I have a weird life.

Last Monday I chaired a Bishop's Staff Meeting in Leeds before getting the train to London to record BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage (Christmas special) with Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox. I got the first train back to Leeds for the formal opening of our new diocesan office on Tuesday morning. Wednesday saw me back on the train to London for the House of Lords (also on Thursday) covering a number of issues facing the country and the world. Thursday evening I was on a panel at City University, London, on the ethics of migration – with some excellent panellists that made me want to do more academic work again. Friday morning I did Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 (always a privilege) before having coaching and then doing a shed load of emails and other work. Saturday and Sunday were spent at Limehouse with my cell group, and Monday I spent in bed feeling like death. Today was the House of Bishops at Lambeth Palace, followed by a meeting with the government's Lord Bourne on faith issues'. Now I am back on the train to Leeds.

Me and Nick Baines

Why do I tell you that? Well, few people get an idea of what a bishop does – or the range of stuff that he/she is expected to cover. Simply illustrative. Back in Leeds, I start at 8am tomorrow and have meetings all day in the Diocese. Never boring.

But, while all this is going on the world bleeds.

One of the recurring conversations at the moment is whether democracy works. Well, of course it does. It delivers what people vote for. However, it is not necessarily truthful, intelligent or wise. It does not necessarily deliver what people thought they were voting for. Nothing new there. But, one of the glaringly bizarre questions emerging from both Brexit and Trump is why people didn't question the language used by the elite who led the campaigns. For example, who exactly is “the establishment” if it isn't the very people who were slagging off the establishment? How is “the elite”, if it isn't hugely privileged and economically comfortable people who will not suffer one iota from the consequences of what they persuaded people to vote for!

How many billionaires are there in the Trump administration? Why is President Putin so happy?

And all this finds focus in the cries of the children of Aleppo. While the blood flows today in the final brutality of war, the rest of us are confronted with an unpalatable challenge: we tell our government not to apply military power in Syria … only to complain that the Russian/Assad violence on our screens has been exercised without opposition. The West doesn't know what it believes. No wonder Sergei Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) was quoted on Twitter this afternoon as saying: ” We are fed up with the constant whining of our American colleagues.”

We will see what happens. In the meantime, Christians will find a vocabulary in the Psalms for the conflicted cries of “how long?” and “why do the poor suffer?” and “why are we so rubbish at getting things right for the sake of the weak and vulnerable?” (which,I admit, is a rough translation).

As I mentioned in a debate in the House of Lords some weeks ago (on the admission to the UK of unaccompanied Syrian refugee children from Calais), the generation of children who suffer from our inactivity will not forget what we did not do for them. The seeds of the next three or four generations' violence are being sown now.

And we cannot pretend ignorance.

 

A statement was read in the House of Commons yesterday and repeated later in the House of Lords regarding the 'Process for Invoking Article 50'. The statement was read in the Commons by David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and in the Lords by Lord Bridges. Both statements were followed by lengthy and impassioned debate.

There are two elements that struck me, both of which I tried to reference in a question I put in the Lords.

First, the statement begins by saying:

The Government's priority at every stage following the referendum has been to respect the outcome of that referendum and ensure it is delivered on.

My immediate response was to wonder if respect for the outcome was being matched by respect for the people. If 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU, that leaves almost the same number who did not. They need to be respected as well as those who voted to leave. The constant referral to the motives of all those who regret the referendum result – and question the process since – as obstructive is disrespectful. We have a very divided country. Many would like to reverse the decision. But, many who regret it do not see it this way, yet still find themselves criticised and their own integrity impugned. The statement says:

And we will give no quarter to anyone who, while going through the motions of respecting the outcome of the referendum, in fact seek ways to thwart the decision of the British people.

And that is being used to justify writing off the legitimate questions being asked in Parliament and beyond.

My second point, and the one I focused on in my question in the Lords, has to do with the closing paragraph:

We are going to get on with delivering on the mandate to leave the European Union in the best way possible for the UK's national interest – best for jobs, best for growth and best for investment.

