On 20th February 2017 the House of Lords held the first in a two-day debate on the Government’s EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill would give the Government authority to begin the process of withdrawal from the European Union. The Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: As many in your Lordships’ House are aware, my diocese covers most of south London and east Surrey. The voters there opted to remain in the European Union on 23 June 2016 by some margin; in the borough of Lambeth, where I live, nearly 80% of those voting opted to remain. Only in Sutton and in Surrey did votes tip the other way. What I have occasionally heard articulated, but have yet to see in action, is how the aspirations of those people—and indeed, if one thinks more widely, Londoners in general, or Scots, or the people of Northern Ireland or simply people under the age of 45—are to be taken into account. The majority of all these groups voted to remain. If we adopt a model for leaving the EU that ignores them, we risk a regional divide, generational resentment and a threat to the union.
On 8th February 2017 the Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke during a debate on an amendment by Lord Lucas to the Government’s Digital Economy Bill. The amendment was that Ofcom be granted powers to ‘carry out and publish evaluations of algorithms’.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, this is an important amendment because it touches upon the bigger issue of the impact of artificial intelligence on all sorts of aspects of our lives. There is a law called Moore’s law, which says that every two years the power of computers doubles. That has been true over the past 20 or 30 years and we should assume that that power will continue to develop. Artificial intelligence in all its impacting forms will be more and more prevalent in our society and more and more potent in the hands of terrorists in the years to come.
On 8th February 2017 two votes took place in the Lords on amendments to the Government’s Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill. The Bishops of Chester and St Albans took part in the first vote and the Bishops of Carlisle, Chester and St Albans in the second. Continue reading
On 3rd February 2017 Peers debated the House of Lords Reform Bill, a private member’s bill from Green Party Peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb. The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd Graham James, spoke in the debate. He set out why the central objectives of the Bill – to elect members of the Lords and create a new category of non-voting Peer – were flawed.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I wondered whether to speak in this debate, but since the Bill makes specific reference to the Lords Spiritual, it seemed important to give a view from these Benches. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for recognising the continuing place for Bishops, even if an altered capacity—I will comment on Clause 12 in a little more detail later on.
We on these Benches are on record as being in favour of reform of your Lordships’ House provided it enhances our existing role and function. There are two aspects of the Bill on which I wish to focus and which have already been commented on. The first is the principle of elections as against appointment; the second is the concept of non-voting Members of your Lordships’ House. Continue reading
On 1st February 2017, the House of Lords debated the Government’s Technical and Further Education Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd, Graham James welcomed its proposals.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I am glad to add my voice to the chorus of welcome for the Bill—on these Benches we are professionally interested in choruses.
Those who read the City & Guilds report Sense & Instability, which was published just over a couple of years ago, will remember the bleak picture painted there of three decades of skills and employment policy. The authors pointed out—with a degree of sardonic humour, I think—that, in 30 years, there have been 13 major Acts of Parliament dealing with these issues, enough reports to fill a medium-sized bookcase, no fewer than 61 Ministers and 10 occasions when skills and employment have shifted between government departments. “Tinkering”, “amnesia” and “disruption” were among the milder terms employed in that very powerful report. Continue reading
On 27th January 2017 Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill was considered in Committee in the House of Lords. An amendment from Baroness Massey of Darwen, requiring the Secretary of State to review “the impact of this Act on disabled children, their families and carers, and the provision of support services” was debated and accepted. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, supported the amendment and the overall purpose of the Bill:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I was unable to be present at Second Reading but my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol spoke on this matter, welcoming the Bill, and I add my support. I also welcome the amendment because I believe that, as others have already said, such a review would be very helpful. Continue reading
On the 25th January 2017, the Bishop of Durham, Rt. Revd. Paul Butler, co-sponsored an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill, which would ‘allow all refugees resettled to the UK…to access student finance and home fees.’ The amendment was led by Lord Dubs and Viscount Younger of Leckie responded on behalf of the Government. The amendment was withdrawn after debate.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, it is my privilege to have added my name to this amendment. My favourite Christmas card of the past year came from a refugee from Burundi. Last summer, when I visited Burundi, I accessed the rector of the university that she had had to flee and arranged for her qualifications from that university to be released and forwarded to her in this country so that she could commence university, which she will do in September this year. It was a huge relief to her because without that piece of paper she would have had to return and undertake A-levels. In her Christmas card she not only thanked me, but said that it was being able to access higher education straightaway that made her feel welcome and wanted, and that we believed in integrating her into our country. Continue reading