Recent Parliamentary Interventions – Yazidi Genocide Exhibition in Parliament;Death in the Congo; Families Struggling with Debt; Attempted Murder In Salisbury With A Lethal Nerve Agent; The Ecumenical Marriage Bill; Family Relationships (Impact Assessment and Targets) Bill; the Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike; and the Prosecution of Perpetrators of Genocide; Homelessness


 Exhibition in Parliament about the Yazidi Genocide – launched on March 26th and organised by Open Doors.

Yazidi exhbition

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Congo corruption cartoon.jpg

Why is  A LIFE IN AFRICA accorded such little dignity or value?  When the last war in the Congo ended nine years ago 5.4 million people had lost their lives – more than in any conflict since World War Two. Today the DRC stands on the brink of another major conflict as dissent is crushed and peaceful protests lead to carnage. The issue was raised today during Question Time in the House of Lords: 

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Protests

06 March 2018 Question  2.58 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the escalating violence and suppression of peaceful protests across the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

My Lords, the UK remains committed to supporting peaceful elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We repeatedly call on the Government to respect their citizens’ constitutional right to peaceful protest. Those responsible for the violence towards civilians, including peaceful protesters, must be brought swiftly to justice. The Minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin MP, will reiterate the importance of fully implementing the political agreement signed on 31 September 2016 when she meets Prime Minister Tshibala on 7 March.

My Lords, given the prevailing anarchy across the country which the central Government in Kinshasa seem unable to control and of which I was reminded when in conversation with the Archbishop of the Congo this morning, and given that the war has created 2 million refugees who are now living in conditions of immeasurable suffering and 4 million casualties over the past 20 years, along with the sad weakening of the already overstretched MONUSCO forces in recent months, are the Government prepared to use their influence on the P5 to seek to reinforce those MONUSCO forces and find ways of serving the poorest and most desperate of that region? What practical steps apart from merely speaking to Prime Ministers can the Government find to ensure that the commitments to elections are undertaken?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the most reverend Primate for his knowledge and the many visits he has made over the years to this area of Africa. MONUSCO’s mandate will be renewed this month. We will work with our partners at the United Nations to ensure that the mission’s priority remains the protection of civilians. In order to achieve this, we believe that the key lies in making MONUSCO a more effective force. Our ambassador and his team are working with the newly appointed head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, and her team to support MONUSCO’s work in restoring stability to the country. We will also work directly with a number of provincial governors across the country in order to deliver vital humanitarian and development aid. We will focus even more of our development effort at provincial level in the coming months.

My Lords, in a country where 5.4 million people died in the second Congo war, has the Minister seen the United Nations report that agents of the state have murdered more than 1,000 people in the last year, and that the mutilated body of an outspoken critic, Father Florent Tulantshiedi, was found on Friday last, recognised only by his clerical collar? Given that President Kabila is today meeting multinational mining companies to seek increased royalties—in a country where people live on less than 80p a day—is it not time that economic leverage was used to challenge and bring to an end state-sponsored anarchic violence and unspeakable corruption, which lines pockets while children starve and critics are executed?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, paints a pretty grim picture of life in the DRC. There has been some movement in bringing people to account. In the last protest on 25 February, where three people were killed, the authorities identified the officers responsible for the deaths, who are now facing judicial proceedings. This is a change from previous practice. On all occasions when we have contact with the DRC Government, we emphasise the importance of human rights and how, putting it bluntly, they have to clean up their act.

While The World Sleeps Congo’s Heading Back To Hell

Congo

As War Looms in One of Africa’s Biggest Countries, Who’s Paying Attention?

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo teeters on the brink of a new conflagration, two longtime funders working there say how they’re responding. Many foundations investing in Africa also have a lot a stake as this crisis heats up.

https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2018/2/28/war-is-exploding-in-africas-biggest-country-whos-paying-attention

Government Pressed To Act

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 14 March 2018

Department for International Development

HL6341

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the (1) the findings of the report by the International Rescue Committee A Silent Crisis in Congo: The Bantu and the Twa in Tanganyika that between July 2016 and March 2017 more than 400 villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been destroyed, and (2) the findings of the report by UNHCR that in 2017 (a) 1.7 million people across the DRC were forced to flee their homes, (b) 3.9 million remain internally displaced, and (c) more than 600,000 refugees from the DRC are spread over 11 African countries.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 14 March 2018

