Disestablishment of the Church of England Bill has first reading in Parliament

6 December, 2023

The Disestablishment of the Church of England Bill had its first reading in the UK Parliament today. The Bill, if enacted, would disestablish the Church of England and remove the automatic right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords. Humanists UK, which campaigns for a secular state and the separation of church and state, welcomed the Bill.

The Bill, introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Scriven, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, would remove the Church of England from its position as the official state church. The Bill faced significant opposition, but eventually passed.

The recent British Social Attitudes survey demonstrated how unrepresentative our current system is. Only 12% of people consider themselves Anglican. What’s more, 68% of 18-24 year-olds say they belong to no religion versus 18% saying they are Christian – including only 0.7% saying they are Anglican.

The Church of England was disestablished in Wales in 1920 and there has never been an established church in Northern Ireland, as the Church was disestablished in 1869, before Irish independence. This is one of many archaic policies that still exist in the UK. Arguably, most egregious is the fact that 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for bishops of the Church of England. The only other state which has reserved seats for religious officials from a state religion is Iran.

As well as seeking to remove the automatic right for bishops to sit in the House of Lords, the Bill would remove the monarch’s role as Head of the Church of England.

This change will not interfere with the right to freedom of religion or belief. In 2018 Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that disestablishment of the Church of England would not be ‘a disaster’ for the Church, and is ‘a decision for parliament and the people’. He also said that ‘I don’t think [disestablishment] would make it easier [for the Church], and I don’t think it would make it more difficult’.

The Bill will now move onto its second reading, though no formal date has yet been set.

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

‘Humanists UK welcomes the introduction of this Bill. In a modern, diverse society, it’s crucial to separate religion from state, allowing for genuine equality of all religions and beliefs. Disestablishment would mark a crucial step towards a fairer, secular state, ensuring that public institutions remain neutral and inclusive.’

Notes

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on constitutional reform:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign to change the automatic right for bishops to sit in the House of Lords

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.