Bishop Steven speaks during the House of Lords debate on support for persecuted Christians around the world.

My Lords, may I too add my congratulations and appreciation to Baroness Foster for securing this important debate and for her comprehensive and moving survey and speech. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord Lord Carey and pay tribute to his considerable expertise in this area. I’m grateful to my colleague the Bishop of Winchester, formerly the Bishop of Truro, for a briefing in advance of this debate which I know he will follow closely.

As Baroness Foster set out so eloquently, the beginning of Holy Week is a fitting time to remember the persecution of Christians across the world and the costs of faith. This persecution been evident since the very  beginning of the Church. Even so it is sobering to reflect that according to Open Doors 365 million Christians face some sort of persecution worldwide, about one in seven of the global Christian population. I also note with other noble Lords the disproportionate consequences for women and girls.

We pay tribute today to the courage and perseverance for persecuted Christians faith and in turn appreciate the freedom of belief which is a feature of our own democracy. As the historian Tom Holland has argued recently in his powerful book Dominion, many of the core values of our society can be traced directly to our Christian heritage.

However this debate has a broader significance because freedom of religion or belief [FoRB] violations against anyone can be an important indicator of the state of human rights in any context globally. As the former UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB Heiner Bielefeldt says:

“Freedom of religion or belief has rightly been termed a “gateway” to other freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

An approach that guarantees (FoRB) for all, as advocated by the Truro Review, is the best way of addressing Christian persecution for two important reasons. First, singling out Christians inevitably ‘others’ them, increasing their vulnerability. It is also antithetical to the Christian faith itself to favour Christians over other faiths: Christianity puts no limit to its definition of who our neighbour is. So, it is wrong to argue for special treatment of persecuted Christians theologically. But secondly, it is also impossible to support persecuted Christians effectively without supporting the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) of all persons. That is because freedom of religion and belief is intertwined with other human rights and a matter of legally-binding international human rights obligations.

My Lords we need to note in this debate that we have seen a regrettable increase in islamophobia and antisemitism in the United Kingdom since the terrible October 7th attacks and the devastating conflict in Gaza. The work of faith leaders building bridges and strong relationships and understanding locally has been a vital part of the local response to event in Israel and Gaza in my own city and county and across the country. Religious freedom and tolerance needs to be nurtured and guarded nationally and locally.

The library briefing provides some estimates on the numbers of Christians persecuted globally. Estimating persecution is problematic and contentious for obvious reasons. A comment former UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB Asma Jahangir makes in relation to all FoRB statistics is very helpful here: “When I am asked which community is persecuted most, I always reply ‘human beings’”. Our responsibility is always to stand up for the world’s most vulnerable people wherever they may be found. Freedom of religion and belief is a foundation of human rights.

The Truro Review argued that FoRB should be front and centre in Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) policy. However, religious literacy in policy and diplomacy remains a significant challenge even though only religiously literate responses will be effective in addressing some of the world’s most serious instances of persecution in countries like Nigeria, India, Iran, Russia and China. What steps are the FCDO taking to build religious literacy across its work?

Fiona Bruce is sponsoring a private member’s bill in the other place the ‘International Freedom of Religion or Belief Bill 2023–24’ – which would establish an ‘office of the special envoy’ and require the prime minister to appoint someone to the role by law.

I very much hope this House will play its part by supporting the Private Member’s Bill to establish the Special Envoy post in law when my colleague the Bishop of Winchester brings it to the House in due course.

Finally, can I invite both the Minister and the opposition leads to tell this house what future strategies they intend to have in place to continue or enhance the role of the Special Envoy for FoRB and support for persecuted Christians globally?


The Lord Bishop of Oxford is part of a committee which has called on the Government to recharge its EV strategy, in a report on the UK’s transition to electric vehicles.

“The evidence we received shows the Government must do more to get people to adopt EVs. If it fails to heed our recommendations the UK won’t reap the significant benefits of better air quality and will lag in the slow lane for tackling climate change.”
Baroness Parminter, Chair of the inquiry

A House of Lords committee report, published this month, has warned that the Government needs to put its foot on the accelerator if the UK is to transition to Electric Vehicles (EVs) in time to meet net zero targets.

In its report; EV strategy: rapid recharge needed, the Environment and Climate Change Committee has warned that a combination of higher purchase costs, insufficient charging infrastructure and mixed messaging risks people not adopting EV cars.

Whilst welcoming the ZEV mandate on manufacturers, recent investment in the UK car manufacturing industry and initial support for local authorities, including the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund, the report calls on the Government to act much faster. This includes tackling the disparity in upfront costs between EVs and petrol and diesel cars and looking at targeted grants to incentivise the purchase of new electric cars.

