I have been, in the past, accused of endlessly whining about religion generally and Christianity specifically and not doing more about it. I respond usually that my activism has included going on marches and writing to my MP.
Here is an example of a recent exchange between me and my MP on the reform of the house of lords which proposes an increase in the religious representation and not as I would prefer the removal of this anachronistic oddity and the advance of a secular parliament.
This is my letter and following the reply I received in the mail today.
I would be interested to know:
1.) How do you rate his reply to me? (for clarity, responsiveness, understanding etc.)
2.) What should I do next?
Tuesday 26 April 2011
Dear Toby Perkins,
RE: House of Lords Reform.
I fully support the intent to remove the Lords Spiritual from the upper chamber. It has long seemed to me an anachronism our secular society that it is in-part legislated by powerful figures of faith who have this official position within the legislature.
I am somewhat alarmed, however, by the suggestion publicised in, I gather The Telegraph (although I encountered it via the web), that we will instead have retained amongst the appointed set, a multi-faith collection of ministers drawn from diverse traditions such as Catholic and Pentecostal, Baptists, Methodists, Rabbis, Imams and so on but I
feel this is at odds with the formation of a more legitimate upper chamber.
The argument is that a broader "coalition" of faiths is more
representative of society. Well that might well be true, there indeed are a multitude of faiths. Interestingly this raises the question if representation is key how and who should be appointed and in what ratios?
I'd rather us follow the American lead in this instance and
have instituted "no religious test for office" but I am concerned that we are extending an improper right with power to, lobby, hobble and reform legislation to pressure groups that have no democratic authority.
I would like to see proposed instead the following:
1.) There should be no designated religious, or specifically
non-religious representation in a reformed second chamber as a right.
2.)The Appointments Commission should not have a specific remit to encourage and appoint religious representatives.
3.)Should the reformed second chamber feel the need to consult representatives of a faith group / senior representatives of a faith, that it follows the method that would be used for consulting with senior public servant: members of religion or pressure groups and other external experts, by forming committees to take written and oral evidence.
I don't want to exclude The House of Lords from having access to the opinions of faith-based institutions, that would be absurd, but nor do I want to have that privileged access assumed as a matter of right.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful email about the role of the Lords Spiritual in the Upper Chamber. The proposals you refer to were from a conservative faith group and we haven't yet seen any formal response from government.
I agree with you that there does need to be reform of the upper chamber to introduce more democracy and accountability. It simply cannot be right that the House of Lords still contains hereditary peers.
I instinctively favour an elected upper house. However, there are many questions about how it would be designed. For example, if the Lords were to use PR it may raise the independence of the upper house by increasing the dependence upon the party list, meaning the power will come from the party not the people.
In advance of changes, and within the current appointments system, I understand the desire to reflect the diversity of faith communities in modern Britain including humanist and atheist groups.
Whilst I recognise the strength of the case you make and agree with your thoughts on ensuring diversity of beliefs should be one consideration in future appointments it must also be remembered that the Church of England is still the state church and that Parliament still retains considerable influence on it's decisions. Therefore it remains appropriate that the church should have some influence in turn on Parliament unless there is more comprehensive reform of our constitution.
I would be more that happy to continue this discussion on what shape that comprehensive reform might take so please contact me at my again or make an appointment at my surgery.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me with your views on this important issue.
Toby Perkins MP
Shadow Minister for Children and Families.