C of E calls for broader faith presence in House of Lords

 The Church of England will appeal today for members of other denominations and faiths to be represented in the House of Lords. In their response to the government's White Paper on House of Lords reform the Church will also call for the House to have greater independence and less political affiliation. A written response to the Government White Paper, The House of Lords: Completing the Reform, states: "We believe parliament and the people would be better served by reducing the patronage of the political parties and shifting the balance of political and independent members. This should be done through abandoning the closed party list system for elections to the chamber and an increase in the independent nominations considered by the Appointments Commission." The document, approved by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, supports a mainly appointed Second Chamber, but also calls for the proportion of elected members to be increased over the Government's proposals and for the overall size of the House to be larger than envisaged by the Government. On religious representation in the House of Lords, the document is critical of various aspects of Government proposals. At present, 26 bishops of the Church of England have seats in the House of Lords. The Government proposes a reduction to 16. However, the document states: "...we continue to believe that 20 is the minimum number of members required in order to offer effective service in the context of a reformed second chamber." The submission argues that fewer than this number would mean that a diminished range of experience and skills would be represented, and could result in bishops facing a conflict between their diocesan and parliamentary responsibilities. The document also criticises Government proposals relating to other denominations and faiths. It says: "We believe that a broader faith presence is an important element in such a reform and that the government's proposals in this area are insufficient." Instead of an "ad hoc" and discretionary approach, the document calls for a minimum numerical threshold to be set formally for members drawn from other denominations and faiths. The document goes on to highlight the potential of the House of Lords as a unique forum for informed debate on the religious dimension in national and international affairs. It advocates: "...a House of Lords capable of doing justice to its important role in the parliamentary process and our national discourse, a role in which, as recent events have so clearly demonstrated, the articulate contribution of a religious and spiritual perspective is more than ever an important component." There are currently 26 Lords Spiritual, comprising the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, and the 21 most senior diocesan bishops, by length of diocesan service.

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