The House of Lords debated the Financial Services and Markets Bill in its second reading on 10th January 2022. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate concerning issues of access and regulation:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, theologians sometimes discuss the personal and social ethics in the teaching of Christ under the three headings of money, sex and power, those three areas which can be the most extraordinary gift and blessing when used rightly and for the common good but which, when they are an end in themselves, can become extraordinarily disruptive. Of these three areas, Christ had most to say about money, as its use reveals our values as individuals and as a society, often in a very stark way. A close reading of this Bill reveals a set of cultural assumptions and values about what is considered important and valuable. There are four areas that I want to highlight and which we need to consider if a growing and vibrant financial sector will work for the common good.
First, on crypto asset regulation, as others have said, we need to act fast both to protect our citizens and so that we do not fall behind the rest of the world. The problem at the moment is that the almost complete lack of regulation means that, for many people, crypto- currencies are just another form of gambling. The recent collapse of FTX has demonstrated the volatility of this market and its vulnerability to fraud. Some have made a fortune, while others have lost their life savings and will now be looking to the state to provide for them. Just as we need a sensible and balanced approach to the regulation of online gambling, so we need sensible, balanced regulation of crypto- currencies. The provision in this Bill to ensure that crypto is treated as a regulated activity and giving the FCA and the PSR the power and, as others have noted, the resources to do their work and to protect customers, is welcome.
The House of Lords debated the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 29th November 2022
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, growth is good and necessary, and it is clear that money does not grow on those proverbial trees. We find ourselves in extremely challenging times, and it seems to me that some of the measures that are set out in the Autumn Statement are prudent and necessary to rebalance the budget. I thank the Government for their desire to focus on supporting the poorest households, which is right and just, including their decision to increase benefits in line with inflation. Yet I have a number of concerns. I want to use my time to focus on just two key issues: first, food and feeding people, and, secondly, the criminal justice system. I declare an interest both as a trustee of Feeding Britain and as Anglican Bishop for prisons in England and Wales.
The Bishop of Southwark received the following written answer on 29th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark asked His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reduction of 2.3 per cent in manufacturing output for the three months to September 2022 compared to the previous three months; and the impact of this reduction on economic activity.
Lord Callanan (Con): Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the rise in global energy prices and supply chain issues have strained all corners of the UK economy including manufacturing.
The Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on financial stability on 3rd November 2022, focusing on the effects of the current financial situation and cost of living crisis on low-income workers and on pensioners:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, we are living in challenging times, with inflation rates at a 40-year high. Turbulence in the financial markets, with higher interest rates and larger mortgage payments, is adversely affecting people in all walks of society. With the wholesale price of energy and gas increasing due to Putin’s appalling and illegal invasion of Ukraine, it is vital that His Majesty’s Government do all they can to protect renters, those with mortgages and, of course, pensioners.
To put a human face to this debate, I thought it might be worth while just quoting one of a number of emails I have received from communities in my diocese this very week. One person emailed me on Friday: “In my role as chair of a food bank, we are having to make decisions around both frightening increases in demand and a growing decline in donations. This summer, we increased our warehouse capacity to handle food for somewhere around 500 food parcels a day. The problem is in-work poverty which is growing substantially. In the past few weeks, we have been approached by a hospital, a large business, schools and a local council about whether they can refer low-paid staff to us.” He went on: “Apparently, employers are not prepared to talk about the problem of in-work poverty, feeling ashamed. They would like to raise wages and want the best staff welfare but can’t because that would move them into a deficit budget.” The human reality of what we are facing is stark. Unfortunately, the mini-Budget of 23 September made a challenging financial climate much worse.
The Archbishop of York asked a question about benefits rising with inflation on 19th October 2022, during a debate following a statement on the economy:
The Lord Archbishop of York: My Lords, I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of exactly where we find ourselves but I serve communities in the north. I think particularly of people I have met recently in Middlesbrough and Hull, where there were great hopes for levelling up. It now seems a distant dream. I recently visited a school where children go in the morning with an empty lunch box for them to fill up with food from the food bank in the playground at the end of the day. The budget for school meals has gone up by 2% yet food inflation has gone up by more than 10%. We need to make tough decisions—I am glad to hear that the triple lock will remain in place—but, on behalf of the communities where I serve, I must ask this: will benefits rise in line with inflation? If not, millions of people will be moved into poverty. Those who recently donated to food banks are now visiting them themselves.
