Women bishops to be fast-tracked into Lords

Under the proposed bill, women bishops would take the first available seats in the House of Lords for the next 10 years.Reuters

A bill to fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords was introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The legislation proposes that the 21 "spiritual" seats be given to women bishops as they become available, rather than to the longest-serving bishop as is currently law. This provision would remain in place for 10 years.

Constitution minister Sam Gymiah explained in a statement to MPs that unless the current law is changed, "it would be many years before women bishops were represented in the Lords".

"With the way clear for the first women to be appointed, it is right that those women should be among the bishops who occupy seats in the House of Lords (known as Lords Spiritual)," Gymiah said.

"The government's bill, which is supported by the Church of England, proposes a modification of this rule for the next 10 years, so that if a female bishop is available when a Lords Spiritual seat becomes vacant, they will automatically be appointed to the House of Lords."

Gymiah added that were no female bishop available, the vacant seat would be given to the next most senior male bishop, as is the current custom.

The Church of England has welcomed the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill. Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, who is convenor of bishops in the House of Lords said women bishops would "enrich and strengthen the leadership of the Church of England".

"We are very confident that they will also enrich and strengthen our voice in the House of Lords," he added.

"We have reason to suppose that this is supported from all sides of both Houses and we are grateful to the business managers for making time to get this minor amendment to the law in place as soon as possible."

Downing Street announced on Wednesday that Rev Libby Lane, a vicar in the Chester diocese, will be the first woman bishop in the Church of England. She will be consecrated in January as the Bishop of Stockport.

However, because she will not be a diocesan bishop, she will not be among those fast-tracked into the House of Lords. Southwell and Nottingham is understood to have women on its shortlist for a new diocesan bishop and Oxford is also likely to consider women when the appointments process begins next year.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been a key voice in the movement to allow women bishops in the Church of England. He earlier commended the decision "a change of historical significance" and has praised female vicars, archdeacons and deans for their "outstanding leadership".

Upon Lane's appointment, he said: "I am absolutely delighted that Libby has been appointed to succeed Bishop Robert Atwell as Bishop of Stockport. Her Christ-centred life, calmness and clear determination to serve the church and the community make her a wonderful choice.

"She will be bishop in a diocese that has been outstanding in its development of people, and she will make a major contribution. She and her family will be in my prayers during the initial excitement, and the pressures of moving."

There are 26 Lords Spiritual in total, but the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are given automatic seats.

It is understood that a second reading of the bill will be scheduled early in 2015.