Parliament met this week, in Westminster and online.
The Bishop of Portsmouth began each virtual sitting day in the Lords with prayers, and asked Government about coronavirus tests for the armed forces, the contact tracing app trials on the Isle of Wight, housing for the homeless, and setting up a Royal Commission on social care.
Throughout the week Lords Spiritual raised the impact of COVID-19 across a range of policy areas: The Archbishop of Canterbury asked about partnership with faith groups in delivering support to refugee camps, the Bishops of London and Newcastle asked about mental health support for NHS workers, and the right to remain of NHS migrant workers. The Bishop of Winchester asked about local discretion in reopening schools, and student courses . The Bishops of Durham and St Albans spoke in a debate about the international response.
In the House of Commons the Second Church Estates Commissioner Andrew Selous MP answered questions from MPs on the clergy discipline process, and the effects of coronavirus on access to worship, family life, funerals, schools, and hospital chaplaincy. He answered written questions from MPs on coronavirus and the reopening of churches, including for weddings, baptisms and funerals,
On 21st May 2020, Lord Cormack asked the Government “what steps they are taking to support (1) museums, (2) galleries, and (3) historic buildings open to the public, affected by the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic”. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, spoke in the debate:
Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, the Church of England alone has 16,000 church buildings, over 12,000 of which are listed. We are at the bedrock of our communities and thus can be at the heart of recovery. I therefore make three points. First, we are rich in assets, but the pandemic means that income is plummeting, and budgets were already tight. I therefore urge the Government at least to remove VAT on repairs to historic buildings.
Secondly, government often brackets us with the hospitality industry. Are we hospitable? I hope so. Are we historic? Yes. Does such categorisation meet our distinct needs? No.
Thirdly, the Church encompasses buildings and people. Our impact on people will define us, so how we respond pastorally to the pandemic from our buildings will leave the deepest impression.
On 21st May 2020 Baroness Browning asked the Government “what steps they are taking to update the guidance given to hospitals about ensuring the safety of patients who do not have Covid-19 who require life-saving emergency treatment.” The Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of London: The report recently published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, Care Fit for Carers, found that half our healthcare workers have said that their mental health has deteriorated since the Covid-19 crisis began. What supplementary provision is being put in place to deal with the mental health needs of NHS staff?
On 20th May 2020 a Government statement was given in the virtual House of Lords regarding care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, asked a follow up question:
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, we know how crucial the social care sector is, and the huge challenges it faced even before Covid-19, with 120,000 care assistant vacancies. Can the Minister therefore respond to the excellent suggestion from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that we establish a royal commission on social care, not to blame but to learn, so that we have the right information to make the right decisions and provide the right services for these most vulnerable people?
On 20th May 2020, Lord Watson of Invergowrie asked the Government “what action they are taking to publish scientific evidence which (1) ensures the re-opening schools on 1 June will be safe for pupils, staff and parents, and (2) includes the impact on the (a) national, and (b) regional, reproduction rates (R number) of COVID-19“. The Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Tim Dakin, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, as with many schools, Church of England schools have remained open during the lockdown for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. Our teachers are working extremely hard to provide educational and pastoral support to our students at this time of unprecedented challenge. Can the Minister confirm whether school leaders will be granted the discretion to reopen at a pace dictated by their local circumstances and context, considering the significant mental, spiritual, physical and social impact that the current situation is having on children, especially those from the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families?
On 20th May 2020, Lord Collins of Highbury asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the response of international institutions to the impact of COVID-19 on refugee camps”. The Archbishop of Canterbury asked a follow-up question:
The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan published by the UN and updated this month, which emphasises “The importance of involving and supporting local organizations … given the key role they are playing in this crisis.” In all areas where the world’s 70 million displaced people gather, faith groups and especially churches are often the only remaining organisations with reach from grass roots to leaders, but they are often ignored by international and relief agencies. In many cases, shortage of money and logistics hamper food distribution. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that faith-based local groups are fully involved by all international agencies in all aspects of relief, reconciliation and moral and spiritual support?
On 20th May 2020 the Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Tim Dakin, received a written answer to a question on students enrolling on courses with a public service focus.
The Bishop of Winchester: HL3912 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to increase the number of students enrolling on courses with a public service focus, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.