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(Valedictory Speech) My Lords, one of my few really painful regrets is that I have not spent more time in your Lordships’ House, not least because of all the characters that one meets along these corridors. I remember that the first time I had a sandwich lunch here, I found myself sitting between one Peer who had just made a killing in his Bond Street gallery and another who had been in trade unions all his working life. It was wonderful to hear the conversation between them. So, before addressing the debate, I want to give my thanks to the officers and staff of the House, who have been so supportive during my time in your Lordships’ House.
As noble Lords know, Bishops sit not as Peers but as Lords spiritual and our position is ex officio. When we retire from our office, we also retire from this House. My own time to withdraw will be at the end of this month, so this is likely to be my final contribution from these Benches. Like all on these Benches, I have greatly appreciated the opportunity that it has provided to take part in debates on issues of great national and international importance. I have enjoyed the tussles and I have been astounded by the courtesy of so many Ministers, who have left no stone unturned to try to find an answer to the questions that I have had or the comments that I have made.
Since King Charles II’s time, the number of Lords spiritual allowed to sit in this chamber has been capped by statute at 26. It is an arrangement that ensures that there is a steady turnover on these Benches and that, over time, each part of the nation that the Church of England serves has a voice and a presence in this House. The question of the size of the House is back at the forefront of the debate on Lords reform. This Bench has worked for so long with the principle of an upper cap; it is something that others may want to consider.
Bishops have been Members of this House for as long as it has existed, apart from a brief period under Oliver Cromwell, and until the Reformation the majority of Lord Chancellors were also Lords spiritual. We take our modest, modern-day role seriously as part of our general vocation towards service to the nation. It is often said—indeed, it has been said already today—that, when it comes to governance and reform, our country is fonder of evolution than revolution. The same could be said for your Lordships’ House. In response to pressing need, steady and incremental changes have been made, and they have ensured that this House has kept itself equal to the task of revision and scrutiny so vital to its function.
We have in recent years been preoccupied with the size of the parties in this House, and rightly so. As a more or less neutral observer, it appears to me that this House is at its best when neither Her Majesty’s Government nor her loyal Opposition have large overall majorities. Proper, detailed, expert scrutiny, debate and discussion is what this Chamber thrives on. In that regard, it is essential that Cross-Bench and independent Peers remain a significant presence in this House to hold the balance and to ensure that all sides work together for the good of all.
Whatever the future holds for this House, it has been a great privilege to serve the people of Staffordshire, Shropshire and the Black Country, as well as being the 98th Bishop of Lichfield. I expect that the seat I vacate on these Benches towards the end of the month will be occupied by the new Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman. She will become the second female Lord spiritual to join your Lordships’ House. I wish both her and the new Bishop of Gloucester well in their roles here. As I have, I am sure that they will find the opportunity to serve in this way an enriching and rewarding experience. I give you my thanks.