A clerical error

Plans to modernise the House of Lords will not succeed if the government refuses to abolish the anachronistic bench of bishops.

Jack Straw's white paper on reform of the House of Lords is supposedly an attempt to "modernise" the upper chamber. Unfortunately, that ambition falls at the first hurdle with the government's complete refusal to abolish the anachronism that is the bench of bishops. According to Mr Straw, not only should the bishops stay, they should also be supplemented by representatives of other religions.

But by not completely ruling out ex-officio clerical representation, the government is missing a perfect opportunity to bring Britain's parliament into line with the rest of the western world.

No other western democracy gives religious representatives automatic seats in their parliaments as we do. According to Mr Straw, giving the bishops the boot would be tantamount to disestablishing this Church of England, but that isn't true. You can have one without the other. And, according to key surveys, popular opinion favours giving the 26 bishops the kiss-off, so what's to be afraid of, Jack?

. . .

{josquote}And if to a Baha'i why not a Scientologist? See the problem?{/josquote}

The government's proposal to bring in more religious representatives from other faiths is the least democratic and most misguided of all courses of action. Where will it end? If you give places to one religion, then why not another? If to a Sunni representative, why not a Shia? If to an orthodox rabbi, why not a liberal one? And if to a Baha'i why not a Scientologist? See the problem? Cries of religious discrimination will surely come hot on the heels of such appointments when one tiny sect is appointed and another rebuffed.

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