Archbishop leads debate on freedom of speech

“When people are too scared to express their genuinely held and legally protected beliefs, that is very dangerous for democracy.”

On 10th December 2021 in the House of Lords the Archbishop of Canterbury held a debate on freedom of speech. His opening and closing remarks are below, and the full debate including the contributions of Peers and the Opposition and Government response, can be read in Hansard, here.

Moved by The Archbishop of Canterbury: That this House takes note of contemporary challenges to freedom of speech, and the role of public, private and civil society sectors in upholding freedom of speech.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Leader of the House, the usual channels, all noble Lords who have taken the trouble to be here today and, especially, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for answering on behalf of the Government in order that we may have this debate. It is a return to an Advent tradition, interrupted in recent years by elections and pandemics. Should your Lordships worry that I am infectious in some way, I have been tested to the limits of testing. I have my granddaughter’s cold, for which I would like to record my grateful thanks.

We on these Benches have our critics—I have a large number—but for all our present failings you would be hard-pressed to find a more disastrous move by the Lords spiritual than when, in 1831, 21 of them lined up behind the Duke of Wellington and opposed the Great Reform Bill. Had they voted the other way, it would have passed. The people, denied their rights, responded with riots, and bishops were particularly targeted, some with violence. In Bristol, the Bishop’s Palace was burned down. A dead cat was thrown at my predecessor Archbishop Howley, narrowly missing him but striking his chaplain in the face. “Be glad it wasn’t a live one,” Howley is reported to have responded.

I start with this dive into the past because it illustrates a present point. The grey area between, on the one hand, peaceful protest and reasoned criticism and, on the other, incitement to hatred or to violence is one that we are still trying to navigate today. The Church of England knows about that. I must start by suggesting that our society should never follow our historical example of coercion, Test Acts and punishment. There is still a prison at Lambeth Palace at the top of the Lollards’ Tower, with room for eight people. It was used for the Lollards—I have a little list.

Continue reading “Archbishop leads debate on freedom of speech”

Bishop of Oxford on freedom of speech and online safety

“search engines free of advertising, social networking freed from the blind pursuit of profit, messaging services which do not mine our data—and all protecting the rights of the child? Perhaps the Government might be willing to explore this kind of radical intervention—social media in public service—in this vital area”

On 10th December 2021 the Bishop of Oxford spoke in a House of Lords debate led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on contemporary challenges to freedom of speech and the role of the public, private and third sectors in upholding it:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, it is a great privilege and honour, as always, to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, one of my distinguished predecessors. I am grateful for this timely debate and to the most reverend Primate for his very comprehensive introduction. In a few days’ time, as we have heard, the scrutiny committee of both Houses will publish its report on the online safety legislation: a potentially vital web of provisions to prevent harm to individuals and, I hope, to society.

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Bishop of Liverpool makes maiden speech on importance of scrutiny, in BBC debate

“Calm scrutiny will cause people with power, whoever and wherever they may be, whatever they may say, however loudly they may speak, one and all, to be uncomfortable. This applies as much to the Bishops of the Church of England as to anyone else”.

On 2nd December 2021 the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Revd Paul Bayes, made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, during a debate led by Lord Bragg “That this House takes note of the BBC’s value to the United Kingdom and a wider global audience and the case for Her Majesty’s Government giving it greater support.”

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to address your Lordships for the first time and on this subject, and for the privilege of following the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his kind words*. I thank all noble Lords for the warmth of the welcome that I have received, and, for the quality of briefing and induction from the officers and staff of your Lordships’ House, which has been exemplary and profoundly helpful.

I speak as one whose first degree was in drama and theatre arts, and who was almost employed by the BBC as a trainee script editor in what was then called “English Regions Drama”, at the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, in 1975. With whatever wisdom, I chose instead to enter the ordained ministry of the Church, and there have been times when I have felt that I chose the lower calling. Forty-two years of ministry in six different dioceses have culminated in the enormous privilege of my being appointed Bishop of Liverpool in 2014. I have been preferred to your Lordships’ House late in my ministry, but I am very grateful to be here and to receive wisdom for at least a few months.

Among its many dimensions, I want to speak of what the BBC does uniquely in our fragmented public square. To me, the gift and value of public service broadcasting is a matter of form before it is a matter of content: it rests on the decision to assume a tone of voice. The value of the BBC to this nation and our global position is rooted in its decision to be calm, to choose a particular volume and quality of scrutiny and to sustain it, no matter how unpopular it may be.

Continue reading “Bishop of Liverpool makes maiden speech on importance of scrutiny, in BBC debate”

Bishop of Oxford asks Government about age ratings for content on streaming platforms

On 8th December the Bishop of Oxford asked a question of Government during exchanges in the House of Lords on age ratings for streaming platforms:
The Lord Bishop of Oxford [V] : My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answer. What will the Government do if other platforms do not follow the Netflix example? According to the BBFC, over 90% of parents said that age-related guidance was helpful, and there is no doubt that voluntary action may be more forthcoming if platforms are very clear that the UK Government expect content consumed here in the UK to be properly signposted with BBFC symbols and content advice. How else do the Government plan to ensure that only age-appropriate content is accessible to young and vulnerable viewers?

