Bishop of Liverpool calls for a new sense of unity in Parliament.

The Bishop of Liverpool, The Rt Rev James Jones has spoken for a need to “recover the Unity of Parliament in the constitutional debate” while calling for the continuation of an appointed upper house.

Speaking in the House of Lords debate on Constitutional Renewal he added we need “two Houses, but one Parliament: a Commons that is elected and with the authority of having the last word, and a revising Chamber to advise, revise and refine the legislation.”

The Bishop stated that “The truth is that in today’s world, election, especially in this media-dominated culture in which we live, does not always deliver what is needed.” He stated that elections deliver a political class that can be too narrow a constituency for a revising and legislating Assembly.

He added “a revising Chamber should be made up of what is in effect and what could be called the elders of our society: men and women experienced in different walks of life, who, from their expertise and wisdom, can shape the laws that govern our common life. Such people cannot be limited to the political class but must be recruited and appointed with transparency and accountability and for fixed terms.”

The Bishop concluded by expressing a hope that “this debate on constitutional renewal will not set the one House against the other. I hope that it will not force one House to imitate or to compete with the other. I hope that we can recognise our distinctiveness and not be afraid of having two Houses of different character within the one Parliament.”
The full text of the Bishop’s speech is below
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, not only for this timely opportunity for the debate but for the many important features in his Bill. In his helpful Explanatory Note, he emphasises the importance of discerning principles. I welcome that, because this debate must proceed philosophically by looking at certain principles. I should like therefore to discern and explore one particular principle from his Bill and apply it more broadly to this whole debate on constitutional renewal for which, as we have heard, the Prime Minister has called.

We have before us a proposal to create a citizens’ assembly to review and renew the electoral system. This assembly will have great power and will in effect occupy a place of authority over Parliament in deciding and framing the question for a referendum to determine the nature and the character of Parliament. However, this assembly will not be elected. On the contrary, it will be appointed and will actually exclude from its membership people who have been duly elected to the Parliaments in the United Kingdom and in Europe. That is specified in the Bill. What is the principle here? I should be glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, expound it when he responds.

Let me be clear; I am not criticising this, I am simply drawing attention to the fact that at the heart of this Constitutional Renewal Bill is an appointed body with extraordinary authority to shape the constitution of Parliament. I happen to be content with this proposal, but that is because, like many in your Lordships’ House, I see merit in appointed bodies, provided that the processes are transparent and accountable. The truth is that in today’s world, election, especially in this media-dominated culture in which we live, does not always deliver what is needed. Election, with respect, delivers up the political class, which is perhaps why the noble Lord does not want to use election for the citizens’ assembly, which will help to determine how the political class will be elected in future.

Please do not get me wrong; I respect the political class, and not even in the present climate would I dare to rubbish it. However, it is too narrow a constituency
to produce what is needed, especially in this House, for a revising and legislating Assembly. We need to recover the unity of Parliament in the constitutional debate—two Houses, but one Parliament: a Commons that is elected and with the authority of having the last word, and a revising Chamber to advise, revise and refine the legislation. Such a revising Chamber should be made up of what is in effect and what could be called the elders of our society: men and women experienced in different walks of life, who, from their expertise and wisdom, can shape the laws that govern our common life. Such people cannot be limited to the political class but must be recruited and appointed with transparency and accountability and for fixed terms.

In this one Parliament, there should be—I long to see this recovered to our debate—a mutuality between the two Houses, each distinctive in character and composition but mutually dependent, the elected looking to the other for the wisdom of experience, the appointed deferring to the elected and acknowledging their authority to have the last word as the voice of the people: one Parliament of two Houses under the Crown, as a sign that our own accountability is in two directions; below to the people, above to the source of our moral intuition. I hope that this debate on constitutional renewal will not set the one House against the other. I hope that it will not force one House to imitate or to compete with the other. I hope that we can recognise our distinctiveness and not be afraid of having two Houses of different character within the one Parliament.