The National Secular Society and Humanism UK have rubbished a suggestion put forward by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth – the Conservative Minister for Faith – that religious representation in the House of Lords should be extended to non-Christian leaders.
After the asinine Bourne, above, said last week that seats reserved for Church of England bishops in the House of Lords should be extended to include leaders of other religions, Stephen Evans, CEO of the NSS, said:
The whole practice of giving clerics seats as of right in our legislature is anachronistic, and should be abolished as soon as possible. Extending automatic representation to other faith leaders would be unworkable, unpopular and divisive – running the risk of creating sectarian tensions.
And Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:
Lord Bourne’s suggestions are ill-thought-out. To attempt to appoint a proportionate number of religious leaders to make up for the bishops in Parliament would mean appointing another 85 people of other faiths
He pointed out that religious people are already over-represented among the Lords who are not bishops.
The only fair and equitable solution is to end the privileged place of the Church of England by removing the bishops from the House of Lords and instead allow those of all religions and beliefs equal representation in the chamber through no such special representation at all.
The presence of religious leaders also amounts to double representation as many temporal peers already represent religious interests and a number of retired religious leaders have already been appointed as peers. The unjustifiable prioritising of religious interests in this way highlights the reason why the role of “minister for faith” should be abolished. Promoting faith should not be the business of government.
Advocating for political representation around religious identities is such a divisive and deeply flawed idea. A regressive multi-faith approach to religious privilege would further erode the franchise of the increasing proportion of non-religious people, and indeed of the many liberal religious people whose leaders, those most likely to be gifted a seat in the House of Lords, tend to hold considerably more orthodox and conservative views shared by very few in the country.