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Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind if I start by briefly expressing my thanks to you for your service in the Chair and wishing you all the very best for the future. You have been a source of encouragement and sound advice to many of us in the Scottish National party, and I have been particularly grateful for your support in my role as Chief Whip. Of course, for Scottish National party Members, staying at Westminster is not a long-term ambition, but the role that you have played and the reforms that you have introduced have certainly made our time here more tolerable.
As others have said, Mr Speaker, one of your most significant legacies and early decisions is the appointment of Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin as your chaplain. I remember as a younger, keener but casual observer of business in this place reading some of the coverage and criticisms of that appointment at that time, but, as you have previously said, Mr Speaker, those critics were wrong in every single respect.
From the start, SNP Members here have found that Rose brings a presence of welcome, comfort and reassurance. There are some who would question the value or relevance of starting the parliamentary day with Prayers, but of course participation is voluntary and, as the Leader of the House alluded to, I do not think that anyone, believer or non-believer, who has had the privilege of experiencing the prayers led by the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin could doubt their value. No matter how tense the day may be, no matter how important or portentous the business to come, her tone and eloquence at the start of each day have a levelling effect and remind us all that ultimately we are all equal—for believers, we are equal in the sight of God.
Prayers, especially in recent times, have provided some memorable moments, even if they have not always been visible to the public. The Rose’s choice of texts often matches with uncanny ability the occasion of the day and hits the right note. At the start of our proceedings on the historic Saturday sitting a couple of weeks ago, she began with St Paul:
“Do not be anxious”.
That was the moment that broke the ice, and chuckling could be heard across the Chamber.
By leading those prayers, Rose has ministered to the House collectively. Her presence in the Under Gallery, literally praying for us as we have taken part in some of the biggest and most historic votes of recent years, has not gone unnoticed. She has also ministered to many Members individually as a chaplain, especially at times when tragedy has struck Parliament and the House. She has also built strong ecumenical relations, forging, in particular, a firm bond with Canon Pat Browne He may officially be titled the Roman Catholic duty priest to the Houses of Parliament, but to the Catholic community in Westminster—and, I believe, to many others—he too is undoubtedly a chaplain, and early-day motion 71 congratulates him on his 10 years of service. He invited Rose to address us at mass in the crypt yesterday—it is, after all, the chapel of her chaplaincy—and her reflection was once again on that admonition to not be anxious but to trust in God. We hope that that is what she will do as she takes on the role of Bishop of Dover. Once again she is breaking down barriers and conventions, as she has done here in Westminster, and as you have done, Mr Speaker, in appointing her.
We will warmly welcome, in due course, Canon Tricia Hillas. She brings considerable experience of promoting diversity, inclusion and ecumenism, all of which means that we can have every confidence in her as a worthy successor to Rose.
Rose said to us last night that, although she was leaving this place, she would carry us in her heart and in her prayers. She can be assured that we will do the same for her, in ours. This morning, at Prayers, she invoked the priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you”.
Perhaps, in return, we can invoke the old Irish blessing:
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”