Commenting on today's publication of the report by the Joint Committee on the Government's Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James said:
"The longstanding position of the Church of England is that the key test of Lords reform is whether it will serve parliament and the nation better. The Joint Committee has found that the Government's proposals fall short of meeting that test.
"The concerns raised by the Committee about the damaging effect on the conventions governing relations between the two Houses, were the Lords to be wholly or partially elected, should give Government pause for thought before embarking on any rapid plans for change. Questions of whether the primacy of the House of Commons could be maintained against an elected Lords, whether the Parliament Acts would still apply, and whether elected Lords would encroach on the constituency roles of MPs, have been rightly highlighted by the Joint Committee.
"When he appeared before the Joint Committee last November, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to those core constitutional concerns. But he also spoke about how the Church of England owed its place in parliament as much to its commitment to ongoing service to the nation as it does to our established history. The Joint Committee has also had the opportunity to hear directly from leaders and representatives from other faith communities about the value they place on the continuing role of the Lords Spiritual, and I am pleased to see that testimony acknowledged in the report. The Church of England has for a long time called for the inclusion of leaders and representatives of other denominations and faiths in the House of Lords. It is good therefore to see the Joint Committee suggesting that faith representation should be one of the criteria that the Appointments Commission ought to consider when choosing the non-elected membership.
"The Lords Spiritual welcome the Joint Committee's endorsement of the Government's proposals for continued places for Church of England bishops. We are grateful too that the Committee has accepted the Archbishops' suggestions on how the Bill could be changed to allow more flexibility in how Lord Spiritual are chosen to serve, and to bring the bishops in line with other members on the disciplinary and tax measures.
"Whilst it is disappointing that more has not been made by the Committee on how to deliver a greater breadth of representation across civil society, the recommendation to increase membership from 300 to 450 is to be welcomed, as this will provide better opportunity for those with outside professionalisms and experiences to bring those interests more to bear in the work of the House. The Church of England does not have a declared view on the merits of a referendum on House of Lords reform, though as both the Joint Committee and the Alternative Report have both recommended one, we trust that the Government will look very seriously at the suggestion.
"My colleague the Bishop of Leicester has offered exemplary service to the committee, and we are indebted to him for the enthusiasm, commitment and skill he has brought to the many involved and often mind-bending constitutional issues that the committee has had to grapple with. Having spent many months poring over the finer points of proportional voting systems and parliamentary conventions he is, deservedly, on a long-planned post-Easter break.
"On his behalf I offer the gratitude of the Lords Spiritual to the other members of the joint committee who have gone about their task of scrutinising the Draft Bill will great diligence. Given the enormity of the issues and the short time frame in which to cover the ground it is no surprise that a number amongst the Joint Committee's membership (including the Bishop of Leicester) have also chosen to issue their own Alternative Report, highlighting some different perspectives on some of the knottier issues. Those on our benches especially note with interest the suggestion for a Constitutional Convention, for a Joint Committee to look at conventions between the Houses and for Government in the meantime to take on the provisions in David Steel's Private Members' Bill. The Lords Spiritual continue to believe that the Lords is in need of some reform to resolve some of the outstanding problems before it - namely its increasingly unmanageable size and the absence of firm procedures for discipline and expulsion. We hope that the Government will also take careful note of the advice contained with the Alternative Report in that respect."
Further information: Communications Office 020 7 898 1326
The Bishop of Leicester, who is Convenor of the Lords Spiritual, served on the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.
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/
The Alternative Report on Lords reform by members of the Committee (including the Bishop of Leicester) is at: www.houseoflordsreform.com
The submissions made by the Archbishops to the Joint Committee - both written and oral - can be viewed at: http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/the-church-in-parliament/briefing-bills/house-of-lords-reform.aspx
Church of England Communications Office
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ
Direct Dial Telephone: 020 7898 1326
Out-of-hours Telephone: 07774 800212