“what moral authority will we lose, and what price will the Uighurs pay, if we do not do all in our power, whatever the cost, to confront these dreadful atrocities that are unfolding in front of our eyes?”
In the House of Lords on 25th November 2021 Peers debated a Motion from Lord Alton of Liverpool, “That this House takes note of the reported remarks of the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs that a genocide is underway against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China.”
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless work in this area. I also share with him a sense of frustration—I feel as if I have stood up so many times as we have engaged with this issue, yet it seems that we are not able to confront it in a way that is really making a difference. Despite all our hopes of human progress, it is quite extraordinary that here we are, at the start of the 21st century, witnessing events such as we see and which are now well documented. There is no doubt that they are going on.
“a policy that does not go beyond deterrence is not sufficient”
On November 25th 2021 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Hoey, “That this House takes note of the number of migrants arriving in the United Kingdom illegally by boat“.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, for securing this debate, especially at this time. I was helped this morning by the “Thought for the Day” from my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, in which he said that this is a time to dig deeper into our emotions and face the grief we feel at the loss of humanity. It is that sense of grief, our common commitment to the preservation and dignity of life, as well as to a passion for justice for those suffering the ills and evils of the world, which unites us. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, demonstrated that.
Our shared grief is the proof we do not really need of the humanity and vulnerability that unites us. These common concerns, which underpin both our aim to stop migrants making dangerous journeys and our grief today, are the same concerns and moral instincts that require us to sit back and face the reality that a policy that does not go beyond deterrence is not sufficient.
“I praise the emergency services and the police for their sensitivity in the way they have addressed this, but they are doing so within a culture that often treats religion as a private matter.”
The House of Lords considered the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in Committee on 22nd November 2021. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate on an amendment to the Bill from Baroness Stowell of Beeston about police procedure on religious rituals or prayer at crime scenes:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, this is very sensitive territory. Dying is sacred and is part of our living. I think I am the only minister of religion here, and I have accompanied many people, including my own father, to and through their death. If you have been party to that, you will know that it is holy territory
One could say that violent death is even more holy because of how that dying has been brought about. It seems that there needs to be religious literacy on the part of the emergency services and the police, and that the religious bodies need also to improve their literacy in relation to the nature of these events and how they are dealt with.
On 22nd November 2021 in the House of Lords Lord Moylan asked the Government “what plans they have to establish a multi-professional strategy for the emergency services concerning the attendance of ministers of religion at the scene of situations involving serious injury”. The Bishop of Coventry asked a further question:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I greatly welcome the joint study group announced by the cardinal archbishop. Does the Minister agree that good outcomes from that study would include both further training and education to ensure that police officers understand the significance of spiritual comfort at the point of death, for the dying of whatever faith, and an increased role for police chaplaincy?
The following written question was replied to on November 22nd 2021:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken following the remarks by the High Commissioner for Jamaica on 4 November: “from a human rights perspective I am deeply concerned about cases in which persons are being removed having lived in the UK since childhood and have no known relations in Jamaica or familiarity with Jamaica”. [HL3845]
Chris Loder:  To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, how many services the Church of England has conducted specifically for the purposes of Baptising people seeking asylum in each of the last five years.
In the House of Lords on 18th October 2021 Peers paid tribute to Sir David Amess MP, following his tragic murder. The Archbishop of York, Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke of his friendship with Sir David during his time as Bishop of Chelmsford, how his faith motivated him, and of the need for more kindness in politics.
My Lords, on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of the Church of England and, I am sure, all Christian people and all people of good will, I am here to offer the family of Sir David Amess and the constituents of Southend West my condolences and the assurance of the prayers of the Church. I am very grateful for all that has been said thus far, and, certainly, we on these Benches wish to associate ourselves with those comments.
