“I have experienced first-hand the sting of injustice—injustice born of being caught up in events that are bigger than we are and in the face of which we are powerless.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani, made her maiden speech in the House of Lords on 2nd December 2021, in a debate led by Lord Collins of Highbury, “That this House takes note of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the case for further action by Her Majesty’s Government to secure her release.”
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I was introduced to the House barely a month ago, having recently taken up my post as Bishop of Chelmsford, that vast and wonderful diocese that covers the whole of Essex and east London. It is a privilege to serve this diocese, which is complex, diverse and full of opportunities and challenges. Today, I thank everyone here who has offered me the warmest of welcomes. I am immensely grateful, in particular, for the help and support that I have received from staff and officials.
I have a deep and personal interest in the subject of this debate. Not only have I met Richard Ratcliffe and followed the story of Nazanin over the years, but I myself originally come from Iran. Born and brought up there, I left as a teenager during the Islamic Revolution, following difficult and traumatic circumstances. I was born into a Christian household, my father having been a convert from Islam to Christianity, in a small village in the centre of Iran. We were part of the tiny Anglican Church in Iran, which, when I was growing up in the 1970s, was made up primarily of converts and second- and third-generation Christians.
“what moral authority will we lose, and what price will the Uighurs pay, if we do not do all in our power, whatever the cost, to confront these dreadful atrocities that are unfolding in front of our eyes?”
In the House of Lords on 25th November 2021 Peers debated a Motion from Lord Alton of Liverpool, “That this House takes note of the reported remarks of the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs that a genocide is underway against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China.”
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless work in this area. I also share with him a sense of frustration—I feel as if I have stood up so many times as we have engaged with this issue, yet it seems that we are not able to confront it in a way that is really making a difference. Despite all our hopes of human progress, it is quite extraordinary that here we are, at the start of the 21st century, witnessing events such as we see and which are now well documented. There is no doubt that they are going on.
On 27th May 2021 the Bishop of Leeds asked a question about holding Azerbaijan to account for its actions in the border region with Armenia.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds [V]: My Lords, just to add to the catalogue, on 12 May this year Azerbaijani armed forces also invaded the border area of the Syunik region of the Republic of Armenia. On the ground, the constant incursions and the violations of human rights are perceived with impunity. Does the Minister believe that Minsk is working and is ultimately viable, and what more can the UK and its allies do to hold Azerbaijan to account?
Asked by The Lord Bishop of Southwark: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches of Jerusalem on 11 May that the violence in Jerusalem “violates the sanctity of the people of Jerusalem and of Jerusalem as the City of Peace”; and what plans they have to call on relevant parties (1) to halt further violence, and (2) to ensure the safety of worshippers. [HL192]
Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the report that the Azerbaijani military blocked Russian peacekeepers accompanying Armenian pilgrims to the Dadivank Monastery in Nagorno-Karabakh, what representations they have made to the governments of (1) Azerbaijan, and (2) Russia, to ensure the continued rights of Armenians to practise their religion in sites located in the territory ceded to Azerbaijan. [HL91]
The Bishop of Southwark: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the conviction of Sefer (Aho) Bileçen of the Mor Yahqup d-Qarne Monastery on terrorism charges in April, what assessment they have made of the government of Turkey’s policies towards freedom of (1) religion, and (2) cultural expression.
The Bishop of Southwark: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statement by Patriarch Abuna Mathias in April (1) that the government of Ethiopia and its allies are committing genocide in Tigray, and (2) that rape is being used as a weapon of war in that region.
On 20th May 2021 the Bishop of Southwark asked a question in the Lords about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: Some of your Lordships may be aware that I returned from Jerusalem yesterday evening, where I attended the very joyful installation of the new Anglican archbishop there. From an earlier answer given by the Minister, I take it he agrees that, until the underlying causes that gave rise to the clashes on Temple Mount, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood where I was staying, and the conflict between Hamas and Israel, are addressed, Israelis and Palestinians will not enjoy security, experience justice or build a relationship of mutual respect and regard? Does the Minister agree that, for violence to permanently end, Israel’s occupation must also end?
On 19th May 2021 the Bishop of Leeds spoke in the House of Lords in the fifth and final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech. He focused on ethics, the EU and Russia.
My Lords, I am grateful to follow the Noble Lord Campbell and for the Noble Lady the Minister’s comprehensive and ambitious speech introducing this debate. I welcomed the Government’s Integrated Review as a necessary attempt to hold together the diverse interests, challenges and opportunities facing the UK in the future.
One of the things I learned in my early career as a linguist at GCHQ was that words and assumptions need to be interrogated as they can be used to obscure reality. For example, in our context, an increased “cap” on nuclear weapons tells us nothing about numbers that might actually be intended or the rationale for them.
So, I think it was remarkable that reference in the Review to the European Union was almost completely missing. Now, this had been widely predicted as it seems that, for the Government, any such reference might be heard as an ideological Remainer capitulation. Yet, the rationale for a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific only makes sense to a point: it is not just what we are “tilting towards” that matters, but also what we are “tilting away from” that has to be considered.
On 19th May 2021 the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke in the House of Lords on the fifth and final day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate on the Gracious Speech after the Noble Lord, Lord Hannay with his vast experience and knowledge, and I have learned much from his speech and agree with what he’s said.
The Integrated Review of Global Britain in a Competitive Age has much to be welcomed, including especially the thoughtfulness about the security implications of climate change, the strong commitment to Freedom of Religion and Belief and the commitment to restore the 0.7%. However, to speak of security, defence, development and foreign policy without a developed section on peacebuilding and peace-making, especially with competitors, is like speaking of the pandemic without mentioning vaccination.