On 22nd November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in the second day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Manchester spoke regarding two sets of amendments: firstly, in support of amendments to Clause 9, pertaining to access issues around abortion providers, and secondly in opposition to clauses remaining in the bill which would grant excessive police powers, particularly regarding the right to protest.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I rise to address Amendments 85 to 88, 90 and 92, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans has added his name. He regrets that he is unable to be in his place today. I also have sympathy with a number of other amendments in this group.
It is a heated and emotive debate on this clause, and it was heated and emotive when it was added in the other place. The danger is that we get dragged into debates about whether abortion is morally right or wrong. Indeed, I have had plenty of emails over the past few days, as I am sure other noble Lords have, tending in that direction. As it happens, I take the view that the present law on abortion strikes a reasonable balance; in particular, it respects the consciences of women faced, sometimes with very little support, with making deeply difficult decisions.
On 18th November 2022, the House of Lords debated the House of Lords (Peerage Nominations) Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in support of the bill:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, there have been a number of occasions in recent years when this House has debated its make-up, its processes of nomination and its role. The test of any Bill to reform aspects of the House of Lords is surely whether it will enhance the core functions of this House; namely, to revise, to scrutinise and to ensure that the membership retains significant independence and expertise. A further useful test is whether the proposed changes are simply a response to some current problems or whether they have the potential to enhance the work of the Lords in the long term. It seems to me that, unless we are going to go for something very radical and different, this Bill meets these tests. It is modest in its proposals but I believe it is worthy of support none the less. It comes in a long line of incremental but sensible and pragmatic changes to Lords procedure and practice. I suggest that the history of Lords reform shows that incremental change tends to be the most successful.
On 16th November 2022, the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham spoke in support of an amendment to the Public Order Bill on behalf of the Bishop of St Albans, who was a signatory to the amendment. The amendment would provide a definition for the phrase “serious disruption” to the “community” used in the bill:
The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, in the absence of my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans, who is a signatory to Amendment 17 but unable to be present in the Chamber this afternoon, I am pleased to speak in its support, as it provides much- needed clarity to the law. I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining the amendments with such clarity at the beginning of this group.
I will make two main points. First, the Bill, in its present form, fails to provide a definition of what constitutes “serious disruption” to the “community”. I strongly support providing a strict statutory definition of this; it will give clearer guidelines to the police as to what is acceptable, as well as to those wishing to engage in lawful protest, and will provide much-needed democratic oversight to the Bill. Under the current law and the Bill as drafted, there is no clear definition of what disruption to the community means, and it would be subject to the discretion of the police themselves. A lack of clarity is not helpful to either the police or the community. As reported in evidence to the Bill Committee in the other place, many police officers have expressed a desire for clearer statutory guidance, and many are concerned that they will be asked to make decisions on matters which they do not have the confidence to make. If we are to reflect on the consequences of the amendment, we can see that it would mean that protesters would rightly be prevented from disruption to essential services—schools, hospitals or places of worship—but the right to reasonable democratic protest would still be protected.
On 1st November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, highlighting concerns that the bill would grant excessive powers to the police:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I think many of us in this debate will have a feeling of déjà vu. No matter how many pieces of legislation come through here granting the police additional powers, it seems that they are never enough. It seems we are always one more public order provision away from solving the problem.
Along with other noble Lords, I want to support the police and the rule of law. We are grateful for all the police do; they stand in our place and, very often, have to take very difficult decisions. But we already have the Public Order Act 1986, which grants the police powers to place restrictions on protests and to prohibit those which threaten to cause serious disruption to public order. We already have the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which introduced the offence of aggravated trespass. We have the offence of obstruction of a highway and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which allows for civil injunctions to prevent protesters demonstrating in a way which causes harm or harassment. As recently as last year, remarkably extensive powers, including on noisy and disruptive protests, were granted in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
On 28th October 2022, the House of Lords debated the Genocide Determination Bill, brought forward by Lord Alton of Liverpool, in its second reading. The Bishop of Exeter spoke in support of the bill:
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I support the Bill and, in company with others, pay warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his perseverance and passion for justice for the victims of genocide. We are united in this House and on these Benches in our condemnation of what is a manifest evil, that which the Coalition for Genocide Response describes as “the crime of crimes”. My colleague the Bishop of Truro, whom I hope will join us in this House before too long, three years ago published his report on the persecution of Christians, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, just referred. Your Lordships will recall that His Majesty’s Government accepted all its recommendations in full. Recommendation 7 asked the Government to:
“Ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide through activities such as setting up early warning mechanisms to identify countries at risk of atrocities, diplomacy to help de-escalate tensions and resolve disputes, and developing support to help with upstream prevention work.”
