In February the Queen gave a speech at a multi faith reception in London, in which she said "The concept of our established church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated.” This is particular true regarding the role of bishops in the House of Lords.
The House of Lords has 825 members, of which twenty six are Anglican bishops (3.15% of the total membership of the Upper Chamber). They are there by virtue of the fact that we have an established church.
The bishops are not affiliated to any political party, and therefore provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House. Bishops are often one of the few voices to be heard in Parliament speaking up for the poor, and speaking on issues of social justice – issues that affect us all. Bishops in the House of Lords have been heavily involved in debates surrounding proposed changes to health and social care, legal aid and welfare reform, challenging many of the proposals which would disproportionately affect the poorest in society. For example the bishops in the House of Lords recently helped defeat the Governments plans to introduce a cap on benefits.
The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, Bishop Angaelos recently defended the role of Anglican bishops in the Upper Chamber, praising them for their faithful representation of groups and peoples who suffer persecution and marginalisation. He said of the bishops in the House of Lords, “They are a moral and ethical compass within the parliamentary centre of the political life of these lands.”
In a time of great political and economic upheaval, we need to recognise and value the important role Bishops play in bringing moral, ethical and spiritual leadership to the heart of our parliamentary system.