“Over the past 12 months in the city of Derby, we have seen a 100% increase in the use of food banks. The point I want to make in this debate is that the shift has moved away from the normal suspects, who are, tragically, homeless people, towards families who are housed, but whose incomes are so low that they cannot feed themselves seven days a week.”
On 31st October 2013, Baroness Prosser led a take-note debate on the current cost of living and its impact on family budgets. The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in the debate, focusing his remarks on the response of civil society to issues of food poverty in the UK, particularly the role of churches in providing food banks. He also spoke about work and income, questions around lifestyle, and the role of the state.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, on securing this debate and on setting such a good framework in her introduction. I want to look particularly at the human cost of this issue and at the family budgets of those who are at the sharp end of the struggle in trying to deal with rising living costs. I shall begin with the big picture. Earlier this year I organised a hunger summit in Derby. We looked at food poverty in what we call the developing countries, but we also looked at food poverty in our own city. We took the opportunity to launch a remodelled food bank system to provide a more comprehensive service to meet the growing food poverty that we are finding in our own back yard. That is the context in which we should begin to look at the pressure on family budgets. We were supported by the Fair Share Trust. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, was in the House earlier this week when there was a Question about food waste, and I hope that one of the things we can do with excess food is redirect some of it towards organisations such as the Fair Share Trust so that it can be used to supplement those families whose budgets are so stretched that they cannot afford to eat properly. Continue reading
On 31st October 2013, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, received an answer to a written question regarding free schools.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the recent concern about the Al-Madinah free school, what plans they have to provide a framework in which free schools should operate that reflects the expectations of parents and the Department for Education.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): The Department has already put in place such a framework, through the rigorous approval process for free school applications, the contractual funding agreement between the school and the Secretary of State for Education, the legislative requirements placed on academies and free schools through the Independent School Standards and, as for all schools, Ofsted inspections. Together, they provide the necessary checks and balances to ensure that free schools meet the high standards expected of them. Where those standards are not met, the framework enables us to take swift and decisive action.
On 31st October 2013, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, received an answer to a written question on Israel.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Warsi on 10 October (WA 47), and in the light of the first progress report from UNICEF (14 October 2013) on the treatment of children in Israeli military detention, what representations have they made to the Government of Israel about the conformity of such practice with international standards.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): Ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and our Ambassador to Tel Aviv, have spoken and written to both the Israeli Justice Minister and the Israeli Attorney General to make representations on the treatment of Palestinian child detainees and the need for Israel to abide by its obligations under international law. Most recently, our ambassador in Tel Aviv wrote again to the Israeli Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, on 14 October and Embassy officials discussed the issue with the Israeli Ministry of Justice on 16 September.
I can assure the Most Reverend and Noble Lord Bishop that we will continue to press for further progress on this important subject.
“Even with a political solution, the scars of this conflict will take many generations to heal. It will require the continued generosity of the international community in a sustained and strategic humanitarian commitment. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to take a courageous lead and make this not the last business of a long day but the priority of every morning until the holy land of Syria is healed.”
On 30th October 2013, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, led a short debate in the House of Lords, to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria. In his opening speech, the Bishop commended the Government for its response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, but called for all pledged humanitarian assistance to be supplied as quickly as possible. He called on the Goverment to look into the resettling of Syrian refugees and noted the negative impact that the humanitarian crisis was having on the broader region.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, despite the admirable diplomatic activity of recent weeks, the humanitarian costs of the ongoing conflict in Syria show no sign of abatement. As violence expands exponentially and cruelty abounds, no one can fail to be moved by the scale of the crisis, which is nothing short of a catastrophe.
This debate seeks neither to underestimate the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government to rise to the challenge of humanitarian support, nor to question their resolve to work towards a political resolution of the civil war. Rather, I hope that it will give an opportunity for your Lordships’ House to focus its expert attention on the humanitarian costs of the conflict and the humanitarian imperative of bringing the conflict to an end, and, in so doing, of checking that every stone is being turned in the cause of compassion and the pursuit of peace. Continue reading
On 30th October 2013, Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty’s Government whether free schools and faith schools will be required to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum which addresses the needs of all pupils. The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: Does the Minister agree that the use of the phrase “faith schools” can be profoundly unhelpful in the context of this discussion? Schools of a religious character come in many forms. Is it not true that the nearly 4,700 Church of England schools sit very firmly within the mainstream of English education, and that even C of E free schools and academies are linked to diocesan boards to ensure that the education that they provide is broad and balanced, academically challenging, personally inspiring and serving the needs of the whole local community?
