On 13th May 2021 the Bishop of London spoke during the second day of debate on the Queen’s Speech. Her speech focused on the constitution and Union, and on integrated health and social care.
My Lords, I add my voice to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie. I thank her for her maiden speech.
There is much to welcome in this gracious Speech, including its focus on recovery from the impact of Covid on our lives and on the economy, the investment in skills and infrastructure that it promises, and its whole-country approach. A new programme implies a clean sheet and a fresh start, but I hope that the unresolved issues from the close of the last Session—namely those relating to the then Fire Safety Bill and the then Domestic Abuse Bill—will be resolved in this Session. I hope that the financial burdens on leaseholders will stay at the forefront of the Government’s concerns and be quickly resolved in the building safety Bill. Additionally, it was disappointing that the Domestic Abuse Bill reached Royal Assent without securing protection for all women, namely migrant women. I hope that the Government will uphold their promise to treat victims as victims first and foremost, and at least ratify the Istanbul convention before the nation’s 10-year anniversary of its signing in the summer of next year.
The previous parliamentary Session will for ever be marked in our minds due to coronavirus. I will say something about integrated health and social care, but will start off with the subject in hand: the constitution.
On 12th May 2021 the Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, gave his valedictory speech in the House of Lords during the first day of debate on the Queen’s Speech. He focused on the economy and poverty.
“My Lords, it is more than seven years since I first spoke in this House. It is a long time since I was a maiden like the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev, whom I congratulate on their arrival and their speeches.
“Today, my name has ‘Valedictory’ next to it. Three weeks ago, I said an emotional godspeed to the people of the Portsmouth diocese at a cathedral service: scaled-down but intensely moving, for me and my wife Sally, at least, as we thanked so many.
“That service also gave me the opportunity for a bishop’s equivalent of ‘Desert Island Discs’, choosing the music sung wonderfully well by the cathedral choir. This included my favourite hymn among very many, ‘There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy’. It praises God’s gentleness, mercy and justice and how those qualities are rooted in His radical inclusion. It is something I touched on in my valedictory sermon: that the Church is its congregations, but it is far more its communities.
“We must always keep our doors open, especially to those who have no figurative or literal shelter—so I am interested, and not a little intrigued, by the Government’s talk of levelling up. The phrase suggests that those who already have will not have to give up anything and that those who need a hand up will be propelled upwards—but by what? Well, that is the question: how does the rhetoric become the reality? It is a dilemma that the Christian Church understands. We proclaim the kingdom, but find building it challenging.
On 12th May 2021 the House of Lords debated the Queen’s Speech. The Bishop of Durham spoke, focusing on its impact on children and young people, and on the proposals for immigration.
“My Lords, it is a privilege to be the first to speak from these Benches on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. I look forward to the valedictory speech of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who has served the House so well during his years as a Lord spiritual. I also look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev.
“I make my comments within a very specific framework: are the measures contained in the gracious Speech good for the children and young people of our land? At the outset of her tenure as Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza commented: ‘I want to see childhood right at the top of the Government agenda. That means every speech from the Prime Minister and Chancellor mentioning children, and every Government department constantly pushing to improve the lives of children’— so it was good to hear a range of references to children. Having the best start in life by prioritising early years is essential. There is no debate any longer that the months in the womb and the first 1,001 days of a child’s life are absolutely critical to lifetime development. Much deeper investment in all aspects of early years well-being—mental, physical, social and spiritual—is essential.
On 12th May 2021 tributes were paid in the House of Lords to Lord Fowler, the retiring Lord Speaker. The Bishop of Durham spoke on behalf of the Lords Spiritual:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: It is my privilege to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, from the Spiritual Benches. I start with a specific reflection from these Benches on our leading of Prayers at the start of each day. The noble Lord was consistently considerate and courteous, taking the time to personally thank the duty Bishop for their prayers on each occasion. It was a small, kind gesture that meant more than he may have realised.
We all know of the noble Lord’s long-term, ongoing dedication and perseverance in addressing HIV. His patient persistence is admirable and notable. As he continues with this commendable work, as a UN ambassador, we trust he will further help it move forward. As it happens, this morning, before we began business, I was on a call with Christian Aid, for Christian Aid Week, with people from Kenya who were reflecting not only on climate change but the ongoing impact of AIDS in their country. It is work that needs to continue.
On 30th December 2020 the House of Lords considered all stages of the Government’s European Union (Future Relationship) Bill. The Bishop of Southwark spoke at Second Reading:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and agree with much of what he said. I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on achieving a negotiated outcome with the European Union. In doing so, I pay tribute not only to the Prime Minister but to the negotiating team, which bore a weighty burden, the Civil Service support that provided them with necessary expertise and, last but not least, the chief negotiator the noble Lord, Lord Frost.
The wider debate requires a candid and truthful recognition of what has been a complex process, including an explicit acknowledgement that a successful negotiation requires significant compromise. Such truthful recognition makes for good civil discourse. This will be further helped by more accurate language about the good and less good aspects of the package and appropriate scrutiny of detail—sadly not possible today. I hope that the public debate is less about the intangibles of rhetoric and more about the true and honest cost of the investment, outreach and spiritual renewal needed if we are to flourish as a nation state, going forward.
My final point begins with comments from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, recently retired from this House, who, early in the pandemic, spoke of what has become a much wider perception that our lives are bound together with those of every human being on this planet. That, he said, poses “the biggest moral questions”. A more positive focus on our continuing interdependence, not least with other European nations but more widely—globally—would be welcome and herald the future partnerships that are so essential to our national well-being.
Therefore, I hope that, as we consider the Bill and continue the shared endeavour that is our proud national story, we recognise that people and institutions flourish best under relational frameworks and that individualism, freed of obligation or collective provision, will ultimately fail. We are still in the season of Christmas, and the birth of a saviour transcends all national boundaries with a message of peace and good will to all people.
On 7th December the House of Lords considered the Government’s Trade Bill at its Report Stage. The Bishop of St Albans sponsored and spoke in support of amendment 6 from Lord Purvis of Tweed on parliamentary approval of future trade deals:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V] : My Lords, I support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the revision he has made as he has engaged with the Government. I am grateful for his very clear exposition and will be concise in my support.
Modern trade agreements affect huge swathes of public policy, including consumer and workers’ rights, environmental legislation, food standards, health, public services and international development. MPs, who represent constituencies and work with a variety of stakeholders, deserve the right to assess the consequences of an agreement, as does your Lordships’ House.
On 3rd December 2020 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill 2020 at its Committee Stage. The Bishop of Durham had co-sponsored two amendments aimed at restricting or regulating the use of children as covert agents. The Bishop of Carlisle spoke in his place, in support of the amendments. As is usual practice they were withdrawn after debate and may be returned to at a later stage:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 43, in the names of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Bull, and Amendment 60, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. As we have heard, both concern the treatment of children.
We should not for a moment underestimate some of the evils in our society that the Government and the forces of law and order are tasked with confronting. Some of those evils involve the abuse of children and vulnerable people, including, as we know, the scourge of county lines drug gangs, sexual predators and traffickers. It does not take much imagination to see how, as a result of this, there is a periodic temptation to use children as covert assets. We must clearly guard against that temptation; as we have already been reminded, our first duty must be to the care and well-being of children. This applies all the more to children who find themselves in vulnerable and harmful situations, such as those used and abused by criminal gangs.
On 18th November the House of Lords considered the Government’s Ship Recycling (Facilities and Requirements for Hazardous Materials on Ships) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. The Bishop of Salisbury spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, neither ship recycling nor Northern Ireland are my territory, though church is sometimes seen as an ark to gather people safely and hazardous materials are a concern for us all. It is important for Northern Ireland to thrive as best it can within the new political arrangements that are still unfolding. The purpose of this SI is clear and not controversial; it is to the benefit of one shipyard in Northern Ireland. The EU has developed a good scheme for overseeing this process and I am sure we will be glad to continue to use it. Continue reading “Bishop of Salisbury raises environmental implications of ship recycling regulations”
On 11th November the House of Lords debated the Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate, raising concerns about the risks to the safety of children:
The Lord Bishop of Durham [V]: My Lords, I too would like to welcome the noble and learned Minister to the House and to his new role. Not many find their maiden speech to be that of introducing a Bill to the House, and I congratulate him on the necessarily blended speech.
I welcome the Government’s move to provide a statutory basis for covert human intelligence sources to participate in criminal conduct, where it is necessary and proportionate to do so for a limited set of specified purposes. We recognise the heavy duty placed on government to protect its citizens, and this Bill is a necessary step so that those undertaking these activities with a view to protecting the public can be clear in their status and duties.