It is the mechanisms with which we are concerned in the Bill.
On 28th October 2022, the Bishop of St Albans brought a revised version of his Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill before the House of Lords for its second reading. The Bishop of Exeter spoke in support of the bill.The bill was read and sent to a Committee of the Whole House:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: That the Bill now be read a second time.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-chair of Peers for Gambling Reform.
I am glad to bring before the House the Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill, now in its third iteration. This latest version is significantly different from the previous two; it has taken on board many of His Majesty’s Government’s criticisms and attempted to resolve them. Indeed, the Minister who dealt with the Bill in the previous Session, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, had hoped to speak today from the Back Benches but has to be in court. He has, however, given his permission to say that he supports the aims of the Bill. Because we have tried to respond to the points made by the Government, I will listen attentively to the Minister as he outlines their response, given that I believe their concerns have largely been dealt with.
The genesis of the Bill is the frustration that many of us in your Lordships’ House have felt when we have tried to bring in sensible reforms to the Wild West of online gambling, which is causing untold suffering in communities across our nation. More than a third of a million adults in our country are now diagnosed with a gambling addiction. More than 62,000 teenagers, who in law are not even allowed to gamble, have been diagnosed with a gambling problem. With an estimated more than 400,000 suicides every year due to problem gambling, we need to address this problem in a sensible way. On a number of occasions when I and other noble Lords have raised the issue in the House, the Government have resisted our attempts to bring some order to this sector, simply claiming, “We don’t understand the size of the problem.” The Bill is a proposal for one way of obtaining more data.
The Bishop of Durham tabled a motion for his Universal Credit (Removal of Two Child Limit) Bill to be discharged from the committee stage on 26th October 2022. No amendments had been tabled by other Members to the Bill, so it passed Committee Stage and proceeds to its final Lords stage, Third Reading:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: That the order of commitment be discharged.
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
On 19th October 2022, the House of Lords debated the Energy Prices Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in the debate, welcoming the bill whilst raising several points of concern:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I am pleased to speak on this important and urgent piece of legislation. I declare my interest as deputy chair of the Church Commissioners’ board of governors. We own stocks in energy companies. In the light of today’s developments in the other place, I should perhaps also declare that I regularly eat tofu.
It is clear that the ongoing cost of living crisis and energy insecurity necessitate swift and comprehensive action. It is estimated that this will adversely impact up to 100,000 households in one of my local authorities, Manchester, this winter. A report published in August by the University of York predicted that more than three quarters of UK households—53 million people—will have been pushed into fuel poverty by January next. It is therefore very welcome that the Government are taking action to help the public and businesses survive the coming winter. It is also good to have the clarity set out in the Bill on the energy price guarantee and the energy bill relief scheme.
However, welcoming the Bill does not mean that I, or my colleagues on these Benches when they are here, believe that it is a latter-day Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way. While we fully recognise the urgency of this legislation, we hope that His Majesty’s Government will take seriously the calls to amend certain of its details before we reach Committee next week.
On 18th October 2022, the House of Lords debated the Social Housing (Regulations) Bill in its report stage. The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in the debate, in support of amendments tabled by Baroness Pinnock and by Baroness Hayman of Ullock:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, it is good to see this important Bill continuing its progression through this House. I begin by declaring my specific interests as the Church of England’s lead bishop for housing and as a beneficiary of the Church Commissioners.
I add my support to Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. As the energy crisis unfolds, it is surely wise to address the issue of energy efficiency in the social housing sector in a systematic way, by including it as a fundamental objective. Many who live in social homes are among those with the lowest incomes, so they are already struggling to meet their energy bills right now. In addition to immediate relief and support, we also need to address energy efficiency to ensure true affordability in the long term.