to the different nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

Writing in the Church Times this week, however, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who is the Convener of the Lords Spiritual, says that, while Mr Brown’s broader report has merits, “on the House of Lords, it misfires.” The Second Chamber needs “reform, not abolition”, he argues.

He continues: “In treating as undisputed truth . . . that election confers the only legitimacy worth having, the Brown report makes a fundamental mistake. It considers the two Houses of Parliament as separate entities, instead of distinct but complementary components of a whole parliamentary system.

“That system derives its legitimacy through its elected part, the House of Lords assuming the subordinate position because it is conscious of its unelected status. Two elected chambers, using different systems, would create competition between them over which had greatest legitimacy. This is a recipe for gridlock.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said this week that he also supported reform of the Lords, but said: “I would resist a move to an elected chamber. . . It would cut away quite a lot of the expertise that is already there.

“It would inevitably be a junior chamber, so you would end up with less experienced people than in the Commons, which would undercut its point and purpose. Also, it would compete with the Commons and produce deadlocks into the future.”

If the Second Chamber was elected, he said, candidates would have to be drawn from political parties, and there would not be a big pool to choose from. “So the degree of representation would thereby be reduced.”

Dr Croft also called for the Lords to be more geographically representative, and for it to be smaller. “A Second Chamber about the size of the Commons would preserve about the right amount of expertise, preserve balance, and produce a collegiate way of working,” he said.

Both Dr Smith and Dr Croft expressed concern about the absence in the Brown report of the part played by faith and civil society.

Read the Bishop of St Albans’s article here

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