Statement from the Bishop of Leicester on the House of Lords Reform Bill
Responding to the announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister
that the Government would not be proceeding with its House of Lords
Reform Bill, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and
Convenor of the Lords Spiritual, has released the following
"The House of Lords still needs a measure of reform, not least to formalise its disciplinary procedures and to resolve the problem of its ever-increasing size - as the Deputy Prime Minister himself acknowledged today. Although the Government's own Bill will not proceed, I hope that they will not be deterred from tackling these remaining urgent and unresolved issues. The Private Member's Bill from Lord Steel, currently in the House of Commons, is certainly worthy of support.
"Having served on the Parliamentary Committee looking at the Government's draft proposals, I know that some of the more complex and important questions about the implications of the reform plans had not been resolved and I understand, therefore, the lack of a consensus. Reforms that would have seen a simple substitution of the existing House for a largely or wholly elected chamber risked both removing what is best about the present Lords - the independence and expertise that its membership brings to bear - and undermining the current conventions between the Houses that prevent damaging gridlock between the Commons and Lords.
"The decision not to proceed with this Bill gives Parliament and the country a welcome opportunity to pause and think again about what it wants a Second Chamber to do, not just who it wants as its members. It also means that Parliament will be able to focus without distraction on the most pressing economic and social challenges that face our country now and in the months ahead."
1. The Bishop of Leicester, who is Convenor of the Lords Spiritual, served on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Government's Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, which reported earlier this year. The Report of the Joint Committee can be found on its website at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/draft-house-of-lords-reform-bill/news/publication-of-report/
2. In their October 2011 submission to the Joint Committee the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said: "If, as we believe, the second chamber should remain essentially a revising chamber and if, as we also believe, the primacy of the House of Commons is to be maintained, the argument that such a chamber can only be effective and have proper legitimacy if it is wholly or mainly elected is no more than an assertion…..We welcome the measures that allow for the expulsion, suspension and retirement of members of a reformed House of Lords. Lords Spiritual have advocated for the early and separate adoption of similar provisions by Government, the speedy introduction of which would be in the best interests of both the House of Lords and Parliament more widely. In that regard we would suggest that the Private Member's Bill of Lord Steel (which also contains provision to end hereditary peer by-elections) is worthy of Government support"
3. The submissions made on Lords reform in October & November 2011 by the Archbishops to the Joint Committee can be viewed at: http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/the-church-in-parliament/briefing-bills/house-of-lords-reform.aspx
4. The Government's Lords Reform Bill, published on 27 June 2012, proposed a House of Lords consisting of an 80% elected and 20% appointed membership, with 12 Lords Spiritual as supernumerary members. The elected members would have served for single non-renewable terms of 15 years, on a semi-open list system of election, representing regional areas along the same lines currently used for elections to the European Parliament. Appointed members would have served for non-renewable 15 year terms and be chosen by an Appointments Commission. The Bill's text is available here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/houseoflordsreform.html
5. 26 Lords Spiritual (2 archbishops and 24 bishops of the Church of England) serve in the House of Lords. The Bill made provision for 12 Lords Spiritual to continue to serve in a fully reformed House, consisting of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester and seven other diocesan bishops of the Church of England. Under the terms of the Bill the process of selection of the seven would have been left to the Church of England. The number of bishops would have been reduced from 26 to 12 across a 10-year transitional period, beginning with the first elections to the House in 2015. Unlike other members of a reformed House the Lords Spiritual would have been (as now) ex-officio and unsalaried.