On 12th May 2021 the House of Lords debated the Queen’s Speech. The Bishop of Durham spoke, focusing on its impact on children and young people, and on the proposals for immigration.
“My Lords, it is a privilege to be the first to speak from these Benches on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. I look forward to the valedictory speech of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who has served the House so well during his years as a Lord spiritual. I also look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev.
“I make my comments within a very specific framework: are the measures contained in the gracious Speech good for the children and young people of our land? At the outset of her tenure as Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza commented: ‘I want to see childhood right at the top of the Government agenda. That means every speech from the Prime Minister and Chancellor mentioning children, and every Government department constantly pushing to improve the lives of children’— so it was good to hear a range of references to children. Having the best start in life by prioritising early years is essential. There is no debate any longer that the months in the womb and the first 1,001 days of a child’s life are absolutely critical to lifetime development. Much deeper investment in all aspects of early years well-being—mental, physical, social and spiritual—is essential.
It was good to note reflection on building back better through all aspects of education. It is essential that this begins with children’s spiritual, social and mental well-being rather than academic achievement. The latter will follow the former. It must be truly a long-term plan, not one limited to the lifetime of this Parliament.
“We welcome the plans for flexible funding within the skills and post-16 education Bill. The flourishing of the further education sector is crucial to our future. We as a Church stand for human flourishing at all levels. Therefore, this is at the core of our core educational vision: ‘Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good’.
“We as a Church recognise that we must become younger and more diverse. Engaging in further education needs to be at the core of what we do. This is as much a matter of social justice as it is about skills for jobs, social mobility or greater productivity. Therefore, we are seeking to form new partnerships and to reach out on areas of common concern such as well-being, mental health, bringing communities together and the place of spirituality in further education.
“We offer key themes to inform these discussions: vocation, transformation and hope. We also challenge ourselves to reimagine chaplaincy for all those in further education. Currently, we are exploring how best to fulfil this vision in partnership with colleges that share our vision and commitment to serve the needs of people of all faiths and none. We are grateful for engagement with, and are committed to, an ongoing working partnership with the Secretary of State and the Government to explore these issues together for the common good.
“In further developing integrated health and social care, the needs of children, especially around mental health, disability and special educational needs, must be central. Children need properly joined-up working between all sectors. The commitment to online safety for children must be turned into reality. I hope the Government will work closely with 5Rights and others to achieve this.
“The ongoing international commitment to girls’ education is very welcome. It is such a pity that it comes against the backdrop of the savage cuts in other areas of international development, which will reduce those same girls’ access to clean water, better hygiene and healthcare. The international aid budget needs to be returned to 0.7% immediately. Sadly, this was not indicated in the gracious Speech; might the Minister comment on this lack?
“The charitable voluntary sector is a vital part of children’s well-being. I hope that the charities Bill will address concerns that make life for smaller charities particularly difficult.
“Children must be at the heart of how we build back from the pandemic. Since the Prime Minister has committed to appointing a Cabinet-level Minister to co-ordinate the start for life initiative, might it be better if this was for children of all ages, not simply nought to five year-olds?
“I finally want to touch on the New Plan for Immigration Bill. The Home Office has said it is committed to a culture that is respectful, compassionate, collaborative and courageous. No one is more deserving of this approach than children forced to seek sanctuary through no fault of their own. The Government’s New Plan for Immigration references children and young people rarely, other than in the discussion on age assessment. I trust this omission will be rectified in the Bill, given that the Home Secretary spoke of prioritising the protection of vulnerable women and children in refugee camps. There are other things we welcome in those proposals, but no child deserves a hostile start in a new home where they will be trapped in a precarious life, vulnerable to exploitation and poverty—and there are real concerns that that will happen under the current proposals.
“Children need to be at the heart of every aspect of building back better. There are signs of hope; there are also signs of deep concern, including no commitment to keep the uplift in universal credit or address the two-child limit. A bigger, bolder vision for children is still needed.”