Online Safety Bill: Bishop of Oxford speaks on risks to vulnerable adults

On 1st February 2023, the House of Lords debated the Online Safety Bill in its second reading he Bishop of Oxford spoke in the debate , raising the importance of risk assessments of harm to adults, the independence of Ofcom, and the dangers of technology facilitated crime & domestic abuse:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, it is an honour and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and all those who have spoken in this debate. As a member of your Lordships’ Committee on Artificial Intelligence and a founding member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, I have followed the slow progress of this Bill since the original White Paper. We have seen increasing evidence that many social media platforms are unwilling to acknowledge, let alone prevent, harms of the kind this vital Bill addresses. We know that there is an all too porous frontier between the virtual world and the physical world. The resulting harms damage real lives, real families, and real children, as we have heard.

There is a growing list of priority harms and now there is concern, as well as excitement, over new AIs such as ChatGPT; they demonstrate yet again that technology has no inherent precautionary principles. Without systemic checks and balances, AI in every field develops faster than society can respond. We are and for ever will be catching up with the technology.

The Bill is very welcome, marking as it does a belated but important step towards rebalancing a complex but vital aspect of public life. I pay tribute to the Government and to civil servants for their patient efforts to address a complex set of ethical and practical issues in a proportionate way. But the job is not yet fully done.

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Online Safety Bill: Bishop of Manchester highlights need for regulatory cooperation and importance of child protection

On 1st February 2023, the Bishop of Manchester spoke in a debate on the Online Safety Bill in its second reading, encouraging the government to introduce a duty to cooperate for regulators, and highlighting issues of child protection:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, that is not an easy speech to follow, but I begin by declaring my interest as a Church Commissioner, as set out in the register. We have substantial holdings in many of the big tech companies. I am also vice-chair of the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group. I commend the attention of noble Lords to our recent report on big tech that was published last September. There, we set out five core principles that we believe should guide our investment in and engagement with big tech companies: flourishing as persons, flourishing in relationships, standing with the marginalised, caring for creation and serving the common good. If we apply those principles to our scrutiny of this Bill, we will not only improve lives but save lives.

I will focus my remaining remarks on three areas. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, have noted, the powers granted to the Secretary of State to direct Ofcom on its codes of practice and provide tactical and strategic guidance put Ofcom’s independence at risk. While I recognise that the Government have sought to address these concerns, more is required—Clauses 39 and 157 are not fit for purpose in their present form. We also need clear safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny for Secretary of State powers in the Bill that will allow them to direct Ofcom to direct companies in whatever we mean by “special circumstances”. Maintaining Ofcom’s autonomy in decision-making is critical to preserving freedom of expression more broadly. While the pace of technological innovation sometimes requires very timely response, the Bill places far too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State.

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Bishop of Manchester asks about changes needed to address criminality within the police

The Bishop of Manchester asked a question on how the government plan to realise the turnaround priorities set out by the new police commissioner, during a debate on criminality within the Metropolitan Police on 1st February 2023:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, this is more than a series of bad apples; I am sure that there is something rotten in the culture and structures in policing that comprehensively and immediately needs to be addressed. We have the nine turnaround priorities that the new police commissioner has set out. Can the Minister set out how the Government will assist with and ensure those priorities are realised as a matter of urgency?

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Bishop of London asks about development of healthcare strategies

The Bishop of London received the following written answer on 1st February 2023:

The Lord Bishop of London asked His Majesty’s Government what the consultation process will be in the development of their Major Conditions Strategy.

Lord Markham (Con): Through the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, the Government is currently reviewing which retained European Union law should be repealed, reformed or preserved. The Government continues to work with a range of stakeholders to ensure that current standards in patient safety and public health are maintained.

Hansard

Bishop of St Albans asks about medical treatment for problem gambling

The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answer on 1st February 2023:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the efficacy of medication, such as paroxetine, for the treatment of problem gambling.

Lord Markham (Con): Whilst no specific assessment has been made, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence is developing a clinical guideline for the treatment of harmful gambling. This will cover psychological and psychosocial interventions as well as pharmacological treatments, with publication expected in early 2024.

Hansard

Bishop of St Albans asks about housing, schools and levelling up in rural areas

The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answers on 1st February 2023:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote affordable housing developments in rural areas.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con): The National Planning Policy Framework already makes clear that planning policies and decisions should be responsive to local circumstances in rural areas. Our Rural Exception Sites policy allows for the development of small affordable housing sites in rural areas, with the majority of housing on these sites being available to local people in perpetuity, and we published planning practice guidance in 2020 to help local authorities and developers bring more of these sites forward.

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Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich asks about access to information on energy bills for vulnerable households

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich asked a question on obligations of affordable energy providers to offer alternatives to electronic communication to those in need, during a debate on energy costs for vulnerable households on 31st January 2023:

The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I recognise that my question connects with the previous Oral Question. Listening to clergy in my diocese who are operating food banks and warm spaces, they say to me that one of the biggest challenges that vulnerable households are facing as they try to pay their energy bills is accessing information, particularly when it is available only online. What assurance can the Minister give that those responsible for delivering affordable energy, including Ofgem, will use or require the use of alternatives to electronic forms of communication when trying to reach those in need, including partnering with service providers such as food banks?

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Bishop of St Albans asks about education on gambling

The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answer on 31st January 2023:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answers by Baroness Barran on 9 January (HL4502 and HL4503), what current research informs their statutory curriculum for relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) with regard to gambling education.

Baroness Barran: The current statutory guidance for relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) was informed by a stakeholder engagement process in 2017, including a public call for evidence that received over 23,000 responses from parents, young people, schools and experts.

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Bishop of St Albans asks about fires caused by sky lanterns

The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answer on Tuesday 31st January 2023:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Sharpe of Epsom on 13 December 2022 (HL3856), whether they can provide an itemised table from the Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) that details how many incidents where sky lanterns have been confirmed as the source of a fire.

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Church Commissioners Written Questions: Church Buildings, Heritage Protection, LGBT+ People, Religious Freedom, Funding for Rural Churches, and the Coronation of King Charles III

Andrew Selous MP, representing the Church Commissioners, gave the following written answerto questions from MPs on 31st January 2023:

Ben Bradshaw MP (Lab): To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what the cost of legal support provided by (a) dioceses and (b) the Church Commissioners to incumbents and PCCs of parishes affected by pastoral reorganisation making a representation at an oral hearing of the Mission, Pastoral and Church Property Committee was in each of the last five years.

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