Bishop of Manchester calls for respect towards local Manchester leaders in covid discussions with Government

On 22nd October 2020 the House of Lords heard the repeat of a Ministerial statement to MPs on Covid-19. The BIshop of Manchester raised the need for restoration of trust between Ministers and community leaders in Manchester:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester [V]: My Lords, the Greater Manchester tier 3 proposals were the main UK news item across our broadcasting media for at least a week. However, to the best of my knowledge, at no time did senior members of Her Majesty’s Government come to Manchester to meet its people, hear its voices and seek to reach an agreement face to face with our civic leaders. Moreover, yesterday the Manchester Evening News published a story claiming that senior leaders logged into one crucial meeting only to discover that the Government side had set up controls that did not allow members to unmute themselves. It then allegedly used that facility to prevent voices being heard.

Whatever the practicalities of managing virtual meetings—indeed, irrespective of whether the newspaper reports are wholly accurate—there is now a strong perception in the north-west that local leaders have been treated throughout this process with a great lack of respect. The affairs of Manchester and those of other regions cannot be settled from behind a computer screen in Westminster, one hand controlling the purse strings and the other the menu for mute, no more than can the proceedings of this House. I therefore ask the Minister and, through him, other senior members of Her Majesty’s Government, to commit to this House to coming to Manchester within the next couple of weeks to seek to repair the present breakdown in trust. We may bark loudly, at least when we are unmuted, but we rarely bite.

Lord Bethell (Con): The right reverend Prelate makes a very touching appeal, and I reassure him that both the representatives and the people of Manchester are massively valued. I do not want to cite all the details, but many people in this Government, including me, have spent a vast amount of time in Manchester, value the city, love the people and are greatly distressed at the thought that anyone thinks otherwise. The practicalities of this epidemic have been very regrettable on travel. As a Minister, I regret massively the fact that I have not been able to travel up and down the country. It is not possible to visit cities for face-to-face negotiations in the middle of an epidemic. That would strike the wrong note. It is a contagious threat and that is not possible, but I reassure the right reverend Prelate that everything is being done to value the opinions of the representatives of Manchester, and it will continue to be so.