Welcome to the Church of England’s weekly round-up of activity in Parliament.
The House of Lords sat for three days before rising for the Christmas recess. In the Lords bishops spoke in debates about social mobility, press regulation and Universal Credit. They also asked questions about the Prevent strategy, prison safety and homelessness and received written answers about Syrian refugees and visa applications from Iraq and Syria.
On 21st December 2016 Lord Farmer led a short debate in the Lords, to ask Her Majesty’s Government “what progress they are making in rolling out Universal Credit, and what assessment they have made of its impact”. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, took part in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for this important debate. On behalf of these Benches, I take the opportunity to thank the Minister for his very considerable contribution, drive and service to this House, and wish him well as he leaves the Front Bench.
I think it is true to say that very few in this House disagree with the stated aims of universal credit—to simplify the benefits system and ensure that work always pays. However, I also suspect that there are quite a few of us in this House and, indeed, on these Benches, who fear that on occasion Her Majesty’s Government may have lost sight of that aim. Indeed, it seems that successive cuts to the welfare budget have been prioritised as an easy way of balancing the Government’s finances. Continue reading
On the 21st December 2016 the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff tabled and asked a question to Government on the floor of the House: “following the disturbance at HM Prison Birmingham, what measures they will take to address immediate and short-term issues of safety and security in prisons.” The full series of exchanges, including follow-up questions from other Members, is reproduced below:
The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I draw the House’s attention to my interest as the Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie): My Lords, while we implement our White Paper reforms, which will reduce violence and reoffending, we are continually working to ensure stability across the prison estate. The Prisons Minister chairs daily meetings with senior members of the Prison Service to monitor potential unrest. Where necessary, we are providing governors with immediate targeted support, such as rapid facilities repairs, and we are in the process of recruiting 2,500 additional officers across the estate.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester
: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am also grateful for the debate and discussion in your Lordships’ House on Monday following the Ministerial Statement. In that debate, a number of noble Lords drew attention to the importance of purposeful activity for prisoners, including education, training, work and a range of other rehabilitative programmes. Such activities aid reform, encourage positive behaviour and thus enhance safety and security—but they can also be seriously compromised, not least by staffing issues. Can the Minister assure the House that such programmes will be sustained and ideally increased in the short term as well as the long term?
On the 21st December 20165, Lord Shipley asked the Government “what is their latest estimate of the number of people who will be homeless or living in temporary accommodation over the Christmas period”. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow up question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Housing Justice Night Shelter IMPACT report, which was published this week? It found that of those in night shelters, 14% or roughly 268 were migrants with no recourse to public funds, support or indeed, of course, housing. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to speed up the process of resolving these difficult cases, which are causing such anxiety and suffering?
On the 21st December 2016, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, received answers to written questions concerning visa applications from Syria and Iraq and the refusal of visas to Archbishops.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to review why the Archbishop of Mosul, the Archbishop of St Matthews and the Archbishop of Homs and Hama were refused visas to travel to the UK from Iraq and Syria to attend the consecration of the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in London. Continue reading
On 20th December 2016, Baroness Corston moved “that the House take note of the Report from the Social Mobility Committee (Session 2015-16, HL Paper 120)”. The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in the debate, to welcome the report and highlight the continued importance of a focus on child poverty.
The Lord Bishop of Durham My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for tabling this important debate and for her and her committee’s work, which has produced such a helpful and clear report. I also look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth.
The findings of the report are of particular importance to those of us in the north-east. According to the Growing Up North project, 4% of young people leaving school in London go on to an apprenticeship whereas the figure is 11% in the north-east. The inequality in provision between academic and vocational routes compounds the inequalities between the north and south of England. Therefore, the current problems with the system are not only failing individual young people but, in some instances, they are failing particular communities. It is with the young people of my diocese and region in mind that I welcome the solutions offered in the report. Continue reading
On 20th December 2016, Baroness Hussein-Ece asked the Government “how they are assessing and evaluating the success of the Prevent Strategy deradicalisation programme following the referral of approximately 4,000 people last year”. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow up question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans My Lords, a group of Christian leaders in Luton in my diocese are working closely with people of other faiths on the Prevent strategy. I have to say that I hear a very different narrative from the grass roots which is profoundly worrying. There is growing discontent at the rollout of the Prevent strategy due to a number of things such as religious illiteracy and some very heavy-handed actions. Would the Minister be willing to come and meet a group of leaders to hear about these concerns? These are people who want to try to make this work so that we can think about how to get it back on course and improve the situation. Continue reading