The number of bishops in Lords is ‘excessive’ and reform is long overdue

27 March, 2024

Yesterday, Baroness Deech, the chair of the House of Lords Appointment Commission (HOLAC), said that the current number of bishops in the House of Lords is excessive.

Baroness Deech, discussing membership of the House of Lords in Parliament, said that 26 bishops of the Church of England is too high a number in the House. Currently, unlike most other members of the House of Lords, bishops do not need to undergo a propriety test when entering the Lords. This is because 26 seats are automatically reserved for bishops of the Church of England. This is one of many special privileges the bishops receive over other Lords. 

Last year, the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), for which Humanists UK is the secretariat, organised a debate in Parliament to discuss why 26 Church of England bishops are allowed to vote in the House of Lords. So far, nobody has given a good reason to keep this unfair system going. In fact the vast majority of the British public support their total removal from the Lords. The only other sovereign state to have reserved seats in their legislature for members of the state religion is Iran.

Humanists UK believes there should be no reserved seats in Parliament for any one religion. The current position is a clear violation of the principle of freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) and equal treatment. This is why we are supporting efforts in the Isle of Man to remove the right to vote of the Bishop of Sodor and Man to vote in Tynwald (Manx parliament). In fact, in a recent consultation the Manx public has come out in favour of removing the bishops right to vote, demonstrating a desire for change.

Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy RiIddick said:

‘Baroness Deech’s recent comments draw attention to a glaring imbalance in the House of Lords, where 26 seats are automatically reserved for Church of England bishops. This antiquated arrangement not only undermines equality but also perpetuates inequality by exempting bishops from the same scrutiny applied to other members and giving them privileged speaking rights,

Humanists UK advocates for a Parliament that represents all citizens equally, free from preferential treatment based on religious affiliation.


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

Read more about our work on bishops 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.