Good. The government does need to get on with its work. But, have we really reduced 'the national interest' to economics? Does the national interest not also include what will be best for social order, reconciliation and the maturity of the public/political discourse? If so, does the government not also have a responsibility to defend the independence of the judiciary and those who do what the constitution requires of them without them being subjected to ad hominem vituperation at the hands of a press that shapes the public conversation and does not simply reflect it?

In the House of Lords every attempt to get the government to condemn the behaviour of elements of the press met with a stonewall. Understandable in the circumstances, but neither helpful nor acceptable. The government cannot simply wipe its hands of a declining public discourse that its own language might be seen to encourage.

The statement can be read here.

 

I have been in the House of Lords all day today. I didn't put in to speak in any debate, but wanted to listen to debates on the European Union in particular. (The business for each day is established only a week or so beforehand – not great for people with diaries like mine.)

Following a debate on “the conditions in which Palestinian children are living and the impact on their health and wellbeing”, the first EU debate was a Topical Question for Short Debate (limited to sixty minutes): “to ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact on British farmers of the decision to leave the European Union”.

The debate was good, intelligent and informed – normal for the House of Lords. Then we moved on to the second debate (limited to 2.5 hours): “that this House takes note of the European Union referendum result for government policies in ensuring safe staffing levels n the National Health Service and social care services.”

What was notable about contributions to both debates was the realism rather than romanticism about our Brexit future. The EU referendum debate was not rehearsed by Leavers or Remainers, but promises, 'facts' and 'lies' were given a good run around by many contributors on all sides of the House. The debate will be available on Hansard tomorrow, so I won't rehearse them here. But, two phrases used repeatedly by government ministers stand out for me, and both have ongoing resonance as we now walk into our promised glorious future.

First: until we actually leave the EU it is “business as usual”. It sounds reassuring; just a shame it is patently not true. Ask the NHS with its recruitment challenges. Ask academics who already are finding very real (and expressed) threats to funding – not only in the future, but now. Ask farmers who will be waiting a long time to find out what will happen to their subsidies when the Common Agricultural Policy no longer applies. I could go on, but read the debate when it is published.

In one sense, we can live with the prolonged uncertainty we have chosen, and we can take responsibility for facing the consequences of our decision. But, we should do it on the basis of reality and not language that promises what it cannot deliver. If we were going to have “business as usual”, there was clearly little point in having the referendum and voting to leave.

Second: statements that the UK “will” get the best deals for Britain, and so on. I have rehearsed this many times before. Negotiations have two or more parties. We don't negotiate with ourselves, guaranteeing the best deal for our benefit. We negotiate with countries we have mocked for decades as being incompetent, duplicitous and corrupt. And they are going to be well disposed to giving the UK the best deals – presumably at the expense of their own countries? Really?

Well, we will see what emerges in time. I hope we will get good deals, but this cannot be taken for granted (especially when we don't have any skilled negotiators anyway). And that is the point. The government should use the word “may” and not “will”. I guess “will” is intended to create (or reinforce) confidence that all will be well and all things shall be well. But, it cannot be justified at this point. “May” is more accurate.

Language matters.

 

Today saw the recall of both Houses of Parliament to pay tribute to Jo Cox, the MP murdered last Thursday in her constituency of Batley and Spen.

I will catch up on tributes made in the Commons when I get home, but speeches in the Lords were powerful and moving. I spoke on behalf of the bishops, deciding not to repeat much of what had already been said more eloquently than I could have done.

The House adjourned at 3.35pm when we left in procession with MPs to a service at St Margaret's Church. It was a beautiful, poignant and appropriate service, with addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker's Chaplain following readings from both Old and New Testaments. Jo Cox's parents sat at the top end of the chancel; I sat with the Archbishop and the Prime Minister.

What impressed me was the weight of responsibility carried by the Prime Minister and colleagues. The fact that many present would differ strongly on policy, there is still a common humanity – something that only becomes evident when the veneer of the 'routine' is stripped away by tragedy and disruption. I felt strongly that our politicians are too easily categorised and demonised at the expense of their own humanity: they, too, are husbands, father, wives, daughters, and so on.

