Bishop of Manchester asks for clarification on issues relating to the ministerial code

The Bishop of Manchester asked for clarification on the issue of justice being seen to be done regarding breaches of the ministerial code, on 25th May 2023. This was in response to a government statement on how breaches of the code are managed, and a question in the House of Lords on the need for independent investigatory processes following an incident involving a potential breach of the code by the Home Secretary:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I am struggling here. It seems to be a basic principle that justice should not only be done but seen to be done. These processes seem so arcane and opaque that I wonder whether the noble Baroness can assure us how this process passes that test—or does it not apply to the Ministerial Code?

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Bishop of St Albans supports measures to restrict invasive grey squirrels

The Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on the issue of invasive grey squirrels and the need for woodland cover protection on 25th May 2023:

My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition, although I am not speaking on its behalf today. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I seem to remember that we have debated these issues before and I have always been grateful for his contributions.

There are many reasons why increasing our woodland cover is important. For example, being able to walk in woodlands is associated with mental health, at a time when this is a huge issue for us as a society; it is clearly deeply bedded into the issues of net zero; and it is intimately associated with the need to increase again our biodiversity. It is of inestimable importance.

The threat posed by grey squirrels is therefore an issue that exercises many of us, along with the longing that we might one day be able to reintroduce red squirrels. I have to say that the problem is not just grey squirrels; in North Hertfordshire we have black squirrels. I do not know if the Committee has come across them but they are breeding across both North Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire, and are a feature of our local area in my diocese. Sadly, there are now only a few conservation areas for red squirrels left, as we have heard, following the introduction of the grey squirrel in the 18th century and indeed the wider issue of the reduction in woodland.

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Bishop of St Albans raises serious issues regarding imprisonment for public protection and calls for urgent reform

On 25th May 2023, the Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on the government’s Imprisonment for Public Protection Action Plan, pointing out a high rate of suicide among prisoners serving IPP sentences and urging reform of the system:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity and for keeping this terrible situation before us. I rise with a certain reluctance because I do not have the expertise that many other noble Lords in this debate have, though like all bishops I have a right to visit the prisons in my diocese, which I do, and I am regularly in touch with people working in the legal and penal systems. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the lead bishop on prisons, has raised this matter on numerous occasions and sadly cannot be here today.

It is now seven months since the House of Commons Justice Select Committee issued its report on IPP sentences. There were some alarming conclusions in it, such as noting:

“The indefinite nature of the sentence has contributed to feelings of hopelessness and despair”,

leading to some suicides within the IPP population. There are reports that perhaps as many as 81 people have taken their own life when serving an IPP sentence. If we could identify in any other area of life that 81 lives had been taken, we would be calling for inquiries and wanting answers. Many of us are concerned to hear of further, more recent suicides.

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Online Safety Bill: Bishop of Chelmsford supports Bishop of Oxford’s amendments on safety and risk

On 25th May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Online Safety Bill in committee. The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in support of amendments to the bill tabled by the Bishop of Oxford, Lord Clement Jones, and Lord Colville of Culross, which would introduce new duties to Ofcom to assess risk and monitor online safety:

My Lords, I shall speak in favour of Amendments 195, 239 and 263, tabled in the names of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Oxford, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who I thank for his comments.

My right reverend friend the Bishop of Oxford regrets that he is unable to attend today’s debate. I know he would have liked to be here. My right reverend friend tells me that the Government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, of which he was a founding member, devoted considerable resource to horizon scanning in its early years, looking for the ways in which AI and tech would develop across the world. The centre’s analysis reflected a single common thread: new technologies are developing faster than we can track them and they bring with them the risk of significant harms.

This Bill has also changed over time. It now sets out two main duties: the illegal content duty and the children duty. These duties have been examined and debated for years, including by the joint scrutiny committee. They are refined and comprehensive. Risk assessments are required to be “suitable and sufficient”, which is traditional language from 20 years of risk-based regulation. It ensures that the duties are fit for purpose and proportionate. The duties must be kept up to date and in line with any service changes. Recent government amendments now helpfully require companies to report to Ofcom and publish summaries of their findings.

