The House of Lords
The Centre's Evidence to the Commission
PART 9: Ex-officio members.
There can be no justification for one office to entitled the holder to a seat in the legislature. One who serves well in a particular office is not necessarily the best person to sit in the legislature, nor may she or he wish to have the responsibilities of a legislator. Such legislators might be "independent" of party and electorate or might be subject to pressures arising from the office that gave rise to their seat in the legislature. In neither case would they have any democratic legitimacy.
In the case of law lords, as we argue elsewhere, the one office is incompatible with the other.
The case against holders of clerical office sitting in the legislature by virtue of that office is yet stronger, for there is no case for one section of our nation having a privileged position in the legislative process. Despite the place that some have in the nation's history, the churches are interest groups which are no more entitled to a privileged place in the legislature than have other interest groups.
Democratic legitimacy comes not from the past but from the wishes of the people today. To grant the Church of England seats as of right is to discriminate against those of our people who are not of that Church.
If some members of other faiths approve of the current privilege granted to the Anglicans, as the consultation papers states, there are others who oppose it. Those non-anglicans who do support the privilege may be suspected of doing so because it may seem to privilege by association all those with a religious belief over those who do not so believe. It may also seem to hold out the hope that they too will one day be given a similar privilege.
Retention or expansion of by-right religious representation in the Senate would discriminate against those who do not hold religious beliefs. The diversity of beliefs in this country, many of which have few adherents in Britain, would also make it impracticable for all religions to be represented.
The recent history of the Church of England suggests that the proponents of religious privilege may, in any case, be acting perversely, in respect to their religion if not to the status of their Churches. The privileged place of the Church of England in the legislature has not prevented a sharp decline in its active membership. Indeed the contrast between Britain, where the Church is privileged, and the United States, the constitution of which separate church and state, is instructive. In the USA church attendance is high and the churches flourish. Those who hold strong religious views are able to promote them through the democratic process if they wish. Can it really be maintained, therefore, that in that democracy the place of religion in society is any less secure because it is not directly represented in the legislature?