Anyway, my contribution to the tributes in the Lords can be seen here and read below:

My Lords, I speak on behalf of the Archbishops and Bishops and the Church of England. I do not want to repeat what has already been said but to associate ourselves with those remarks and offer deep sympathy to Brendan, the children and the wider family, and to the Members of the other place.

We live with our mortality and the fragility of civilisation. It is not very deep, and it can be easily penetrated. When I heard of Jo’s death, in my office in Leeds, I was reminded of those words from “Julius Caesar”:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once”.

There are many cowards around who have died inside, and Jo was the antithesis of that: she was full of life. She was passionate, she was intelligent and she was always generous. Her constituents, among whom I have spent the last few days, are unequivocal about that.

Jo said in her maiden speech that she was “made in Yorkshire” and went on to talk about manufacturing in Yorkshire. However, her credibility was not only that she was local, and that therefore people knew where she had grown up—her family still live there—but that she had travelled the world and engaged with issues, many of which we discuss but of which we have very little first-hand knowledge. If I want to hear about refugees, I prefer to hear someone who knows what they are talking about because they have been there. Jo Cox was certainly that.

Christians look through a resurrection-shaped lens called hope. Appalling though her death is, I want to pay tribute not only to her but to her constituents. Over the past weekend, they have had to engage with their own shock and grief and, in many cases, their anger. They have come together. Clergy have opened churches and mosques have been opened, and will continue to open, to create a common place where people can live with their emotions and responses and with their memories of Jo Cox, who was not only their MP but a daughter of their place.

We pray that Jo will rest in peace and that her family will find peace. I pray that Birstall will be remembered more for the manner of her living than for the manner of her dying. As we look to the future, from these Benches we say with confidence that death, violence and destruction cannot and will not have the final word. If we want to be the answer to our own prayers, and Psalm 23 makes it clear, then we are the people who will be the rod and the staff that will enable her friends and her family to continue as life continues for them.

 

Yesterday evening (26 April 2016) the House of Lords considered amendments made in the House of Commons to the Government’s Immigration Bill. Labour Peer Lord Dubs proposed an amendment (as an alternative to his previous one, rejected by MPs), that would require the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”. I spoke in support of the amendment:

My Lords, I was recently in northern Iraq, visiting internally displaced people and Syrian refugees. In a meeting with the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian aid, we were told that despite the generosity promised by many international donors, only 9% of the money had actually got through. That was not specifically applied to the UK. I do not know how much of the UK’s promised aid has gone but it was 9% overall. So when we hear about the amount of money that has been promised, it does not tell us how much has been delivered.

The second background point I would make is that in meeting refugees and internally displaced people, it became clear that there is a divide by generation. The older people still dream of going back home; the younger people and their children do not believe that they have a home to go back to. In the areas where ISIS has been, in many cases it has simply destroyed everything. There is no infrastructure. There are no homes or schools. What has been left has often been booby-trapped. So what does it mean to say that we want to help all these people go home, when home may no longer exist? The communities where for generations they lived together have now been destroyed because of the violence and what has gone on.

My fear in this is that we are going to have tens of thousands of children whose experience of not being welcomed when they are genuine refugees, who have shown extraordinary resilience to leave and get to where they have, will not forget how they were treated. If we want to see resentment or violence among the next two generations in that part of the world, the seeds are being sown now. I feel that the humanitarian demand outweighs some of the more technical stuff that we have heard. I applaud the Government for what they are doing, particularly in relation to the camps out in the Middle East, but they are not addressing the question on our doorstep. I support the amendment.

The amendment was passed by 279 to 172 votes and returned to the House of Commons for further consideration. I voted for the amendment. We will see if the Commons sends it back again.

I am the bishop on duty in the House of Lords this week. This means leading prayers at the beginning of each day's business – today at 2.30pm. The business always kicks off with Oral Questions, the four on the order paper having been selected in a ballot.

One of the questions on Monday was asked by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the closures of regional museums, particularly in the North of England, and the impact of those closures on the United Kingdom's creative industry and on the educational services provided to local schools and colleges.