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Bishop of Chelmsford asks about government approach to those at risk of poverty

The Bishop of Chelmsford asked a question on government assessments of those at risk of falling into poverty during a debate on rising food prices on 25th May 2023:

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, in the diocese which I serve, charities in Harlow alone have fed more than 1 million people in the last year, which, frighteningly, represents a slower than the average demand for food banks nationally. I draw the Minister’s attention to the Bounty Club, which works with local businesses and people on the edge of crisis, helping them access a large bag of fresh food for £2.50, saving households on average £20 to £40 a week. Demand in Harlow is such that queues are regularly seen from St Paul’s Church right down the street. What assessment have the Government made of the number of people who are on the cusp of falling into poverty? What strategies are they considering to prevent people requiring the use of their local food bank or even charities such as the Bounty Club?

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Bishop of Leeds asks about interfaith engagement in levelling-up agenda

The Bishop of Leeds received the following written answer on 25th May 2023:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds asked  His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the contribution of inter-faith engagement and cooperation to the Levelling Up agenda; and what plans they have, if any, to provide funding support towards the work of the Inter Faith Network, including for Inter Faith Week during 2023–24.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con): The department continues to take steps to support inter-faith community cohesion. For example, this government is supporting Dame Sara Khan’s independent review of Social Cohesion and Resilience which is due to report in the Autumn, and I am considering additional options to take forward.

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Bishop of Southwark asks about number of prosecutions for human trafficking in the last three years

The Bishop of Southwark received the following written answer on 25th May 2023:

The Lord Bishop of Southwark asked His Majesty’s Government how many prosecutions were undertaken of people smugglers in each of the last three years for which data are available.

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Bishop of St Albans asks about reported cases of whistleblowing investigated by the Civil Service in the last four years

The Bishop of St Alban received the following written answer on 25th May 2023:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government how many cases of whistleblowing were reported and investigated by the Civil Service in (1) 2022, (2) 2021, (3) 2020, and (4) 2019.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con, Cabinet Office): We are made aware by departments annually, who also report on behalf of their agencies, of cases raised formally through whistleblowing procedures.

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Bishops won’t abandon the vulnerable that Christ calls us to love – Archbishop of Canterbury writes for The Times

The following article by the Most Rev Justin Welby, appeared in The Times newspaper on May 24 2023.

We must control our borders. We must stop the boats. We must have limits to those coming because we cannot take everyone. I said all this in the opening sentences of my speech in the House of Lords the week before last.

As the Illegal Migration Bill enters committee stage in the Lords, everyone agrees the status quo position on asylum fails. Those that arrive use dangerous means and face chaotic, ineffective treatment at tremendous cost, which creates discontent among those in the UK who feel their generosity is being exploited. We need a new approach that loves mercy and does justice, to use words from scripture.

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Illegal Migration Bill: Bishop of Chelmsford speaks in favour of amendments to protect victims of trafficking

During a debate on the Illegal Migration Bill on 24th May 2023, the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in support of an amendment tabled by Lord Coaker that would exempt those cooperating with law enforcement from removal from the UK in instances of human trafficking:

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I do not wish to delay the House for long, especially given the excellent speeches we have already heard delivered on this group, but I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about retrospection. I add my support, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and those other noble Lords who have tabled Amendment 11, on which we have already heard the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

A succession of migration, public order and modern slavery Bills in recent years have drastically raised the length of sentences and the severity of punishments that can be brought to bear on people traffickers and smugglers. While this may look tough, it is difficult to say that it has had much impact; indeed, the entire purpose of this Bill is to try to put a stop to arrivals which have not, apparently, been impacted on at all by the deterrents that are already in place. Nor is this surprising, given the very low number of prosecutions and convictions for such offences. Regrettably, it seems that smuggling is a crime with enormous rewards but relatively little risk for the perpetrators. Instead, we seem to almost exclusively punish those who are smuggled, often in highly dangerous circumstances.

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