Media Centre

Statement on Government white paper on House of Lords reform

Commenting on the Government's proposals, Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and Convenor of the Lords Spiritual said:

"Some reform of the Lords is overdue, not least to resolve the problem of its ever-increasing membership. But getting the balance of reform right, so that we retain what is good in our current arrangements, whilst freeing up the House to operate more effectively and efficiently, is crucial.

If the test of any reform is that it helps serve parliament and the nation better, in proposing to replace the House of Lords with a wholly or largely elected second chamber, the case has not been made. That case would require a clear redefinition of the primary purpose and function of the Upper House.

The House of Lords excels as a revision and scrutiny chamber, and this is in large part because of the independence and expertise of its members. Any change that would have the effect of restricting the independence or expertise available to parliament risks being a retrograde step.

A wholly or largely elected House will be a more politicised House. It will also be a more assertive House, liable to challenge the authority of the primary elected chamber, the House of Commons.

At its best the House of Lords is uniquely a national forum in which the voices and concerns of all strands of civil society can be convened and heard. Perhaps of greatest concern therefore to those on our Benches is that these reforms risk substituting that large body of distinguished professionals appointed for their experience across all walks of life, with a further class of salaried professional politicians.

The recent AV referendum showed that there is little enthusiasm amongst the wider public for constitutional change that might have unintended consequences. Those on our Benches would certainly question whether House of Lords reform ought to be a priority for parliament with the many and pressing social and economic challenges before us.

As Convenor of the bishops in the Lords I am pleased that the Coalition recognises that "in a reformed second chamber which had an appointed element, there should continue to be a role for the established Church". I and my colleagues on the Bishops' Benches look forward to playing a full and active role in the discussions and debates to come on how we should best reform our second chamber."

Daily Digest