Shared British values – speech by Bishop of Derby

On 16th July 2015 the Bishop of Derby, Rt Revd Alistair Redfern, spoke in a debate tabled by the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy towards promoting the shared values that underpin British public life.”

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord,Bishop of Derby Lord Harries, for securing this debate. I suggest that shared values might be a dangerous focus and something of a displacement activity. Values are changing and are often vague. The Prime Minister wants to uphold freedom, toleration and the rule of law. My wife Caroline receives lots of information from Johnnie Boden about clothing and, this week, an email came with his values for being British: to be rebellious, daring and timeless. The point is that it is a shifting landscape, which can open up a lot of confusion and miscommunication.

The issue for British public life is not so much about values, which will always be part of the scene; the key issue, I think, is about the processes by which different perspectives participate in public life. That is the notion of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, of a continuing conversation. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a similar point. From the seventh century, when different kingdoms came together and had to negotiate, to the current legislation proposed by the Government about cities and local government, there is a presupposition about different elements somehow being drawn into conversation about our future and how we operate.

The problem about this is that the process of participation is patently not open to ordinary people very easily. It is designed for those of us who live in the suburbs and, in my experience, working a lot with very needy people in the inner city, there is a great disenfranchisement from being able to participate in this continuing conversation. For example, in the last three months, I have been approached by Muslim leaders in the city of Derby where I work to see if I can help to create a safe space, to use their words, in which radical, young Muslims—who, like young people, want to explore radical ideas—can do that without feeling intimidated or at risk of a kind of Prevent agenda which sees that exploration of different perspectives not as part of the political process and the give and take of what a value is about but as something that might be dangerous and almost illegal.

I want to ask the Minister two questions. What might the Government do to encourage the participation of a range of perspectives that includes those who are so patently disenfranchised in the inner cities and among the poor? What might they do to help the Prevent initiative, which I see as very necessary, be perceived by people, especially young people, as an invitation to participate in a grown-up discussion about a range of radical views in a political culture rather than signal, as other noble Lords have said, that this is territory to keep away from because you might be punished for it?