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Reconciliation should be central to defence strategy, says Archbishop of Canterbury

19 May 2021

Legislation proposed in Queen’s Speech is debated over five days in the House of Lords


The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives back at Portsmouth Naval Base in Hampshire, on Wednesday

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives back at Portsmouth Naval Base in Hampshire, on Wednesday

RECONCILIATION must be at the heart of the Government’s defence strategy for reducing the threats and human and financial costs of war, the Archbishop of Canterbury has urged.

He was speaking on the fifth and final day of scheduled debates in the House of Lords on Wednesday on the contents of the Queen’s Speech last week (News, 14 May). Several bishops contributed.

Early in a debate focused on international affairs and defence, Archbishop Welby welcomed commitments in the Integrated Review of Global Britain in a Competitive Age to the security implications of climate change, freedom of religion and belief, and to restoring foreign spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP.

“However, to speak of security, defence, development and foreign policy without a developed section on peacebuilding and peace-making, especially with competitors, is like speaking of the pandemic without mentioning vaccination,” he said. “The repeated biblical visions of swords into ploughshares are not only the call of God but a blessing to those who fight, and even to the Treasury. . .

“Reconciliation usually does not mean agreement, but it does mean transforming violent conflict or its possibility into peaceful co-existence and competition.”

The commitment to returning to the 0.7 per cent target was “like Augustine’s desire for chastity: welcome but not yet”, the Archbishop said. “People who are poorest must be dealt with generously,” for humanity, long-term security, and trade and development at home.

He described the increase in nuclear warheads as a “very serious and concerning step, but not nearly as serious as the commitment to increased deliberate ambiguity in the condition of the use of nuclear weapons and the absence of a stated commitment not to use them first. It is widely accepted that even for those who argue the moral case for having these weapons — a very contested point indeed — clarity of purpose is essential to deterrence. Ambiguity increases the risk of disastrous miscalculation.”

Finally, he said, the values described in the document should be founded on history and morality, not stated as isolated fact. “It is in this moral argument of the document that peace-making and peace-building is an afterthought. That seems a profound weakness of moral imagination when we are able to do so much, in a document that argues so persuasively for our soft power and our values-based interests.”

On Tuesday, during a debate on home affairs, justice, and culture, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that the boundaries between police-enforceable regulations and guidance had been “seriously blurred” during the pandemic.

He told peers: “I fear that the nine Peelian principles, which have shaped UK policing since 1829, are being eroded. Behind those principles, carved out in the years immediately after the Manchester Peterloo massacre of 1819, lies the central tenet that the power and authority of our police come from the consent of the public, not the power of the State.

“The will of the people cannot be collapsed into the ambitions and policies of the Government of the day, no matter what mandate or majority it may hold in the Lower House of this Parliament. Our police must never be turned from agents of the public into agents of the State, let alone the enforcers of mere ministerial policy.”

He also expressed gratitude for proposed legislation to ban conversion therapy for LGBT people (News, 16 April), but feared that “too much emphasis may be placed on the methods such so-called therapies employ. Good criminal law concentrates on the impact on the victim; scrutiny as to the traumatic impact of the particular techniques used by perpetrators is far better entrusted to the courts, which can carefully weigh up the evidence in each case rather than make it central to the legislation.”

Also on Tuesday, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, who is the Church’s lead bishop for prisons, raised the issue of women in the criminal-justice system and violence against women. She asked for a renewed timetable for the 2018 female-offender strategy and asked why more prison places were being created for women who should instead be in women’s centres, with their children, in the community.

On the Police, Crime, and Sentencing Bill (News, 12 March), she said: “The use of life sentences for younger offenders seems to undermine any chance of reform and redemption. . . Rather than policies’ being driven by evidence, it seems that they are driven by populist views and some headline cases.”

Evidence-based policy was also needed in the Online Safety Bill, she said. “I urge the Government to encourage more diverse representation in advertising and to ban, or at least restrict, the use of altered images.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, who is a board member for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, later welcomed the Online Safety Bill, but called for a timetable for its publication and implementation; communication with Ofsted should be accelerated if possible, he said. He also asked the Government to clarify its intention of dealing with age verification and access to pornography sites, which, he said, had been excluded from the draft Bill.

On Monday, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, used the debate on communities, welfare, transport, and environment to reiterate the need to pass his amendments to the Fire Safety Bill, mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, which would prevent leaseholders’ and tenants’ bearing the cost of replacing unsafe building cladding (News, 30 April). “This is a financial and a mental-health crisis that is growing worse every passing day that it is left unaddressed,” he said.

He hoped that the redress mentioned in the speech would feature in the revised Bill. “I would like to see some strong action from this Government.”

Finally, he supported proposals to update planning laws to ensure a “mandatory baseline” on all new homes that they were suitable for older people and people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair-users.

In the same debate on Monday, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, spoke of a need for national and global responses to climate change: “Our planet and its ecosystems are delicate. Each organism has a valuable role and purpose. As Covid-19 has so painfully revealed, we cannot continue to violate this symbiotic community with impunity.”

Legislation was vital to keeping the global temperature beneath 1.5º, she said. She welcomed the forthcoming Environment Bill, and the Climate and Ecology Emergency Bill. “However, to go to back to political symbiosis, what is really needed is a fundamental change of perspective. Rather than an environmental policy, we need every policy to be environmental.”

The Church of England, she said, which had promised to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 (News, 14 February 2020), needed to decarbonise all its heating, in its schools as elsewhere, and install solar panels and full LED lighting. “To develop that work nationally, I eagerly await the Government’s heating strategy to understand what help will be given to transition from fossil fuel-based systems.”

On Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, spoke during a debate on the strength of the Union, which featured in the Queen’s Speech. The Government’s promise to “level up” post-pandemic opportunities in the UK was about removing “those inequalities within our culture that prevent all people and communities from reaching their God-given potential and calling”, Bishop Henderson said.

This included bridging the north-south divide in England, he said. “Despite moves to share power and decision-making, Government is too London-centric and, as a result, appears and feels divorced from the economic, social, and political realities of life in other parts of the UK. This has led to the elevation of mayoral roles in some regions in England. Imaginative work is required to create unity within each of our four separate nations.”

Managing the repercussions of both the pandemic and Brexit was also a challenge. “The country needs a time of reflection and leaders who will create a desire for a consensus within our fragile Union about the way ahead — a leadership that serves.”

The diversity of the UK should be celebrated, he said. “On that basis, there is an argument for decisions about independence and devolution being taken by all parts and not just one.” Global challenges such as climate change were better faced as one Union, he argued. “As the UK, we can face some of these challenges in a devolved fashion, but we will have a far better chance of mitigating their impact if we co-operate and support each other.”

In the same debate, the former Anglican Archbishop of Armagh Lord Eames, who was a bishop in Northern Ireland for most of the period of the Troubles, referred to the indication in the Queen’s Speech that “Measures will be brought forward to strengthen devolved Government in Northern Ireland and address the legacy of the past.”

Devolution had been positive for Northern Ireland’s identity and stability as part of the UK, but had been “detrimental” in other ways, he said. “I have to say, with some degree of regret, that there is a widespread feeling in Northern Ireland at the moment that central government is somewhat removed from the realities of devolution.”

Lord Eames urged the Government to “take seriously the fact that there is much more to that relationship than simply structures. There has to be trust, collegiality and understanding.”

On the legacy of the Troubles, he said: “I will take to my grave my memories. . . I have lost count of the number of times that institutions, Ministers, and, indeed, Governments have come to say, ‘This is the answer to your legacy,’ and yet, a few days ago, a coroner announced that ten people shot during the Troubles were innocent — ten lives. . . Please think before you act.”

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