The Bishop of Worcester spoke in a debate on amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on 20th March 2023, supporting an amendment by Baroness Pinnock that would address inflation in land prices in different regions:
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. She regrets that she is unable to be in her place today; I wish to make some points that undoubtedly she would have contributed had she been here.
As already indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Government’s tabled Amendment 165 is very welcome. The review of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, and the correction of the omission of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—and of police and crime commissioners generally—are necessary and positive steps. However, there remain ways in which the general disposal consent 2003 could be improved to better allow public bodies to dispose of assets for less than market value for social, economic or environmental benefit. We believe that such measures would be very much in line with the Bill’s desired outcome: levelling up communities across the country.
On Wednesday 22nd February 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the second day of committee. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate, supporting amendments by the Bishop of London and other peers relating to health disparities:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, at Second Reading, I remember applauding, broadly speaking, the ambitions of the White Paper. However, I share the concerns of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who of course brings to this much more experience than I do.
I am pleased that, already, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has alluded to the interconnectivity of all these different missions; they cannot be seen in silos or in isolation. For example, if you have children who are turning up at school unfed or living in poor housing, you can try teaching them what you will but it may not be very successful, and that has an impact not only on individuals but on communities and their flourishing.
The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answers on 1st February 2023:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote affordable housing developments in rural areas.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con): The National Planning Policy Framework already makes clear that planning policies and decisions should be responsive to local circumstances in rural areas. Our Rural Exception Sites policy allows for the development of small affordable housing sites in rural areas, with the majority of housing on these sites being available to local people in perpetuity, and we published planning practice guidance in 2020 to help local authorities and developers bring more of these sites forward.
During a debate on Levelling Up on 23rd January 2023, the Bishop of Durham asked whether how much of the investment promised to the north-east of England will be new funds:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I welcome the new devolution deal that has been done for the north-east and look forward to the appointment of an elected mayor for the region. If this devolution deal goes ahead, which I trust it will, can His Majesty’s Government clarify what proportion of the estimated £4.2 billion of investment into the region will be truly new money that the local new mayor can allocate out?
Lord Lexden (Con): I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question and I will have to give him a written answer: I do not have that information on the north-east devolution deal.
On 17th January 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in the debate, raising concerns about financial support for parish churches and the services they provide, and the importance of housing and development planning:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, it is good to be here considering this much-awaited piece of legislation. I declare my interest as a member of the Church Commissioners board, as set out in the register. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, on her powerful maiden speech and on the stories of her female antecedents. I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jackson.
I am also grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, for his speech on the role of heritage in levelling up. As the current Church of England lead bishop for church buildings, I want to look at one detail in this Bill, which provides an opportunity for the clarification of the law on local council funding for parish church buildings. Across the country, parish churches are vital to the flourishing of their local communities. Initiatives have brought about much transformation in recent years. Exemplifying this is the current Warm Welcome campaign. Since its launch, thousands of churches and other places of worship across the country have welcomed 2.6 million people, providing space for relationship and community building and practical support as the days, like today, get colder. Add to this the ongoing work done in every region by church-run food banks, debt advice centres, domestic abuse support services and so much more. As your Lordships can imagine, I want to live in a world where such services are not needed, but it is important that action can be taken now to address systemic inequalities.
The House of Lords debated the Levelling Up Bill in its second reading on 17th January 2023. The Bishop of Carlisle spoke in the debate, focusing on health inequalities between the North and South of England:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, in the brief time available, I will address health inequalities between the north of England, where I live, and the south, and their implications for levelling up and regeneration. Health inequalities are defined as avoidable, unfair and systematic differences in health between different groups of people. In 2010, Sir Michael Marmot conducted his celebrated review into such inequalities, in the hope that this might lead to some improvement. Instead, we have seen an increase, rather than a reduction, of such inequalities over the last 12 years. For instance, life expectancy in deprived areas of the north-east is at least five years lower than it is in similar areas here in London. A baby boy born in Blackpool today can expect an additional 17 years of poor health compared with a baby born in Richmond upon Thames. People in all social groups in the north of England, male and female, are consistently less healthy than those in the south, and premature death rates are about 20% higher across all age groups in the north, due not least to lower lifetime chances.
These statistics—there are many more—are a stark reminder that inequalities in health are often closely linked to people’s socioeconomic circumstances. This has been forcefully illustrated by the Covid pandemic, which, in the words of one commentator, exposed “deep fractures of inequality” running across our society. During the first year of the pandemic, the mortality rate was 17% higher in the north than in the south, unemployment was 19% higher and there were significant differences in mental well-being between the north and the south. It is now reckoned that health issues account for about 30% of the gap in productivity between the north and the south.
On Tuesday 17th January 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of Leeds made a speech on the importance of good transport links and amending discrepancies in education:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, who has already stolen some of what I was going to say—great minds and all of that, maybe. When I first heard the phrase “levelling up”, I thought, “Here we go again—another slogan in search of substance”. Yet what we have heard today so far is that there is a great deal of potential substance to this Bill. I applaud the motivation and ambition behind it, and the attempt in the 12 missions to have a holistic approach rather than simply to pick off bits of our society. But I do think we need to take seriously, after the honest analysis that we had from the Minister, the argument that it gives the lie to the opening assertion of the White Paper that the UK is an unparalleled success story. If it was, we would not need the detail that we have before us. This sort of language of hubris can very easily militate against us taking seriously the scale of the task.
The Bishop of Durham received the following written answer on 21st December 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Durham asked His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce (1) the waiting time for, and (2) the size of the loans available through, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ budgeting loans scheme.
The Bishop of London asked about the government’s plans to publish a health disparities white paper on 17th October 2022, during a debate on childhood obesity:
The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, the National Food Strategy to tackle obesity, the new tobacco control plan and the health disparities White Paper were key to the Government’s aim to level-up health. The most recent NHS Providers report found that 95% of trust leaders said that the cost of living had either significantly or severely worsened health inequalities in the local area. Given the worsening situation, can the Minister confirm when the health disparities White Paper will be published? If not, can he point to what else the Government are doing to reduce inequalities in health?
The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answer on 11th July 2022:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the NERA report Economic Assessment of Selected House of Lords Gambling Reforms, published 26 May 2021; and what assessment they have made of how gambling reform could help to level up disadvantaged communities.
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