Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 2nd June 2015.

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Photo of The Bishop of Salisbury The Bishop of Salisbury Bishop 4:30 pm, 2nd June 2015

(Maiden Speech) My Lords, I thank your Lordships for the opportunity to participate in this debate, for the warmth of your welcome and for the practical help and support given to me, as to every new Member, by the excellent officers and staff of this House.

A number of noble Lords know that, before becoming Bishop of Salisbury in 2011, I was for 16 years the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, where, as a near neighbour to Parliament, I formed a mostly good view of it. For example, Mr Robert Andrews was a homeless man who for 35 years spent the morning in St Martin’s and the afternoon in the Central Lobby of Parliament hoping to petition Her Majesty the Queen about a matter of defence and national importance. He died on Christmas Day in 1997 in Piccadilly, having had lunch in the day centre at St Martin’s. Those present at his funeral, including about 70 from both Houses, with staff and officers, pieced his fractured life together by placing a flower in a vase and saying one thing that they knew about him. I was impressed by how much people in Parliament cared for an isolated mentally ill person in ways that crossed social and political boundaries.

Every parish priest and bishop knows what it is to care for the whole community. It is a great aim for the Government, as set out at the start of Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, to,

“legislate in the interests of everyone in our country”,


“adopt a one-nation approach”.

The success of that will be one of the measures by which the Government are judged.

The role of the Lords spiritual is distinctive and, we hope, helpful to the workings of this House. We are non-partisan in a political process. Our underlying concern is with the integration of beliefs and values that guide what we do, make our spirituality and animate us as human beings. We take the long view when the pressures are often to the short term.

Our society is not confident in handling matters of religion and belief, yet we live in a world in which 80% of people identify themselves as part of a religious group, 2.2 billion of them Christians. The church is local everywhere. Last week, I was part of a small delegation with Christian Aid to Malawi. There, the poorest experience the harsh effects of climate change, and were investing time and effort in a response to deforestation, soil erosion, drought and flooding. For more than 40 years, the diocese of Salisbury has had strong links with the Anglican Church in South Sudan and Sudan. They teach us what it is to live as neighbours in a fragile world.

In facing the big issues, the church has deep roots and can contribute particularly on matters to do with character, values and identity, which will be so vital in the debates about our national identity and what it is to be British, European and global citizens.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is that fire-like energy and life-giving breath or wind that animates people. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit gave communication to people of different languages, by which we find our place with one another under God —the very opposite of Babel. In John’s Gospel the spirit is also called the Paraclete, translated as “intercessor” and “advocate”. Every priest and bishop will want to be intercessor and advocate, especially for the poor, whose voice is not easily heard. The spirit is also the “comforter”—literally, that which strengthens us. Your Lordships might remember that in the Bayeux tapestry Bishop Odo is depicted comforting his men, strengthening his men, by pushing them with a spear from behind.

For the Church of England, I chair the Committee for Ministry of and Among Deaf and Disabled People, and I am the lead bishop on the environment. The need for welfare reform is widely accepted, but the spiritual as well as the practical test is whether the reforms comfort and strengthen people. Welfare is not always giving people a hand up; sometimes we have a duty of care. That is particularly true for those who are disabled. Do the reforms strengthen people? A touchstone for legislation would be the golden rule in all the world’s religions that we should do to others as we would have them do to us.

In response to the economic difficulties of the 1980s, my predecessor as vicar of St Martin’s, Canon Geoffrey Brown, who died last Thursday, established a business. He engaged the church with the world of work. It created employment at a time of unemployment and saw profit as something that can be good, both in the way it is produced and in the way it is used and distributed for the good of all. Geoffrey Brown’s vision continues to bear much fruit in that open and inclusive church: the spirit of good business is good for all.

Your Lordships may have seen the four original copies of Magna Carta when they were displayed in this House earlier this year as part of the 800th anniversary. Everyone agreed that Salisbury Cathedral’s is by far the best. Power has to be held to account by the rule of law—that is the main point of Magna Carta. However, there is also a compelling link between Magna Carta and the modern tradition of human rights—an important theme in our world and of this Parliament.

The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. The Government emphasise the virtue of paying off our financial debts for the sake of future generations. They must also remember that we are running at an ecological deficit that cannot be sustained. The issues connected with climate change are the greatest moral issues of our day. Like some others, I wonder about the potential of a green Magna Carta.

The journey through Paris and the UN climate change summit at the end of the year must further our commitment toward fair, ambitious, accountable and binding climate change agreements, nationally and internationally. By 2020, Scotland will be producing the equivalent of 100% renewable energy. Renewable energy, not just oil and fossil fuels, will be a key part of debates about the future of the United Kingdom. This will be a challenge to us English, whose need for energy will not be met without the determined commitment on the part of government, not just local communities, to renewable sources of energy, including wind.

Like bad King John, Bishop Odo did not leave a good reputation. Nevertheless, I look forward to comforting and strengthening the Government, like Bishop Odo comforting his troops, not with a spear but with a shepherd’s crook.