Digital Economy Bill: Bishops argue against relaxation of blocking powers on online pornography

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On the 20th March 2017, the House of Lords debated a Government amendment to the Digital Economy Bill at its Report Stage, on access to online pornography. Original Government proposals were that the threshold of censorship and prohibition should be as consistent as possible for material distributed online and offline. In a new amendment the Government offered a revised approach, with a higher threshold for prohibiting material online alongside a focus on age verification measures. The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, and the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke against the amendment, arguing to keep the original approach. The amendment was however agreed without a vote. The Bishops’ speeches are below, with an extract of the Minister’s reply. The full text of the debate on the amendments can be read in Hansard, here.


leeds-20117-bLord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, it seems odd in a society such as ours that we are even thinking about how to give access to violent pornography or trying to mitigate it in some way. It seems clear to me is that most of us sitting in this House probably have less idea of how online digital communications work than a five year-old. Children—my grandchildren’s generation—are very adept and almost intuit how to do this stuff. Continue reading

Bishop of Chester welcomes Government policy reversal on National Insurance contributions

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ChesterOn 15th March 2017, a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on national insurance contributions was repeated in the House of Lords. The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, responded to the statement.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I think I can paraphrase the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, by saying:

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”,

as Churchill said. It is a strength that the Government can change their mind so openly and directly, and I wish that politicians would more often simply and openly accept that they have changed their mind in the light of the evidence. So, in that sense, I welcome this announcement. Continue reading

Bishop of Chester responds to Government statement on EU Court ruling on religious symbols

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On 15th March a Government statement was repeated in the House of Lords on the EU Court of Justice Ruling on Religious Signs. The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, responded to the statement.

The Lord the Bishop of Chester: My Lords, given that there have been some very obvious differences between the UK and some continental countries in this area, does the Minister agree that the general approach in the UK of welcoming religious and cultural diversity must mean that welcoming its reasonable manifestation within the overall rhythms of British culture has stood us well in the past and will do so in the future, notwithstanding this court judgment?

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Bishop of Chester praises efforts to improve church accessibility

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Chester1On 15th March 2017, Baroness Deech asked Her Majesty’s Government ‘what plans they have to improve accessibility for disabled people to public premises.’ The Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, asked a follow up question on church buildings.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, the noble Lord who asked the previous question did not include churches—and with good reason because there have been herculean efforts across the estate involving quite difficult church buildings to make them accessible to people with limited ability to get up steps and so forth. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the local efforts, normally paid for locally, which have transformed the access to historic churches? Continue reading

Bishop of Chester speaks about national debt and expenditure pressures in Budget debate

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Chester1On 14th March 2017, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, moved that this House takes note of the economy in the light of the Budget Statement. The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke in the debate, focusing on national debt and expenditure pressures.

The Lord Bishop of Chester My Lords, it is not only the last spring Budget, it is the last Budget in Lent. If we had any doubts, then the early speeches in this debate brought that Lenten theme home rather well.

I do not want to get into the details of the Budget, which are very political, but to talk about two broader, longer-term issues to which the Chancellor referred in his speech. The first, which has already been alluded to, is our national debt. Its rate of growth is forecast to slow in this decade, but that is stabilisation at a very high level, representing nearly £62,000 for every household in the country. Even at the current very low interest rates, servicing that debt costs £50 billion a year—more than the combined costs of defence and police services in this country. Continue reading