Church Commissioner Questions: Tributes, climate change, archbishops, reconciliation, telecommunications, thefts, women in prison, marriage, digital evangelism

On 31st October 2019 Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman answered questions from MPs for the last time as Second Church Estates Commissioner. Tributes were paid to her, and questions were answered on climate change, archbishops, reconciliation, telecommunications, thefts, women in prison, marriage, and digital evangelism. This was also the same day that the Speaker and his Chaplain were due to retire. A full transcript follows:

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Climate Change: Investment in Companies

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): What progress the Church of England has made on holding the companies in which it invests to account on climate change. [900272]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): Since this is my last set of oral questions, I would like to record my heartfelt thanks to my small team of staff, and especially my constituency secretary, who has faithfully served me for 20 out of 22 years. We often forget that our staff are on the frontline of much of the abuse that we receive, and I want to record my admiration for their fortitude. I also thank the amazing staff I have had to support me in this role, particularly Simon Stanley at Church House.

In tribute, Mr Speaker, I thank you for your kindness and courtesy—unfailingly so, and especially at times of personal duress. I single out your inspired choice of Speaker’s Chaplain, who has enriched the spiritual life of this place—but more of that later.

The Church of England Pensions Board has tabled a shareholder resolution ahead of the annual general meeting of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, on 7 November this month. It asks BHP to suspend its membership of trade associations that are not lobbying in line with the climate change agreement. This is just the latest example of the Church Commissioners using their shareholder position to change company policy in line with the climate change agreement.

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Bishop of Winchester asks about prison staff shortages and training needs

18.03.20 Winchester 3On 29th October 2019 Lord Lee of Trafford asked the Government “what plans they have to replace Victorian-era prisons with more modern facilities.” The Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Tim Dakin, asked a follow up question: 

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: I am sure that many of us will have watched some of the programmes in the “Crime and Punishment” series, which featured Her Majesty’s Prison Winchester, a Victorian prison. The programmes highlighted problems of building maintenance, staff shortages and a large number of attacks on staff—441 in the year 2018-19. Can the Minister confirm what action Her Majesty’s Government will take to address the staff shortages and training needs among prison officers generally, in addition to the prison improvements announced in recent days?

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Bishop of Gloucester says more investment and impetus needed in female offender strategy

On 3rd October 2019 the House of Lords debated a motion from Crossbench Peer Lord Ramsbotham, ‘That this House takes note of the case for reforming the management and treatment of offenders in prison and the community.’ The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rambsotham, for bring forward this debate and I am glad to be speaking in it.

I have a particular interest in women’s interaction with the justice system as the lead Bishop on women’s prisons, and I have been carefully following the progress of the female offender strategy. The strategy was published in June 2018, and it prioritised earlier intervention, community-based solutions, and effective, decent custody for women who have to be there. There has been widespread consensus in this House and beyond that community-based provision for most women offenders offers both cheaper and more effective rehabilitation than prison. Continue reading “Bishop of Gloucester says more investment and impetus needed in female offender strategy”

Bishop of Durham responds to spending round with need for focus on society’s most vulnerable

19.01.07 durham bOn 25th September 2019 the House of Lords took note of the Government’s Spending Round 2019. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, contributed to the debate:

Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, like others, I welcome the fact that we are able to hold a debate on the spending round 2019. When the political point-scoring is redacted from the Chancellor’s original Statement, as I note it is on the GOV.UK website, there are aspects to welcome in the overall spending increase and some of the specific commitments. I am pleased that the Chancellor recognised in his speech that in the nation there are anxieties and divisions,

“between regions and communities, rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old”,—[Official Report, Commons, 4/9/2019; col. 180.]

and between black and white. The test for me is always around the impact of spending on the most vulnerable in our society. It is this that leads me to ask some questions.

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Bishop of Rochester highlights needs of vulnerable women prisoners

17.10 RochesterOn 25th July 2019 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Farmer (Con) that the House “takes note of the needs of women in the criminal justice system”. The Bishop of Rochester contributed to the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for obtaining this debate and for his unstinting efforts in this area, not least the welcome emphasis in his most recent report on relationships, which he expounded so clearly when introducing this debate.

I am sorry that the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Gloucester and the Bishop of Newcastle are not in their places today, because they both take a very close and informed interest in the issues around women in the criminal justice system. However, I have visited a good number of women’s prisons over the last few years and, in making those visits, I have been both shocked and inspired.

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Bishop of Newcastle asks about vulnerable women released from prison

newcastle230119bOn 16th July 2019 the Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford repeated a Government statement about domestic abuse. The Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, asked a follow-up question:

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, I crave the forbearance of the House. I have two questions; one of my own and one from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who, due to the adjournment, has had to leave. My question relates to the needs of very vulnerable people, mainly women, on release from prison.

During my visits to our local women’s prison, I have learned that a higher proportion of women in prison than is the case in the general population come from violent and abusive relationships. It is critical that such women and other vulnerable people who have been abused are released into a safe, secure place with secure accommodation. Is the Minister aware that on occasion, due to things such as poor communication between the probation service in prison and the probation service outside prison, things go wrong and, tragically, a woman is released into danger.

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Bishop of Southwark calls on Government to provide more resources for prisoner rehabilitation

On 12th March 2019 Baroness Pidding asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the case for ensuring that prisons are places of rehabilitation.” The Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, asked a follow-up question:

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, given the recent publication by the Ministry of Justice of figures showing a record level of the incidence of self-harm by prisoners, a record level of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and a 29% rise in assaults on prison staff, will the Minister acknowledge that we need not only a major reduction in the size of the prison population but increases per capita in resources on a scale not yet contemplated by Her Majesty’s Government? This would give rehabilitation the priority that many now see as an absolute imperative. Continue reading “Bishop of Southwark calls on Government to provide more resources for prisoner rehabilitation”