Department for International Development

HL6342

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to respond to the United Nations’ briefing at Geneva this week which stated that over two million children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are at risk of starvation if they do not receive urgent humanitarian assistance.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 08 March 2018

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Democratic Republic of Congo: Mining

HL6186

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by the Earl of Courtown on 6 March (HL Deb, col 992), what assessment they have made of reports that the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo met with multinational mining companies to seek increased royalties; and whether any British companies took part in that meeting.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 08 March 2018

Department for International Development

Democratic Republic of Congo: Mining

HL6187

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the likelihood that the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will use funds levied from the mining industry to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in that country.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 08 March 2018

Department for International Development

Democratic Republic of Congo: Overseas Aid

HL6188

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what amount of UK Overseas Development Aid was spent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in each of the last ten years.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 08 March 2018

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Democratic Republic of Congo: Human Rights

HL6189

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, published in January, which found that state agents in that country carried out 1,176 extrajudicial killings in 2017, and that that number has tripled over the past two years.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 08 March 2018

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Democratic Republic of Congo: Human Rights

HL6190

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo regarding (1) the recent murder of Father Florent Mbulanthie Tulantshiedi, (2) the escalating suppression of critics of the government in that country, and (3) how members of the clergy and civil society leaders can be protected from such intimidation and brutality.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 14 March 2018

Department for International Development

HL6343

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to act on the proposal made by David Cameron, in his role as chairman of the Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, that nations who fail to meet “basic norms of governance”, and whose leaders are corrupt, should not continue to be recipients of UK aid.

 

Q

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Asked on: 14 March 2018

Department for International Development

HL6344

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which of the countries cited by David Cameron, in his role as chairman of the Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, as “poorer than they were 40 years ago despite the aid that has been delivered there” have been recipients of UK aid; and how much aid has been provided to each of those countries over the last 30 years.

 

 

 

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Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, in a country where 5.4 million people died in the second Congo war, has the Minister seen the United Nations report that agents of the state have murdered more than 1,000 people in the last year, and that the mutilated body of an outspoken critic, Father Florent Tulantshiedi, was found on Friday last, recognised only by his clerical collar? Given that President Kabila is today meeting multinational mining companies to seek increased royalties—in a country where people live on less than 80p a day—is it not time that economic leverage was used to challenge and bring to an end state-sponsored anarchic violence and unspeakable corruption, which lines pockets while children starve and critics are executed?

The Earl of CourtownCaptain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, paints a pretty grim picture of life in the DRC. There has been some movement in bringing people to account. In the last protest on 25 February, where three people were killed, the authorities identified the officers responsible for the deaths, who are now facing judicial proceedings. This is a change from previous practice. On all occasions when we have contact with the DRC Government, we emphasise the importance of human rights and how, putting it bluntly, they have to clean up their act.

 

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what work they are conducting with international partners in response to calls to freeze all international bank accounts and assets held by the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and his entourage, until steps are taken to implement the Saint Sylvestre Agreement, including the release of political prisoners.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The British Government is increasingly concerned about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has repeatedly called on President Kabila to honour both the Constitution and the 31 December agreement. We are appalled by the violence used by the Democratic Republic of Congo forces against peaceful protestors. We have publicly condemned the excessive use of force on both 31 December 2017 and 21 January 2018. Although the British Government does not currently have plans to sanction the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, we will work with regional and international partners to continue to press the DRC authorities to adhere to their electoral commitment, to open up political space, and to allow for peaceful assembly.

 

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to keep the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the top of the international agenda; whether they plan to raise it at the UN Security Counciland with the African Union; and what steps they are taking to assist with all measures that seek to end the violence in that country.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The British Government released statements on 3 January and 23 January, following the deaths of protestors on 31 December 2017 and 21 January 2018, calling on the government to investigate and hold accountable security force members who fired on civilians or ordered the use of lethal force. The UKcontinues to pressure the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government to open political space and allow peaceful demonstrations.

The British Government, alongside regional and international partners, will continue to press the DRC authorities to adhere to their constitutional commitments and hold elections by 23 December 2018. In March the UN Security Council will discuss the Secretary General‘s six-monthly report and negotiations to renew the mandate for the UN Organisation and Stabilisation Mission in DRC (MONUSCO). The UK Special Envoy to the African Great Lakeswill visit the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa on 26 and 27 December to discuss the Peace Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region.

