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UK: Bishops in House of Lords - Democracy Undermined


House of Lords, British Parliament

The debate in the House of Commons - the democratically elected House of the Parliament of the United

Kingdom - raised concerns about the presence of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords.


The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament. In contrast to the House of Commons,

membership is not invariably acquired through an election. Instead, membership is granted for life,

typically by political, non-political, or ecclesiastical appointment.


Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard led the debate on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary

Humanist Group, calling for an end to the automatic appointment of bishops to the House of Lords. He

was arguing that it undermines democracy and is no longer appropriate in the 21st century.


Sheppard highlighted the fact that the bishops' bench consists of two archbishops and 24 bishops who

are given guaranteed seats in the Upper House, even though the majority of the population is non-

religious and only a small percentage identify as Anglican. He argued that the bishops' influence on legislation, particularly on socially conservative issues like same-sex marriage and assisted dying, is not

in line with the views of the public and creates an unfair advantage for the Church of England.


The MPs also raised concerns about the bishops voting on issues that only affect England, despite the

Church of England was established in England alone. They argued that the bishops' bench lacks

accountability and scrutiny, as its members are not elected like other members of the House of Lords.


The government representative, Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office Alex Burghart MP,

dismissed the concerns and stated that the government would not be addressing the issue.


However, the debate received support from the National Secular Society (NSS), which has been lobbying for the

removal of bishops from the House of Lords. The NSS argues that the presence of bishops as a matter

of right is undemocratic and out of touch with the religious diversity of modern Britain.

,

Writing in the Guardian, comedian and the founder of the Women's Equality Party Sandi Toksvig, said some

bishops did "good work on social issues" in Parliament but questioned if it really does justify such an

“undemocratic privilege?". She also argued the arrangement was old-fashioned, given the declining

numbers of people in the country describing themselves as Christian.


The debate reflects wider public sentiment, as surveys have shown that a majority of UK adults believe

that bishops should have no place in parliament. The Commission on Political Power also recommended

the removal of bishops from the House of Lords in a reformed second chamber.

The outcome of the debate did not lead to any immediate changes, but it highlighted the ongoing

discussions and criticisms surrounding the presence of bishops in the House of Lords.

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