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UK Politics

Unholy row: How one bishop claims more than others


The amounts claimed by different bishops for attending the House of Lords vary considerably. Some, such as the Bishop of Birmingham and the Archbishop of York, claim nothing at all. Others, such as the Bishop of Wakefield, claim significantly, but still less than others. Perhaps it should come as little surprise that the most conspicuous claimer is the controversial Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, and one of the more outspoken Church of England leaders sitting in the House of Lords.

A staunch Conservative, the Bishop has caused controversy over the years for suggesting that homosexuals could seek psychiatric treatment to "reorient themselves" as well as questioning whether global warming is man-made.

Now 62, Bishop Forster was educated at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, where he studied divinity, before being ordained into the church in 1980.

After a spell working as a vicar in Liverpool and Beverley, he was appointed the 40th Bishop of Chester in 1996, becoming a Lord Spiritual (with the right to sit in the House of Lords) five years later.

But in 2003 he caused controversy when he became one of the leading Church opponents of attempts to elevate the openly gay Rev Jeffrey John to become Bishop of Reading. "Dr John has many admirable qualities," he wrote in a public letter to newspapers. "But the issue is what is acceptable sexual behaviour in God's sight?"

In the same year, Bishop Forster faced a police investigation after suggesting that homosexuals should seek psychiatric treatment to turn them straight.

"Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorient themselves," he wrote. "I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject – that's in the area of psychiatric health."

No charges were made and the police said after investigation that they were satisfied that no offence had been committed.

Bishop Forster has also been sceptical that climate change is man-made and sits on the advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation – a think tank set up by the former Chancellor Lord Lawson to challenge conventional orthodoxy on the subject.

During a debate in the Lords on energy he said he believed the cause of global warming was "still open". He added there was no consensus among scientists that "carbon dioxide levels are the key determinant" and told peers: "Climate science is a notoriously imprecise area, because the phenomena under investigation are so large."

The House of Lords Exposed: In association with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism