On 24th May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in Grand Committee. The Bishop of Bristol tabled amendments to the bill that would remove the existing confusion in law on whether local authorities can offer grants to places of worship:
Amendment 485: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—
“Removal of prohibition on local authority from making grants to churches etc. In section 8(1)(i) of the Local Government Act 1894 (works to church property), omit “, not being property relating to affairs of the church or held for an ecclesiastical charity”.”
Member’s explanatory statement: This amendment would remove the prohibition concerning churches and ecclesiastical charities in section 8(1)(i) of the Local Government Act 1894 and would ensure that local authorities’ spending power under section 8(1)(k) could be used to make grants to places of worship.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I am pleased to speak to my Amendments 485, 505, 510 and 512. I thank the Government for making time so soon after the conclusion of the debate on Monday. I declare my interests as a board member of the Church Commissioners, as set out in the register, and as the Church of England’s lead bishop for church buildings. Noble Lords will also recall the debate on Amendment 163, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, which took place earlier in Committee on 15 March.
I tabled these four amendments to clarify the issue of local authority funding responsibilities for all Christian churches, including parish churches. The Bill affords the opportunity to bring much-needed clarity to this issue and resolve a long-standing problem. I am delighted to say that these amendments have received strong cross-party support, and I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for acting as sponsors. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is unable to be in her place today, but I am assured of her continued support for these amendments.
On 17th January 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in the debate, raising concerns about financial support for parish churches and the services they provide, and the importance of housing and development planning:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, it is good to be here considering this much-awaited piece of legislation. I declare my interest as a member of the Church Commissioners board, as set out in the register. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, on her powerful maiden speech and on the stories of her female antecedents. I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jackson.
I am also grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, for his speech on the role of heritage in levelling up. As the current Church of England lead bishop for church buildings, I want to look at one detail in this Bill, which provides an opportunity for the clarification of the law on local council funding for parish church buildings. Across the country, parish churches are vital to the flourishing of their local communities. Initiatives have brought about much transformation in recent years. Exemplifying this is the current Warm Welcome campaign. Since its launch, thousands of churches and other places of worship across the country have welcomed 2.6 million people, providing space for relationship and community building and practical support as the days, like today, get colder. Add to this the ongoing work done in every region by church-run food banks, debt advice centres, domestic abuse support services and so much more. As your Lordships can imagine, I want to live in a world where such services are not needed, but it is important that action can be taken now to address systemic inequalities.
The Bishop of Bristol asked a question on concerns about fair wages and working conditions in the care sector on 8th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, there are currently more than 160,000 vacancies in the social care sector, and, so often, the work of voluntary carers—relatives—needs the support of the wider social care system. Research from the TUC finds that one in three current care workers is likely to leave in the next few years due to low pay. It is very good to see the Government’s new Made with Care recruitment drive. However, please can the Minister set out what the Government are doing to address the concerns about pay and status in the social care system, particularly given the ongoing cost of living crisis?
The Bishop of Bristol received the following written answer on 31st October 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol asked His Majesty’s Government when they will appoint the next Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom: The role of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC), as set out in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, is to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
The process to recruit a new IASC follows the principles set out within the Cabinet Office Governance Code on Public Appointments.
A decision on the appointment is under consideration.
On 13th June the House of Lords continued to debate the Government’s Schools Bill in committee. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in the debate, on behalf of the Bishop of Durham:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I speak in place of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who unfortunately cannot be present today. I declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
I rise briefly to welcome Amendment 40 in this group, which offers real clarity on the issue. We welcome the recognition it shows that the religious body must be involved in giving an interim trustee notice to the proprietor of an academy school with a religious character. We are grateful for the Minister’s continued work on this and hope this might provide a little encouragement at this point.
On 8th March 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in its report stage. The Bishop of Worcester spoke in support of amendments to the bill that would remove certain clauses relating to victims of modern slavery, and moved an amendment intended to protect overseas domestic workers:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to remove Clauses 57, 58 and 62 from the Bill, to which I have added my name. I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her appointment and give thanks for all the work she does, even when we do not always entirely agree across these Benches.
As we have heard, Clauses 57 and 58 would make it appreciably more difficult for people to be recognised as victims of modern slavery and receive support. In Committee, the Minister responded to my concerns about these clauses by saying that, far from deterring victims, this will
“encourage genuine victims to come forward”.—[Official Report, 10/2/22; col. 1843.]
On 10th February 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in the 5th day of Committee. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in favour of two amendments:
An amendment to remove Clause 57 of the bill. Clause 57 would establish a deadline for potential victims of modern slavery to disclose that information, and would penalise late disclosure.
An amendment to remove clause 62 from the bill. Clause 62 “excludes from the national referral mechanism persons who have committed criminal offences as well as other offences relating to terrorism [and those who] claimed to be victims of terrorism in bad faith.” Hansard
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I have added my name to those noble Lords who oppose Clause 57 standing part. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others, who have already so eloquently made the case about concerns for this part of the Bill. As the Church of England’s lead bishop for modern slavery, I have had the privilege to sit with and listen to many charities, agencies and survivors of modern slavery, so it seemed appropriate to bring those conversations from the grass roots to your Lordships’ attention.
This is a clause which resonates deeply with the Church. Through the Clewer initiative, the Church of England is working across England with many partners to raise awareness of all aspects of modern slavery and to help support victims and vulnerable groups. This includes running training courses on county lines, producing apps which allow for reporting of suspected modern slavery cases in car washes and the farming sector, and working with many churches to raise up and equip volunteers in this area.
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