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Maiden Speech in the House of Lords

by Gerry Lynch last modified 03 Jun, 2015 02:20 PM

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the Lord Bishop of Salisbury, made his maiden speech as a Lord Spiritual on 2 June 2015.

My Lords, thank you for the warmth of your welcome and for the practical help and support given me, as to every new member, by the excellent officers and staff of this House. 

A number of your Lordships 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. I formed a mostly good view of my neighbours in Parliament. 

For example, Mr Robert Andrews was a homeless man who for 35 years spent the mornings in St Martin’s and his afternoons in the Central Lobby of Parliament hoping to petition HMQ 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 we knew about him. I was impressed how much people in Parliament cared for an isolated mentally ill person in ways that crossed social and political boundaries. 

Every parish priest and every bishop knows what it is to care for the whole of society. 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 society and adopt a one nation approach”. The success of this will be one of the measures by which the Government is judged. 

The role of 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 knew about climate change and were investing time and effort in a response to deforestation, soil erosion, drought and flooding. 

For over 40 years the Diocese of Salisbury has had strong links with the Anglican Church in the 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 national identity and what it also 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. 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’, that which strengthens us. Your Lordships might remember that in the Bayeux Tapestry Bishop Odo is depicted comforting his men, strengthening his men, by prodding them with a spear from behind! 

For the Church of England, I chair a Committee for Ministry with and among Deaf and Disabled People and 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 to give people a ‘hand up’. Sometimes we have a duty of care. This is particularly true for those who are disabled. Do the reforms strengthen people? A touchstone for legislation would be that 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 in the Fields, 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 high unemployment and saw profit as a good, both in the way it is produced as well as for the way the profit is used and distributed for the good of all. Geoffrey Brown’s vision continues to bear much fruit in that open 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 in the year as part of the 800th anniversary. Everyone agrees that Salisbury Cathedral’s is by far the best. Power has to be held to account by the rule of law. There is a compelling link between Magna Carta and the more modern tradition of human rights. 

My Lords, the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. The government emphasises the virtue of paying off our financial debts for the sake of future generations, it 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 UK. 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.

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