On 13th May 2021 the Bishop of Blackburn spoke in the second day of the House of Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech, focusing on the Union and the constitution.
My Lords, I add my congratulations on both confident maiden speeches today. I note that in the gracious Speech two days ago several references were made to strengthening the ties and integrity of the union, making the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before. The pandemic and the period that follows it will give us a unique opportunity to ask what kind of a society we want to be and what changes we need to make for our own good and, more importantly, for that of future generations. I understand the desire to return to greater freedoms, but we must resist going back to how things were. Instead, we must plan for a better future.
It is encouraging to hear that the Government intend to achieve this strengthening by levelling up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom and within each of our four nations. Levelling up has become something of a new watchword in political circles and appears as a welcome driver for many of the intentions outlined in the gracious Speech, seeking to remove those inequalities within our culture that prevent all people and communities from reaching their God-given potential and calling. The pandemic has brought to the surface a number of issues which have been hidden under the radar for far too long and not given the attention they deserve.
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.
In the House of Lords on 14th January 2021 the Bishop of St Albans received written answers to questions on vaccines for developing countries and the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia while the Bishop of Durham received answers to questions on the recent updated report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England on Poverty in the pandemic.
Meanwhile in the Chamber, the Bishop of Birmingham raised the issue of devolution in England with the Government during Lord Young’s Oral question about the formation of a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission. Text below:
On Wednesday 28th November 2018 Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the case for the disestablishment of the Church of England.” Several Members asked follow-up questions, including the Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd John Inge, and a transcript of the exchanges is below:
Church of England: Disestablishment
Lord Berkeley: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for the disestablishment of the Church of England.
On 27th June 2017 the House of Lords debated the measures in the Queen’s Speech for justice and home affairs. The Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Mike Hill, spoke in the debate, on mental health, domestic violence and prisons.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the gracious Speech. I thank the noble Lords who have spoken thus far in what has been an interesting debate today.
On the 21st October 2016 Conservative Peer Lord Elton introduced the ‘House of Lords Bill’ – a Private Member’s Bill to reduce the size of the House of Lords. The Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Revd David Urquhart, spoke in support. A number of other Peers made reference to the Lords Spiritual and extracts of their remarks can be found after the Bishop’s speech, below.
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I am resisting the temptation to tear up my notes and respond to the noble Lord’s last quote. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for again bringing before us this important matter. It is widely agreed in many places that as weseek to be effective as a House, the size of the House is of great concern. Of course, as has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, recent changes have attempted to alleviate the size of the House—we have adopted retirement provisions—yet they have not been sufficient to alleviate the flow of new Members. The statistics have already been referred to.
From this Bench, the Lords spiritual have spoken consistently over the past few years in support of reform aimed at addressing the size of the House—and we do so again, keeping in mind the aim of the House to improve the core functions of our scrutiny of legislation and government proposals from the other House, and of offering expertise and independence, which have already been referred to. Continue reading “Bishop of Birmingham supports Bill to reduce size of the House of Lords”
On 8th December 2015 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Scotland Bill at Committee stage. The Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke during debate on amendments to the Bill from Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
The amendment from Lord Norton proposed the removal from the Bill of two new clauses to be added to the 1998 Scotland Act, namely:
(1) The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. (2) The purpose of this section is, with due regard to the other provisions of this Act, to signify the commitment of the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom.
Lord Forsyth’s amendment sought to change the wording of (1) so that it instead read
(1) The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are recognised as a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements.
The Bishop argued against both amendments on the grounds that they conflicted with settled political reality and would send unwelcome signals. The amendments were withdrawn after debate.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, it is always dodgy for bishops to speak about Scottish matters. The kirk has sometimes considered the possibility of introducing bishops but the one condition it has always applied is that they must not be like English bishops—they must be quite different.
On 17th July 2015 the Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke during the Second Reading debate of Lord Purvis of Tweed’s Constitutional Convention Bill. The Bishop welcomed the Bill and its efforts to include those from outside the political sphere in the decision-making process. He also said that the House of Lords needed to resolve the issue of its powers and functions before resolving questions about its membership.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on securing time for this Bill—a Bill that, in making provision for a constitutional convention, I am happy to support. I note that a growing consensus is emerging for the constitutional questions that we face to be addressed. To use the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, when he recently addressed the House of Bishops, we are faced with a constitutional building site and no blueprint of what it is we are trying to construct. A convention could at least help provide that blueprint. Continue reading “Bishop of Southwark welcomes call for a constitutional convention”
On Thursday 2nd July 2015 Lord Forsyth of Drumlean asked Her Majesty’s Government ‘whether they plan to establish a Constitutional Convention to consider the implications of devolution for each part of the United Kingdom; and whether they plan to publish a white paper setting out the consequences for the rest of the United Kingdom of fiscal autonomy for Scotland’. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a supplementary question.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the Minister would have picked up concern on every side of the House on this particular issues and I, along with a number of Members on this Bench, share that concern. In principle we would like to explore the possibility of a constitutional convention. The pastoral letter that the bishops issued earlier this year stated:
“The impatience of politicians or the desire for party advantage must not be the driver for constitutional change”.
If we are not going to have a constitutional convention, how do Her Majesty’s Government intend to involve as many as possible of those people who are passionate to be involved in this so that together we can think carefully about the vital question of the future governance of the UK?
“Give a voice to the experience of those who otherwise are silenced. This is why the Lords spiritual are here, rooted in communities across the whole of our country, networked internationally, informed, often inconveniently and compelled to tell the truth as they see it. I hope to fulfil this vocation with the humility and confidence that it surely demands”. – Bishop of Leeds, 1/6/15
On 1st June 2015 the Bishop of Leeds spoke for the first time in the House of Lords. In his address, which came during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, he spoke of his background in the Church of England, his diocese, constitutional change, Europe and how economic and devolution proposals might impact on places such as Bradford. The full text is below and can also be watched online here.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, especially given the kindness I have already met in this House since being introduced in February. I wish to express my gratitude to all sides of the House for the welcome I have received and particularly to the staff, who have assisted and advised me, sometimes on the same issue more than once. This coming Saturday I will be speaking in Stuttgart before thousands of people along with Kofi Annan and the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At least today I can address this House in English. Continue reading “Bishop of Leeds makes first speech in the House of Lords – constitution, devolution, economy”