Humanists UK tells parliamentary inquiry: time’s up for bishops in the Lords

4 September, 2023

Humanists UK has called for an end to automatic places for bishops in the House of Lords in its response to the UK Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into membership of the Lords

In its submission, Humanists UK endorsed the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG)’s publication Time for Reflection which proposes the automatic right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords is removed, and states the Lords’ appointments process should be amended to avoid the custom of awarding peerages to individuals on the basis of being representatives of any religion or denomination, including former archbishops.

Currently, 26 Church of England bishops have the automatic right to sit, speak, and vote in the House of Lords. The bishops represent one denomination of one religion and one part of the UK at that. They enjoy privileges over and above other peers including special consultation privileges prior to legislation being brought before Parliament, privileged speaking rights in the chamber (if a bishop stands to speak, all others are expected to shut up and sit down), and exemptions from the Code of Conduct.

Humanists UK stated that this set up is particularly hard to justify in today’s plural and diverse society, especially when considering just 12% of the population identify as Anglican and just 1% of 16-24 year olds. More than that, it shows that the share of non-religious people will continue to rise over the coming decades, with some 68% of 18-24 year olds saying they belong to no religion. The bishops also fail to represent the views of the Anglicans they seek to represent on subjects such as same-sex marriage and assisted dying.

Earlier this year, Chair of the APPHG Tommy Sheppard MP called a debate on bishops in the Lords which saw cross-party MPs call for an end to the automatic right for bishops to sit in the House of Lords.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘Automatic places for one particular branch of one particular religion has no place in today’s modern and diverse society. Everyone should have the same opportunity to gain a seat in our Parliament regardless of their religion or belief.

‘We urge the inquiry to listen to our recommendations and back an end to the automatic right for bishops to sit in the Lords. It’s time for change.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group’s report, Time for Reflection.

Read more about our work on bishops in the House of Lords.

Read more about the inquiry. Humanists UK’s response to the inquiry will be published by the Committee in due course.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.