On 10th September 2022 the House of Lords met to hear tributes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, whose death had been announced. The Bishop ofLeeds paid tribute:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, when training to be a professional linguist, I was trained to drill down to as few words as possible, so forgive my lack of eloquence now. When I think of Her late Majesty the Queen, I drill down to one word: grace. She exercised grace in her responsibilities at every level, and it was rooted in her avowed and admitted need of the grace of God; it was where her discipline of accountability came from.
The Bishop of Leeds asked the following question on 7th July 2022, during Lords exchanges on the Prime Minister’s meeting with Alexander Lebedev:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, if I am right, the visit to Alexander Lebedev came in the wake of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, which involved two Russian agents bringing, effectively, a chemical weapon through Heathrow, a commercial airport. Can the Minister give any assurance it could not happen again, and what assessment have the Government made of that episode and the dangers it caused for potentially thousands of people?
“I praise the emergency services and the police for their sensitivity in the way they have addressed this, but they are doing so within a culture that often treats religion as a private matter.”
The House of Lords considered the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in Committee on 22nd November 2021. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate on an amendment to the Bill from Baroness Stowell of Beeston about police procedure on religious rituals or prayer at crime scenes:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, this is very sensitive territory. Dying is sacred and is part of our living. I think I am the only minister of religion here, and I have accompanied many people, including my own father, to and through their death. If you have been party to that, you will know that it is holy territory
One could say that violent death is even more holy because of how that dying has been brought about. It seems that there needs to be religious literacy on the part of the emergency services and the police, and that the religious bodies need also to improve their literacy in relation to the nature of these events and how they are dealt with.
On 15th June 2021 the House of Lords heard a repeat of a Government statement on covid-19 rules.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, regardless of matters of hindsight, does the Minister agree that prolonging the restrictions might be justified for certain reasons? I do not demur from that, but the prolonging of inconsistencies is a serious impediment to public adherence to the rules. You do not have to look very far to see where the discipline broke down a long time ago. For example—this is not special pleading; it is just at the forefront of my mind—you can sing in a pub but not in a church. This is what brings the rules into disrepute, and therefore people do not agree with them.
Secondly, can the Minister say something in response to Michael Gove’s reported comments about acceptable death rates? We have learned to live with acceptable death rates from flu and other seasonal diseases. Will the Government do some work on what might be an acceptable death rate from Covid in future and be up-front with the country as to what that might be? I think we can take it.
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?
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.