On 27th June 2022 the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke during the Second Reading debate of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I also begin by congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, on his excellent maiden speech. Clearly, he has a whole set of skills and experiences that will ensure that his contributions in this House will be highly valuable, as was apparent in his incisive and to the point speech, much of which I agree with and endorse.
Before I go any further, I declare my specific interest as the Church of England’s lead bishop for housing. Noble Lords will know that the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community has been actively working to envision how the Church, government and the nation might tackle the current housing crisis. Last year, the commission released its Coming Home report, which sets out in detail a reimagining of housing policy and practice centred on five core values, which are that housing should be “sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying.”
“I have experienced first-hand the sting of injustice—injustice born of being caught up in events that are bigger than we are and in the face of which we are powerless.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani, made her maiden speech in the House of Lords on 2nd December 2021, in a debate led by Lord Collins of Highbury, “That this House takes note of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the case for further action by Her Majesty’s Government to secure her release.”
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I was introduced to the House barely a month ago, having recently taken up my post as Bishop of Chelmsford, that vast and wonderful diocese that covers the whole of Essex and east London. It is a privilege to serve this diocese, which is complex, diverse and full of opportunities and challenges. Today, I thank everyone here who has offered me the warmest of welcomes. I am immensely grateful, in particular, for the help and support that I have received from staff and officials.
I have a deep and personal interest in the subject of this debate. Not only have I met Richard Ratcliffe and followed the story of Nazanin over the years, but I myself originally come from Iran. Born and brought up there, I left as a teenager during the Islamic Revolution, following difficult and traumatic circumstances. I was born into a Christian household, my father having been a convert from Islam to Christianity, in a small village in the centre of Iran. We were part of the tiny Anglican Church in Iran, which, when I was growing up in the 1970s, was made up primarily of converts and second- and third-generation Christians.
On 4th June 2020 the virtual House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Eatwell, “to move that the Virtual Proceedings do consider (1) the economic lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) the measures necessary to repair the United Kingdom economy.” The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke in the debate.
On 2nd June 2020 Baroness Sherlock asked Her Majesty’s Government “What steps they are taking to remove the five week wait for Universal Credit payments”. The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, asked a follow up question, focusing on an increase in universal credit.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, the problems of the five-week wait have already been highlighted by other noble friends, and we should not underestimate their seriousness, but perhaps I may draw attention to some other temporary changes in universal credit. There has been an increase of £20 per week, which Ministers have stressed is a temporary, emergency measure, but the IPPR has calculated that if this had been in place since 2015, the UK would have entered this crisis with a pretty staggering 500,000 fewer people in poverty. Do Her Majesty’s Government plan to make this increase in universal credit a permanent feature, particularly as it would be such a help to children?
In the House of Lords on Monday 20th January 2020, Lord Foulkes asked a Private Notice Question, “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration is being given to relocating the House of Lords out of London”, following media reports that the Government was considering relocation of the House to York. The Bishop of Chelmsford (and Archbishop of York designate) Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, followed up –
On 4th September 2019 the House of Lords considered a motion from the Leader of the Opposition to suspend the usual procedures for the taking of a Bill, in order to enable the House to take all stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) (Number 6) Bill 2017-19 on Thursday and Friday of that week.
A series of amendments were tabled to that motion by those objecting to that procedural change and those who disagreed with the Bill, which had been passed by MPs that day and would require Government to seek an extension of the Article 50 period for the UK to leave the EU.
A series of votes took place throughout the day and late into the night on the amendments tabled and also to bring an end to speeches by Members that were considered attempts to filibuster. A number of bishops took part in those votes, largely on the side of those Peers wishing to see the procedural changes made, and to ensure business could progress.
On 11th July 2019 Lord Elton led a debate in the House of Lords “That this House takes note of the extent of persecution of people of faith in this century.” The Bishop; of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for this opportunity to examine the extent of persecution of people of faith. I will not repeat the heart-breaking stories of the terrible atrocities that besmirch our world, but they are of course the day-to-day reality for so many people of faith. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others for telling those stories—they need to be heard.
The diocese I serve as Bishop of Chelmsford covers east London and Essex and contains some of the most diverse and rapidly changing communities in our land. Here, faith leaders and grassroots worshippers from all religions are engaged in some of the most humbling and encouraging initiatives to hold fast to that most irreducible of godly virtues: peace. Although east London is often a place where bridges are built, sadly, it is also too often an arena where the backwash from religious intolerance, persecution and strife from around the world is felt. We are a global village, but sadly we are also a global playground where much cruelty and intolerance go unchecked.
On 10th July 2019 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions made a statement on universal credit fraud. The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, asked a question:
Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: I ask the Minister for a bit of clarification. I do not pretend to understand all the ins and outs of this, but I see a lot of suffering, which now seems to be added to by crime. On the one hand, it is good to hear that it is less than 1%, but that would be no consolation for me if I was one of those people who now has to pay back for the fraud perpetrated against me by someone else. I am sorry if I did not understand the answer. I suppose I am asking the Minister to explain what help those victims will get in the terrible situation they find themselves in.
On 10th July 2019 Baroness Berridge asked the Government “what plans they have to recognise the newly designated United Nations Day for commemorating the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief on 22 August”. The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, perhaps I may say that, on behalf of many of us, we welcome the Government’s support for this day, although we hugely grieve for the fact that such a day is necessary. One of the best ways that we will tackle continuing violence, based on religion or belief, in the long run will be through education. I wonder whether Her Majesty’s Government are planning or investing in the training of educators and religious leaders from countries where there are high levels of freedom of religion or belief violations, so that we can promote respect and peaceful coexistence. This would be a very profitable investment.
On 9th July 2019 Lord Kennedy of Southwark asked the Government “what is their response to the report by The Children’s Society, Counting Lives: responding to children who are criminally exploited, published on 5 July”. The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, following up on that last question, the grooming patterns of children and young people, whether for sexual exploitation or criminal exploitation, are almost exactly the same. It took us ages to achieve a proper definition of exploitation of children in the sex industry. We should not make the same mistake again. It seems that what we need to do, and I ask the Government to consider this, is create a legally binding definition of child criminal exploitation that makes it absolutely clear that the vast majority of these children, some as young as 10 years old, are victims.