Bishop Helen-Ann speaks in House of Lords debate on Ukraine

First published on: 26th January 2024

On 26 January, Bishop Helen-Ann spoke in the House of Lords debate on the current situation in Ukraine, describing how global conflict is being felt directly by local communities. She spoke about the trauma of Ukrainian families here in the UK and asked whether the UK has the capability to fight an escalated war if it happens. Read the full speech below or watch above. 

My Lords, it is very good to be able to participate in this debate. I want to acknowledge the collective wisdom in this chamber and the contributions of noble Lords in the preceding speeches. I pay particulary tribute to the noble lord, Lord Camoys and congratulate him for his most excellent maiden speech and especially the reminder to look up and look out. I want also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed for bringing this debate today.

This is not the time for platitudes and what could be construed as naïve statements about hope. Evil and indeed illegal acts that lead to immense suffering demand decisive response. We know also that there is actual and potential for massive cultural damage in conflict, including the destruction of religious sites, and a clamping down on the freedom of religion and belief. These and other matters in the Ukraine war require continued engagement and response. Ukraine depends entirely on money and weaponry from the West and our support in this is vital. In these brief comments I want to focus on the local impact of this war and add my voice to those of other noble lords in asking some questions about the level of our own preparedness and planning.

My Lords, a Sunday parish visit to a community in the heart of rural Northumberland is not the first place you would expect to be confronted by the reality of the war in Ukraine, but this was my experience recently where during a Sunday parish visit, I met a Ukrainian family who are being supported by the local church community. Their trauma is real and ongoing. Inevitably, perhaps, when this trauma is being absorbed by local communities there are immediate pastoral concerns. A recent meeting of one of the networks of Homes for Ukraine in my diocese reported back to me uncertainty over the future of visas, many of which are only a year away from expiry with no information available about how and when these might be extended? The noble lady, Baroness Suttie has already raised this in her excellent speech. The visa issue is especially concerning as it is affecting young people doing public exams at the moment, who need to make decisions about further education for which they are required to have a valid 3-year visa status for the length of courses or apprenticeships from the outset. Comparability of qualifications is another issue affecting Ukrainians with occupational qualifications. Obtaining comparability statements is a key to them being able to get better employment, become less dependent on the state, but there are significant fees involved and this can act as a brake on progress. Another aspect of the visa issue is the additional anxiety for households due to landlords’ legal requirement to verify that tenants have the right to remain in the UK, as many private tenancies are for 12 months at a time. This will soon become a critical issue, potentially resulting in homelessness. I’d like to ask what action the Government is taking on these matters affecting Ukrainians who are being supported by many local communities right across the United Kingdom?

These local concerns, my Lords have brought home to me how global situations of conflict have direct impact on local communities. A word to describe this is, I believe: ‘glocal’. The glocalisation of conflict means it is impossible at a very local level not to take an active interest in matters not least when so many of our armed forces (and my Lords many of us have personal and family connections with the armed forces) are mobilising in Eastern Europe in preparation for further conflict. I note recent comments in the other place that we are moving from ‘a post-war to pre-war world’.

My Lords, my noble friend the Rt Revd Prelate the Bishop of Leeds recently spoke in this House about having an intention not to escalate conflict, but action taken can in fact have an escalatory effect even if that was not the intention. I think my Lords it is clear that the current system of global governance is struggling to meet the interlinked crises of our current age. What scenario planning is the Government undertaking at this time? What is our capability as the United Kingdom to fight an escalated war given that we are constantly hearing and indeed very recently hearing that there are insufficient resources? Do we have the capacity to maintain what we keep promising? Other noble lords have already raised this as a serious issue for consideration. What preparations are being made now for a future none of us want? Is the Government, and indeed in the climate of a likely General Election in the near future, the opposition party preparing now for an eventuality that includes assessing the impact of a change of political leadership in the United States of America and the impact that would potentially have on a Russian victory, a point just made by the noble lord, Lord McDonald of Salford? My Lords, Ukraine has to win, and be free to pursue its democratic path, but what if they don’t win? My Lords, I support the Government in its support of Ukraine, but these questions are not merely academic, they have immediate and longer-term implications and require active exploration and planning now.

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