On 18th October 2022, the Bishop of Oxford asked a question in response the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt’s, speech on the economy:
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I welcome the new Chancellor, many of the measures announced yesterday, and the increased prospect of greater stability. I noticed that in his Statement yesterday he used the phrase “compassionate conservatism” several times. I wonder if the Minister would unpack that phrase a little, particularly on how the Chancellor will navigate to privilege the needs of the very poorest in society, perhaps especially in the outworking of the increase in benefits in line with price inflation, and in looking to see a decrease in the use of foodbanks in the coming years, which has escalated in major ways in the last decade.
The House of Lords debated a motion to take note of the government’s Economic Growth Plan on 10th October 2022. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, and look forward to working with her. I also add my lament at the departure of our dear right reverend friend, who has to me also been a great friend and a great encourager.
Two of the most important lessons many of us learned during the pandemic were, first, that we were all in it together and that none of us was immune, and secondly, that no one should be left behind, which meant focusing on the most vulnerable, with all of us sharing the load. As His Majesty’s Government embarks on this bold and, I believe, risky economic experiment, I urge that those two lessons be heeded, for we ignore them at our peril.
On 1oth October 2022, the House of Lords debated the government’s economic growth plan. The Bishop of Derby spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, it is a pleasure to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on her maiden speech, which was delivered with such authority and clarity on matters that are close to my heart as well. I look forward to working with her in the years ahead. It is also a real privilege to pay tribute to my right reverend friend who gave his final reflection from these Benches. I am indebted to him as he has been not only an excellent Convenor of the Lords Spiritual but someone whose example has greatly influenced my ministry over many years.
I declare an interest as vice-chair of the Children’s Society. This afternoon, I want to give voice to the unheard voices that it works with and advocates for, as we take note of the economy and the Government’s growth plan. Last month, the Children’s Society published the 2022 Good Childhood Report, which records that 85% of parents and carers, despite welcome packages of support, are worried about the increase in the cost of living as it affects their ability to care for their children.
On 10th October 2022, the Bishop of Durham spoke about poverty and social security during a debate on the government’s economic growth plan:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I congratulate my friend of more than 40 years, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, on his valedictory speech. I thank him for his contributions to this House, particularly as our convenor, and pray God’s blessing for his future endeavours. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on her excellent maiden speech.
In Luke, chapter 16, Jesus tells of a rich man who
“lived in luxury every day”,
while a beggar named Lazarus lay longing to eat what fell from his table. Sat at the rich man’s gate, Lazarus was in plain sight, yet he was invisible to the rich man—a man blind to suffering and the needs of Lazarus.
The Trussell Trust has revealed devastating statistics regarding those in poverty. In recent months, its food banks have provided 50% more parcels. Of those on universal credit, 2 million have skipped meals to meet other essential costs. These statistics continue to rise; poverty is in plain sight. Yet a policy of trickle-down economics renders those in poverty invisible. Like Lazarus waiting to eat what fell from the rich man’s table, this policy does not address urgent needs. These people cannot wait for the benefits of this economic policy to trickle down; this is especially the case for children and young people. We all get only one childhood, which shapes the rest of our lives. Children do not have time to wait for the “pie” to grow; they need meaningful investment now. God does not “trickle down” his love for us; he pours it out extravagantly. Jesus’s priority was to lift up the poor, not wait for some small advance to trickle down.
The Bishop of Birmingham made his valedictory speech to the House of Lords on 10th October 2022, during a debate on the Economy Growth Plan 2022 (Motion to Take Note):
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I have been immensely grateful for the stimulation and companionship I have found in your Lordships’ House as a Member for the last 12 years, not least in the last three or four speeches this afternoon on this immensely complex subject. It is worth turning up, if only to feel the embarrassment of my colleagues when one of their number is called “mature” and “sensible”—where better to hear it than here, in public and on the record? —and to be with the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, with whom I share a long business background, although not necessarily in the same sector. I am particularly grateful to have been Convenor of this Bench for some years and to have been able to relate to the usual channels in the House informally. I am very grateful to those here who have accepted my presence at certain moments, whether they were to do with Brexit, the pandemic and the hybrid House, or even the late Queen’s funeral.
This is an opportunity just to say thank you to the officers of the House for the remarkable support that we received from them—in recent weeks, as it happened, day and night. I wish my successor as convenor of these Benches, my right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of St Albans, every success and the same wonderful co-operation and fulfilment.
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