‘Six out of ten Brits think bishops should be booted out of the House of Lords after defeating plans to cap benefits at £26,000 a year.’ So declared The Sun on 25 January 2012, following the poll it commissioned from YouGov on the public’s reactions to the Welfare Reform Bill.
The survey was undertaken online on 24 January 2012, among a sample of 749 adults aged 18 and over, and in the wake of the amendment to the Bill passed by the House of Lords the previous night, which had the effect of excluding child benefit from the £26,000 cap being proposed by the Government. Data tables have been posted at:
Five of the 26 senior bishops of the Church of England who are entitled to sit in the House of Lords had voted in favour of the amendment, and one of them (Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds) had actually proposed it. Three-fifths of YouGov’s interviewees opposed the amendment, and 74% supported the Government’s original cap.
Against this somewhat charged backdrop, YouGov asked whether bishops should still be allowed to sit and vote in the Upper Chamber. Only 26% of respondents said that they should, with 60% wanting them excluded, and 14% uncertain.
Removal of bishops from the House of Lords particularly appealed to Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters, 67% and 68% respectively. This was unsurprising, given that these are the two parties which form the Coalition Government, which had been on the receiving end of episcopal votes against the welfare cap.
Men were also more inclined than women to want the bishops unseated (64% versus 56%), while – less predictably – the anti-bishop lobby built by age, rising from 45% among the 18-24s to 70% with the over-60s. This partly reflected the large number of don’t knows (29%) in the 18-24 cohort.
The sample size for this poll was fairly small, and the context may have influenced the results. However, in an ICM survey for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust in March 2010, just 33% believed it important for Anglican bishops to have a role in the House of Lords and 74% said that it was wrong for some of them to have automatic seats there. See BRIN’s coverage at: