LONDON—The Church of England leaked to the press in late April that the Lord Chancellor wants to reduce the number of Anglican Bishops who hold seats in the House of Lords. At present 26 of them sit as “Lords Spiritual” in Parliament's so-called Upper House.
In a recent private meeting with the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury said that while he would be happy to see other Christian denominations and other faiths represented in the House, he would not be happy with any attempt to reduce the number of Anglican bishops. Senior Anglican churchmen are telling friendly journalists that they will not accept “disestablishment through the back door.”
Members of Prime Minister Blair's Cabinet Committee on constitutional reform are determined to see that other Churches and religions are represented in a reformed House of Lords.
It is well known in England that Cardinal Basil Hume has several times turned down offers to be made a Peer, and thus given a seat in the House of Lords. Currently the former Chief Rabbi sits in the Upper Chamber, having been created a Peer by Margaret Thatcher when he retired from his post. But he is not there as an official representative of Judaism.
The Chairman of the Imams and Mosques of Britain, Dr. Zakhi Bidawi, who teaches at the Muslim College, recently called for Muslims to be included in the House of Lords to stop them feeling “isolated from the corridors of power.”
Meanwhile, Catholic Church practice precludes Catholic clergymen from holding political office. Until now, Catholic concerns have been addressed through some Catholic Peers from old families who sit in the House of Lords. Indeed, the first Peer of the Realm, the Duke of Norfolk, is Catholic. However, he has been a strong opponent of Humanae Vitae and many Catholics feel that he, and other Catholic Peers, do not adequately represent Catholicism.
In their determination to reform the Upper House, the New Labor Government will have to sort out these different circumstances. Change will meet fierce opposition from the Church of England if it entails any lessening of the Church's rights and privileges. (Jim Gallagher)