 

Background: Previous questions 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the risk that President Joseph Kabila may attempt to change the constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to remain in power and not hold the elections scheduled for November.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is clear: a President may serve two terms of five years. In 2015 President Kabila made a tentative attempt to change the Constitution to enable him to stay on beyond the end of his current, final term of office but was rebuffed by the Congolese Parliament. The risk that he will attempt to do so again remains, but the UK position is clear: we do not believe that constitutions should be amended for the benefit of incumbent leaders. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), has repeatedly urged Foreign MinisterTshibanda to do all in his power to ensure the DRC government enables elections to take place in line with the Constitution.

We remain concerned by the lack of progress towards elections in the DRC. Primary responsibility for organising the elections rests with the government and institutions of the state of the DRC. The UK stands ready to support elections. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for International Development, my Hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), announced in March that the UK would make up to £11.4million available to support the election process, provided certain conditions were met. But we have also been clear that individuals responsible for repression and human rights violations in the run-up to the election period will have to face the consequences of their actions.

 

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) about reports that uranium from the DRC has been sold to North Korea.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

As the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), set out in his Written Ministerial Statement of 8 March, which I repeated in the House of Lords the same day [HLWS571], the Government remains deeply concerned by North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and its sustained prioritisation of these programmes over the well-being of its own people. All states are obliged to abide by UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting uranium transfers to North Korea. We would take any credible reports of such transfers from anywhere in the world very seriously. We have not engaged with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo on this issue.

 

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take in the light of reports into the activities of Soco International in Virunga national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which allege breaches of bribery and corruption laws.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are aware of allegations of serious wrongdoing made against Soco International, its employees and agents connected to its activities in the Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We expect all companies to act appropriately and encourage anyone with evidence of fraud, bribery or corruption to pass this to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Allegations of bribery and corruption, and incidents of violence, intimidation and threats directed at environmental activists, fishermen and local residents campaigning against oil exploitation in the Virunga National Park have been inadequately investigated by the DRC authorities. We have called upon the DRC authorities to undertake a full investigation.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they have given to Scott Campbell, the Director of the United Nations joint human rights office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was recently expelled from that country for publishing a report documenting police killing of street children known as kuluna.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I refer the noble Lord to my answer of 6 March to the noble Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (HL5054). Our Ambassador in Kinshasa made clear in his official statement of 20 October 2014 the UK Government’s profound concern over the expulsion of Scott Campbell. The UN Security Council has given a mandate to its Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to monitor, report and follow-up on human rights violations and abuses. The Joint Human Rights Office’s reporting and its recommendations for action by the Government of the DRC and the international community are an important element of the UN’s work in the DRC and we expect it to be treated with respect.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo about the reported imprisonment of members of the Congolese opposition (including parliamentarians), disappearance of human rights activists, harassment of United Nations officials, and killing of journalists there; and what response they have received.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I refer the noble Lord to my answer of 23 February to the noble Lord Chidgey(HL4967). Officials continue to raise the ongoing detention of protestors with senior members of the Congolese government.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo about the imprisonment of the Congolese opposition leaders Vano Kiboko, Jean-Bertrand Ewanga and Diomi Ndongala; and what response they have received.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I refer the noble Lord to my answer of 23 February to the noble Lord Chidgey(HL4967). Officials continue to raise the ongoing detention of protestors with senior members of the Congolese government.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the level of violence, civil unrest, and political tension in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Progress has been made in recent years towards tackling armed groups and improving the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s security and stability. But the country remains fragile – as highlighted by the recent violence following the introduction of draft electoral reform legislation.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office press statement of 26 January welcomed the revised electoral law, which sought to address some of the protestors’ concerns. We are pleased that calls for an end to violence were heeded. Free, fair and peaceful elections, in line with the DRC’s constitution, are an integral part of efforts to build a more secure and prosperous country. We remain committed to working with the DRC government, UN and our international partners to support the DRC in the lead-up to Presidential and Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2016.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the use of children in armed conflict in the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; which parties in those countries they consider to be using child soldiers; and what action they are taking to co-ordinate international action to secure the demobilisation of child soldiers.