After taking evidence from a wide range of witnesses and hearing from young people from across the UK, through its unique Youth Engagement Programme, the committee also calls on the Government to:

instil confidence in consumers by:

  • exploring options to incentivise second hand electric car sales, including developing a ‘battery health standard’;
  • reforming road tax to give a clear steer on future motoring costs;
  • equalising VAT for charging by reducing the 20% VAT rate applied to public charging, to 5% in line with domestic electricity;
  • communicating a positive vision of the EV transition to consumers, and promoting comprehensive, clear, and accurate information.

accelerate the rollout of the UK’s charging infrastructure by:

  • extending Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) funding for another three years;
  • consulting on offering a ‘right to charge’ for tenants and leaseholders in multi-occupancy buildings;
  • reviewing planning regulation to ensure that the rollout of EV infrastructure is not unduly delayed by out-dated regulation;
  • consulting on mandating workplaces with designated car parking spaces to install EV chargepoints.

support industry by:

  • further enhancing UK manufacturing and battery innovation;
  • accelerating investment in UK vehicle and battery recycling facilities.

Baroness Parminter, Chair of the inquiry said: “Surface transport is the UK’s highest emitting sector for CO2, with passenger cars responsible for over half those emissions. The evidence we received shows the Government must do more – and quickly – to get people to adopt EVs. If it fails to heed our recommendations the UK won’t reap the significant benefits of better air quality and will lag in the slow lane for tackling climate change.”

Following the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday 7 November, the House of Lords is debating the content of the King’s Speech over five days. The King’s Speech is written by the government. It sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session. On Monday 13 November the Bishop of Oxford

It is a privilege as ever to take part in the debate on this most gracious speech. I thank the Minister for his clear introduction and also pay tribute to Lord Gascoigne and the Bishop of Norwich for their gracious and eloquent maiden speeches. It is particularly good to welcome the Lord Bishop of Norwich to this House with, as he has demonstrated, his considerable expertise on the environment and climate change.

My Lords I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s ambition to build a better future for our children and grandchildren and deliver the change the country needs. But it seems to me, as to many, that so great are the challenges we face, that this and any government will need deeper humility combined with greater practical wisdom to lead the nation forward. I focus my remarks on my own two areas of focus in this House: the climate and artificial intelligence – both areas of existential risk in this and future decades.

On climate: I welcome the government’s restated determination to lead action on tackling climate change and diversity loss. As a member of your Lordships Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change I do recognise the complexity of a fair transition for the whole of our economy to net zero. But I do not yet see this determination translated into effective leadership of granular policy, whether that is in the transition to electric vehicles or decarbonising home heating or encouraging behaviour change.

The tone of the speech is that the world is more or less succeeding in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The opposite is of course the case. The years when we can avert future disasters are slipping away as Lord Stern has argued. I would say with respect to the noble Lord Lilley that much of the world is currently experiencing catastrophic effects of climate change as is well documented by the United Nations and others. We need greater leadership and co-ordination across every government department and an increased sense of urgency in this legislative programme.

And in particular I want to highlight the risks and dangers of politicising the climate change agenda which has been a feature of recent government announcements. Reaching net zero fairly demands the patient building of cross party and cross societal consensus which have been damaged by the recent changes on electric vehicle targets and by the decision to license yet more future oil and gas fields which are unlikely to come into production in time to support the essential and urgent transition we need.

Turning to Artificial Intelligence. I do want to congratulation the Prime Minister and the government on the recent AI Summit and all that has emerged from the discussions there. The Summit served to raise profile of the questions raised by AI and the ways in which the benefits of new technology can be realised and the mitigation of its potential harms. I welcome the promise of new legal frameworks for self driving vehicles, new competition rules for digital markets and the encouragement of innovation in machine learning.

However I do want to encourage the government to invest more deeply in dialogue with civil society about the impact of these new technologies. The recent summit claimed to involve civil society, but I have seen no evidence of this key third voice in the room. The government has entered into a rich dialogue between government and tech companies, which is welcome, but this dialogue must be informed by trade unions, academia, community groups and faith communities to build trust and confidence moving forward about the kind of society we are building.

So may I ask the minister in her response to indicate the ways in which the government will strengthen this third arm of the conversation in the coming months and years.

Young girl resting face on her hand and looking at a mobile phone which is lighting up her face.

The Bishop of Oxford, raises concern about online harms, powers, and disinformation in the second reading of the Online Harms Bill in the House of Lords.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions. Read his full speech given in the House of Lords on 20 November 2022.

My Lords

I appreciated the time given to this debate. We face many challenging issues but none is more serious than climate change and the environmental crisis. The context of our debate is the real prospect of global heating of more than 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century with escalating extreme weather events in the UK and across the world; rising sea levels; devastating fires and floods; significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure; wars over scarce resources; shifting patterns of harvest; increasing zoonotic diseases and a massive displacement of peoples as large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.

At the same time, the green economy offers genuine prospects for economic growth and diversity and the opportunity for global leadership. It is a privilege to be a member of your Lordships Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change under the able leadership of Baroness Parminter. Last week we published our first major report: In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals which I commend to the House. My questions to the government are largely based on the report’s findings.

