Lords Spiritual: future composition

On 11 March 2024, the Church of England marked the 30 years since women were first ordained to the priesthood with its Press Release “Celebrating women: Call for a Church that ‘represents the diversity of God’”. A couple of days earlier, the Church in Parliament posted an update of its page on the Lords Spiritual in which listed not only the current Lords Spiritual but gave a full list of those not currently in the House of Lords, but awaiting seats in the order that they will enter when a vacancy arises (DV).

The list provides an insight into the operation of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015  (“the 2015 Act”) about which the Explanatory Note states:

“The Act has a single purpose, which is to enable vacancies among Church of England bishops in the House of Lords to be filled, for a limited period, by female bishops instead of male bishops who would otherwise have become members of the House under the Bishoprics Act 1878“.

It further explains the basis of the Lords Spiritual and comments:

[4]. The Act makes time-limited provision for vacancies among the 21 places which are normally filled by seniority to be filled as they arise by eligible female bishops if there are any available at that point (an eligible bishop is a bishop of a diocese in England who is not already entitled as such to a writ of summons). Essentially, for a period of 10 years, the most senior eligible female bishop at any time will fill a vacant Lords Spiritual seat in preference to the most senior eligible male bishop.

[5]. Male bishops will continue to enter the Lords, in accordance with the arrangements under the Bishoprics Act 1878 for determining seniority of precedence, if there are no eligible female bishops at the time a vacancy arises. After the end of the period, the provision made by the Act will come to an end and the arrangements under the Bishoprics Act 1878 for determining which bishops are to fill vacancies among the Lords Spiritual will be restored. The arrangements in relation to the five ex officio sees are left unchanged since any woman appointed to one of those sees will in any event become a Lord Spiritual immediately.


S1(2) of the 2015 Act states:

“If at the time the vacancy arises there is only one eligible bishop who is a woman, the vacancy is to be filled by the issue of writs of summons to her”,

and consequently, the List is headed by the Rt Revd Deborah Sellin, Bishop of Peterborough, who was installed last week (3 March 2024).

With regard the future, S1(a) of the 2015 Act includes a sunset clause which comes into force 10 years after the Act came into force, as defined in S2(1), i.e. “on the day Parliament first meets following the first parliamentary general election after this Act is passed”. The relevant date would appear to be 6 May 2025.

Although the remaining “eligible bishops” are all male, the list includes five vacancies; the See of Durham, to which the 2015 Act is inapplicable, is also vacant and Peter Owen’s web page English Diocesan See Vacancies gives information on relevant dates for the CNC meetings.

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Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Lords Spiritual: future composition" in Law & Religion UK, 13 March 2024, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2024/03/13/lords-spiritual-future-composition/