Law and religion round-up – 26th March

This week – a short time in politics…

…from the Letters Patent re: the Regency Act to a Ten Minute Rule Bill. 

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill 2022-23

The Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill 2022-23 was introduced in the House of Commons on 8 March and is scheduled to have its second reading on 17 April. A House of Commons Library Briefing will be published in time for the debate.

In a Written Ministerial Statement on 8 March, Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, outlined the scope of the Bill, which would inter alia “reform the way births and deaths are registered in England and Wales, enabling the move from a paper-based system to registration in an electronic register” – see Clauses 94 to 98.

Same Sex Marriage (Church of England) Bill

Ben Bradshaw’s application on 22 March under the Ten Minute Rule to bring in his Same Sex Marriage (Church of England) Bill -– a Bill “to enable clergy of the Church of England to conduct same-sex marriages on Church of England premises in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes” was successful. The bill was opposed by Andrew Selous, Second Church Estates Commissioner, who did not, however, seek to divide the House on Ben Bradshaw’s application.

The Bill has not yet been printed and it has been set down for second reading on 24 November – which is not a day on which the Commons is currently expected to sit. We will provide a link to the Bill when and if it is printed – but not all Ten Minute Rule bills are.

More 2021 Census data on religion

The Office for National Statistics has published Religion by housing, health, employment and education, England and Wales: Census 2021. There are four datasets:

COVID lssues

Last week marked three years since the start of the initial COVID lockdown on 23 March 2020, the impact of which was reflected in the following round-up post which, on word count, comprised 86% of the week’s issues of law and religion: Coronavirus Act 2020 and Regulations, E,W,S; closure of all Church of England buildings; attendance at funerals; church building maintenance; PCC Meetings.

Our last coverage of COVID was on 22 July 2022 when we posted the last of the Church of England guidance COVID-19 Opening and managing church buildings“, version 3.2.

The final official estimates of the prevalence of the virus – the ONS Covid Infection Survey – were published on 24 March 2023, although COVID-19 infections in the UK have climbed to their highest level since the beginning of the year. An estimated 1.5 million people in private households in England were likely to have had the virus in the week ending 13 March 2023.

Will the “Emergency Alert” disrupt Evensong?

On 19 March the Government launched “[a] new system that will give the Government and emergency services the capability to send an alert directly to mobile phones when there is a risk to life“. Emergency Alerts will appear on the home screens of mobile devices and a loud siren-like sound will be heard together with a vibration for up to 10 seconds. UK-wide Emergency Alerts services have been launched and are now in operation, and news that a test is planned for the “early evening of Sunday 23 April 2023” raised fears that some church services might be disrupted.  

However, that is not quite the full picture. The FAQs attached to the Government announcement indicate that the alerts only work on 4G and 5G phone networks widely used by smartphones. The alert may be avoided if: the device is turned off; it is in “airplane mode”; or the “severe alerts” and “extreme alerts’” options have been disabled in the phone’s settings. 

Update 27 March. Further clarification has been provided in Full Fact’s Emergency alert won’t ‘access personal data’

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