Isle of Man could abolish votes for clerics

9 November, 2023

Humanists UK applauds the discussion in the Isle of Man regarding the potential removal of the automatic right of bishops to vote in Tynwald (Manx Parliament).

This is an opportunity for the Isle of Man to re-evaluate the presence of archaic discriminatory laws which give the Church of England undemocratic additional representation and a vote in Tynwald. Humanists UK has welcomed a proposed Private Member’s Bill (PMB) in Tynwald aimed at removing the bishops’ automatic voting rights.

This new legislative initiative represents an important step towards a more equitable representation in government, where decisions are made by elected representatives who answer to the will of the people. Humanists UK has said this change would help to foster a more inclusive and diverse Isle of Man, where all voices are equally respected in political decision-making. 

Earlier in 2023, the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group organised a debate in Parliament which examined the role of 26 Church of England bishops voting in the House of Lords. Humanists UK campaigns for no discriminatory or preferential treatment in politics on the basis of religion or belief. To date, no one has put forward a convincing case for maintaining the current discriminatory arrangements.

Humanists UK patron Sandi Toksvig backed the debate with a column in the Guardian which called for an end to the automatic right of bishops to sit in the Lords. In February, she called for the bishops to be removed over its opposition to conducting same-sex marriages. Her petition on the subject received 160,000 signatures from members of the public.

According to the BBC, a successor for Bishop Eagles is expected to be appointed by the Church of England ‘in a few months’.

Isle of Man humanist celebrant Vicky Edwards said:

‘Bishop Eagles has served his community, showing commitment to his faith and the people of the Isle of Man. As humanists, we respect the right to freedom of religion and belief and respect those who appreciate dialogue with all faith and belief communities.

As our evolving society calls for legislation that ensures a truly inclusive and representative democracy, reflecting the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our people, we should now re-evaluate the automatic right of bishops to vote in Tynwald.’

No votes for bishops: the case for reform

The case for removing automatic seats for bishops in parliaments is simple:

  • Democracy: Every citizen should have an equal say in a democracy – no religious group (or groups) should have more democratic say than others
  • Representativeness: The UK and crown dependencies are no longer majority Christian societies. Recent data suggests 53% of British adults are non-religious.
  • Bad company: The only other country where clerics vote in national parliaments is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The UK and the Isle of Man stand alone among global democracies in this regard.
  • Values: Prioritising Anglicanism above non-religious beliefs and other religious traditions in the Isle of Man sends a message of exclusion to people from other backgrounds and convictions. Paternalistic defences for this are patronising.

 Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick said:

‘There is now a great opportunity for the Isle of Man to modernise and to say to the world what kind of place it is today: an inclusive society where all Manx citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, and which values people from all religions and beliefs, including humanists, equally.

The Tynwald is the world’s oldest continually operating parliament. By seizing this moment, it can make itself more representative of the Manx society it exists to represent and serve.’

Election issue?

Last year, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer embraced Gordon Brown’s proposals for a fully elected Senate of Nations and Regions to replace the UK House of Lords in Westminster. However, it remains unconfirmed whether this will ultimately feature in Labour’s next election manifesto or feature in its political agenda should Labour come to power following a general election. Party policy of the Green Party of England and Wales, SNP, and Liberal Democrat parties favours major reforms of the House of Lords.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 3675 0959.

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

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.