Bishops in the House of Lords

Calls for the Lords Spiritual to be removed from the House of Lords are nothing new.  It is a frequent occurrence that only increases whenever the 24 bishops who occupy the Bishops’ Benches are perceived to be holding back the advance of progressive liberalism, such as the current Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

But it was not always thus!

The coalition government’s Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 may have laudable aims; and it might genuinely protect the rights and freedoms of people in ways we do not readily recognise; but significant as it is (or isn’t) it doesn’t come close to The Magna Carta of 1215 in securing the rights of the ordinary Englishman!

I’ve had to read the Magna Carta this morning and part of the preamble struck me.

The Protection of Freedoms Act, like all Acts of Parliament today, include as part of its introductory text:

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

In 1215 they were less circumspect about naming the people responsible (presumably because there was a lot less of them!)

The equivalent text in the Magna Carta reads:

JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting.

KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, at the advice of our reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter Bishop of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, William Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warren, William earl of Arundel, Alan de Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin Fitz Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and other loyal subjects:

Some 11 Lords Spiritual and 16 other peers; compared to today’s 26 Lords Spitual and more than 750 other peers.

It seems that England produces more progressive liberal legislation when we have a higher percentage of Lords Spiritual than when the Lords Temporal are in the considerable majority!

And, yes, my tongue is very firmly stuck in my cheek; but the you rarely hear liberals calling for the repeal of the Magna Carta on the basis that the bishops were behind its introduction!

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