Lord Wallace of SaltaireLords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The British Government recognise that parties to conflict who commit grave violations against children, including recruitment and use, are named in the annexes of the annual reports of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. This applies to the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of the five countries in question, the Governments of Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are currently listed for the recruitment and use of children. The latter two have signed action plans with the UN to end this practice. There are also non-state armed groups listed for recruitment and use of children in all the countries in question, except South Sudan. The UK actively participates in the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to hold perpetrators to account as well as working with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and non-governmental organisations to urge those Governments who have not already done so to enter into time-bound action plans with the UN. The Minister for Africa, my honourable friend Mr Simmonds, is leading a campaign to raise awareness and help prevent the recruitment of child soldiers and children from becoming victims of sexual violence. He continues to raise the issue with a number of counterparts in countries where there are reports of children being recruited into armed groups and forces, including in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Also see:

Anglican Bishop of Boga, Mugenyi William Bahemuka, predicts a Congolese genocide

http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2018/03/anglican-bishop-of-boga-mugenyi-william-bahemuka-predicts-a-congolese-genocide.aspx

In the past month, three new military bases have been established by the United Nations’ peace-keeping force in the democratic Republic of Congo – MONUSCO – in the Djugu territory of Ituri province, but it has so-far failed to stem the increasing tide of violence. Last week, 33 people were killed in an attack on the village of Maze. The Bishop of Bogo, Mugenyi William Bahemuka, has said that it is “difficult to confirm” that the recent violence is an extension of ethnic and tribal conflicts. “Is it a planned insurgency that will turn out to be either a civil war or a genocide?” he asked. “Both are situations no one would like to experience. Once again we need prayer and advocacy for peace.”

 

He said that past experience had led him to believe that worse was still come.

 

At the end of February, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan were the subject of an international ecumenical prayer focus, after a call for a day of prayer and fasting by Pope Francis was endorsed by leaders of other churches, including a number of senior Anglican bishops and archbishops.

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House of Lords Statement on The Attack In Salisbury- March 14th 2018

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, does not the use of Novichok in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, which is reminiscent of the use of the VX nerve agent, used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Airport, and the use of chemical weapons in the conflict in Syria, remind us that chemical and biological weapons are not a throwback to the Cold War? Should we not therefore be giving urgent consideration to the re-establishment of the Army’s disbanded chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment?

 

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Leader of the House)

 

The noble Lord is absolutely right to highlight the seriousness of the situation facing us. We obviously comply fully with all our obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and we will be working very closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to ensure that we try to prevent this happening again.

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Personal Indebtedness

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, while the reductions in national debt are welcome, will the Minister confirm that household debt has been going in the opposite direction and that over the last five years there has been a 7% increase in personal debt to a staggering £1.6 trillion? Given that this is quite an albatross around the necks of many of the poorer families to which the Minister has referred, what are the Government doing to try to reduce the levels of personal debt?

 

Lord Bates (Govenment Minister)

 

There are two things that we can do. One we have done already: the action that we took on payday loans, placing a cap on the appalling rates of interest that were being charged, was the right thing to do. Extending that to other areas of financial services is also right. But ultimately, the best thing that we can do for people who are struggling with debt is to provide work and opportunities so that they can repay that debt and provide a living and a hope for the future of their families.

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The Prosecution of Perpetrators of Genocide

Ecumenical Marriage Bill

Friday February 23rd 2018

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to lend support to the Ecumenical Marriage Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has laid before your Lordships’ House. I have two reasons for doing so. One concerns ecumenism and the other concerns marriage, and I will take them in that order.

 

First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, who has just resumed his seat, that this does not concern doctrine. I was concerned at the end of his remarks to hear him use the word “dictate”. The whole point about this Bill is that it does not dictate to anybody. I was pleased to hear his response to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which might represent a way forward. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said at the end of his remarks that he will reflect on the arguments laid before your Lordships’ House by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, earlier on, and the Church of England Synod would be a good place for this proposal to be taken to.

 

But the right reverend Prelate also based some of his argument on the constitutional question. I would simply refer him to the Library Note, which states:

 

“Under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, Parliament has a role scrutinising legislation which relates to the administration and organisation of the Church of England”.

 

Whether you look to the 1919 legislation or in this case the 1949 Marriage Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Deben, referred to in his remarks, Parliament has had a very clear role. Parliament itself has a right to have a view about these things and to consider measures of this kind. That this should now go to the synod before we reach Committee so that some of the points raised by the right reverend Prelate earlier on might be properly considered. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will have a chance to reflect on what I thought were some terrific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in his introductory remarks.

