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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK

UK Politics

Asian bishop joins Lords

The bishop joins the Lords in the middle of a period of reform

The Bishop of Rochester has become the first Asian religious leader to sit in the House of Lords.

Michael Nazir-Ali was born and raised in Pakistan. He joins 25 Church of England bishops in the upper house of the UK Parliament.

[ image: The Bishop of Rochester: Looking forwarded to the Lords]
The Bishop of Rochester: Looking forwarded to the Lords
He became the first ethnic minority diocesan bishop in 1995 when he was appointed as Bishop of Rochester.

Bishop Michael said beforehand that he was looking forward to the ceremony on Wednesday afternoon when he was introduced to the Lords by the Bishops of Southwark and Gloucester.

"Of course, I am delighted to have the opportunity to serve the church in the House of Lords," he said.

"Many of the issues discussed and debated there are common concerns facing us all and I look forward to making my own modest contribution."

Lords Reform
One of the key concerns of the occupants of the House of Lords is the threat to their own future from the government's plans to reform the upper chamber.

The vast majority of hereditary peers - those who inherited their right to sit and vote in the House - will be removed from the Lords this summer.

A royal commission is examining options for further reform and is expected to issue its report by the end of the year.

The fate of the 26 Church of England bishops is one of the trickiest areas for the reformers. If they are retained in a future second chamber, representatives of other faiths are likely to be asked to sit alongside them.

A few Asian peers in the House - such as Baroness Pola Uddin and Lord Swraj Paul - already sit in the House of Lords, but Bishop Michael is the first non-white Lord Spiritual.

He is known as an advocate of inter-faith dialogue and advises Prince Charles on multiculturalism and sits on several inter-faith committees.

He has also written extensively on the relationship between Christianity and Islam and has argued passionately for a greater understanding between the two religious communities, especially in his native Pakistan.

He was born in Karachi, in 1949, into a largely Shi'a Muslim family.

He converted to Christianity and worked as a priest in Karachi and Lahore, where he was appointed the first Bishop of Raiwind.

Bishop Michael has also spoken out in favour of the ordination of women priests and continues to be a campaigner for their involvement in the church.

In his new role as member of the House of Lords, Bishop Nazir-Ali will vote on legislative matters and be expected to articulate the needs and concerns of Britain's religious communities.

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