Church Commissioner Questions: covid and church attendance, baptisms, weddings and funerals, IICSA, renting of church premises, woodland holdings

On 15th October 2020 MPs put questions to Andrew Selous MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner, on covid and church attendance, baptisms, weddings and funerals, IICSA, renting of church premises, and woodland holdings. A transcript is below:

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Bishop of Durham says social and spiritual health needs to be part of Government’s covid lockdown decisions

On 14th October 2020 the House of Lords heard the repeat of a Covid-19 update that had been given to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister. The Bishop of Durham spoke in response:

The Lord Bishop of Durham [V]: In welcoming the fact that places of worship have been allowed to continue to open—that is partly a recognition of their important place in the life of the nation—I note that the Prime Minister spoke still in the binaries of economic health and medical health that we have heard throughout the course of the pandemic. However, the nation’s health is more than this binary. The Government must surely no longer overlook the need to protect the nation’s social and spiritual health too. The Christian faith is clear that well-being is far more than being medically healthy or simply alive; rather, it involves social engagement, emotional nourishment, spiritual rest and love from good community. Will the Government acknowledge the nation’s need for social and spiritual health by including experts on social well-being in all future conversations around lockdown measures?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): I agree with the right reverend Prelate that that is the dilemma being faced. As he rightly says, harm to health is harm to the economy and harm to the economy is harm to health: these things are all interlinked, which is why this is a very difficult situation and why difficult decisions are having to be made about how to balance them. I can assure him that that is at the forefront of our thoughts. As part of the ongoing discussions around decisions being made about national and local levels, I know that Cabinet colleagues and the Prime Minister are talking to a huge range of people with different backgrounds to make sure that we get that right and get the country moving in the right direction.

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Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill – Bishop of St Albans calls for temporary increase in universal credit to be made permanent

On 13th October 2020 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V]: My Lords, I add my words of welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston, and look forward to their maiden speeches.

I welcome the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill. Pension credits are vital for the welfare of low-income retirees and it is right that measures are taken to support them in this challenging time. However, there is certainly scope for going further.

Accusations relating to intergenerational fairness are not entirely unfounded. While I am for uprating the basic state pension, providing a guaranteed rise of 2.5% at a time when millions have lost income due to the pandemic, I realise that it will raise questions over whether this Government represent the entire country or just those who are older. Continue reading “Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill – Bishop of St Albans calls for temporary increase in universal credit to be made permanent”

Bishop of Blackburn: covid provides chance to reset priorities, not just going ‘back to normal’

On 9th October 2020 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Obligations of Hospitality Undertakings) (England) Regulations 2020. Alongside that it also debated a Motion from Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, “that this House regrets that the Regulations include further restrictions for the hospitality sector without introducing the additional measures which are needed to ensure (1) financial support for the businesses, and (2) the retention of the jobs of employees affected by the restrictions”. The Bishop of Blackburn spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I am very exercised, as I imagine we all are, with the challenge of not just restrictions but possible shutdown and closure of different industries. Hospitality is but one: there are also entertainment and cinema, theatre, concerts and opera, aviation and travel, to name but a few. Those closures and threat of closures and the way they have been communicated are bringing grief, anxiety, debt and mental health issues to many lives and families, especially, I would say, in the north.

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Bishop of Blackburn asks Government for increase in universal credit to help families struggling because of covid

On 8th October 2020 Baroness Sherlock asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on (1) low-income families with children, and (2) the support provided to them by the social security system.” The Bishop of Blackburn asked a further question:

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, a recent report by the Church of England and the Child Poverty Action Group highlighted the “disproportionate impact” of the pandemic on low-income families with children, saying that:

“Without a radical change in policy direction, the prospects for many families are likely to deteriorate further through the remainder of this year as unemployment rises”

and more families become reliant on the welfare system. Following Prime Minister’s Question Time in the other place yesterday, will the Government do more than consider? Will they commit to making the temporary uplift in universal credit permanent? Will they also commit to a commensurate increase in the level of support for children, to reflect the additional needs of families with children? Continue reading “Bishop of Blackburn asks Government for increase in universal credit to help families struggling because of covid”