 

The central point about this Bill is that it lays no mandatory duty on the Church of England but is an empowering measure that simply removes an accidental statutory impediment to the enablement of clergy from other denominations to bring together couples in holy matrimony in a parish church. As the noble Lord reminded us, that does not force anyone to do this, but simply allows them to, and with the same restrictions about what is already permitted for funerals, baptisms and communion services.

 

My own parents married at the time of the passage of the 1949 legislation. That legislation did not require Anglican parish churches to register for marriages. They were deemed to be licensed; but the law states that marriage was to be, as the noble Lord mentioned earlier on,

 

“according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England”.

 

That was never intended as a restriction, but in an era when ecumenical relationships were much less common, it was simply a statement of fact. It was the reality. 

 

When in those unecumenical times marriages were made across the divide, they were often the source of bitterness, rejection and hostility. 

 

My own parents experienced that. They were Anglican and Catholic—a demobbed Eighth Army Desert Rat marrying an Irish-speaking girl from Mayo. My mother’s younger sister married a Northern Ireland Protestant and both marriages took place in a Catholic Church.

 

Sixty years later, echoing something that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said at the beginning of his remarks about funerals, my Anglican father was buried from that same Catholic Church where he had married after a funeral led by my late father-in-law, who was an Anglican priest of some 60 years standing. He spent some of his ministry in the right reverend Prelate’s diocese. I was delighted that, far from there being a restriction on my father-in-law conducting the service, the parish priest was hugely supportive and generous to a fault. 

 

It also represented a sea-change in attitudes. 

 

I might add to the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, that I am godfather to children from other denominations but, equally, my own children, who were baptised as Catholics, have godparents from other denominations. That was not an impediment. 

 

My uncle told me, after the funeral of my father, that he would have never believed the progress and change in relationships that had occurred in the intervening years. He said that he had felt a great healing.

 

Thirty years ago, I too married across the denominational divide and, for good measure, I married a vicar’s daughter with eight ordained Anglican clergy in the family—and they still failed to make me perfect.

 

 But we would be foolish to forget how painful former times could be. 

 

In the 1950s, when as young people couples like my parents married, some bishops even refused to say the Lord’s Prayer together or to stand alongside one another at the war memorial. Sectarianism rather than ecumenism was the order of the day. In Liverpool, as late as 1958, the city’s Catholic Archbishop John Heenan, later Cardinal Heenan, was literally stoned by a sectarian mob while making a pastoral visit to a sick parishioner in the Scotland Road parish of St Anthony’s.

 

I went to Liverpool as a student and later had the honour to serve in that city for 18 years as a constituency MP. It was mired in sectarianism. I was shocked to witness at meetings of the city council, to which I had been elected, hostile opposition to minor improvements to Catholic primary schools on purely sectarian grounds. 

 

But that is not the end of the story. 

 

Thanks to Archbishop Derek Worlock, Bishop Sheppard—later Lord Sheppard—and successive moderators of the Merseyside free churches, I was privileged to see what is known as the “Mersey Miracle” and the coming together of Christians from different backgrounds, who took as their maxim “What we can do together, let us do it, and let us ensure that what separates us does not turn us into enemies”. The fruits of this practical ecumenism were vividly exemplified by the visit to Liverpool, in 1982, of Pope John Paul II, witnessed by 1 million people. Movingly, the Pope’s first steps were taken in that city at the Anglican cathedral, before travelling along the well-named Hope Street to the Catholic cathedral of Christ the King.

 

The Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has been written to reflect that spirit of enabling ecumenism to continue and to deepen. It will empower but not require the parochial church council, the incumbent and the diocesan bishop to allow other Christian marriages to be celebrated. 

 

Despite what the right reverend Prelate said about how this could become bureaucratic, in reality it would become based on good will and precedent. I believe that, once those precedents have been established, it would happen very easily and smoothly where people wanted it to happen. 

 

That would also force the authorities to face the question that the noble Lord put to the House about whether we really are serious about how far we want this ecumenical journey to go. 

 

It might also enable a sometimes sceptical secular world to echo the observations of the pagans of Rome, who said to their own bewilderment about the early Christians, “See how they love one another”.

 

That brings me to my second reason for supporting the noble Lord’s Bill. 

 

Probably the best £4 that two people who love one another can spend is on a marriage certificate. 

 

It is sometimes said that marriages are made in heaven but broken here on earth. 

 

According to the Office for National Statistics, around 42% of marriages end in divorce and around half of these divorces are expected to occur in the first 10 years of marriage. 

 

For Christians, a church wedding may not guarantee the durability of a marriage, but the solemnising of vows and the binding through the sacrament of holy matrimony does at least create a different narrative against which to live out and to attempt to lead your married life through all its ups and downs. We should do everything we can to encourage this sacrament to be taken seriously, not least because we know what the negative consequences are when a marriage ends. The Bill simply opens up the prospect of more church marriages and, in a modest way, for Parliament and the Church to say that this can contribute to stable families, stable communities and a stable society.

 

To conclude, the Church of England is already ecumenically generous—I so agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said about this—in allowing its churches to be used by other denominations. It is evident here at Westminster in the use of our parliamentary crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. 

 

The noble Lord’s Bill involves no compulsion; it merely removes an impediment for the principle to be extended. Some say the Bill is not necessary, as another denomination can have permission to use a church as long as the service is taken by an Anglican clergyman, but there is no such restriction on any other service, yet this is the service when it is most likely that the happy couple would like to be married by someone who matters to them spiritually.

 

The three key reasons for giving the Bill a Second Reading are: first, that it is necessary to remove a legal impediment; secondly, that it gives the Church of England the power to add marriage to existing provisions but no direction; and, thirdly, that it enshrines all the safeguards the Church of England has already included in its canon law to cover other services. 

 

Even if, at the conclusion of our debate, there is not a peel of bells welcoming the noble Lord’s Bill, I hope that we will give it a ringing endorsement and a Second Reading.

———————-

 

Family Relationships (Impact Assessment and Targets) Bill

Friday February 23rd 2018

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to support the Family Relationships (Impact Assessment and Targets) Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. He has done the whole House a great service by eloquently setting out the details of the Bill and the history of the currently inelegantly and, in his phrase, unfortunately named family test, which has clearly not achieved all that was originally hoped for when it was introduced in 2014. It is because the family tests are not shaping policy-making in the way that was hoped for that I agree with the noble Lord that statutory family relationships impact assessments and targets should be published.

 

I will say why the impact assessments are needed and why it would be best if that were a statutory provision. 

 

My remarks are predicated by my belief, which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and others, that the family is the building block of society. 

 

That view is completely at variance with that expressed in the third Reith lecture, as long ago as 1967, by Edmund Leach, the British social anthropologist, when he famously excoriated the family by saying:

 

“Far from being the basis of the good society, the family … is the source of all our discontents”.

 

In reality, the breaking up of stable families is a far greater contributor to instability, unhappiness and discontent.

 

As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, reminded us in their thoughtful remarks, families come in many shapes and sizes. 

 

Although some may resemble war zones, at their best they provide stability, love and a network of care to face and deal with the many challenges and misfortunes of life.

 

 I cut my own teeth representing a community where half the homes had no inside sanitation, running hot water or bathrooms, but where the open doors of people’s homes in back-to-back terraced streets, populated by aunts and uncles, grandparents, parents and children, were places where burdens were shared and where an elderly person would never have been found weeks after their death and no one any the wiser. 

 

It is instructive that, with the breakdown of families and communities, it is said that some 1 million elderly people do not see a friend or a neighbour during the course of an average week.

 

However, the costs of family breakdown are not simply social. 

 

Yesterday, I met Michael Schluter, one of the founders, in 1993, of the Cambridge Relationships Foundation, to which the noble Lord and others have referred. In a report published a year ago, it put the figure at £48 billion—updated, as the noble Lord told us today, to a staggering £50 billion—as the cost of family breakdown. Put another way, the cost to the average taxpayer is around £1,820 a year. 

 

But of course this is about not just money or economics. 

 

How do you put a price on the often intense pain and suffering felt by those experiencing family failure, especially when there are children involved? With children now only having a 50:50 chance of living with both of their birth parents by the time they are 16, we have far too little understanding of the sheer scale and extent of the emotional costs. Too often, it is this that is the real source of distress and discontent identified half a century ago by Edmund Leach. 

 

So what might we do? 

 

Back in 1996, in another place, during the passage of the then Family Law Bill, I argued for anniversary tax allowances: tax breaks that might be given incrementally as wedding anniversaries occur. I also argued for family impact statements and, among other things, in a book, Citizen Virtues, I suggested that,

 

“these should be attached to every new Government policy, just as local authorities attach environmental impact statements to planning applications and policies”.

 

That brings me to the two reasons why I support the noble Lord’s Bill. First, why are impact assessments needed? 

 

Governments rely on families to achieve many of their most important goals, yet neither the nature and extent of that reliance, nor the ways in which that contribution may be fostered or compromised by the actions of government, are clearly set out. Let us consider one example of the way in which policy goals rely on families: the hugely important question of social care. 

 

Carers UK reports that the number of people providing unpaid care of 50 or more hours a week has increased by 26% in the past decade. 

 

The UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers provide care valued at an estimated £132 billion a year. Without that contribution, the pressures on social care, and thus the National Health Service, would be even greater than they already are. 

 

Yet the ways in which housing policy, which has been referred to in this debate, may influence the ability of families to co-locate to provide care, for example, are simply not reported. 

 

The generation of baby boomers comprises the largest block of people ever to enter old age in the United Kingdom. Their couple and family relationships have generally been characterised by greater fluidity than those of the generation before them, with more step-families and more single people in old age. 

 

The full implications of changes in family stability for the family provision of social care are yet to be seen. There are many areas of policy that may influence the motivation, opportunity or capability to provide care but, without the assessments and indicators that this Bill calls for, they will remain hidden from view.

 

The mental health of both adults and teenagers, their physical health, the educational outcomes for children, the likelihood of needing welfare support, all these and many other policy goals are influenced by what happens in families, yet this vital resource is neglected in our policy-making. 

 

The noble Lord’s Bill rightly recognises that it is not just primary legislation that should be assessed for its impact and that assessments should be complemented by family stability targets and proposals for how those targets should be met. 

 

It has long been a concern that there is no adequate mechanism for coherence to support families across all areas of government. All government departments rely on families and all influence them. Without a broad overview of how government is fostering a climate in which families can thrive and fulfil these responsibilities, family impact assessments will lack the necessary context. 

 

Equality and environmental assessments have worked because the context is understood and deeply embedded within the policy-making process. The current experience of family tests on policy suggests that the social capital of families is something of an orphaned asset as far as government is concerned.

 

Secondly, why should this provision be made statutory? 

 

The Bill rightly seeks to build on the existing patchily implemented family test and seeks to put it on a statutory footing to ensure that it becomes more deeply rooted in policy-making, influencing the culture of departments right across the piece, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, told the House a few minutes ago. 

 

The fact that the current non-statutory approach plainly is not working was made very plain by the series of Written Questions that have been referred to, which were put to multiple departments in another place in December. 

 

Like other noble Lords, I have looked at those Questions and the replies. 

 

Eight government departments provided an identical response, which was deeply troubling in two respects. 

 

First, that standardised reply did not even attempt to answer the basic question about what legislation the family test had been applied to since 2014. To the extent that departments are normally happy to admit when they have done something that you want them to have done, the complete failure to reference any specific application to any legislation makes me doubt that the departments in question had applied the test at all. Secondly, the Answers all contain the following words:

 

“The Family Test was not designed to be a ‘tick-box’ exercise, and as such there is no requirement for departments to publish the results of assessments made under the Family Test”.

 

That is risible. 

 

The rather ridiculous inference of this statement is that all other impact assessments that result in published reports are just “tick-box” exercises. None of us believes that. If it were the case, the logic would be to scrap environmental impact assessments, child rights impact assessments, regulatory impact assessments and equality impact assessments, and I am not arguing for that. 

 

No one is interested in some bureaucratic box-ticking exercise. 

 

As other noble Lords have said, what we need is transparency, accountability and a strong incentive for government departments to take this seriously. If assessments are not published, there is no adequate mechanism for highlighting the missed opportunities, costly omissions or unintended consequences of failing to consider how the vital contribution of families may be supported or undermined.

 

In conclusion, I say to the noble Baroness, the Minister, who I know is deeply committed to this issue, that government has made commendable efforts in seeking ways to enable policymakers to consider a range of factors in policy-making. I note, for example, the recent report from the Office for National Statistics on natural capital, which said that,

 

“by providing valuations of the UK’s natural capital, decision makers can better include the environment in their plans to allocate resources to develop, and promote the growth of, the economy”.

 

If we can factor in and report on the natural environment in our policy-making, as we should, surely we can and must do far better in assessing both the value of and our impact on the most important element of the social environment: our families. I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his diligence and assiduity in pursuing this issue with such dedication and passion and I wish his Bill every possible success.

 

 12.40 pm

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 Tuesday February 27th 2018: Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike

  • My Lords, after my noble friend Lord Hylton and I visited Yarl’s Wood, we reported back to your Lordships’ House that we had seen significant progress and improvements there. Does the noble Baroness not agree that there is a danger that that could be jeopardised for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, describes? There are some 400 people there now, some feeling a sense of real desperation. The shadow of fear hangs over them, such as the woman who came here as an 11 year-old girl and is now 35 years of age. After living in this country for 24 years, she has been taken to Yarl’s Wood. Does the noble Baroness not agree that it is worth looking at specific cases, such as of those now on hunger strike? Can she tell the House any more about the health and well-being of those currently on hunger strike and whether they have proper access to legal aid and representation?

  • The noble Lord is right that individual cases should always be treated sensitively. If the noble Lord could outline an individual case for me, I will certainly take it back. The last thing we want for people in detention is for them to be refusing food and fluid. Legal representation is available to people. There are specific rules on how we should treat sensitively those with mental health problems, vulnerable adults and traumatised people in detention.

 

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Homelessness

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL5558):

Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they expect the number of children in hostels and other temporary accommodation in England to rise; and what steps they are taking to reduce this number. (HL5558)

Tabled on: 20 February 2018

Answer:
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

We are implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which commences in April 2018. The Act significantly reforms England’s homelessness legislation, ensuring that more people get the help they need earlier to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

The law is clear that households with dependent children should only be accommodated in B&B in an emergency and then for no longer than 6 weeks.

Our new Homelessness Advice and Support Team, drawn from local authorities and the homelessness sector, are providing targeted challenge and support to help Councils improve their practice and performance – including the use of B&B accommodation for families.

The Government remains committed to combating homelessness and rough sleeping. To achieve this, we have set up a Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce that will focus on prevention and affordable housing. We have allocated over £1 billion over the course of the spending review to tackle and reduce homelessness. This includes £315 million Homelessness Prevention funding and a Flexible Homelessness Support Grant which local authorities can use more strategically to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. This amounts to £402 million over the two years from 2017/18, with further funding to be announced for 2019/20.

Date and time of answer: 05 Mar 2018 at 15:57.

 

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL5560):

Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government on average, each night, how many homeless people in England sleep outside; and whether they expect that number to increase in 2018, compared to 2017. (HL5560)

Tabled on: 20 February 2018

Answer:
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

The annual autumn rough sleeping count is a single night snapshot of the number of people sleeping rough in local authority areas.The latest statistics can be found (attached) at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/667302/Statutory_Homelessness_and_Prevention_and_Relief_Statistical_Release_Jul_to_Sep_2017.pdf

We do not collect data on the number of people sleeping rough each night of the year.

This Government is committed to preventing and reducing homelessness in England. No one should have to sleep rough. That is why we have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027.

The following documents were submitted as part of the answer and are appended to this email:

  1. File name: 180226 Statutory Homelessness and Prevention and Relief Statistical HL5560.pdf
    Description: Homelessness and Prevention and Relief

Date and time of answer: 05 Mar 2018 at 17:15.

 

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL5559):

Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Westminster City Council about deaths and hospital admissions of homeless people sleeping rough in the borough. (HL5559)

Tabled on: 20 February 2018

Answer:
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

Ministers at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government meet with representatives of local authorities, voluntary and charity sector organisations, policy experts and other partners on a regular basis to discuss a range of issues including homelessness and rough sleeping.

The Government publishes a list of all ministerial meetings with external bodies on departmental business on a quarterly basis. This is available (attached) at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/668182/Ministerial_meetings_Jul_to_Sep_2017.csv/preview

Our new Homelessness Advice and Support Team, drawn from local authorities and the homelessness sector, is providing support to local authorities to help them address their homelessness challenges. They have visited a significant number of local authorities across England, including Westminster.

The following documents were submitted as part of the answer and are appended to this email:

  1. File name: 180226 List of all ministerial meetings HL5559.xls
    Description: List of all Ministerial meetings

Date and time of answer: 05 Mar 2018 at 17:13.