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 ofthe UK parliament must include representation by people of allfaiths in order to ensure an effective religious voice, says aMethodist Church submission this week.

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

The submission, drafted on behalf of a specially convenedconsultation group by the Methodist Secretary for Parliamentary andPolitical Affairs, Rachel Lampard, says: "If the purpose of thesecond chamber is to offer a different perspective on debates fromthat which predominates in the House of Commons, then people offaith have a valuable contribution to make."

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

Importantly, the Methodist response questions the Government'sunwillingness to grant ex officio places to Christian churches andother faiths other than the Church of England: "The Governmentstates its refusal is based on the belief that as other churcheslack an Anglican episcopal hierarchy, there are no obvious leadersto take up these positions. This dismissive statement demonstratesa worrying lack of appreciation of the models of leadership withinthe different churches and faiths. Leadership is not alwayshierarchical."

"More profoundly, there is an assumption that church leaders arealways the best people to represent religious communities or tocontribute to consideration of legislation. Church leaders, in thesense used by the Government, have many other duties and are notable to commit significant time or energy to the second chamber.There are many other people, who exercise forms of leadershipwithin the church, who can be freed up in order to make a moresubstantial contribution."

The Methodist submission calls for the term 'House of Lords' tobe scrapped and replaced by the term 'Second Chamber' to distanceitself from its past as a place of 'privilege'. Aside from exofficio positions, the distribution of seats in a reformed secondchamber should be divided into one-third independent nominations,one-third political nominations and one-third regionallyelected.

Elections for the regionally elected members should coincidewith the General Election. These elected members should be willingto serve for up to 10 years, with half the total being voted in ateach General Election. Members of the second chamber should receivea remuneration that enables better attendance by a widerrepresentation across society.

If there is no ex officio representation of churches and faiths,it should be part of the formal duties of the AppointmentsCommission to ensure that there is religious balance in the secondchamber - whether this is fulfilled by nominated or electedmembers. The workings of the Appointments Commission should be opento wider public scrutiny by the publication of non-confidentialminutes.

"Members of the Appointments Commission should receiveappropriate training and briefing to ensure that they are fullyaware of the structures and contributions of the Christian churchesand other faiths in order to ensure that there is effectivereligious contribution," said Ms Lampard.