Bishop of Rochester voices concern about effect of covid ‘rule of six’ on family life

On 6th October the House of Lords approved the Government’s Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020. A further motion to ‘regret’ the Regulations was put by Lord Lamont of Lerwick on grounds of “the failure of Her Majesty’s Government adequately to consult the public in the preparation of the Regulations and the impracticality of enforcing the measures”. The Bishop of Rochester spoke in the debate on both Motions:

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, like others, I tend to think that carrots are more effective than sticks. It is, therefore, vital, if people are to behave as the Government might wish, that they understand and assent to the reasons for particular restrictions.

My understanding of the rationale for the rule of six is that is about restricting the mixing of households. I understand that, and I seek, in my role and personally, to abide by that principle. But what the Minister has said notwithstanding, the anomalies do not help to gain that consent. If I have understood things correctly, I may, in a given period, be a part of more than one group of six, and thereby, I am multiplying the households with which I have contact. Yet, as many have observed—and there are other examples—a couple with three children cannot meet with two grandparents at the same time, even though that would only be two households in most instances. Continue reading “Bishop of Rochester voices concern about effect of covid ‘rule of six’ on family life”

Bishop of Oxford calls for household access to digital connection to be treated equally to other household utilities

On 5th October 2020 Baroness McDonagh asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the impact on primary and secondary school students’ ability to learn for those students (1) who have digital connectivity, and (2) who do not have such connectivity, when learning from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Bishop of Oxford asked a follow up question:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford [V]: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer and for what the Government have already done. Before the pandemic, 23% of children in socioeconomic groups D and E lacked home broadband and access to laptops, et cetera. Does the Minister agree that we now need to measure data poverty and its effects more carefully? Will the Government commit to legislating for household digital access to be treated as a utility on an equal footing with the right to access for water and heat—a change supported by the general public? Continue reading “Bishop of Oxford calls for household access to digital connection to be treated equally to other household utilities”

Bishop of Gloucester asks about Government support for children’s sport

On 1st October 2020 questions in the House of Lords were put to Government on support for professional and amateur sport. The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, asked a question: 

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I was pleased to hear that the Government believes that sports clubs are the beating heart of their communities. As bishops we like to believe that is also true of our church communities, and indeed all communities of faith – and the Church of England is currently investing in pilot projects including my own diocese, focusing on sport and wellbeing underpinned by our Christian faith. Indeed the Bishop of Derby is the lead bishop for sport.

Can the government say what investment will the Government make into local provision for children and young people to engage in sports and physical activity that is shaped by them, given the research of the Children’s Society highlighting the importance not only of chosen physical activity but also of positive time with peers, and the fact that that has all been horribly impacted by Covid-19?

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Vote: Coronavirus Act 2020: temporary provisions

On 28th September 2020 a vote was held in the House of Lords on a motion to regret the use of the temporary provisions in the Government’s Coronavirus Act 2020. The Bishop of St Albans took part.
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Bishop of Rochester calls for effective parliamentary scrutiny of coronavirus restrictions

On 28th September the House of Lords debated a motion “That this House takes note of the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 six months after the Act received Royal Assent.” The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I too was pleased to take part in the debate in March and recall noble Lords arguing points that they might not normally argue in that debate. Already in this debate we have heard some interesting contributions. I, too, look forward to the three maiden speeches that we are to hear.

I sense that, with regard to restrictions on people and communities, the next six months may be rather more difficult than the last six months. At the outset there was some sense of shared responsibility, and a deep anxiety about the virulence of the virus led to a high degree of willingness to accept restrictions, even when the messaging about them was, shall we say, less than clear. In my own world, congregations have very largely and willingly sought to order their lives within the various guidelines, and some relished the challenge of going online and got very creative—but there have been costs. Continue reading “Bishop of Rochester calls for effective parliamentary scrutiny of coronavirus restrictions”