Bishop of St Albans speaks about the challenges facing pensioners and low-income workers

The Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on financial stability on 3rd November 2022, focusing on the effects of the current financial situation and cost of living crisis on low-income workers and on pensioners:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, we are living in challenging times, with inflation rates at a 40-year high. Turbulence in the financial markets, with higher interest rates and larger mortgage payments, is adversely affecting people in all walks of society. With the wholesale price of energy and gas increasing due to Putin’s appalling and illegal invasion of Ukraine, it is vital that His Majesty’s Government do all they can to protect renters, those with mortgages and, of course, pensioners.

To put a human face to this debate, I thought it might be worth while just quoting one of a number of emails I have received from communities in my diocese this very week. One person emailed me on Friday: “In my role as chair of a food bank, we are having to make decisions around both frightening increases in demand and a growing decline in donations. This summer, we increased our warehouse capacity to handle food for somewhere around 500 food parcels a day. The problem is in-work poverty which is growing substantially. In the past few weeks, we have been approached by a hospital, a large business, schools and a local council about whether they can refer low-paid staff to us.” He went on: “Apparently, employers are not prepared to talk about the problem of in-work poverty, feeling ashamed. They would like to raise wages and want the best staff welfare but can’t because that would move them into a deficit budget.” The human reality of what we are facing is stark. Unfortunately, the mini-Budget of 23 September made a challenging financial climate much worse.

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Public Order Bill: Bishop of St Albans highlights concerns of excessive police powers

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.

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Bishop of Southwark speaks about reviewing the powers of Police and Crime Commissioners

On 31st October 2022, the House of Lords discussed a question for short debate tabled by Lord Lexden, asking whether the government planned to review the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioners. The Bishop of Southwark spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate and setting out for us with his habitual clarity the issues at hand. I am particularly saddened to hear that the good name of a distinguished former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has been traduced in the way that the noble Lord has described. However, I wish to approach this debate with a different focus.

Any hierarchy, any delivery of service, any public-facing organisation is fraught with multiple expectations and with the frailties and capacities of those who lead. For instance, diocesan bishops have wide discretion but are constrained by resource, custom, law, synodical structures and vocation.

The issues around effective delivery and of accountability in policing are very old. Historically, constables were at the direction of magistrates, who continued to sit on watch committees and police authorities until recent times. However, the growth in the size of forces and their operational complexity fuelled a sense of operational independence, away from political interference and amateur direction. It also allowed for co-operation at a national level where crime issues crossed county borders. Direct local accountability was seen to threaten professionalism, and it threatened the fight against crime nationally.

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Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill: Bishop of Coventry speaks in support of amendments

On 31st October 2022, the House of Lords debated the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill in the committee stage. The Bishop of Coventry spoke in the debate in support of various amendments, with reference to use of religious and spiritual spaces:

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I support Amendments 5 to 7 in particular. I shall follow on from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, because I had similar concerns about unintended consequences. I wonder whether your Lordships would mind me sharing some rambling thoughts that have come through my mind. I was not going to, but the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, to nothing before 1680—I think it was 1680—strengthened me.

In many countries in Europe, today is Reformation Day. I happened to be in Dresden yesterday, where you cannot help but see the statue of Martin Luther, which I was admiring. That is not irrelevant to these discussions. The history of academic freedom in Europe—freedom of expression and of religion—will have different views about the Reformation, but I cannot help celebrating the fact that, 500 years later, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation said that they agreed over the doctrine of justification by faith, which was the great thing that divided the Churches at that time. As this fascinating debate has continued, I could not help thinking that, if there had not been a suppression of academic freedom at the time, there may not have been that great bust-up, which caused a lot of tearing to society and Church. I simply share that to reinforce that which we are all committed to—academic freedom and freedom of speech—and to recognise that institutions did not always get it right. Certainly, the Church has not.

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Genocide Determination Bill: Bishop of Exeter speaks in support

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.

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Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill: Bishop of St Albans sets out proposals; Bishop of Exeter supports

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.