Answering for the Government (DCMS), the Earl of Courtown got in a muddle and then missed the point. My question was:

My Lords, if the rhetoric about the northern powerhouse is to have any reality behind it, it has to include access to culture and cultural developments. In the light of that, will the Minister give an assurance that the sword of Damocles hanging over the National Media Museum in Bradford might at last be lifted? Sometimes up there it feels as if London is saying, “Out, damned spot!”.

The Minister replied:

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate referred to the northern powerhouse. Perhaps I should add that DCMS is sponsoring loans to museums at 1,629 different venues. As far as Manchester in particular is concerned – (he was corrected by Lords who had accurately heard “Bradford”) – I beg your pardon; I thought that the right reverend Prelate referred to Manchester. I think that the right reverend Prelate was referring to the Royal Photographic Society collection, some of which has now been moved to London. That move has provided far better access to the collection because the Victoria and Albert Museum has committed to digitising the collection and thus make it more widely available.

Digitisation does not make the collection more widely available, if the originals (which is what people want to see) are in London. This plays into a wider perception that wide availability does not include the north of England.

The Minister was good enough to explain to me personally that he had not fully heard my question and, therefore, not answered it as well as he might.

Later Lord Grade, who chairs the body that runs the Science Museum group gave me a personal assurance that the National Media Museum is safe and in a good place.

Following my recent visit to Iraq with Christian Aid, I asked five written questions in the House of Lords. The answers were published on 5 April and I reproduce them here:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the use of chemical weapons by Daesh in Iraq.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: There are credible reports that Daesh has used chemical weapons in Iraq. The Government of Iraq, with support from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), investigated allegations of chemical weapons use in Iraq last year and has concluded that sulphur mustard was used against Peshmerga fighters on 11 August 2015.

Allegations that Daesh attacked the village of Taza on 8 March 2016, possibly with sulphur mustard, are being investigated by the Government of Iraq, along with two other recent allegations of Daesh use of chemical weapons. Such behaviour would be consistent with Daesh’s record of complete disregard for human rights and international norms and values. We welcome the OPCW Director General’s press statement of 23 March offering assistance to the Government of Iraq.

We continue to monitor all allegations of chemical weapon use very closely, and condemn all such attacks by anyone, anywhere.

 

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to record the atrocities that have been committed by Daesh in Iraq so that, in due course, offenders may be brought to justice.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: This Government wants to see accountability for Daesh abuses, and has supported efforts to document them. The UK co-sponsored the UN Human Rights Council Resolution in September 2014 mandating the investigation of Daesh abuses.

In Iraq, we are funding training for human rights defenders to improve victim support and case documentation of sexual violence committed by Daesh. It is hoped that this evidence will be able to be used in the future to hold the perpetrators to account.

 

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Iraq about Iraq becoming a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The UK coordinates with other EU member states to promote the universality of the Rome Statute. We offer support to any State that is in the process of ratifying the Rome Statute or needs assistance in adopting the national legislation needed to enact the full implementation of the statute.

Whether Iraq chooses to accede to the Rome Statute is a matter for the Government of Iraq.

 

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Iraq on resolving the budget impasse with the Kurdish Regional Government.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: We regularly raise the importance of securing a new budget agreement between Baghdad and Erbil with senior representatives of the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

During his visit to Iraq in March the Foreign Secretary, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), raised the issue with both Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), underlined the importance of a new agreement with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani in Iraq in December 2015.

Officials at our Embassy in Baghdad and our Consulate General in Erbil continue to highlight the benefits of a united Iraq and the benefits to both sides of agreeing a new oil sharing and budget arrangement.

 

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to establishing new consular premises in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The Government is committed to delivering a permanent, fit-for-purpose Consulate General platform in Erbil at the earliest opportunity.

Significant changes to the security situation in Iraq have necessitated that we review our requirements and plans for the Consulate General platform in order to ensure that we are able to meet our political, security, prosperity and humanitarian objectives, both now and in the future. We continue to offer an uninterrupted service from our current Consulate General platform and continue to explore options for the acquisition of appropriate office accommodation for the future.

 

I will be following these up with further questions.