“Voting matters, but doing the job matters even more. The belief that only elected Members can have any sort of legitimacy, or that once someone has won a vote it gives them carte blanche to do whatever they like for the next five years, rings extremely hollow when it is precisely some of the elected Members in another place who have brought the system into disrepute. Our whole political system has encouraged career politicians who have never run a farm or a shop or a school or a ship, and who lurch from utopianism, which gets most of them into politics in the first place, to pragmatic power-seeking, which is what they turn to when Utopia fails to arrive on schedule.” – Bishop of Durham, 11/6/09
In 1936 the House of Lords debated the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Bill, the first of its kind to come before the UK Parliament. Its rejection set the pattern for future Bills in both Houses for the eight decades to come.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Bill 1936 sought to allow mentally competent adults with an incurable condition, accompanied by severe pain, to have assistance in ending their lives. It was proposed by Arthur Ponsonby, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, a former leader of the Labour Party in the Lords and minister under Ramsay MacDonald. He did so in place of the late Lord Moynihan, who a year before had helped found the British Voluntary Euthanasia Society.The Bill was opposed on pragmatic as well as moral grounds by a majority of Peers and rejected at the end of Second Reading in a Division of the House. Among those speaking against were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang and the Bishop of Norwich, Bertram Pollock.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, died on 30th March 2002. On 3rd April 2002 the House of Lords met to offer tributes. The Lord Privy Seal rose to move, ‘That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty’, which began as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to express our heartfelt sympathy in the great sorrow which Your Majesty has suffered by the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; and to offer to Your Majesty our most sincere condolences.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said:
My Lords, it is with great sadness that I convey from these Benches the support of the Lords Spiritual for the Motion. I hope, too, that my few words may reflect some of the feelings of the wider Church.
“what will we be heard to be saying about the worthwhileness of life under certain conditions? Do we, by legally accommodating the mental suffering of some, debase the currency for all? These are not trivial considerations; nor are they parochially religious ones.” – Rowan Williams, 12/5/06
On 12th May 2006 the House of Lords debated a Private Members’ Bill from Lord Joffe: the ‘Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill’. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was one of three Lords Spiritual who spoke against, in a debate that lasted over seven hours and featured 90 speakers.
The Bill would have allowed a doctor to prescribe medication upon request from a terminally ill patient with capacity, so that by means of self-administration, that patient could end his or her life.
Following the debate a vote took place on whether to allow the Bill to proceed any further. Peers voted to not allow it to proceed by 148 to 100. 14 Lords Spiritual joined those voting against the Bill.
A transcript of the Archbishop’s speech follows:
The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, opposition to the principle of this Bill is not confined to people of religious conviction—as we have been reminded by the noble, monotheistic and utilitarian Lord, Lord Carlile—and it would be a lazy counter-argument to suggest that such opposition can be written off because it comes only from those committed to a world view not universally shared. It is worth remembering that the secular or “enlightened” view of human autonomy assumed by many of the Bill’s defenders is no less a particular world view rather than a self-evident and universal truth.
“There is the big picture for every politician who seeks to be more than a mere manager of the state’s business, a part of the mechanism of collecting Caesar’s taxes. Good government from a Christian point of view is about the acknowledgement and reinforcement of human dignity.”- Rowan Williams, 8/6/10
On 8th June 2010, shortly after the General Election, a service was held for the new Parliament in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. The audience, comprised largely of MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff, heard the Archbishop of Canterbury deliver a sermon on Matthew 22: 16-21:
“If members of our family had died on 15 April 1989, we would not have wanted to wait 23 years until truth could call out for justice.” – Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, 11/12/12
“Institutions that can encourage criminality and intensify irresponsibility are poor allies of social and civic regeneration.” – Most Rev and Rt Hon Rowan Williams, 28/3/07
In March 2007 the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke out in the House of Lords against the proposal to issue a licence for a new kind of ‘supercasino’ in Manchester. In the subsequent vote he and two other bishops voted against; the proposal to issue the licence being rejected by majority of three. When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister a few months later the plan to pilot the supercasino was scrapped.