To avert disaster in our lifetimes we need to reach net zero by 2050 or before. That means radical action in this decade and the next. The Committee agreed with the Committee for Climate Change that behaviour change is a key element in that journey: both the adoption of new technology and changing habits and practices around diet, transport, heating and consumption. Each of these behaviour changes has co-benefits. All of them have potential economic benefits. They are essential stepping stones on the path to net zero.

This government has given imaginative and committed leadership in the area of climate and the environment including at COP 26 through the COP President and in the recent Environment Bill. The government has acknowledged the need for behaviour change across the board: we all must play our part. It is good to see government commitments to behavour change summarised in the library briefing for this debate. To give just one example, the noble Lord the minister said in your Lordships house in September 2021:

“The government wanted to make it easier and more affordable for people to shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle while at the same time maintain freedom of choice and fairness’.

The Committee takes a similar view. We know that the public is looking for stronger leadership from the government in this area. 85% of the public are concerned or very concerned about climate change – double the number from 2016.

But the Committee found a very significant gap between what the government wants to do and the leadership which is being offered. There is a very significant gap in understanding the challenge from department to department. There is too little joined up thinking and policy. There are quick wins which are not being adopted. There are massive areas for development and leadership – particularly domestic heating which is the subject of our next enquiry. The leadership and committee structures are opaque. There is a lack of expertise and knowledge across government. There has been no real attempt at public information and engagement campaigns. The leadership debate over the summer has raised real questions around the new governments commitment to net zero which are being worked through even this week in the other place.

The report offers a set of recommendations to government in this area of leadership. Other speakers will no have other questions to the minister. Could I ask for reassurance that the government will take these concerns seriously and will put real energy and creativity around the process of supporting behaviour change into the future and as a matter of great urgency.

The Bishop of Oxford spoke in the debate on the Scrutiny Committee Report in the House of Lords on 25 Mary 2022.

The Bishop of Oxford spoke in a Second Reading of the Schools Bill in the House of Lords on Monday 23 May. Read the full text of his speech or watch on Bishop Steven’s Facebook page.

A debate on 11 May 2022 on the Queen’s Speech following the State Opening of Parliament considering the upcoming Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Words can be an immense blessing but, when amplified through social media, also weapons of mass destruction to people and societies.

The Age Assurance (Minimum Standards) Bill

The Age Assurance (Minimum Standards) Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday 19 November. The Bishop of Oxford spoke in support of the bill. Read the text of his speech, or watch on Bishop Steven’s Facebook page.

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and indeed every other noble Lord who has spoken in this debate. It has been extraordinary and very moving. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on securing this Second Reading and on her passionate and brilliant opening speech. With others, I thank and commend her for her tireless commitment to protecting children online. That she does so with such consistent grace and good humour, against the backdrop of glacially slow progress and revelations about both the variety and scale of harms to children, is no small achievement in itself.

One of my interests in this debate is the more than 280 church schools and the more than 50,000 children who are a precious part of my diocese of Oxford. A substantial proportion are at significant risk for want of this Bill. The primary responsibility of the Government is the protection of all their citizens and especially and particularly those unable to protect themselves. Future generations will, I think, look back on the first two decades of this century and our unregulated use of technology with deep pain and regret, as they reflect on the ways in which children are exposed to harmful material online, the damage which has followed, and will follow, and our tardiness in setting effective regulation in place. We will be judged in a similar way to those who exploited child labour in past generations.

Children are precious to God and to society, not as potential adults nor in the future tense but simply and completely in themselves. Each is of immense value. The evidence is clear that many are emerging from a digital childhood wounded and scarred in ways which are tragic but entirely preventable.

The Government make much of being pro-business in support of the emerging technologies of this fourth industrial revolution but, if they are equally serious about making the UK a safe country to be online, they really must do more to be pro-business in ways that protect children. Other noble Lords have movingly pointed out the many risks our children face whenever they venture online.

We now know with increasing certainty how it is not only other users, so-called bad actors, but many online service providers themselves—not least Facebook, or now Meta—that target children, their data extracted, their identities manipulated, their impulses exploited. It should be noted that many of these same service providers say they would welcome clear guidance and regulation from the Government, even while other businesses say they already possess the tools and opportunities to do this both safely and profitably.

The age-appropriate design code is a welcome and genuinely world-leading innovation, and the Government would do well to note—against the siren voices denying technical feasibility or fearing the balkanisation of the internet—that businesses, the service providers, have now found it easier to standardise their processes to the highest regulatory watermark globally in the interests of reducing costs and complexity. This bodes well for the principle-based and proportional approach to age verification that the Bill artfully encapsulates.

As others have asked, what possible reason can there be for further delay? If protecting children is good in and of itself; if business publicly expresses the need for clearer guidance on how to frame that protection; when business itself sees commercial opportunity in the tools for protection; when a regulator is now waiting in the wings; after government delay already threatens a lost generation—why is the Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, not being eagerly and urgently adopted by the Government themselves, if that is indeed the case? I hope we will hear good news today. I eagerly await the Minister’s answer.

Further reading

Watch Bishop Steven’s speech on his Facebook page