HC Deb 03 December 2001 vol 376 cc18-9
36. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

What responses the Church Commissioners have (a) received and (b) made in respect of the Government's Command Paper, "The House of Lords—Completing the Reform"; and if he will make a statement. [17020]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

If I may make a statement first, I should say that the Church of England believes that there ought to be a minimum of 20 bishops in a reformed House of Lords in order to offer effective parliamentary service.

In relation to (a) and (b) of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Church has received the Government's Command Paper and is of course giving it careful consideration along the lines of my statement.

Michael Fabricant

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that statement. He will understand that in Lichfield, as in the rest of the country, there is considerable concern about the Command Paper, over and above the fact that its proposals hardly constitute democratic reform of the House of Lords. Does he share my concern about paragraph 83, which suggests that the Church of England's representation should be reduced to 16? He said in his statement that he would like it to be increased to at least 20, but will that definitely include the Lord Bishop of Lichfield?

Mr. Bell

I would hesitate to intrude on the work of the appointment secretary of a future Archbishop, but I am sure that the Bishop of Lichfield will not be far behind. We have 26 bishops in the upper House at the moment. The number may be reduced, but we are also keen to see the representation of other denominations and faiths strengthened in the upper House.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Is not my hon. Friend's last point the most important one? if the Church of England is to have representation in the other House, other Christian churches and other faiths should have equal representation in 2001 and in the years ahead, rather than the situation that has existed for many years.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. It is especially important, following recent tragic events, that forums are developed in which complex and sensitive matters to do with relations between faith communities and their place in modern society can be aired and debated in a measured and well-informed manner. My hon. Friend's suggestion is in line with that supposition.

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