On 1st December 2022, the House of Lords debated a motion to take note regarding the importance of the BBC World Service, and the impact of cuts to its service. The Lord Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, highlighting the benefits of truth in reporting and global access to information, particularly for vulnerable populations:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate, and for his excellent exposition of the impact and importance of the BBC World Service.
The BBC World Service is one of the most potent ways in which we can act in the world, not least to help those persecuted people who often are voiceless. I think of the debate that we had a couple of weeks ago about the hundreds of thousands of women on the streets of Iran. I think about the debates and Questions in this House about the various persecuted people in China. They need accurate reporting and, very often, knowing that something is being reported gives people hope and keeps them going when they are being crushed by their own authoritarian leaders.
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.
The Bishop of St Albans tabled a question for short debate in Grand Committee on 17th November 2022, concerning reports of human rights abuses in China:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of allegations of human rights abuses in China.
My Lords, I approach this debate with a great deal of reticence and, indeed, almost reluctance. I have long admired China and the Chinese people, although one should of course acknowledge that the population of China is made up of 56 different ethnic groups. I have long admired their ancient civilisation. Not only is China a country of great natural beauty; it is the nation that invented the compass, gunpowder, paper, moveable-type printing, kites, fireworks, silk, tea and porcelain, to name a few. I will perhaps omit noodles from my list of admirable inventions. My Chinese friends are among some of the most educated, industrious and cultured people I know. China is the fourth-largest country by land mass and has the largest population of any country in the world. Over many decades, we have developed extensive trade links with China, and it is in its interests and ours for us to share in commerce and seek to find common cause for the good of the world.
Yet I feel I cannot remain silent in the face of such a wide range of human rights abuses. Lying behind our profound differences is a vast cultural gulf that was laid bare most recently for me when I read President Xi’s speech at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party last month. He said:
“We will … continue to take the correct and distinctively Chinese approach to handling ethnic affairs … We will remain committed to the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt to socialist society.”
He also said:
“We have effectively contained ethnic separatists, religious extremists, and violent terrorists”.
To those here who are familiar with China’s history of human rights abuses, these are worrying words.
The Bishop of Exeter spoke in a debate on the effects of long covid on 17th November 2022, focusing on the impact on rural communities:
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for securing this important and timely debate.
I will focus my remarks on the rural dimension of long Covid, which is having an impact on many people in Devon where I am privileged to serve. I am concerned about rural sustainability and the need to ensure that the Government’s levelling-up agenda is not focused exclusively on urban deprivation. Rural poverty may not show up on government statistics because it is dispersed in pockets, but it is just as real. Research suggests that structural inequalities, including poverty, are important in the development and course of Covid-19 and may form an important context for long Covid.
As far as Devon is concerned, the picture postcard view of my county beloved by holidaymakers is only half the story. The best information we have is that there are currently around 16,000 people living with long Covid in Devon and, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, will corroborate, it is impacting on the economic life of our county.
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.
The Bishop of Durham asked a question about the future use of the Manston immigration facility, and whether children would be detained there, during a debate on the accommodation and safeguarding of migrants on 9th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: How will His Majesty’s Government ensure that Manston will now remain a 24-hour facility only, in a way that can be scaled up if necessary, and that no children are detained there at all—or, at least, are not detained with adults who they do not know?
Andrew Selous MP, representing the Church Commissioners, gave the following written answerto a question from an MP on 9th November 2022:
Jim Shannon MP (DUP): To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, if the Church of England will consider the potential merits of providing ringfenced funding to support Christians to self sustain overseas if they are denied employment due to their belief.
The Bishop of Durham spoke in a debate on housing demand on 8th November 2022, emphasising the need to build more social housing and affordable homes:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I begin by commending the report and thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for introducing this debate. I also commend the work of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford, who, as the Church of England’s lead bishop for housing, has tirelessly engaged with this issue and the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill.
Last year, the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community published its Coming Home report, which set out a vision for housing to be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. It is through these values that strong and lasting communities can be built, enabling people to thrive and flourish. It was very interesting to note how warmly these five values were welcomed by the industry itself as a guide.
However, the reality is that a large proportion of housing in this country does not embody these values. It is widely stated that we face a housing crisis, including a shortage of social housing. Social housing is designed to help those whose needs are not served by the market, most commonly those on the lowest incomes. However, when Meeting Housing Demand was published, 1.9 million households were on local authority waiting lists for social housing in England. With rents and interest rates rapidly rising, more households are being pushed into poverty and this list is only growing longer.
On 3rd November 2022, the House of Lords held a debate on public service broadcasting to mark the centenary of the BBC. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate, with specific reference to the value of UK public service broadcasting worldwide, and the future of Channel 4:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing this very important debate. Before saying anything further on the theme, I want to express thanks to and admiration for those who prepared the Library briefing. I have been knocking around these issues for a couple of decades, and this briefing is a model of narrative accuracy and concision.
Public service broadcasting in the UK is unique on the planet and one area in which this country is genuinely a world leader, which is why it is so important that, in the centenary year of the BBC and the day after the 40th birthday of Channel 4, we assess the value of what we have and steel ourselves against the ideologically driven impulse to diminish it. Yesterday, I asked a friend who works in public service broadcasting what she would focus on in a debate such as this. Her response was immediate: imagine a world without it. That is, imagine a world in which broadcasting serves only narrow cultural or political interests and is subject purely to commercial or transactional persuasion. I might put it like this: look at broadcasting in the United States. Price is not the same as value.