Leader of the Opposition
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
28 June 2012
I am writing on behalf of Labour Humanists to request that, as you consider Labour’s position on – and parliamentary strategy towards – the House of Lords Reform Bill, you will settle on a secular approach. That is, that the Parliamentary Labour Party will oppose government proposals to retain reserved places for Church of England bishops in a partially elected chamber.
As you know, Labour’s policy to have a 100% elected Lords would have meant abolishing the Lords Spiritual, and Labour Humanists can see no good legal, practical or ethical reason why in a partially elected chamber we should not similarly end the undemocratic ‘right’ for the Church of England to sit in our parliament.
Despite the Liberal Democrats’ clear policy against reserved seats for bishops in any reformed chamber, their leaders in parliament have introduced a Bill which retains that unjustifiable religious privilege, and those on the government payroll may be whipped to support that provision.
Labour has a real opportunity to take a more principled position – let us now take the lead in working for secular reform which privileges nor discriminates against any member of the Lords on the basis of religion or belief.
By all means let Church of England bishops, and any other clergy or religious representatives, stand for election or be eligible for appointment to a reformed Lords but let that be on the same basis as everyone else.
Promoting equality and campaigning against privilege in our democratic arrangements is not just a secularist position, it should be the Labour position. We are convinced that many in the Party, religious and non-religious, would fully support moves by the PLP to amend the government’s Bill in a way to get rid of the bishops’ bench. Indeed, former minister for constitutional reform Chris Bryant MP, who is ordained in the Church of England, has been one of the most outspoken advocates of ending the right of bishops to sit in parliament, and has spoken alongside prominent humanists on the issue.
Should you wish to discuss this important issue further, we would be delighted to meet with you or your staff at your convenience.
Chair, Labour Humanists