Why the Women Bishops Vote Matters… To You!

Most people watching the Church of England vote against women Bishops would be hard pushed to care. Church membership is declining as an increasingly secular society finds meaning in other places. But, you would be unwise to dismiss the vote too quickly.

The Church of England is awarded 26 seats in the House of Lords. 26 people can take those seats and vote on policy that affects your daily lives. After the vote on the 20th of November those seats can only be filled by men.

I’ll say that again. In 2012, the UK has a system where seats in Parliament are reserved for men only. Imagine the outrage, both nationally and internationally if these were seats reserved for whites only? What is not OK when it comes to race is not OK when it comes to gender.

That is why a petition was set up to ask the Government to remove the automatic right of the Church of England to seats in the House of Lords. The Church can vote any way it pleases, that is its democratic right but it must accept the impact this has on its ability to legislate for the rest of the United Kingdom. Current Equality legislation must be extended to the Bishops in the House of Lords.

“We call on the Govt to remove the right of the Church of England to have automatic seats in the House of Lords, in line with its commitments to equality and non-discrimination, set out in the Equality Act (2010) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979).”

Please help now with these three small actions:

1) Sign the ePetition

2) Use this automatic system to email your MP in a couple of easy clicks

3) Share this page with a Tweet, Like, etc… using the buttons below

 

The BHA responds to today’s announcement

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg announced today that the government will abandon its plans for reform of the House of Lords. The British Humanist Association (BHA) is disappointed at this decision, because we hoped that Lords Reform would provide an opportunity for removing the right of Bishops to reserved seats in Parliament. However, we were critical of the Government’s plans, because they included retaining the Bishops, and launched our Holy Redundant campaign, which called for the removal of the Bishops from Parliament. We called on our supporters to e-mail their MPs and Nick Clegg to urge them to support the removal of the Bishops, and thousands responded.
 
The e-mails certainly ensured our voice was heard. Mark Harper MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office, revealed on 23 May that of all the letters received by the Government on Lords Reform, the majority had concerned the Bishops. The Government’s intention of retaining the Bishops was also heavily criticised during Parliamentary debate in July, with one in every five speakers referring to ending the role of the Lords Spiritual in a reformed House. Within hours of the Bill’s introduction, amendments to remove the Bishops had been tabled by Chris Bryant MP (Rhondda). Sadly, with reform of the House of Lords now abandoned, Parliament will no longer be voting on these amendments.
 
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented, ‘We were critical of the Government’s plans for reform of the House of Lords because they included retaining the Bishops. However, our campaigning pushed the role of the Bishops onto the political agenda, raising hopes that the Government’s plan for reform could be changed and more recently, we supported amendments which would have led to the removal of the Bishops.
 
‘Now that Lords reform has been taken off the agenda, we are disappointed that this opportunity has passed. However, we will continue to argue against the presence of Bishops in Parliament, which is an unfair form of religious privilege which should have no place in a democratic society.’
 
Notes
 
For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at info@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7079 3580.
 
BBC News report on Nick Clegg’s announcement: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19149212
 
Visit the Holy Redundant website: http://holyredundant.org.uk/
 
Read the amendments to the House of Lords Reform Bill tabled by Chris Bryant MP: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0052/amend/pbc0521007a.1-7.html
 
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

One last push may be all we need…

CLICK HERE TO REQUEST YOUR MP SUPPORTS FAIR AND EQUAL LORDS REFORM   

Over the course of two Parliamentary debates, the Government’s proposals to retain Church of England bishops in the legislature came under sustained attack. What’s more, within hours of the Bill’s introduction, an amendment to remove the bishops had been tabled by Chris Bryant MP.

In the wake of these debates, the Government had intended to hold a vote on a Programme Motion. This would have limited Parliament’s debating time to a dozen days, ensuring the Bill passed swiftly. However, in the face of a substantial backbench rebellion, the Motion was withdrawn at last minute.

The prospect of reform is not gone however, just delayed a bit. The Government will still introduce a Programme Motion, though it will attempt to do so when Parliament returns in the autumn. In the meantime, ministers will be meeting with parliamentarians of all hues seeking concessions which might guarantee the Bill support in the Commons.

Thanks to the thousands of messages emailed to MPs through our website and the strong objections voiced in Parliament, the unjust privilege afforded to Church of England bishops is now firmly among the leading issues of Lords Reform.

We need to keep up the pressure though. Click here to email your MP and Nick Clegg, reminding them of the sheer scale of popular and parliamentary opposition to the Lords Spiritual and asking them to support Chris Bryant’s amendment.

This week in the House of Commons…

Reform of the House of Lords has been high on the news agenda this week. Over Monday and Tuesday, two lengthy debates were held on the Government’s proposed Bill. Throughout, the unjust proposals to continue reserving seats exclusively for men of the Church of England came under intense scrutiny and criticism.

In best traditional list fashion, we’ve picked out our 10 favourite contributions below.

