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House of Lords Reform

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 5 July 2012

3. What discussions he has had with the Church Commissioners on the role of clergy in a reformed House of Lords. (115244)

I have regular discussions on the question of Lords reform with senior colleagues in the Church of England, including the archbishops and the Bishop of London, who are Lords Spiritual and Church Commissioners. Like me, they welcome the view of the Government and the parliamentary Joint Committee that there should be a continuing, albeit reduced, place for Lords Spiritual in a reformed House of Lords.

Some years ago, Parliament changed the law to allow members of the Anglican clergy to stand for election to this House, which has enabled my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to become a Member of Parliament. Will the Government’s proposals for an elected second Chamber permit the Anglican clergy to stand for election, and has the Church considered that it might make sense for the Anglican representation in the second Chamber to be elected, so that women as well as men could offer themselves for election?

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. I do not think that there will be any constraint on priests or former priests standing for election to the elected part of the second Chamber. On the second part of his question, I suspect that all of us here earnestly hope that, sooner or later, the Church of England will have women bishops.

I completely agree, and I praise the hon. Gentleman for all his work on trying to bring in women bishops, but has he read the Bill that we are to debate next week? It does not actually define what a bishop is. The Bill does not say whether it refers to diocesan bishops, suffragan bishops, Anglican bishops, Catholic bishops, bishops from Scotland or bishops from Wales. Is this a radical step that the Church is going to support?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has just applied to speak in the debate. He has already applied to me in writing, and I think that his question was an additional application, for which we are all very grateful.

May I also make an oral application to speak in the Lords reform debate, in response to the many speeches that I know the hon. Gentleman is going to make about bishops?