On 19th October 2019 Parliament sat on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years. The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) moved a motion to take note of Brexit, and repeated the Prime Minister’s statement on the deal he had negotiated with the EU. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, commented about issues of trust and humility:
Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I have ditched the speech that I intended to give because of what I have heard. I particularly want to reinforce the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. His warnings are prescient, although his conclusion reminded me of that of the General Synod on writing liturgy. It was unanimous that there should be only one form of the Lord’s prayer in our new liturgies. Everyone agreed; we ended up with three.
The “how” is a very difficult question.
From what we heard in the Statement earlier, it seems that the question at the root of all of this stuff is trust. Trust cannot be commanded, even by a Prime Minister; it has to be earned.
We have had three years or more of either learning to trust or becoming suspicious about trust, and that goes across the country. We heard in the Statement that we have been half-hearted in our commitment to the EU. We have not just been half-hearted. We have been told lies and there has been gross misrepresentation, including from the current Prime Minister when he was a journalist in Brussels.
Propagated through the media, these lies have been allowed to go on and have formed the way that we see and understand Europe, ourselves and our role. That raises a question about trust.
On 15th October 2019 the House of Lords continued their discussion of the Queen’s Speech. The Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, contributed to the debate on the issue of the EU:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, the Queen’s Speech made clear the Government’s intention,
“to work towards a new partnership with the European Union based on free trade and friendly co-operation”.
As we have heard, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House spoke yesterday of the Government forging,
“a new relationship with our partners in the EU that will cement our reputation as a strong and reliable neighbour”.—[Official Report, 14/10/19; col. 19.]
I declare a very personal interest in such friendly co-operation: a hope that we may indeed be a strong and reliable—good—neighbour with the sort of obligations and responsibilities noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
Last Tuesday morning, my German daughter-in-law gave birth to her first child in Cologne. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House before about her wedding to our son in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral: a place once desecrated by hatred and violence, sanctified by their vows of love, and witnessed—most movingly, I found—by their grandmothers, whose fathers and husbands had fought to kill each other in the First and Second World Wars. It was the fulfilment in two families of a 1940 Christmas Day commitment, broadcast by the BBC from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, to find a way to reach out to enemies and turn them into friends.
On 8th October 2019 the Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union (Lord Callanan) repeated a Government statement about Brexit preparations. The Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, asked a follow-up question:
On 26th September 2019 the Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, Lord Callanan, repeated a Government statement on the EU (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, asked a follow-up question:
Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement and for making and underlining the commitment that the Government will obey the law. May I test that a little further? It seems to me that, in the current very fractious debate, what is needed is to respect the impartiality of those institutions upholding the constitution and the law. Will the Minister counsel his colleagues to use language that is appropriate and not excessive and that reflects respect for our institutions, the taking of personal responsibility and a degree of restraint? When Prayers are said by Bishops in this House, we pray every day for the well-being of all the estates in this realm. We all have a duty to make our own contribution towards that.
On 25th September 2019 the Minister of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union, Lord Callanan,repeated a Government statement on ‘Brexit Readiness and Operation Yellowhammer’. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, spoke in response:
"The total division across Parliament is only a shadow of the immense divisions across the country, which the bishops find at every level. Divisions are shaking this country apart. They are shaking us apart in all our great institutions." @JustinWelby in the House of Lords today pic.twitter.com/Hs1Dibm7P3
The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, this debate —for want of a better word—demonstrates, I am sure the noble Lord would agree, the total division across Parliament. It is only a shadow of the immense divisions across the country, which the bishops find at every level, as they are immersed in every local community. The divisions are shaking this country apart. They are shaking us apart in all our great institutions, whether it is Parliament or the courts, which are portrayed as having launched a coup d’état—a slightly unlikely idea—and it is causing serious damage to our economy. We are hearing in our debates the incapacity of Parliament not only to make a decision but to find any way through the deadlock. The divisions are so deep that we cannot expect, I fear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested, that cross-party work could bring a decision on what we do, but can we not at least ask the Government to look for alternative means of setting a path to making a decision?
On 25th September 2019 the House of Lords reconvened and prayers were led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Wallace of Tankerness tabled a Private Notice Question that asked the Government “what is their policy on the extension of Article 50”. The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: Does the Minister agree that Parliament has, justifiably or not, seen its reputation sink very low over the last few months and that one of the ways of dealing with that is transparency? Regardless of how many letters there may or may not be, will he therefore undertake that the Government will be completely transparent and honest in the spirit and not merely the letter of the law about the actions they take over the next few weeks in connection with an extension? Continue reading “Archbishop of Canterbury calls for transparency from Government in future Brexit talks”
On 5th September 2019 the House of Lords considered the European Union (Withdrawal) (Number 6) Bill at its Second Reading. It had been passed by the House of Commons the previous day despite Government opposition. Its effect would be to require the Prime Minister to request an extension of the Article 50 period beyond the current 31st October Brexit deadline, should the Prime Minister not have agreed a withdrawal deal or Parliament voted for no deal, by the 19th October. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, it is already evident in some of the terms of this conversation—of this debate—that we have to get away from this binary thinking about leave or remain. They were terms that pertained to the referendum in 2016 where the question was “what”. Where we have got stuck is on the question of “how”. You do not need a degree in logic or philosophy to recognise that they are different questions. The Members of the other place and of this House trying to take their obligations seriously under the constitution to serve the people of this country means that we have got to this sort of impasse. It is not because of negligence, or because of waging ongoing campaigns from three years ago. I deeply resent the constant insinuation that if you voted remain then you remain a remainer and anything you do has to be suspected as being a plot to ensure that we remain. Many people in this House who voted remain have gone on to say that the referendum result was to leave and we have to move on to the question of how to do that but with the responsibility to look to the interests of our country. Continue reading “Bishop of Leeds calls for end to binary leave/remain labels in Brexit debate and focus on values to shape shared future”
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 4th September 2019 the House of Lords voted on a series of amendments to 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. Conservative Peer Lord True moved an amendment to the Motion to oppose the suspension of the usual rules for consideration. The Bishop of Leeds contributed to the debate:
Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I strongly endorse what the noble Lord has said. It seems to me that we have to be realistic. I speak as a Lord Spiritual with an obligation to engage in what was called “high politics” earlier, as a Member of this House, noting that the Lords Spiritual cannot be whipped and that we are not a party.
It seems to me that we have to be realistic and say that this prorogation has been disingenuously propagated as being just a little extension to recess, when we know that it is of a completely different order.
On 30th July 2019 the Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, received a written answer from Government, in reply to three questions about children and vulnerable EU nationals and the EU Settlement Scheme:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: (i) HL17344 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the status of the guidance issued on 3 April to all local authorities and health and social care trusts in regard to the EU Settlement Scheme and looked-after children and care leavers; and whether it is mandatory for local authorities to follow that guidance.
(ii) HL17345 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what evidence was collected on the children who were non-UK European nationals accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, their family situations and possible vulnerabilities, before drafting the guidance on EU Settlement Scheme and looked-after children and care leavers issued on 3 April.
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