  • Graeme Morrice (Livingston): ‘My constituents have been unanimous in their view that this reform is an opportunity to end the automatic right of bishops to sit in the Lords. I very much hope that whatever form the new second Chamber takes, it will contain a diversity of representatives, but they should be there because the people have put their trust in them at the ballot box, rather than because they hold a particular religious office.’
  • Chris Bryant (Rhondda): ‘It is even more bizarre to have bishops of the Church of England there…It makes no sense for only one denomination representing one geographical area to be appointed to the House of Lords.’
  • Helen Goodman (Bishop Aukland): ‘Why is it right that the second Chamber should reserve places for Anglican bishops…we need institutions that provide equal rights within their arrangements’
  • Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge): ‘The only other legislature in the world that allows clerics, by dint of their role, to be Members is Iran. Does he [Tom Greatrex MP] think that is a good model to follow?
  • Karl Turner (Hull): ‘Surely if we are trying to increase democracy and legitimacy, having ex officio religious positions is, in itself, discriminatory.’
  • Ian Lucas (Wrexham): ‘Have bishops as Member is wrong…Giving precedence to Church of England clerics is an extraordinary thing to do, and it is even more inexplicable on this very day, when the Church of England has decided not to appoint women bishops. Is not having such a clause in the Bill a breach of the European convention on human rights?’
  • Anne McGuire (Stirling): ‘If the establishment of the Church of England depends on 12 bishops sitting in the House of Lords, it is in a worse state than the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks it is.’
  • Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith): ‘by giving a privileged place to leaders of one faith group, we discriminate against every other faith group, let alone against agnostics and atheists.’
  • Mr William Bain (Glasgow NE): ‘The UK would remain one of only two legislatures in the world, along with Iran’s, to continue such religious representation, even though 60% of the public say that bishops should not sit in Parliament.’
  • Nia Griffith (Llanelli):  ‘Equality legislation in this country outlaws discrimination between men and women, yet for this reformed 21st century second Chamber, the Bill proposes to include bishops from the Church of England, which has fudged on equal rights. After years and years, yet again this week the Church is fudging on women bishops, and we have had nothing but exceptions and excuses, and a ridiculous amendment… that would allow parishes that do not accept women bishops to request a male bishop. This would not be allowed in other workplaces and would be a disgrace even within a non-established Church or religion, but it is utterly deplorable that a so-called established Church chooses to flout the spirit of the law of the land. It is totally unacceptable to give 12 places with voting rights in a reformed 21st century second Chamber to bishops in an organisation that still does not give equal rights to women to allow them to become bishops and which has actually contemplated an amendment that would undermine their authority.’

If you’d like to have a look over the transcripts yourself, click here for the 9th July, and here for the 10th July.

A Duty to Tackle Gender Inequality

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society; a member of the Counting Women IN coalition.

The Counting Women IN campaign is fighting for 50/50 gender representation at all levels of government across theUK.

The under representation of women in Westminster, the devolved assemblies and in our town halls, represents a democratic deficit that undermines the legitimacy of the decisions made in these chambers. It is disgraceful that men currently outnumber women inWestminsterfour to one – this has to change.

At present a paltry 22% of the Lords are women but the House of Lords Reform Bill provides a vital opportunity to begin to redress this imbalance.

A new, reformed Chamber must be representative of the population as a whole and must draw equally on the experiences and expertise of women and men. Our Government has a legal duty to assess how measures for reform could promote equality and tackle discrimination and if they are serious about this then representation of women must be at the heart of the agenda to reform the Lords.

Serious consideration should therefore be given to the 26 seats in the chamber currently reserved for Church of England Bishops. This provision means 26 seats are reserved for men, a situation which will continue to have an impact on equality and diversity in a reformed Chamber if it is not resolved.

The lack of women in politics sends a clear signal to other walks of life: it is acceptable to cut women out from positions of power. This reform offers a once in a generation opportunity to increase the presence and voice of women in the Upper House; we must not waste it.

At the current rate of change our daughters will be drawing their pensions before they have an equal say in the decisions that affect our lives.  We can and must do better than this.

Join the call for change at www.countingwomenIN.org

An Origin Story

We’re often told by their supporters that the bishops and archbishops who sit in the House of Lords have been there from the start, that they’re not cuckoos, that they’re whittled into the woodwork. Religious leaders were certainly consulted regularly by Saxon kings, and the Great Councils called by post-1066 English monarchs would typically include archbishops, bishops and abbots. Moving on a bit, we know Edward I’s ‘Model Parliament’ included at least 70 abbots and that, in fact, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, religious leaders made up the majority of Parliament.

This all begs an interesting question; if the Lords Spiritual are to be justified by their longevity, why were they there to start with? If we have Lords Spiritual now because we did then, why on Earth did we have them then? Well, the short answer is money and men…

For practical purposes, under the feudal system religious boundaries were often adopted for secular purposes. The country was already divided into parishes and dioceses, why add another layer of administration on top of it? With these units in place, it was a short step for medieval rulers to team up with local religious establishments to help administer the land.

As major landholders and administrators, certain duties were placed in the hands of churchmen, just as they were for lay lords and barons. These included the collection of taxes, duties and fees, and the provision of soldiers for the king’s army. In a survey carried out by the Treasury of the nation’s stock of fighting men in 1166, for example, the Archbishop of York was required to confirm how many knights he had patronised by endowing them with land.

Whenever the king needed to raise some hard cash to fund big expenditures, usually his latest war, he would call together major landowners in a Parliament to ask for their support. After all, they would be the ones who had to raise the cash and mobilise the men. With vast swathes of land and resources under their command, the Church was prominent among those called.

The best part of a millennium ago, the Church was invited into Parliament because it made secular sense; the king needed men and money, and the Church could provide them. None of that original purpose now remains.

King Edward I presiding over his Parliament c.1300. To his left are the Lords Spiritual on the left (with Bishops in red and Abbots/Priors in black).