Lord Nash: I agree entirely with the right reverend Prelate. Faith schools are a long-established and highly valued part of our educational establishment, and church schools are, too. Church schools consistently outperform maintained schools; they are very popular and often highly oversubscribed. The applications procedures of many of them do not rely heavily on faith; they have a much wider intake.
“We [must] steer a course between tolerating bad behaviour on the one hand, and on the other hand taking an overly punitive and controlling approach to those whose behaviour can just be annoying. I am not here thinking of street preachers or those who sing hymns very loudly—though a balance has to be struck even in those instances—but chiefly of young people and the more vulnerable among adults.”
On 29th October 2013, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, spoke in the Second Reading debate of the Government’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. He welcomed measures in the Bill on strengthening firearm regulations, tackling forced marriage and reforms to the College of Policing’s code of ethics. He raised concerns about the newly proposed definition for ‘anti-social behaviour’, suggesting that young people and vulnerable adults could be at risk from a broad definition.
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, there is much to welcome in this Bill. The strengthening of the laws on firearms and on forced marriage, for example, are obvious steps forward. The measures for prevention of sexual harm, while raising important issues about the need for caution in restricting the freedoms of unconvicted people, will make possible swifter and more effective action to protect potential victims. The College of Policing has made an encouraging start. I am pleased to welcome the draft code of ethics. It sets a strong, ethical and I would say spiritual basis for law and its enforcement, which is a key concern for us all.
The emphasis on communities—people working together for the common good—has run through the long gestation period of these proposals. The principles of restorative justice and restorative practice, especially in local communities, are built into the efforts of churches in every part of this country to serve their local communities and especially those who are most vulnerable. In my part of the world, 80% of young people typically reoffend in the first two years after their sentence. However, with those who are taken on board by church monitoring and mentoring groups, even with the more difficult cases, the rate of reoffending is less than 20%. Continue reading
“States need to feel comfortable and confident enough in their own skins, as one might put it, to uphold their core values for all citizens regardless of religious or non-religious background. Even in our own nation, it can sometimes appear to be a fragile commodity but we have the comfort of two centuries’ experience of relative tolerance. If freedom of religion is in many ways the fundamental right upon which all other rights turn, it is important for our and other Governments to remain actively engaged over the long term, pressing for the rights of all religious minority communities.”
On 29th October 2013, the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, led a debate in the House of Lords to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the situation of religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa after the events of the Arab Spring. He noted that the Arab Spring and resulting events were about issues of identity, political organisation and rights, all of which impact on the place of religious minorities. He urged wisdom and patience from the international community and urged for governments based on consent to be established throughout the region. He noted in particular the persecution of Christians in the region, including many groups historically amongst the earliest Christian communities. He commended the work of the Government in prioritising the freedom of religion but called for there to be consideration around the appointment of an Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to speak about the situation of religious minorities in the Middle East and north Africa since the Arab spring. The debate will, I hope, provide the opportunity to take a more detached view on developments over the past few years and to look at the underlying dynamics affecting religious minorities in the region.
Events in the Middle East since the start of the Arab spring have been a challenge not only to those living in the region but to all of us. Many, myself included, have viewed the series of uprisings which started in Tunisia through the lense of our experience of the Cold War. We wrongly assumed then that the fall of the Berlin Wall would usher in an era of tolerance and political pluralism throughout Europe. The reality was very different. Released from the uniformity of authoritarian rule, the former states of the USSR struggled with weak Governments to meet the diverse and competing aspirations of all their people. Often, as in the case of Balkans, those struggles turned horribly violent, with religion politicised as a marker of identity. Of course, the lessons of our own European history are seminal when trying to understand the transformations shaping the Middle East today. Revolutions are never simple and straightforward affairs. The Reign of Terror and the Vendée in France at the end of the 18th century were perhaps the beginning in our own modern era. Continue reading