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Church Commissioners’ written answer: communications and COVID-19

On 22nd September 2020 Andrew Selous MP answered a written question from Jim Shannon MP on the Church of England’s communications strategy during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist Party,  Strangford): To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Church of England has made of the effectiveness of its communication strategy during the covid-19 outbreak. Continue reading “Church Commissioners’ written answer: communications and COVID-19”

Bishop of Worcester asks Government about attacks on press freedom abroad during pandemic

On 13th May, the Rt Revd John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, received a written answer from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon on the Government’s assessment of the restriction of journalism abroad.


The Lord Bishop of Worcester: HL3569 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent to which countries have used COVID-19 as a pretext to introduce restrictive measures against independent media outlets and to arrest and intimidate journalists for providing critical coverage of the relevant government’s COVID-19 response.

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Bishop of Chelmsford calls for better regulation to protect online spaces

Chelmsford310119aOn 12th June 2019 the House of Lords debated a report from the Communications Committee, “That this House takes note of the Report from the Communications Committee Regulating in a digital world (2nd Report, HL Paper 299).” The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, who served on the Committee, spoke in the debate.

The Government have already committed themselves to making the United Kingdom the safest place in the world to be online. The ideas in this report explain that this does not necessarily require more regulation, but a different approach to regulation. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the big moral challenges of our day. We need to get it right, especially for our children, for there are no longer two worlds, the online and offline, but the one digital environment that we all inhabit and that needs a set of principles to govern not just its oversight but its future development.

Bishop of Gloucester urges greater requirements for online platforms to identify and remove harmful content

On 11th January 2018 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Kidron “That this House takes note of the role played by social media and online platforms as news and content publishers.” The Bishop of Gloucester spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for obtaining this debate. I, too, thank her for her tireless work in this area.

Social media and online platforms now play an enormous role in shaping national dialogue and accepted social standards. In my visits to primary schools and secondary schools in the diocese of Gloucester, I have spent time talking with children about social media, and I affirm all that is good. Yet, as children progress to secondary school, their view of themselves and the world is increasingly being shaped by social media and online platforms. Young people are receiving strong messages about worth being about looking a certain way and about success being measured in online likes. Furthermore, their fears about the world they are growing up in are being fuelled by what they read online. Continue reading “Bishop of Gloucester urges greater requirements for online platforms to identify and remove harmful content”

Bishop of Chelmsford – Channel 4 should stay public, must invest more in diversity, programmes for children

On 17th October 2017 the House of Lords debated a Report from the Lords Communications Committee, A privatised future for Channel 4? (1st Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 17). The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, a member of the Committee, spoke in the debate. He focused on the need for proper diversity in public service broadcasting and for Channel 4 to invest more in programmes for children and young people. He also joined others in resisting calls for privatisation and questioned the logic of relocation from London:

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I, too, am a member of the House of Lords Communications Committee. We normally meet on a Tuesday afternoon, so it is nice to have our meeting through the medium of this debate, in which members past and present can speak to each other. I thank other noble Lords for joining in as well. I also want to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for the wise and winsome way he chaired the committee for three years and, in particular, for helping us to produce this report, which we dare to think has made a bit of a difference.

To put it simply, there is nothing quite like Channel 4. I realise that some people may think that bishops arrive fully formed, like ships in full sail, from a production line over the river at Lambeth, but all of us have other lives both past and present. In my early 20s ​I worked for several years in the film industry and saw at first hand the huge boost that was made to British film by Channel 4. Continue reading “Bishop of Chelmsford – Channel 4 should stay public, must invest more in diversity, programmes for children”

Bishop of Chelmsford: in a ‘post-truth’ era, proper regulation can offer newspapers salvation

On 20th December 2016, Lord Best moved that the House “take note of the Report from the Communications Committee Press Regulation: where are we now? (3rd Report, Session 2014–15, HL Paper 135)”. The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, who is a member of the Communications Committee, spoke in the debate.

Chelmsford 251115The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for bringing this debate to the House and for his wise and winsome chairing of the Select Committee on Communications. I speak as a member of that committee. I was not part of the committee that produced this report—that illustrates just how long it has taken for it get here—so I also thank my predecessors on the committee for all their work.

However, as the report makes clear and as has been well illustrated by the contributions so far, the situation is far from satisfactory and questions to government remain unanswered. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, has already explained, in the past few weeks the committee has again been burrowing into the detail of the issues and considering the present impasse. I shall not go over those details again; the noble Lord outlined them superbly, but I think that we could conclude that the carrot is not very tasty and the stick seems so severe that it is unlikely ever to be wielded. Continue reading “Bishop of Chelmsford: in a ‘post-truth’ era, proper regulation can offer newspapers salvation”

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