Week in Westminster, 20th-24th March 2017

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Welcome to the Church of England’s weekly round-up of activity in Parliament.

This week in the House of Lords the Archbishop of Canterbury paid tribute to those who had lost their lives or been injured in Wednesday’s terrorist attack on Westminster, and those who acted as first responders.The Bishop of Leeds and the Speaker’s Chaplain both wrote in response to the events.

The House of Lords did not sit on Wednesday 22nd, but returned the following day. During the week bishops spoke and voted on the Government’s Digital Economy Bill, and in debates on UK-Russian relations and the impact of Brexit on both Gibraltar and the UK’s rural and farming sector. A question was also put about UK aid to hospitals in Gaza. In the House of Commons Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP answered two written questions, about Church Commissioner salaries and about yoga in church buildings.
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Bishop of Leeds asks Government about farming and rural policy post-Brexit

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On Thursday 23rd March 2017 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Teverson “That this House takes note of the Report from the European Union Committee Brexit: environment and climate change (12th Report, HL Paper 109).” The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, a number of questions have already been posed, and I pity the Minister for having to go through them in some detail. We heard earlier that we in this Chamber tend to be gloomy, and now we should be cheerful. I am neither; I am just puzzled—which is not a new experience.

From reading the report, which is a model of clarity, as are most of the Brexit reports that come from the various committees, it seems that, as we peel back the layers of the onion, we end up with more layers. I realise that that sounds paradoxical, but it seems to get more and more complex. The other night in the debate on Brexit and Gibraltar I tried to ask some questions about stress testing, to which I got no answer. So I shall try again, focusing very briefly on just one or two questions. Continue reading

Archbishop responds to terror attack on Westminster

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On Thursday 23rd March 2017 the House of Lords paid tribute to those who had been killed and injured, and to first responders, during the previous day’s terror attack in Westminster. The House also heard a repeat of the statement given in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby spoke of the “deep values” in British society that give us the strength to persevere:

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I associate myself with the thanks and tributes paid today, and especially our prayers and thoughts for PC Keith Palmer and for his family. I also acknowledge the work of so many members of the public who pitched in and did what they needed to do when faced with things for which they had never been trained or prepared. Continue reading

Church Commissioners: salaries

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On 23rd March 2017 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, answered a written question from Jon Trickett MP about pay grades in the Church Commissioners:

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, pursuant to the Answer of 1 March 2017 to Question 64993, on procurement, what the pay grades are of the (a) five members of staff in the property investments team and (b) seven members of staff in the investment team. Continue reading

Church Commissioners: Yoga on church premises

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On 23rd March 2017 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, answered a written question from Thangam Debbonaire MP about yoga on church premises:

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West): To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what guidance is issued to churches on allowing church premises to be used for yoga classes. Continue reading

Bishop of Leeds asks Government to stress test all scenario outcomes for Gibraltar in leaving the EU

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Leeds160620On 21st March 2017, Lord Boswell of Aynho asked Her Majesty’s Government what their response is to the Report from the European Union Committee Brexit: Gibraltar (13th Report, HL Paper 116). The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke in the debate, asking whether the Government were stress testing the outcomes of leaving the European Union on Gibraltar.

The Lord Bishop of Leeds My Lords, I endorse all that has been said so eloquently. The report is excellent, but for me it raises a number of questions. The main one concerns the fact that throughout the referendum campaign, and subsequently, we have repeatedly heard statements such as, “We will get a good deal”, and, “We will do this and we will do that”, when in fact we do not hold the power in a lot of this—it will have to be negotiated. Despite urging that we get the best for Gibraltar, I want to be assured that the Government are stress-testing all the scenarios, including the worst-case ones. We owe it to the people of Gibraltar to do that because it was not done in preparation for the referendum itself. Continue reading

Bishop of Leeds comments on the capability of the armed forces and the UK’s relationship with Russia

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leeds-20117On 21st March 2017 the Government’s Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2017 was laid before Parliament with a motion to approve. The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines spoke in the debate, commenting on the UK’s relationship with Russia.

The Lord Bishop of Leeds My Lords, I hesitate to follow such eloquent speeches on so much detail, but I want to make one or two general points about a more specific area. I do so from an interest that began when I was a Soviet specialist at GCHQ in a previous incarnation, although I realise that that is probably not the right religious phrase to use.

It still seems to me that an SDSR should enable us to be flexible enough to cope with whatever changes are likely to come. My fear, which I have expressed in the House before, remains that in 15 to 20 years’ time we may end up with a force that meets the demands of now but perhaps not the demands of the situation 15 or 20 years down the line because the world changes so much. When I left GCHQ, the Soviet Union was intact, and we see what has changed since then. Therefore, I want to focus on Russia in particular. Continue reading