Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Support for Church of England Collapsing in Secular Britain

Poll conducted March 22, 2021
Daily Question | 22/03/2021 | YouGov

A YouGov poll conducted a few days ago shows a very clear majority of Brits think the Church of England should not be entitled to have its bishops sitting in the upper chamber of our bicameral parliament, the House of Lords.

Historically, 26 seats in the HOL are reserved for Anglican bishops in addition to the seats occupied by retired former Archbishops of Canterbury and York who sit in their own right as Peers of the Realm. The 26 Anglican bishops and archbishops together make up the 'Lords Spiritual', and have done so since the Restoration in 1660.
The occupants of the five "great sees"—Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester—are always Lords of Parliament. Of the remaining 35 bishops, the 21 most senior sit in the House of Lords, although the normal operation of this rule was suspended in 2015 (following the decision of the Church to begin to appoint women as bishops), instead meaning that until 2025 every woman appointed as a bishop will automatically be appointed as a Lord Spiritual, regardless of seniority, so as to balance out the representation of female Bishops in the House.

This undemocratic system continues despite a near catastrophic collapse in support for the Church of England with only a small minority of people now identifying as Anglicans and church attendance at a historically low level. A very clear majority of Brits now self-identify as having no religion, outnumbering all other faiths put together.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday in 2017 showed 62% thought religious clerics should not have an automatic right to a seat in the HOL with only 8% in favour.

Since the Parliament Act of 1911, the HOL has had only limited powers and can no longer veto bills originating in the Commons, except ones to extend the lifetime of a parliament. Its role is to revise and send back a bill for reconsideration but it cannot prevent a bill from receiving Royal Consent after being reintroduced in the Commons. Its powers to delay a bill was reduced to one year (from two) by a 1949 ammendment to the Parliament Act 1911.

But despite their limited powers, the presence of 26 unelected and now unrepresentative clergy in the Upper Chamber is an affront to democracy. Iran is the only other country where religious clerics have automatic and unelected seats in the legislature.

Giving Anglican clerics an automatic role in running the country is an unjustifiable privilege that undermines the principle of equal citizenship. Their proximity to political power also puts those who oppose the church's positions at a democratic disadvantage. Any plans to reform the House of Lords must include the abolition of the anachronistic bench of bishops. This poll suggests there would be substantial public support for that.

Stephen Evans
Chief Executive
National Secular Society
Support for abolishing this anachronism is in a clear majority across supporters of all main political parties, with the strongest support amongst Labour voters (73%:6%). Conservatives are less inclined toward abolition but still in a large majority (59%: 18%) while Liberal Democrats are in between the left and right-leaning parties (75%:10%)

The National Secular Society (NSS) has been campaigning to end this anachronism, which has been in place since 1660 in its present form and historically well before that, the 'Lords Spiritual' only losing their majority during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. It was temporarily abolished during Cromwell's Commonwealth following the English Civil War.

With support for the Church of England now running at the level of a minority cult, there can be no justification for this involvement in government at any level. The time is long overdue for disestablishing the CofE and removing the last few remaining vestiges of the political power it once used and abused as though entitiled to dictate to the rest of us, regardless of our religious affiliations or none. Britain now needs to become a consitutionally secular state in all senses of the word.

What You can do.


please consider supporting the National Secular Society's campain by signing their petition and/or writing to your MP.








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