Bishops in theHouse of Lords
26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full and active role in the life and work of the Upper House.
This section provides information about their historic and present role, and details of the current occupants of the Bishops' Benches.
The Archbishop of York in the House of Lords
- Which bishops become Lords Spiritual?
- What do they do in Parliament?
- Who do they represent in Parliament?
Christian religious leaders have had an active role in the legislative affairs of the country since before the formation of the Church of England. Prior to the 11th century feudal landlords and religious leaders were regularly consulted by Saxon kings.
In the 14th century, religious leaders and landed gentry formed the 'Upper House' (the Lords) as, respectively, the Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. Local representatives formed the 'Lower House' (the Commons). Apart from a brief interruption following the English Civil war, religious leaders have played an active role in parliament ever since.
The continuing place of Anglican bishops in the Lords reflects our enduring constitutional arrangement, with an established Church of England and its Supreme Governor as Monarch and Head of State.
Although there are 44 dioceses in the present-day Church of England, the Bishopric of Manchester Act of 1847 limited the number of places for Lords Spiritual to 26. In the Upper House today the 26 Lords Spiritual constitute around 3.5% of its membership.
An image of King Edward I presiding over his parliament c.1300 with assembled Lords Spiritual on the left (Bishops in red with Abbots and Priors in black), Lords Temporal and members of the Commons on the right
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 21 places on the Bishops' Bench are not determined by diocese, but are occupied by those English diocesan bishops that have served the longest.
When bishops retire from their see (compulsory at 70), their membership of the House also ceases. Occasionally some have become life peers, and this is usually the case for former archbishops.
There is always a Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords when it is sitting, to read prayers at the start of the day and to participate in the business of the House. Attendance in the House to read prayers is determined by the Lords Spiritual on a weekly rota basis, but bishops also choose to attend the House on an ad-hoc basis when matters of interest and concern to them are before it (the links on this page to individual Lords Spiritual provide more details).
There is no 'Bishops' Party' and as non-aligned members, their activities in the Upper House are not whipped.
Like other members of the Lords, they do not represent a parliamentary constituency, although their work is often closely informed by their diocesan role.
They sit as individual Lords Spiritual, and as such they have much in common with the independent Crossbenchers and those who are not party-affiliated.
Their presence in the Lords is an extension of their general vocation as bishops to preach God's word and to lead people in prayer. Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House and, while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faith, not just Christians.
All parliamentary images on this and subsequent pages are courtesy of UK Parliament and are subject to Parliamentary copyright. For more information please follow this link Parliamentary copyright.