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Tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 3:14 pm, 31st October 2019

I appreciate that you, Mr Speaker, are occasionally someone who believes in constructive iconoclasm. This is the sort of occasion when I say to myself, “Would it not be wonderful if, just for once, we could not sit as Robespierre demanded we sit in the revolutionary council, on the left and the right, but we all sat together, on one side or the other?” I say that because today we are not divided. We are not divided by politics, theology or religion; we are divided in no way. We are united by an extraordinary admiration for a truly remarkable woman. We have heard some extraordinary contributions. Everyone who has spoken related to Rose Hudson-Wilkin in their own particular and personal way. That is so typical of the henotic qualities of the woman: that she appealed to every one of us, from our different traditions, in so many different ways.

Some of the tributes that have been paid today have been emotional. Some of them have been stirring. Some of them have been hard to listen to. But in many ways, that was Rose’s ministry here in this place; sometimes she went when the words were difficult to say. When my mother died, Rose was an extraordinary source of comfort to me, and I think every one of us has had a similar story to tell. Patrick Grady was slightly censoring his comments when he gave that famous Irish blessing about the wind always being at your back and the road always rising up to meet you. I mention my late mother, God rest her soul, and I seem to remember that the last two lines of that blessing are:

“And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

I cannot imagine why my late mother, Dominica, felt it appropriate for me to learn that couplet, but she certainly did and, in the manner of education back in those days, she made me repeat it on a regular basis.

Slightly oddly, we have heard Rose described as the “Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin. As she ascends to the Episcopal purple, some of us refer to her as the “about to be bishop”. But whatever we call her, a Rose is just as sweet by any name, and what we have here is our Rose, be she bishop, prebendary, or canon. Be she whatever, she is our Rose Hudson-Wilkin and she is remarkable for that.

The horror of the murder of Keith Palmer was mentioned earlier. Many of us were in the House on that occasion, and many of us remember that Rose and Canon Pat Browne organised three different services on that very day, so that everyone could have the opportunity to make their peace with God and to find comfort and succour on that day. It was a truly remarkable occasion, and she rose to that occasion. I think you rose to that occasion too, Mr Speaker, as did the House. It is a tragedy that it took that appalling, cold-blooded murder of such a good man for us to come together, as we did in the memory of Jo Cox. We have had some terrible times in Parliament in the past decade, but we have also had some great, great times, and the terrible times have been mitigated by the love, warmth, illumination and prayer of Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

Last night, as my friend, the hon. Member for Glasgow North said, Rose concelebrated the holy mass in the Chapel underneath. The reading was from Romans, which has wonderful lines saying, “Don’t worry too much about praying because if you can’t find the words, God will give you the words. God will always find the words for your prayer. You don’t need to worry about getting the words right. You don’t even need to worry about getting them in the right order. You don’t even need to worry about your vocabulary or your enunciation. God will give you the words.” Rose Hudson-Wilkin always had the words; she always knew what to say, be it a short contribution or a long one.

It has been mentioned that Rose is not in her usual place in the Under-Gallery, where I have seen her sit many a time, shaking her head, almost imperceptibly, but sending us the message that says, “Oh dear, oh dear, what are you doing now?” and praying for us. I believe she is without at the present time, but close, and I like to think she will always be close to this place.

The former Bishop of London the Right Reverend and right hon. Richard Chartres and I were at school together. We have an arrangement whereby he does not say anything about what got up to and I reciprocate. We took different theological paths, but when it came time to appoint the next Bishop of London, I felt it appropriate to write to him to say, “I make no suggestion as to who the next bishop should be, but she should be a woman of colour, she should be a woman, her initials should be R. H. W. and if possible, she should come from Montego Bay. If you can find anyone who fits those criteria, I am sure she would make an excellent Bishop of London.” An excellent choice was made, and I am glad to say that Rose has found her bishopric down on the south coast—although I have to say that when Sir Roger Gale talked about hurling young boys into the foaming brine for some extraordinary marine sacrifice, I thought that perhaps a bit of exorcism might be appropriate in such places. Had Rose been appointed the Bishop of London, she would have broken not only another ceiling but a stained-glass ceiling. That is what Rose has done. She would have achieved so much by doing that.

I find Rose’s kindness, generosity, warmth and love remarkable—they are characteristics from which I draw strength—but let us not forget her intellect. She has a formidable intellect: she is a great Bible scholar and a great student of theology. From the discussions we had, perhaps from slightly different theological perspectives, I learned such a number of things from Rose. She is one of those people who believes that intelligence is like a fire to be lit and a brain is like a bucket to be filled. She actually wants to draw you out and discuss matters with you. She is a truly remarkable woman. I feel the need to head down to Dover just to keep in contact with her. Whether or not I transport myself corporeally down to Dover, all I know is that her prayers will be enveloping this building and this place, because she is part of our history and part of the culture that we have here, and we are the better for it.

This morning, during the tributes that were quite rightly paid to you, Mr Speaker, one thing we could not do was give any credit to your successor, because we do not know who your successor is—bookmakers appear to know, but that is entirely inappropriate to mention—but in the case of Rose we can mention my good friend Tricia Hillas. On behalf of all the community and congregation of St Barnabas Northolt, may I say what an excellent choice you have made, Mr Speaker? Despite an unfortunate predilection for Watford football club—I rather suspect she was attracted to Vicarage Road for theological reasons, rather than the lure of Troy Deeney—I must warn you, Mr Speaker, that when we come to meet Tricia Hillas, there will be dancing, singing and music, because Tricia Hillas can never stand still in one place from one minute to the next. We have talked about our different theological traditions—I tend to be with the late Monsignor Ronnie Knox, who felt that by and large enthusiasm was not a good thing and that we have a bit too much of it—but Trisha Hillas is an enthusiast. She is a marvellous pastor and will bring so much energy, courage, colour and excitement to this place.

I am, of course, backing away from the stage and the limelight, returning to well-merited obscurity—[Hon. Members: “What a shame!”] No, no; were it put to a vote, I think I would have left years ago. [Hon. Members: “Never!”] Well, I think there is precedent for holding a seated vote, or a standing vote—I forget which one is which—but let us not chance fate. I wish everyone who is standing in the election every success and happiness. I want Members to know two things for when the new House assembles and they meet Tricia Hillas. First, she is absolutely a woman of God to the marrow of her bones. She is a woman who will bring God’s blessing to this place. Secondly, it is almost impossible to imagine anyone following Rose Hudson-Wilkin, but believe you me, Mr Speaker, Tricia Hillas is going to come very, very close.

We are here to mention Tricia for the future, but for the present and for the future in Dover, let us remember for a moment how incredibly lucky every one of us has been to be touched by that extraordinary, joyous, joyful Christian woman Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Chaplain to the Speaker, a woman who has taught us all so very much.

There was a time when I was the mayor of Ealing, and I revived the old habit of appointing the mayoral chaplain, which had fallen into desuetude. I appointed Father Pat Foley, my parish priest. At the beginning of each council meeting, he would stand, look at all the councillors, look at them again and then cast his eyes up to heaven and pray for the Borough of Ealing.

I have to say that Rose has never ever stopped praying, not just for us poor parliamentarians, but for what we stand for—for our democracy, for our nation, for our community and, I hope, for a better, fairer and safer world. Rose has been an exemplar. She is going to Dover, but she is going with our prayers. Let us ask her to take with her our thanks, our gratitude, our respect and, if you will allow me, Sir, our love.