Influencing the House of Lords: The Role of the Lords Spiritual 1979–1987

AuthorFrancis Bown
DOI10.1111/j.1467-9248.1994.tb01678.x
Published date01 March 1994
Date01 March 1994
Subject MatterArticle
Political
Studies
(1994),
XLII,
105-1 19
Influencing the House
of
Lords:
the
Role
of
the
Lords Spiritual
1979-1987
FRANCIS
BOWN
St
Stephen’s
Presbytery,
Hull
The House of Lords is unique among the Parliamentary chambers of democra-
tic states in still having a body of members present
by
virtue of a prescriptive
right enjoyed by their religion.’ The Lords Spiritual comprise
5
‘ex officio’
bishops
-
the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of Lon-
don, Durham and Winchester
-
and
21
other diocesan bishops of the Church
of
England, according to the seniority
of
their appointment to diocesan
sees.
At
any one time, therefore,
26
of the
44
diocesan bishops of the Provinces of
Canterbury and York have seats in the Lords.2 The Bishopric of Manchester
Act
1847
and later Acts kept the number of the Lords Spiritual at
26,
despite the
increase in the number of English dioceses.
Archbishops, bishops and abbots were among those summoned to the
Councils by English kings as early as the eleventh century, and the Lords
Spiritual have been part of the House
of
Lords from the time it acquired
separate identity as a House of Parliament at the end of the fourteenth century.3
Because they could not originally
be
tried by their peers nor take part in such
trials (because canon law forbade their participation in judgements of blood)
the Lords Spiritual are not peers. They are Lords of Parliament. They have no
restrictions on their right to speak and vote but they lose their seats on resigna-
tion from their diocesan sees, although the Archbishops are now usually given
life peerages on retirement.
Each day’s Proceedings of the House begin with prayers and
it
is
the duty of
the Lords Spiritual to say such prayers. The
5
‘ex
officio’
bishops are exempt
from this duty, although they may occasionally take the prayers in the absence
of the duty bishop. The remaining
21
bishops are circulated (in order of
seniority) with a list early in the preceding year, on which they mark the weeks
they are willing and able to say prayers. The senior bishops choose
2
weeks, the
junior
3,
so
that, theoretically, every week of the year to come is ‘covered’ by a
I
See
J. Maule
Religious Elements
in
Representative Assemblies,
House
of Lords Information
Office,
1977.
2
The Bishop of Sodor and Man has
no
entitlement by reason of his own legislative position
in
the
Legislative Council and Tynwald of the Isle
of
Man.
The diocesc
of
Europe,
formed
in
1980,
is a
diocese of the Church of
England
but the Measure setting it up created
no
entitlement for its bishop
-
probably because it lies geographically outside Britain.
3
The
House
of
Lords:
General Information,
House
of Lords Journal and Information Office,
1984.
0
Polilical
Sludies
Asmiation
1%.
Published by
Blackwell
Publishera.
108
Cowlcy
Road.
Word
OX4
IJF.
UK
and
238
Main
Slrsct.
Suite
501.
Cambridge,
MA
02142.
USA.

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