Bishop of Leeds calls for leadership by example to counter ‘toxic public debate’

On 9th May 2019 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Harris of Haringey, “to move that this House regrets the conduct, and toxicity, of debate in public life; of the divisions in society which result from that; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to take steps to address such divisions.” The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate and a transcript is below. The Bishop of Rochester also spoke in the debate and his speech can be read here:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for securing this debate and for the clarity of his and other speeches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that if such a cast were assembled, some of the people who need to be there simply would not turn up. If they did, they would see it as their job to disrupt it, so I suspect it will be more complex.

We still admire Benjamin Disraeli for telling Parliament that half the Cabinet were asses and, on being ordered to withdraw the comment, responding, “Mr Speaker, I withdraw. Half the cabinet are not asses”. Political invective is not new and it must have a place in a free society, but words matter. I speak as a former professional linguist. Language is never neutral, and the ad hominem abuse we increasingly witness now simply encourages wider public expression of violent hatred. It is incrementally corrosive.

If the conduct of debate in public life has become toxic, it is only because it has been in the interests of some people to allow it to be so. I have already spoken in this House of the corruption of the public discourse and the consequences of normalising lying and misrepresentation. I add that reducing people to categories might reinforce tribal identity, but it demonises and dehumanises everyone else. As Viktor Klemperer recognised from 1930s Germany, a million repetitions of single words, idioms, and sentence structures or slanders become unconsciously assumed to be normal. Think of Rwanda and “cockroaches”.

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Bishop of Rochester – national conversation with unifying narrative needed to overcome toxic public debate

On 9th May 2019 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Harris of Haringey, “to move that this House regrets the conduct, and toxicity, of debate in public life; of the divisions in society which result from that; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to take steps to address such divisions.” The Bishop of Rochester spoke in the debate and a transcript is below. The Bishop of Leeds also spoke in the debate and his speech can be read here:

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for bringing forward this debate and for his characteristically robust, thoughtful, clear and evidenced introduction. I also thank other noble Lords for their contributions. I look forward to reading in the Official Report what the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has just said, because there is a lot to reflect on.

Others have spoken from these Benches in recent months on this and related matters, referencing a number of scenarios which have given rise to language and expression that cause hurt and offence and do no credit to our public life. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds will, I understand, speak later in this debate about the power and importance of language in our public discourse. My contribution, which I hope will be brief, is to raise a question about one part of the context in which such harmful, toxic, destructive and even violent expression may come to flourish.

The phrase attributed to Aristotle about nature abhorring a vacuum has many applications. I suggest that one of the reasons for this flourishing of destructive and harmful conduct and debate may be that these things are rushing in to fill a vacuum.

Caroline Spelman on advantages of Church House, Westminster hosting Parliament during renovations

On 31st January 2018, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP spoke in the House of Commons during a debate on a report of the Joint Committee about the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Dame Caroline spoke twice, raising the possibility of adding Church House to the list of buildings which could be used to accommodate Parliament during the restoration of the Palace.

Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way—she is getting a lot of requests. On the subject of decanting, and just for the record—I will speak to this later—the House should know that until very recently there was a contract with Church House, under which, should we have needed to decant at short notice in an emergency, which can happen at any time, Church House had always stood ready to accommodate Parliament, as it did during the second world war. Continue reading “Caroline Spelman on advantages of Church House, Westminster hosting Parliament during renovations”

Archbishop responds to terror attack on Westminster

On Thursday 23rd March 2017 the House of Lords paid tribute to those who had been killed and injured, and to first responders, during the previous day’s terror attack in Westminster. The House also heard a repeat of the statement given in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby spoke of the “deep values” in British society that give us the strength to persevere:

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I associate myself with the thanks and tributes paid today, and especially our prayers and thoughts for PC Keith Palmer and for his family. I also acknowledge the work of so many members of the public who pitched in and did what they needed to do when faced with things for which they had never been trained or prepared. Continue reading “Archbishop responds to terror attack on Westminster”

Bishop of Chester on moving Parliament to the north of England

ChesterOn 29th November 2016, Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the case for moving Parliament and central departments to the north of England.” The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster asked a follow up question.

The Lord Bishop of Chester Are we quite sure whether the people of the north would want Parliament in the north?

Bishop of Chester takes part in debate on Recall of MPs Bill

On 19th January 2015, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, took part in the debate on the Government’s Recall of MPs Bill, during the second day of its Committee Stage. He spoke three times during the debate on Lord Hamilton of Epsom’s amendment, which sought to raise the threshold at which a petition against an MP would trigger the recall process, from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. The amendment was withdrawn at the end of the debate.

14.03 Bishop of ChesterThe Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I think that only these Benches could participate in these petitions since we have a right to vote in general elections, although there is a convention among us that we do not. I think that the last person who did so was Archbishop Runcie, who simply could not resist voting against Mrs Thatcher. He was found out and promised not to do it again, so there is a convention that we do not do it but we could. Continue reading “Bishop of Chester takes part in debate on Recall of MPs Bill”

Bishop of Derby takes part in debate on the future of the House of Lords

“…we need a different kind of representation of the people besides that of MPs and those who vote for them. We need a supplementary system of representation that represents networks, groups, cultures and faiths—that whole complex ecology in which human beings live” – Bishop of Derby, 19/6/14

On 19th June 2014, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in Baroness Taylor of Bolton’s take-note debate on the Labour Peers’ Working Group report on the future of the House of Lords and its place in a wider constitution. He spoke about the ability of the House of Lords to act as a advocate for a diverse number of voices from civil society and strengthen the democratic process.

Bishop of DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, it a great honour and privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. I have spent a lot of my ministry following his example and inspiration. I thank him for his contribution.

I am grateful for this report and for the clear presentation of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. I welcome the continuing debate and the whole style of incremental reform, which is the right approach. The report begins by recognising a significant feature of our times: widespread disengagement with our parliamentary system. We keep saying that and then just moving on. I want to ask us to stop and think about that phrase for a minute.

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