As was said, I considered David Amess a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town. Southend—now the city of Southend—is where I grew up. This appalling murder happened in streets I know well, just around the corner from where my mum lives. It was characteristic of David, whom I got to know during my time as Bishop of Chelmsford, that, when I was appointed, he was one of the first people to congratulate me. When I was translated to York, it was the same. He thought this was another way of putting Southend on the map: a boy who went to a secondary modern school in Southend was now the 98th Archbishop of York. He was so pleased. Last time I saw him, he asked to have his photograph taken with me.
I reckon that, now Southend has been declared a city today, forget about a statue of Vera Lynn at Dover; we are going to put a statue of David Amess at the end of Southend pier. He was—and I know this from the work I did with him—a deeply committed constituency MP. He exemplified what that means. He knew the people he served, and in the constituency he was completely colour blind to political difference. He just served the people he had been elected to serve.
But I want to say this: hate cannot win. It may score many points and land many punches, but it cannot win, because, trusting no one, hate just ends up with endless divisions and suspicions, and, in the end, it just consumes itself. Sorry—I am going to go into sermon mode just for a moment, sisters and brothers. Love is always stronger; it is always more tenacious; its patient endurance draws us together. By love, I mean not just warm feelings of well-disposed good will but that deeply committed determination to get up each morning and live what you believe in, put the needs of others before yourself and recognise our common humanity. That is where the word “kindness” comes from: it is linked to the word “kin”. It means that we belong to each other; we serve the common good; we know that our best interests are absolutely interwoven with those of others, and they lead to those things, those values and that vision, that are worth living for.
This love is what we on these Benches see in Jesus Christ. It was that love and faith in Christ within the community of the Church that was the source and sustenance of David Amess’s vision and values. It was this that enabled him to reach across party-political divides, get on well with everyone and exhibit a good-humoured generosity and a kindness that is, sadly, often woefully lacking in public and political discourse today.
These same values, this same vision, are held in our democracy. They require us to listen and to love one another, especially those with whom we differ and disagree, and to attend to each other’s needs and serve the common good. They call us to speak kindly of each other, to think well of each other and to act generously. It is because Sir David Amess so exemplified those things, regardless of what his politics happened to be, that we are so easily able to come together and remember him, to esteem his contribution to public life and to mourn his death—but not be defeated by the hatred that killed him.
I will conclude with some words that I wrote in a newspaper yesterday about his faith:
“David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart.”
That is the best place for faith because, when you wear it in your heart, it shapes everything.
Question for Church Commissioners, UIN 31286, tabled on 12 July 2021
Michael Fabricant, (Conservative, Lichfield): To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, with reference to the article by the Revd Marcus Walker, Rector of the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, London, entitled, Is this the last chance to save the Church of England, published in the Spectator on 10 July 2021, what assessment the Church has made of the implications for its policies of the (a) findings of Revd Walker and (b) potential merits of proposals to create 10,000 new lay-led churches in the next 10 years in private homes and public halls.
On 17th June 2021 MPs put questions to Andrew Selous MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner. Text of the oral and written answers is below.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Whether the Church of England plans to support online and in-person communal worship as covid-19 restrictions are lifted. (901321)
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous): The Church of England is strongly encouraging churches to support both in-person and online communal worship, and training has been given to thousands of clergy to enable this. It is up to local churches to decide how best to do this.
On 15th June 2021 the House of Lords heard a repeat of a Government statement on covid-19 rules.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, regardless of matters of hindsight, does the Minister agree that prolonging the restrictions might be justified for certain reasons? I do not demur from that, but the prolonging of inconsistencies is a serious impediment to public adherence to the rules. You do not have to look very far to see where the discipline broke down a long time ago. For example—this is not special pleading; it is just at the forefront of my mind—you can sing in a pub but not in a church. This is what brings the rules into disrepute, and therefore people do not agree with them.
Secondly, can the Minister say something in response to Michael Gove’s reported comments about acceptable death rates? We have learned to live with acceptable death rates from flu and other seasonal diseases. Will the Government do some work on what might be an acceptable death rate from Covid in future and be up-front with the country as to what that might be? I think we can take it.