Maiden Speech from the Bishop of Winchester

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Bishop of WinchesterOn the 14th May 2013 the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin gave his maiden speech in the House of Lords. Following the convention of the House the Bishop spoke about his diocese and then addressed the debate covering his areas of interest education, social cohesion and agriculture.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the welcome that I have received in this House. Members, officials and staff have been most kind and I look forward to getting to know people better.

There is a delightful railway in Hampshire called the Watercress Line, which offers trips for tourists and steam enthusiasts. The line enabled watercress, freshly plucked from the beds in Alresford, to be transported to the morning markets of London. It is known for its challenging climb over the “Hampshire Alps”, which required much of the drover, stoker and engine. Sadly, the line no longer carries watercress and stops at Alton, long before London. Hampshire might now be thought of as a place for tourists to ride on steam engines that no longer connect with today’s modern world, yet the county that used to put iron in the diet and tang in the palate of Londoners still contributes to both the heritage and commercial life of the nation. Today, the equivalent of the Watercress Line is the A31-M3 corridor from Bournemouth to Basingstoke and then on into London, connecting along the way with Southampton and Winchester. From the sea to the city, the diocese of Winchester envelopes this corridor with farmland, scattered villages and small market towns. The city of Winchester claims to be the birthplace of the English nation. It is where Alfred put iron in the soul of the Anglo-Saxons, by building a new society based on Christian values and good administration. I believe that this vision of a society based on Christian values and good administration is not just heritage but has present currency. My predecessor as Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, was well known for his values-based advocacy across a range of issues. He remains much the same in retirement, although his activities have been restricted by a nasty stroke, from which he is making a steady recovery. I pass on his thanks for your prayers and best wishes. I know that he counted it a great privilege to participate in the work of this House, as, indeed, do I.

Prior to my coming to the diocese, I served as the general secretary of the Church Mission Society for 12 years. CMS is one of those Anglican mission societies that not only shared the gospel and planted the church around the world, but also laid the foundations for what we now call international development. Many schools, colleges, hospitals and agricultural and industrial training centres were established over its 200-year history. As I have visited these institutions across the world, in over 25 countries, I have been amazed by the vitality of the Christian faith and its contribution to the common good. Another former general secretary of CMS, John Taylor, also became the Bishop of Winchester. Like him, I come with hope and values generated by a truly global faith. Religion is a factor that we all have to take into account, even if we do not participate in religious communities ourselves. Values and spirituality really matter.

The diocese of Winchester has more than 100 Church of England schools; the Anglican University of Winchester, originally founded by the bishop as King Alfred’s College; plus hundreds of other schools, further education institutions and four more universities. The older tradition of education associated with Bishop Wykeham, Winchester College and New College, Oxford, gives depth to this dimension of diocesan life. I will be taking a keen interest in how the Government intend to further develop their schools-based and school-led approach to education, particularly the way in which higher education institutions contribute to this development.

Within the Anglican Communion is a network of old and new colleges and universities in which I have participated for a number of years and to which I contributed when working as a college principal based in Nairobi. The indication in the gracious Speech of changes in the national curriculum is also of great interest to me. Hampshire has a unique approach to religious education, which offers an excellent introduction to this crucial domain of social and international life. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education has very recently reported that apparently unconnected changes to qualifications, assessment and teacher education have had a negative impact on religious education. I urge the Department for Education to review the arrangements for RE in a parallel process to developing the national curriculum. The direction of travel in exam reform is welcome. The Church of England Board of Education stands ready to be fully involved in the revision of the RE GCSE and any new A-level in theology.

I shall also seek to contribute to our understanding of faith communities in the local life of our nations. Faith communities are those spaces that allow us to explore what it means to take equality and difference seriously. Increasingly, it is the question of social purpose, rather than just good social process, which will build our common life. Our pluralist society needs more than public rhetoric or agreed social processes if we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, says, to “build a home together”. It is in this endeavour that our values become clear. We need to articulate those values if we are to recover from an economic crisis that has challenged the basis of our commitment to the common good—a home built together.

The thrift of austerity needs to be matched by a determined compassion. The Treloar School and College near Alton, for children and students with disabilities, is like home, where many find a new social purpose. But it is also an eye-opener to the very difficult decisions that will be made up and down the country about the cost of caring. One way to articulate this is in terms of a social covenant in which we recognise each other’s humanity and our interdependence. A social covenant suggests that co-operation as well as competition is important for economic resilience. Our educational institutions need to prepare students for both co-operation and competition if we are to build societies that have social purpose.

Lastly, I shall be taking an interest in agriculture and the environment; 70% of the diocese is rural and thousands are employed in the challenging industry of farming. The basic need for food and our dependency on the environment have been highlighted to us in new ways as we contemplate food security and the long-term challenge of global warming. Food banks are as much a necessity in Hampshire as elsewhere, and the growing need to care for the environment is a Hampshire County Council priority. We may well be turning to our agricultural colleges, such as Sparsholt near Winchester, for more than basic training. Such institutions might become places for vision-casting for the future.

We need a new generation of those who understand the global trends of agriculture in relation to ecology. For this generation, co-operation will be as important as competition, as we all seek to preserve our common global future. At a simple level, this comes down to what we eat. Today, we celebrate St Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot. We are told that the text on his tomb says:

“Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters”.

I cast no aspersions on noble Lords, but I am among the meat-eaters. My daughter’s vegetarian diet is a daily challenge to reflect on sustainable food production.

I have the pleasure to live in a diocese that acts as a regional barometer for national life outside London, from the international language schools in Bournemouth to the container port in Southampton, then on to the historic city of Winchester and through to the entrepreneurial centre of Basingstoke. In this vibrant region, I serve Christ by serving others. In that spirit, I offer my service to the work and life of this House.

Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, there are some cultures that believe that good things come in threes. Those who subscribe to this view need look no further than today. We have had three maiden speeches—very different but all distinguished.

It is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, who will undoubtedly make a major contribution to our discussions here. He was born in east Africa of missionary parents and his early life was there. As he touched on briefly, he returned to east Africa and put in seven years’ service as a very distinguished principal of Carlile College, which taught not only theology but business studies as well. I think that we can expect quite a broad contribution from him.

He has pointed out those areas which he is particularly interested in contributing to in our House, but I would be surprised if his understanding of Africa and the developing world was not also an important aspect of that contribution. Certainly, Africa has played an increasing role in our discussions as a developing continent which has yet to realise its full potential. The right reverend Prelate has indicated that he will use his educational experience and his experience of his local situation in Hampshire and around Winchester to elevate our discussions of agriculture and related topics. We very much look forward to those contributions and are delighted to welcome him to this House.