Today the Government are introducing the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill to the House of Commons, with explanatory notes.
The Bill follows the legislation permitting women to be ordained bishops. That was completed by the General Synod of the Church of England on 17 November. With the way clear for the first women to be appointed, it is right that those women should be among the Bishops who occupy seats in the House of Lords—known as Lords Spiritual. This Bill is intended to allow that to happen sooner than it would under the existing rules.
Currently, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of Durham, London and Winchester automatically take seats in the House of Lords. The remaining 21 seats are occupied by bishops in order of seniority—length of service. Under the current system, it would be many years before women bishops were represented in the Lords.
The Government’s Bill, which is supported by the Church of England, proposes a modification of this rule for the next 10 years, so that if a female bishop is available when a Lords Spiritual seat becomes vacant, they will automatically be appointed to the House of Lords. If no female bishop is available, the vacancy would be filled by the next most senior male bishop, as currently happens.
A copy of the Bill and explanatory notes can be found on the website: