Love Matters (Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households Report)

Debate between Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Robathan
Friday 8th December 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the commission; it has produced an interesting and very detailed report. I will not say that I have read every word of the 238 pages, but I have read it and it is worth reading. I do not agree with every word, either. I am very sceptical about government interference, perhaps in a slightly different way from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. I am not involved in pugilistically admonishing civil servants; however, I do not think that government interference in personal lives is necessarily a good thing. It can be, but we should be very cautious about it.

I also very much enjoyed, as always, listening to the most reverend Primate. It saves me travelling to Canterbury—or wherever he gives them—to listen to his Sunday sermons; they are very good sermons, anyway. I was interested, for instance, to learn about hook-up culture. I had never heard of it before, but I got the gist pretty quickly, I think.

Turning to Love Matters, I was brought up on the authorised version of “faith, hope and charity” and “charity faileth not”. I am not a Greek scholar, so it may be that St Paul actually meant love, but I think love can be a rather debased word in our society. Anyway, we will stick with “love matters”. In the report, there is a lot of talk of other religions, of “Every Child Matters”, in chapter 6, and of singleness. It is all good stuff. I was single until I was 40—over half of my life, so I agree with that, too; and, of course, there is listening to children.

But I want to turn to what was not said in the report—here, I follow my noble friend Lady Stowell, who said it with much greater clarity than I shall express it. The Good Childhood Report, produced by the Children’s Society—which I think used to be the Church of England Children’s Society—

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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It still is, is it? But it does not call itself that. In the past, it has highlighted—the study ran for about a decade—how children want to be with both parents. I think it found that some 80% of children who were asked wanted to be with both parents. On page 77 the Love Matters report states that

“44 per cent of children did not live with both … parents … to the age of 17”.

The report also tells us that 50% of children in poverty live in single-parent households. Might I say, “Only connect”? There is a correlation here. I used to go to magistrates’ courts quite often. All too often, sadly, the defending counsel would say, “Poor Johnny came from a broken home”—as we used to call them; I do not know whether that is still the case. It was not everyone, of course, but there is an understanding that coming from a home where you do not have both parents is not the best solution. According to the Prison Reform Trust—again, this was a few years ago —76% of young men in prison in England and Wales had absent fathers.

So what is missing from the report? I suggest two things—and it is not to undermine the people who have put a great deal of hard work into it. The first is upholding marriage, as my noble friend Lady Stowell said. There are lots of people in all sorts of diverse relationships who bring up children brilliantly—but marriage is the best and I think that the Church of England should say that. My noble friend Lord Herbert made a moving contribution, quoting from a Supreme Court judge in the US about marriage. If you are brought up by married parents, you have a four times better chance of living with both parents until the age of 18 than those who are not.

Secondly, there is no mention of responsibility—especially the responsibilities of men, of fathers. A relationship may last one week, two years or 10 years, but it is all too often fathers who walk out, leaving mothers literally holding the baby.

There is no mention in the report of the reasons for overcrowding. Often, it is because families have more children—perhaps for cultural reasons—than our houses are designed to cope with. Our houses are not built to have six or eight children in them. I have to say that it is the same with child poverty. Most people restrict the number of children they have to those that they can afford—but if they have six or eight children, it becomes very difficult.

When the most reverend Primate, in his excellent speech, got into politics, I started to differ with him—I have to say that I am not surprised, because I note that 98% of votes cast by bishops in this Session have been against government policy, but it might be a surprise to the huge number of Conservatives who go to church. The leader of my church thinks there is a “moral case” for removing the two-child limit in benefits. Well, he could make that “moral case” to the majority of people who responsibly choose to restrict the size of their families to the number of children they can afford. I do not think that is in any way a difficult concept; most people will restrict the size of their family.

The report also talks about abuse in families. Again, if one goes to court, one will discover that abuse in families is very often by a man—it is typically a man, but not always—who is not married to his partner and beats her up. Of course, there is a lot of abuse in married families as well.

So, yes, we should be more forgiving and more understanding, but all of us have to be held responsible for our actions and the consequences of them. Above all—I go back to my first point—the Church of England should stand up for what may be considered old-fashioned values of individual responsibility and, above all, the conviction that marriage is best. So please—I say to my Church—say so; otherwise, to refer to St Paul in 1 Corinthians, I am afraid the trumpet is giving an uncertain sound.

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Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate and I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part. Given that I am sure everyone is anxiously awaiting the Answer to the PNQ, I will try not to take too long—the Minister is poised to leap up and give the Answer.

I am going to pick up just one or two points, but I want to thank all those who have contributed and all those who have been so kind about the commission— I am sure that it will find out about those kind words—and who have clearly read the report, or its summary, very carefully. It was described as “quietly explosive” by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. That is such a wonderful, Anglican expression. I felt my heart sing at the thought that the Church of England had discovered a way to be quietly explosive. It is such a very Anglican thing to be—we would not like to be noisily explosive any more than we would like to be enthusiastic.

I particularly want to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. I am one of those who was here when the equal marriage Act went through—I was very new in post at the time—and I remember the graciousness, and the care and attention that were paid, which ensured that it was absolutely undefeatable and unopposable. Even for those of us who did, it was put so well and done so carefully, with respect for all sides involved in the debate. It was a model for how that sort of controversial subject can be handled in Parliament. It is a good thing to remember that and to remember it with gratitude. In so doing, I say the same thing to the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, who played a very significant role in that.

Speaking of the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, I was grateful for his mention of the complexity of the Anglican Communion. I would like, just for the record, to make it clear that the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the Lambeth Conference of worldwide bishops and the Anglican Consultative Council have, on numerous occasions, emphasised their opposition to the criminalisation in any way of same-sex relationships, in the broad sense of the word, and to treating those who are lesbian, gay or transsexual in any way as “other”, condemning and opposing them. I re-emphasise my full agreement with the opposition to criminalisation. I am glad to say that, if you go back to 1967, you will find that my illustrious predecessor, Archbishop Ramsey, was one of those who led the campaign for decriminal-isation in this country.

I regret, as was made clear, the legislation in Uganda and in other places, where it was emphasised by colonial legislation. I also very strongly oppose the death penalty, and to combine the two is the worst of all possible worlds. I am not defending that legislation in any way, because I opposed it and I opposed it publicly, but it is certainly true to say that in that particular law, which I had to read, the “aggravated homosexuality”—not my words—includes, as far as I could see, only those things which are in this country criminal anyway, such as offences against children. However, that does not defend that law.

I will pick up on the comments about marriage, which are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, quite rightly raised it. In the full report there are 300 mentions of marriage and it comes in at number 5 of the key conclusions in the summary report. In one sense, there are a number of other things we did not mention, but it does not mean that we do not support them vigorously. Look at what the Church does as well as what it says. Day by day, from my own experience when I was parish priest doing preparation for marriage for couples and seeing the number of marriages increasing in my own parish—from eight to nearly 40 in my last year in that particular post—I would say that the Church shows its commitment in its active support for marriage.

On the issues around same-sex marriage, noble Lords will be relieved that I am not going to ride off on that hobby-horse, save to say that I appreciate the sympathy of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for trying to square that circle.

Marriage is extremely important, but it is not a magic wand. The figures show that domestic abuse happens as much within marriages, with step-parents, and, tragically, with grandparents and others—mainly men—involved in the family, as much as it does in other ways. That is one of the reasons the report carefully emphasises that marriage is of enormous importance, but it is not a panacea; it is not something that makes all life go well always. Children want both parents in their lives, but that is not always for the best if marriages are broken. That is my own experience. Yes, fathers must fulfil their responsibilities, but holding a marriage together is, tragically, not always the safest and best way for the children in the family.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, in a memorable speech quite rightly drew attention to the need to take care of the use of the word “family”. I hope we tried to do that sufficiently in the report. He also, quite rightly, raised the question of old age in the Church of England. Old age, as in your Lordships’ House, is something with which we are relatively familiar, given that the average age of Members is 69, or round about that—many of the Members of your Lordships’ House today would qualify for the youth groups in most of our churches.

The noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss—for some reason, I have written “Bishop Butler-Sloss” in my notes, which was slightly confusing me; but she is wearing purple—talked about the impact and importance of listening to children. That has to be one of the key ways in which, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham mentioned several times, we provide support. The support comes in listening. Holy Trinity Brompton’s marriage course is now used very effectively all over the world, and, for some time, was used in an adapted form as a compulsory run-up to marriage in three provinces in China for anyone wanting to get married—I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, feels that that is what Governments should intervene in, and make it all absolutely compulsory. It has made a huge difference: all our own children who have married, and many of my young colleagues at Lambeth Palace, have used the course. I will not repeat everything said by the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Gloucester or the Bishop of Chelmsford—save to say that I agreed with them entirely.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, commended the Positive Parenting Alliance. I emphasise that and thank her for mentioning the Reverend Clive Potter. It is typical of what happens in most marriages, most of the time, in this country. You could get rid of the House of Bishops tomorrow and it would be years before anyone noticed the difference, but if you got rid of parish priests, the whole thing would collapse overnight.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, alluded to the role of grandparents—I agree entirely on that—and the importance of multigenerational families. That is especially important to encourage, because it is a great source of resilience that tackles the problem of isolation, which is why we must take the concept of families in the widest sense.

We heard a marvellous passing comment—I cannot quite remember who from—on the old chestnut about bishops always voting against this Government.

Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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I know—I was being tactful.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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You can be honest.

Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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Yes, noble Lords will find that we did the same thing with the Labour Government—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will remember it well. It is just a general principle; we sit on these Benches. It is nothing new and it will not change in the future. It is, of course, a misuse of statistics. We supported the Government in stopping the Illegal Migration Act being voted out, and on the Brexit Act after the referendum—if I had picked that Session, it would have been 90% the other way. It all goes to show that statistics have their uses but not always their illuminations.

The two-parent limit is a serious point. The Minister and I know that we will disagree on this. The point about it—this is why it is not a political comment in the sense of a cheap, low comment—is that it penalises children for what happens to the parents. That is the wrong thing to do. If a child who is born happens to be the third child, even if it is because the parents have irresponsibly not thought about their budget before making love—I am sure noble Lords always think about their budget in those circumstances—it is not right to penalise that resulting child.

A family may have four children when their circumstances are good and then face a disability or illness. These things happen. That is why we raised the moral question of whether it is right to penalise the children even if one agrees—which I do not always; in fact, I do so very seldom—that the parents have been irresponsible. The parents may have paid their taxes and their NI for years and, at the moment of need, as Beveridge encouraged, they look for social security.

I was particularly struck by the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Addington. He was looking for how to describe a collection of bishops. There are many descriptions I could use, but I am informed that the technical phrase is “a psalter of bishops”. If I am wrong, I apologise to the House—I have never used that one. I thought particularly about his comment—as he said, he has used it before—that to be a successful disabled child, you need to choose your parents carefully.

Family support is important in disability. It saves the state more money than we can begin to imagine. It always has and always will. We have a child with learning difficulties; do we look after her—she looks after us, in many ways—and care for her because we are paid? Of course we do not; we care for her because we love her. Even in our family, with excellent education and lots of experience, navigating the benefits system is really tough. I commend that thought to the Minister.

Just before he goes, because I could not miss this, I thought that the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, was one of the most outstanding of this debate. It was just wonderful—and short. It was shorter than mine.

UK Asylum and Refugee Policy

Debate between Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Robathan
Friday 9th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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My Lords, keeping to my sense of compassion, I shall have compassion on the train of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and do my very best to be as brief as possible. I will write where I do not answer questions——but probably not until after Christmas. I have higher claims.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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Why, what is going on?

Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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Not a lot.

First, I thank noble Lords for their extraordinary contributions. I cannot refer to all of them because so many of them were so excellent. This has been a remarkable debate; I am very grateful. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sahota, the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. They all contributed remarkably from their experience and have demonstrated the reasons why they are in this House. I thank them.

Secondly, I am not going to mention 90th birthdays—oh, I just have. I was not going to mention birthdays, which come round increasingly frequently, but I must say that I sat in awe listening to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I am sure that that is true for the entire House. His moral authority vastly exceeds that of anyone else here, going right back to the Kindertransport. It has been a privilege for me—and, I am sure, for everyone else here—to engage with him on this subject.

As the Minister rightly said, this is a very emotive and difficult subject. I am just going to throw out a few headlines. I had this issue in an earlier draft but I, or one of my advisers, took it out; I am now going to annoy them by putting it back in. I just wonder, in view of the level of difficulty of this subject and its immense importance—numerous noble Lords have emphasised this very strongly—whether it would not make more sense to have a separate department for immigration. It could focus on this issue rather than having it fall within the complexities of the Home Office, which, as we know, is one of the most difficult offices to lead.

That leads me to say that, in listening to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, I felt a great deal of sympathy. It is a new and complex system that is being looked at. It is under serious strain, as he said. However, I say to him that affirmation is not evidence. He made a number of affirmations about what would be done, what has been done and what is being done but, certainly, other noble Lords tried hard to go for evidence. In letters that are written, it is important that we look at that.

I sympathise with his legal difficulties. Anyone in the Church of England would sympathise with people’s legal difficulties. I have just had a clergy discipline measure against me dismissed, thankfully. It was for not recognising a particular claimant who said that he was the living incarnation of the Lord God—I had ignored him more than 1,000 times and therefore should be dismissed from my post. In a totally strait-laced judgment after some months, the relevant judge dismissed the claim. Regarding his comment about the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury disagreeing with each other, there is nothing new about that. It is different from the iron discipline of the Conservative Cabinet, but we suffer what we must—the poor most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, in particular.

I am very nervous about venturing into economics but, with the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Desai, I will dance into the minefield. My days in the oil industry were a long time ago. Maybe economics have changed since then, but it was said that the lowest-cost producer would always survive—there is such a thing as a law of supply and demand. If we have safe and legal routes, we automatically become the lowest-cost producer. That by itself will completely undermine the business model of the people smugglers. I throw that out as probably a wrong answer, but I do my best.

The Minister did not answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, about the assessment by the Foreign Office and others of what is going on in Rwanda. He said other things about Rwanda, but did not answer that question. It would be useful if he could write with an answer to the very clear question on why the Government’s assessment is so different from that of their professional Foreign Office advisers. We need some answers on that.

I agree with noble Lords who made a very strong and clear argument that we need to talk about asylum as distinct from migration. They are very different things. Asylum happens because of what happens elsewhere; migration happens because of what we choose to happen—around students, for instance, since most places do not confuse the two in quite the same way. Whether we allow or even encourage—even possibly compel—people in appropriate positions to take employment while they are waiting for claims is a question that, again, I do not think was answered. It was put forward by a large number of noble Lords and is extremely important.

I agree very much with the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Ludford, that I was wrong to suggest that we need to replace the 1951 refugee convention. We need a new convention and to keep the 1951 refugee convention. The point on that is very powerful. It was an error on my part.

I return, if I may, to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I sort of use my hotline to God, as he referred to it, but I regret to say that I appear to have been disconnected for not having paid the bill. All that I got when I pressed button 3 was a long recorded message, so I went back to the Bible. It may seem unusual but in fact, during my first speech and that of the other Members of this Bench, we all quoted only the Bible and no other form of hotline. So, who is my neighbour? We can answer the question by saying “Everyone is my neighbour, but it is not a logical consequence that everyone must come here”. The logical consequence is that we need to do all that we can to ensure that those who are suffering find their suffering reduced. That may well not include bringing them to a different country from the one in which they grew up.

My long experience of over 20 years in conflict zones, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is that almost no one wants to be a refugee. They want to stay at home and build their country, as we do. They love the United Kingdom but not all of them want to stay here. We can see that when, thanks to the good work of the Home Office last summer, we had almost 700 Anglican Communion bishops from 162 countries coming here, with much help, and not one of them overstayed. Many of them live in war zones; most of them are never paid but live off the money they get from tilling some ground, while working under enormous personal risk, in intense poverty and much danger.

“Who is my neighbour?” is dealt with not only by asylum but by stabilisation—it is a great pity that the Government have almost abolished the stabilisation unit in the FCDO—by development, and by creating hope locally by addressing the kind of awful and heart-breaking situation spoken of by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. That is what stops people coming.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned the upcoming Nigerian election. I am not going to develop that theme but I entirely agree with her and have spoken recently to the Foreign Office about it.

I will answer the particular questions of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, by letter if I may, because they are not all directly connected with this service—sorry, this place; I do have a lot of carol services. To pick up the question asked by him and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—it may not have been him—about what we are doing to increase attendance at churches, we are working extremely hard. Yesterday evening, we had more than 100 people in my chapel to hear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am very glad that there are atheists here in such profusion because it gives them a chance to hear that, and they might just be converted. You never know, but I do not think so—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. We will see in our post-retirement existence whether we exist or not.

Finally, in my last minute I will talk about the Policy Exchange. The Policy Exchange document is interesting and is certainly worth reading; I commend it to the House. I do not agree with it any more than I agreed with an earlier Policy Exchange document which suggested that the best way to deal with levelling up in the north—particularly the city of Liverpool, where I was living at the time—was to move the entire population of Liverpool to Cambridge. That was in 2008. That was not very popular in Liverpool; I did not consult those in Cambridge. Policy Exchange has a valuable function in provoking ideas, but not always quite as a valuable a function in solving problems.

Once again, I thank noble Lords across the whole House for a remarkable debate and a huge number of wise ideas, which I will be going through; we will no doubt consider them at great length within the Church. With that, I wish noble Lords a good weekend and thank them very much.