It’s pretty easy to see why the Arch of Cant, Rowan Williams, and his Number Two in the Church of England, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, should want Britain to steer clear of an elected House of Lords (that, for my multitude of overseas readers, is our upper legislative house here in dear old Blighty).
If we go for a fully elected Lords, you see, the right of the Church of England to have 26 – or, indeed, any – bishops sitting there as of right, just for being bishops, will disappear. And it can’t come too soon.
I’ve no objection to bishops or imams or rabbis in the House of Lords – provided they get there on merit, not by default. They would be peers, but just happen to be bishops or whatever.
At the moment, there are these 26 geezers in frocks sitting there, who, if they do say anything useful, don’t do so because they’re bishops but because they have something useful to say. That could apply to anyone.
Which brings me to another objection from the two prelates: the chamber would lose much of its expertise.
This presupposes that no one who is elected could possibly have expertise.
Well, if all peers were appointed because of their expertise – which isn’t the case, because a lot of peerages are handed out through favouritism, and no doubt corruption (peerages for donations, that sort of thing) – I could see some point in it.
And why, anyway, should not potential peers have to show some expertise, or at least aptitude, before being allowed even to run for election (something I favour for MPs and local councillors, who ought to sit an appropriate examination of before their parties are even allowed to put them forward)?
And there’s no doubt that their bloody holinesses or graces or lordships or whatever they’re called see their own beliefs in fairies as “expertise”.
The government’s draft bill at the moment proposes a House of Lords of 300 members, with 80 to 100 per cent of peers elected by proportional representation. There’s never been an elected upper chamber in the UK, and the public have been bamboozled into thinking this is an OK situation, that people should be allowed to legislate on our behalf without our having put them there.
The archbishops also question whether a salaried House of Lords can be justified in these straitened times. Easy. Pay them how they’re paid now: an allowance – but cut it. They’re entitled to £300 a day (tax-free), when so many hardworking people don’t even get £300 a week! There would be enough people willing to do the job for less than is being paid now – without the distraction of being a bishop.
How do they find the time? Isn’t being a bishop a full-time occupation? If a bishop can find time to sit in the House of Lords, too, bishoping can’t be that onerous. Either bishoping or sitting in the House must be something of a sinecure. And they’re entitled to £300 a day for it.