Consultation stalls bid to remove bishop’s vote in Manx parliament

A bill to remove the bishop’s vote in the Isle of Man’s legislature has been halted for a public consultation.

The consultation follows the successful second reading of Lawrie Hooper’s private member’s bill to remove the bishop’s vote last month in the House of Keys, Tynwald’s lower chamber.

One Church of England bishop, the bishop of Sodor and Man, sits by right in the Legislative Council, the upper house of Tynwald. As well as voting on legislation, the bishop leads prayers at the beginning of sittings in the Legislative Council.

In addition to seeking views on the bishop’s vote, the consultation questions if the bishop should be a member of Tynwald at all. It also asks if prayers should continue to be read at the start of sittings of Tynwald and its branches.

The National Secular Society will make representations on behalf of its supporters in the Isle of Man advocating for an end to both the bishop’s automatic seat and the prayers before sittings.

The arrangements in Tynwald echo those in Westminster, where 26 Church of England bishops sit as of right in the House of Lords and prayers are said in both houses before sittings.

Westminster archbishop intervenes

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, who sits on the bishops’ bench in the House of Lords, wrote to all members of Tynwald before the reading.

“I realise it is not really my place to interfere in these matters,” he said, before cautioning members of the risks of removing the bishop’s vote.

During the reading, member of the House of Keys (MHK) Claire Christian said the bill would ‘disenfranchise’ the bishop and would “significantly undermine” the case for Sodor and Man being its own diocese.

But Joney Faragher MHK argued the decision should not be based on the Church of England’s “threat” to “end the diocese”.

Clare Barber MHK pushed back against assertions that the bishop has a “unique moral and ethical voice”, saying morality, empathy and compassion “are not the preserve of religious people”.

Stu Peters MHK suggested the bishop should stand for election “like any other candidate for Legislative Council”.

NSS: Time to end ‘archaic and unfair arrangement’

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: “The bishop of Sodor and Man’s ex officio seat in the Legislative Council is an affront to democracy. That’s why we will call on Tynwald to end this archaic and unfair arrangement.

“While it is frustrating to see the bill to remove the bishop’s vote being stalled by this consultation, we welcome the opportunity to call for an end to the bishop’s automatic seat and prayers in Tynwald.

“With momentum growing on the Isle of Man to end religious privilege in Tynwald, it’s now time for politicians in Westminster to follow suit and abolish the bishop’s bench.”

Get involved: Isle of Man residents can respond to the consultation here. It closes on 29 February.

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