Church says it will work to keep bishops in the Lords

The Church of England has roundly rejected suggestions that it would readily give up its seats in the House of Lords.

The rebuttal came in response to recent comments from Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who is overseeing plans to overhaul the current system.

He suggested that over the coming decade “the Church of England may come to a view that it is not appropriate for bishops to be in the legislative chamber”.

But a spokesman for the Church said: “This is a guess which has no basis in what the Church of England has said thus far.”

He added: “Bishops in the Lords help 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.”

There are fears that the removal of bishops from the House of Lords could be used by secularists who want a church and state split.

Currently, 26 Church of England bishops serve in the House of Lords, making up approximately four per cent of the total membership.

The Church spokesman said: “The Church has been consistent in challenging the case for a wholly elected chamber and in arguing that if there is a move to a partly elected chamber, bishops should remain, albeit in reduced numbers if the size of the second chamber is substantially reduced.”

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who steps down as the Bishop of Rochester today, urged the Church of England this weekend to defend Britain’s Christian foundations.

He said: “I think there’s a double jeopardy – on the one hand an aggressive secularism that seeks to undermine the traditional principles because it has its own project to foster.

“On the other is the extremist ideology of radical Islam, which moderate Muslims are also concerned about.

“This is why there must be a clear recognition of where Britain has come from, what the basis is for our society and how that can contribute to the common good.”

Tim Montgomerie, the editor of a Conservative-supporting blog, warned recently of “a secular fundamentalism that is trying to push people of faith outside the public square”.

Mr Montgomerie added: “My own hunch is that the intolerance of Christianity is largely an elite class thing.

“Most Britons – even if they don’t go to church – still have a deep affection for the Christian faith and Jesus’ teachings.”

He was echoed by Daily Telegraph commentator Ed West who said groups like the National Secular Society are gaining success in their campaign for a “state where religion is only allowed in private”.

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