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Iran: Demonstrations – Bishop of St Albans tables question for short debate

The Bishop of St Albans tabled a question for short debate on 27th October 2022, concerning the recent protests and demonstrations in Iran:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Iran concerning the recent demonstrations in that country.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity that this short debate affords to highlight the plight of many people in Iran, especially young women, who are fighting for their basic human rights and, as a consequence, suffering horrific violence at the hands of the state.

Within a few metres of this Palace of Westminster, we have seen and heard the many protesters over recent weeks who have been chanting—please excuse my pronunciation — “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî”, a slogan which has been taken up by the protesters. It is Kurdish and it means “Woman, Life, Freedom”. The protesters are demonstrating in solidarity with the women in Iran. I hope that this will give us an opportunity for their voices to be heard in this Chamber today.

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Bishop of Southwark speaks in a debate on the anniversary of expulsion of Ugandan Asians

On 27th October 2022, the Bishop of Southwark spoke in a debate marking the 50th Anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, reflecting on the government response at the time and the treatment of refugees today:

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on securing this debate, marking as it does a significant and tragic episode in the history of Uganda, an important event in the history of the United Kingdom and an enduring part of the lived experience of thousands of our fellow citizens, as the noble Lord so eloquently demonstrated.

Many of us are old enough to remember the news footage, the feeling of injustice, the sense of a world out of kilter. After Idi Amin made the fateful speech on 4 August 1972, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, denounced what he called the “dreadful racialist policy” in a BBC broadcast. He was to make available a cottage in the grounds of Lambeth Palace to a displaced family. But compared with the dispossession and sometimes violence shown to those to whom Uganda was home, our discomfort was small indeed. It is a testimony to Ugandan Asians what they achieved in the years that followed. I am glad to see that my fellow bishop, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, the former Archbishop of York, spoke in this debate. We have all been edified by his wisdom and direct experience.

I want simply to look over some of the unintended consequences of those years and the then Government’s response. It was the Colonial Office’s intention in the late 1950s that the territories of east Africa should realise independence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The watershed speech of Mr Harold Macmillan, known as “Winds of Change”, on 3 February 1960 signalled a major change of policy and pace. Tanganyika gained independence in 1961, and Uganda and Kenya each in the next two years.

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Bishop of Oxford speaks about child poverty

On 20th October 2022, the Bishop of Oxford spoke about child poverty during a debate on the cost of living and public wellbeing:

My Lords, I welcome this moving and timely debate and the opportunity to highlight the consequences of the rising cost of living and its impact on well-being. I particularly want to focus on the well-being of children.

Psalm 41 begins with the words, “Blessed are those who consider the poor”—a reminder, if we need one, that the well-being of the whole nation is enhanced or diminished by the way we respond to those most in need. This insight is shared by all the great faith traditions.

So let us consider the poor, especially children caught in poverty and the impact of that on their well-being. The Children’s Society published its Good Childhood Report a few weeks ago. The stats have been quoted already. Some 85% of parents and carers are concerned about how the cost of living crisis will affect their families; that is nearly everybody. A third of families reported that they are already struggling with the costs of school trips and uniforms over the next year. A recent Action for Children survey report found that nearly half of children worry about their family finances—but, of course, many children’s needs are much more basic.

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Bishop of Oxford asks about government support for behaviour change on the pathway to net-zero

The Bishop of Oxford tabled a question for short debate on 20th October 2022, concerning the pathway to net zero emissions:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions.

My Lords, I appreciate the time given to this debate, despite all that is happening elsewhere in Westminster today. We face many challenging issues as a country and a world, but none is more serious than climate change and the environmental crisis. The context of our debate is the real prospect of global heating of more than 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century, with escalating extreme weather events in the UK and across the world, rising sea levels, devastating fires and floods, significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure, wars over scarce resources, shifting patterns of harvest, an increase in zoonotic disease and a massive displacement of people as large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.

Your Lordships may well have seen the final episode this week of BBC documentary “Frozen Planet II”, detailing the effects of global warming on people and wildlife. The most sinister pictures for me were of the small bubbles of trapped methane being released in great quantities from the permafrost, with devastating consequences for the earth.

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