Public Order Bill: Bishop of Manchester supports amendments related to access to abortion clinics and to curtailing excessive police powers

On 22nd November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in the second day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Manchester spoke regarding two sets of amendments: firstly, in support of amendments to Clause 9, pertaining to access issues around abortion providers, and secondly in opposition to clauses remaining in the bill which would grant excessive police powers, particularly regarding the right to protest.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I rise to address Amendments 85 to 88, 90 and 92, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans has added his name. He regrets that he is unable to be in his place today. I also have sympathy with a number of other amendments in this group.

It is a heated and emotive debate on this clause, and it was heated and emotive when it was added in the other place. The danger is that we get dragged into debates about whether abortion is morally right or wrong. Indeed, I have had plenty of emails over the past few days, as I am sure other noble Lords have, tending in that direction. As it happens, I take the view that the present law on abortion strikes a reasonable balance; in particular, it respects the consciences of women faced, sometimes with very little support, with making deeply difficult decisions.

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Public Order Bill: Bishop of St Albans highlights concerns of excessive police powers

On 1st November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, highlighting concerns that the bill would grant excessive powers to the police:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I think many of us in this debate will have a feeling of déjà vu. No matter how many pieces of legislation come through here granting the police additional powers, it seems that they are never enough. It seems we are always one more public order provision away from solving the problem.

Along with other noble Lords, I want to support the police and the rule of law. We are grateful for all the police do; they stand in our place and, very often, have to take very difficult decisions. But we already have the Public Order Act 1986, which grants the police powers to place restrictions on protests and to prohibit those which threaten to cause serious disruption to public order. We already have the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which introduced the offence of aggravated trespass. We have the offence of obstruction of a highway and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which allows for civil injunctions to prevent protesters demonstrating in a way which causes harm or harassment. As recently as last year, remarkably extensive powers, including on noisy and disruptive protests, were granted in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

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Bishop of Southwark speaks about reviewing the powers of Police and Crime Commissioners

On 31st October 2022, the House of Lords discussed a question for short debate tabled by Lord Lexden, asking whether the government planned to review the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioners. The Bishop of Southwark spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate and setting out for us with his habitual clarity the issues at hand. I am particularly saddened to hear that the good name of a distinguished former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has been traduced in the way that the noble Lord has described. However, I wish to approach this debate with a different focus.

Any hierarchy, any delivery of service, any public-facing organisation is fraught with multiple expectations and with the frailties and capacities of those who lead. For instance, diocesan bishops have wide discretion but are constrained by resource, custom, law, synodical structures and vocation.

The issues around effective delivery and of accountability in policing are very old. Historically, constables were at the direction of magistrates, who continued to sit on watch committees and police authorities until recent times. However, the growth in the size of forces and their operational complexity fuelled a sense of operational independence, away from political interference and amateur direction. It also allowed for co-operation at a national level where crime issues crossed county borders. Direct local accountability was seen to threaten professionalism, and it threatened the fight against crime nationally.

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Bishop of Oxford asks about facial recognition technology (FRT)

On 4th April 2022, the Bishop of Oxford asked a question during a debate on facial recognition technology and policing:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former board member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. I wonder if the Minister would comment on the vital importance of establishing public trust and confidence in the deployment of FRT and indeed any new technology, especially in such a sensitive area as policing. A range of concerns have been raised about rapid deployment, governance and bias by the CDEI, the European Union and the makers of popular documentaries. Yet, in the face of this, the Met and South Wales Police have both announced a ramping up of the use of FRT. Does the Minister agree that it is time to slow this down and for urgent parliamentary scrutiny and better governance of the police’s use of facial recognition technology?

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Bishop of Manchester asks about police vetting

On 24th March 2022, the Bishop of Manchester asked a question during a debate on the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I want to echo from these Benches our concern for the Daniel Morgan family, and also to reiterate my interest in policing ethics at both force and national level, as set out in the register.

I am particularly interested in the comments on vetting made in the report. In Greater Manchester we commissioned our own investigation into the force’s vetting procedures a few years ago. While on the whole that was satisfactory, as the report here has done, it identified that people from UK minority ethnic backgrounds were disproportionately getting vetted out of the system, both at recruitment level and promotion level.

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Bishop of Leeds asks about the difficulties of challenging the police

The Bishop of Leeds asked a question about the difficulty of saying “No” to the police on 22nd October 2022, during a debate on an incident 2020 in which the Metropolitan Police had strip-searched a schoolgirl in Hackney:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, there is an underlying question here that came up in the Sarah Everard case: how do you say no to the police? What do the Government plan to do to encourage and support schools and public authorities in addressing that question?

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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Bishop of Manchester speaks on violence reduction and on regulations on noise from protests

On 22nd March 2022, the House of Lords debated Commons amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bishop of Manchester spoke twice in the debate, first voicing his concerns regarding serious violence reduction orders:

My Lords, I echo the thoughts that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has just shared. I declare my interest as chair of the Manchester Homelessness Partnership board and as co-chair of the national police ethics committee, because I also wish to speak to the Motion regarding serious violence reduction orders.

I support the Vagrancy Act repeal, as I know my right reverend and most reverend friends on these Benches do, and have sought to see that included in previous Bills. I am grateful that it is now on track and I look forward to working with Ministers and others to ensure that we avoid any unintended consequences and do not simply recreate the old Act in more modern language.

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Police Bill: Bishop of Leeds speaks on amendment on access to crime and accident scenes for ministers of religion

“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.

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Bishop of Coventry asks about training for police on access for ministers of religion to dying people at scenes of accident or injury

On 22nd November 2021 in the House of Lords Lord Moylan asked the Government “what plans they have to establish a multi-professional strategy for the emergency services concerning the attendance of ministers of religion at the scene of situations involving serious injury”. The Bishop of Coventry asked a further question:

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I greatly welcome the joint study group announced by the cardinal archbishop. Does the Minister agree that good outcomes from that study would include both further training and education to ensure that police officers understand the significance of spiritual comfort at the point of death, for the dying of whatever faith, and an increased role for police chaplaincy?

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Queen’s Speech – Bishop of Manchester on policing, building safety, conversion therapy

On 18th May the Bishop of Manchester spoke in the fourth day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, focusing on proposals for policing, building safety and conversion therapy.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, whose wisdom I look forward to hearing more often, for an excellent maiden speech. I also refer to my interests, stated in the register, in policing and housing.

A number of Bills mentioned in the gracious Speech will require our police to enforce new laws and regulations. We have already seen considerable disquiet expressed regarding what might amount to a very significant reduction in the ability of the public to engage in peaceful political protest, particularly where such protests directly or indirectly impact on others. I will reserve more detailed comments on this Bill for when it reaches your Lordships’ House, although I note the wise comments made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. For now, I want briefly to lay it alongside my experience of 12 months of rapidly changing coronavirus regulations.

On many occasions, the precise boundaries between regulations—matters that police can enforce—and guidance, to which they can only direct our attention, have been seriously blurred. Meanwhile, ministerial statements have put pressure on our police to issue fixed penalty notices, but the Crown Prosecution Service is quite clear that an adequate chain of evidence will be almost impossible to achieve.

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