26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords, which is the Second Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full and active role in the life and work of the House.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are ex-officio members of the House of Lords.
The remaining 21 places are occupied by a mixture of those who are longest-serving as bishops of English dioceses, and those who qualify under the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015.
The number of bishops in the House of Lords is set in law as 26, and when a bishop retires from his or her diocesan post (compulsory at 70) they also vacate their seat in the Lords. This means that in the House of Lords the bishops are the only grouping with a cap on numbers and a compulsory retirement age.
Lords Spiritual are sometimes appointed as life peers after their retirement, and this is usually the case for former archbishops.
Current Lords Spiritual
Two archbishops and three diocesan bishops who are Members ex-officio:
- Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
- Most Revd and Rt Hon Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York
- Rt Revd and Rt Hon Sarah Mullally DBE, Bishop of London
- Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham
- Rt Revd Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester
21 diocesan bishops (listed here in order of entry to the House):
- Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham
- Rt Revd John Inge, Bishop of Worcester
- Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry
- Rt Revd Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford
- Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle
- Rt Revd Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans
- Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough
- Rt Revd James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester
- Rt Revd Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely
- Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwatk
- Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, Bishop of Leeds
- Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury
- Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester
- Rt Revd Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle
- Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, Bishop of Lincoln
- Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester
- Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol
- Rt Revd Libby Lane, Bishop of Derby
- Rt Revd Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn
- Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
- The Rt Rev Guli Francis-Dehqani, Bishop of Chelmsford (awaiting introduction)
(A list of those diocesan bishops eligible and awaiting seats is at the bottom of the page)
There is always at least one Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords when it is sitting, to read prayers at the start of the day. The official proceedings of the House cannot begin until prayers have been read. Attendance in the House to read prayers is determined by the Lords Spiritual on a rota basis, with each bishop being on duty for one or two sitting weeks each year.
Business of the House
Like other members bishops are able to take part in all business of the House, including tabling and asking questions of Ministers, leading or speaking in debates, scrutinising legislation, voting, and serving on committees or all party groups.
Bishops have to combine their role as Members of the House with their full-time responsibilities as bishops in their dioceses.
Bishops sit as individual and independent Members of the House of Lords, similarly to the independent Crossbench Peers and those who are not party-affiliated.
There is no Leader or Chief Whip for the bishops in the Lords, but a Convenor represents the Lords Spiritual to the other parties and groupings in the House. The Convenor calls and chairs meetings and ensures that the Bench is well resourced and organised. The current Convenor is the Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Revd David Urquhart.
The Lords Spiritual each take on a portfolio for one or two specific areas of policy on a voluntary basis, which is usually aligned with their expertise, interests or a formal position already held within the Church of England.
Their diocesan role means they are in touch with geographical areas of the country, which often informs the contributions they make in the House.
Their presence in the Lords is an extension of their general vocation as bishops to preach God’s word and to lead people in prayer.
Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the House and, while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faith, not just Christians.
Their presence reflects our enduring constitutional arrangement, with an established Church of England and its Supreme Governor as Monarch and Head of State.
A 2017 House of Lords Library briefing note on the Lords Spiritual can be read here.
Bishops awaiting seats
There are more diocesan bishops in the Church of England than there are places for Lords Spiritual, so those bishops awaiting seats come to the House when a vacancy arises on the Bench.
The full list of diocesan bishops* of the Church of England not currently in the House of Lords, but awaiting seats (in the order that they will enter when a vacancy arises):
- The Rt Revd Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter
- The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool
- The Rt Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford
- The Rt Revd Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich
- The Rt Revd Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham
- The Rt Revd Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester
- The Rt Revd Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield
- The Rt Revd Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield
- The Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro
- The Rt Revd Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich
- The Rt Revd Richard Jackson, Bishop of Hereford
- The Rt Revd Mark Tanner, Bishop of Chester
- The Bishop of Portsmouth (vacant)
- The Bishop of Bath and Wells (vacant)
*The two dioceses that do not send bishops to the Lords are the Diocese of Europe and the Diocese of Sodor and Man (whose bishop sits in the Manx parliament, the Tynwald).
This page was last updated on 30/06/21