30 January 2002

All faiths must be represented in new-look second chamber, says Methodist Church

The reform of the House of Lords into a modern second chamber of the UK parliament must include representation by people of all faiths in order to ensure an effective religious voice, says a Methodist Church submission this week.

The Methodist Church's official response to the Government White Paper, 'The House of Lords: Completing the Reform', goes on to question whether religious insight or representation in the second chamber is best met only by busy church leaders.

The submission, drafted on behalf of a specially convened consultation group by the Methodist Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs, Rachel Lampard, says: "If the purpose of the second chamber is to offer a different perspective on debates from that which predominates in the House of Commons, then people of faith have a valuable contribution to make."

"This is both in terms of the reflections they can offer on the moral and ethical issues before the House, but also because of the ways in which faith groups are both deeply rooted in their local communities and share values and links across the country and around the world."

Importantly, the Methodist response questions the Government's unwillingness to grant ex officio places to Christian churches and other faiths other than the Church of England: "The Government states its refusal is based on the belief that as other churches lack an Anglican episcopal hierarchy, there are no obvious leaders to take up these positions. This dismissive statement demonstrates a worrying lack of appreciation of the models of leadership within the different churches and faiths. Leadership is not always hierarchical."

"More profoundly, there is an assumption that church leaders are always the best people to represent religious communities or to contribute to consideration of legislation. Church leaders, in the sense used by the Government, have many other duties and are not able to commit significant time or energy to the second chamber. There are many other people, who exercise forms of leadership within the church, who can be freed up in order to make a more substantial contribution."

The Methodist submission calls for the term 'House of Lords' to be scrapped and replaced by the term 'Second Chamber' to distance itself from its past as a place of 'privilege'. Aside from ex officio positions, the distribution of seats in a reformed second chamber should be divided into one-third independent nominations, one-third political nominations and one-third regionally elected.

Elections for the regionally elected members should coincide with the General Election. These elected members should be willing to serve for up to 10 years, with half the total being voted in at each General Election. Members of the second chamber should receive a remuneration that enables better attendance by a wider representation across society.

If there is no ex officio representation of churches and faiths, it should be part of the formal duties of the Appointments Commission to ensure that there is religious balance in the second chamber - whether this is fulfilled by nominated or elected members. The workings of the Appointments Commission should be open to wider public scrutiny by the publication of non-confidential minutes.

"Members of the Appointments Commission should receive appropriate training and briefing to ensure that they are fully aware of the structures and contributions of the Christian churches and other faiths in order to ensure that there is effective religious contribution," said Ms Lampard.

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