Future composition of the Lords Spiritual

The announcement to both Houses of the Royal Assent to the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure completed the parliamentary stages of the legislation and brought to the fore the issue of “fast tracking” women in the episcopate to the Lords Spiritual. The principle of fast-tracking women to the Bishops’ benches of the Lords was considered as part of the Church of England’s deliberations on the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012-13: see paragraphs 27 and 28 of its written submission to the Joint Committee drafting the Bill, GS MISC 1004; and in the oral evidence that the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev and Rt Hon Rowan Williams, gave to the Committee on 15 November 2011, [in his response to Q435].

The issues that remain, therefore, are: how this is to be accomplished; and what form this fast-tracking/positive discrimination will take. With regard to the former, in his speech to the House of Lords on 20 October, the present Archbishop of Canterbury stated, [HL Hansard, 14 Oct 2014, Vol 756(38) Col 168]

 “Synod did not have the power to include in the Measure amendments to the law on the issuing of parliamentary writs, but there has been consultation with all the main parties on the possibility of a very short and simple government Bill which could be taken through this Session [2014/15] to accelerate the arrival of the first women Lords spiritual. There has been solid cross-party support and I very much hope that the Government will be able to find a suitable legislative slot very shortly.

Whilst it might be argued that the content of the Bishoprics Act 1878, which determines the composition of the Lords Spiritual, would fall within “any matter concerning the Church of England” under section 3(6) Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the law relating to the issuing of parliamentary Writs of Summons [i.e. to enable a bishop to take a seat in the Lords] is beyond the scope of this provision[1]. Regardless of these considerations, in practical terms it will be quicker to introduce changes to primary statutory legislation through Parliament than through General Synod.[2]

The consideration is therefore: what will be the procedure for selecting women to serve as Lords Spiritual; and what is the “end point”, or target number to be achieved in the short- and longer-term? Continue reading