Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill: Bishop of Manchester makes maiden speech

On 21st September 2020 the Bishop of Manchester, Rt Revd David Walker, made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during the Second Reading debate on the Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester (Maiden Speech) [V]: My Lords, I begin by expressing my thanks to the parliamentary staff and fellow Members of this House, who have both welcomed me and helped me understand something of the workings of this place. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on his excellent and entertaining maiden speech reminding us of the importance of rehabilitation—not only for sacked ​government Ministers. I declare my interest as chair of the Greater Manchester police’s Ethics Committee, which is recorded in the register.

I believe I may be unique among the Lords Spiritual in serving as Bishop of the diocese in which I was born, brought up and educated: I am a Bishop from Manchester as well as Bishop of Manchester. My education at the Manchester Grammar School taught me the proud history that Manchester and its surrounding towns have in women’s suffrage, the trade union movement and the extension of parliamentary democracy as well as this region’s place at the innovative heart of the industrial revolution.

In Manchester, I learned my love of numbers, going on to read and research mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge, before the blossoming of my Christian faith took me to Birmingham to study theology and, hence, into church ministry. I may be the only Member of your Lordships’ House able to tackle that medieval conundrum—“How many angels can dance on a pinhead?” —from two distinct academic disciplines.

The culture of Manchester is best represented by the city’s iconic image of the worker bee. However, bees are not only hard-working—they work together. Self-interest is subservient to the well-being of the hive. Manchester drew hard on that culture following the Manchester Arena terrorist attack of May 2017, to which noble Lords have already referred in this debate. It was my privilege to help lead my city in its response, and it is why I feel particularly called to speak in today’s debate. When the authors of terrorism sought to divide us, we came closer together, linking arms across the diversity of our city and region, which is among our principal strengths. I am fiercely proud of how Manchester held its head up high in the aftermath of an attack not only on innocent concert-goers but aimed at our very way of life.

I support the aspirations of this Bill and many of the measures included in it. Our first response to the threat of terrorism must be to improve the ways we prevent terrorist atrocities being planned and executed. Reducing the risk to the public from particular known individuals, especially those who already have convictions for offences linked to terrorism, has a vital role in preventing would-be terrorists from forming and carrying out their plans.

However, we will not defy terrorism through legislation that provides a recruiting sergeant for those who wish us harm. Long prison sentences, such as that properly handed out in the recent trial for the Manchester Arena attack, send a strong signal about our commitment to public protection. However, we must remember that they extend the isolation of prisoners from their families and the moderating influence of the wider community while keeping them for longer in close proximity with those who might seek to increase or reinforce radicalisation. This is particularly a concern for the youngest offenders.

Secondly, reducing the level of proof required for some sanctions, such as TPIMs, to well below the balance of probability may give rise to a sense of injustice, one that stretches far beyond the individual to whom the sanction applies, undermining the support from across the community, which is our strongest weapon in the fight against radicalisation. I urge Ministers to provide this House, during the various stages through ​which this Bill will pass, with clear evidence that the positive impacts of the proposals will outweigh the unintended negative ones.

In this House, we have a responsibility to ensure that the Bills we pass into law unite our society rather than divide it. If we apply a legal sanction that protects us from one individual—but at the price of radicalising three others—we will not control the threat. Terrorist ideology has its own replication number, every bit as deadly as coronavirus. Our challenge is to pass legislation that brings together the diverse voices of our land and carries confidence across the broad range of political, religious and other communities with whom we share a common life.

I hope that we will listen to those voices, both from within and beyond this Chamber as we debate this Bill, and will make improvements to it that will win the trust of those who we will need as allies in what is our common cause to protect the people of our nation and the values upon which Britain is built. I look forward to continuing to be a voice in this House for the diverse communities that make up Manchester and, especially, for those who are not so often heard.

Lord Ramsbotham (CB) [V]: My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate—the Bishop of, and from, Manchester—so soon after his introduction. Before being consecrated as Bishop of Manchester, he was suffragan Bishop of Dudley, being responsible for the interregnum between two Bishops of Worcester: Bishop Peter Selby—our most distinguished Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons—and the present incumbent, Bishop John Inge, who takes such a keen interest in justice issues. As the right reverend Prelate has given early evidence of his intention to play an active part in the proceedings of the House, I look forward to many more contributions from him, particularly on justice issues…

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con) [extract]: …My noble friend Lord Vaizey, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester all talked about the vulnerability of children. Noble Lords will know that we have a separate youth justice system for children and the courts will always consider their specific needs when sentencing. However, we know that age is not a barrier to becoming involved in terrorist acts. That is why we have taken steps to ensure a degree of consistency between our approach to adult and youth offenders. The changes we are introducing to the EDS will remove the possibility of early release for the most dangerous offenders, allowing for the effective monitoring of risk factors over a longer period to limit the threat posed on release. The special sentence for offenders of particular concern will ensure that children who commit a relevant terrorist or terrorism-related offence cannot be released without a period of supervision in the community, maximising the time available to support their desistance from further offending.

My noble friend Lord Vaizey, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and, to a certain extent, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester talked about the malign influence on children vulnerable to exploitation by adults—particularly, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey said, online. That is why 47% of the projects that the Government funded in 2018-19 worked in partnership with communities to reduce the risk of radicalisation. They were delivered in schools to increase young people’s resilience to terrorists and extremist ideology in all its forms.

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