Church of England bishops will have a voice but no vote in a reformed House of Lords, under leaked Government plans.
In the plans the Government also sets out that it will cut the number of bishops sitting in the Lords by more than half.
But the Church of England has defended the role of bishops in the Lords saying it helps “connect the second chamber with the people, parishes and regions of England, not just their own worshippers”.
“In an age where the role of religion in shaping social and moral attitudes is increasingly recognised to be highly significant, the idea of shaping the second chamber on a purely secular model would be a retrograde step”, the spokesman continued.
Under the proposals bishops would only be allowed to vote on specific Church of England legislation.
The wide ranging reforms would be carried out over a number of years with votes for an elected House of Lords taking place at the same time as General Elections.
Also in the plans the Government says it will consider how other “faith communities” can be represented.
The document claims that the Government is committed to the continued “establishment of the Church of England, with the Sovereign as its Supreme Governor, and the relationship between Church and State”.
“None of these reforms should or are meant to diminish establishment”, it adds.
And it says that while there should be a “continued” role for the bishops, it should be “limited”.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “The bishops do not restrict themselves to being a mere symbol of Establishment; they exploit their positions ruthlessly to further their own interests.
“In other decision-making bodies, those who have a vested interest in the outcome of debates are expected to withdraw, or at least not vote”
He commented: “Even without the Bishops Bench, Parliament is already much more heavily represented with people with religious convictions than the country it should reflect.
“So the Bishops Bench doubles that over-representation of religion, as well as being wholly undemocratic.”