On Easter Day, 20th April 2014, the Church of England Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield, will be merged to form a new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. The bishops of those former dioceses will no longer sit in Parliament as Lords Spiritual. Here – in the last of three parts – is a (very) brief history of the Bishops of Bradford as parliamentarians. Parts one (Ripon) & two (Wakefield) can be viewed here & here.
Part Three: The Bishops of Bradford
Since the formation of the Diocese of Bradford in 1920, there have been ten diocesan bishops of Bradford.
Perowne and Blunt
Its first bishop was Rt Rev Arthur Perowne, who served until his translation to Worcester in 1931. Bishop Perowne was born into a distinguished ecclesiastical family (his father John James Stewart Perowne, was also a Bishop of Worcester). Bishop Perowne was introduced to the House of Lords in November 1923, and whilst there is no record of him making any speeches in his eight years as a member, after his translation to Worcester he spoke in support of better regulation of clubs serving alcohol.The 2nd Bishop of Bradford, Rt Rev Alfred Blunt, joined the Lords in November 1939 and remained a member for 16 years until his resignation in 1955.
Bishop Blunt is probably best remembered for a speech he gave to his Diocesan Conference in December 1936, before he entered the House of Lords. In it he (unwittingly) exacerbated the abdication crisis of Edward VIII by referring to the importance of religious observance in the Coronation ceremony (and his views on the King’s attitude to it), though was thought by many to be referring to Mrs Simpson. Bishop Blunt later wrote, recorded in his biography,
“my part..has been absurdly exaggerated, and so completely misrepresented by the gossip columns of the Press and the current scandal-mongering of gutters and clubs alike“
(for more on the history of this, see here).
In contrast to his predecessor, Bishop Blunt was outspokenly political, writing in his Diocesan News in 1933
“Human society is organised on wrong principles; its guiding motives are self-seeking individualism and the dominance of money. God is a side issue in the life of very many“.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that
“He continued to prefer ministry in the slums and youth work to convocation or church assembly meetings. A member of the Christian Social Union since 1907, and a member of the Labour Party since the general strike (1926), Blunt paid unofficial visits to factories and preached widely on unemployment, presiding over clergy conferences on the subject in 1933. He told the diocesan conference in 1936 that ‘The Church must preach to the rich of the “deceitfulness of riches”’, arousing a chorus of protests from tory MPs…..when the Beveridge report was published in 1943, he urged the convocation of York to welcome it as a positive solution to problems of poverty and unemployment“
Perhaps not at home in the House of Lords, or because of increasing ill-health, he rarely spoke in the Chamber. In 1950 he was named by Lord Vansittart, alongside the Dean of Canterbury, in a debate on ‘Communist infiltration into the public service’ during which reference was made to an article in a pamphlet authored by Bishop Blunt, in which he had written “Communism in Russia is delivering the message of Christ.” Viscount Stansgate later defended Bishop Blunt in a debate on a point of order, during which the Bishop himself was able to set the record straight about his Christian Socialist principles and lack of continuing ties with the (now renamed) Society of Socialist Clergy and Ministers:
“I severed connection with them about three or four years ago… because the Society in its publications was trending towards that typical admiration of Soviet Russia which seems to me to be the greatest silliness of Left Wing opinion”
Archbishop Fisher also attended the debate and spoke in support of Bishop Blunt and freedom of speech.
Coggan, Parker & Hook
Bishop Blunt’s three immediate successors did not improve on his record for speaking in parliamentary debates. For the Rt Rev Donald Coggan, 3rd Bishop of Bradford (later to be better known as Archbishop of York, then Canterbury), his focus appeared to be elsewhere, as the ODNB records:
“During his time at Bradford, Coggan became increasingly active in national church life. For a time he was chairman of the liturgical commission (1960–64), and during these years he supervised the revision of the catechism and the psalter. He became a world vice-president of the United Bible Societies in 1957, an office which took him on strenuous world tours and kept him in touch with the arena of biblical scholarship for nearly twenty years. It was widely known that as Fisher was approaching his retirement at Canterbury, he favoured Coggan as his successor. He saw in him someone who could continue the considerable reforms to church law and administration which he himself had achieved. Coggan was invited to breakfast by the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, though no mention of appointments was made” [Ramsay went to Canterbury, Coggan to York].
Rt Rev Martin Parker was appointed to Bradford as successor to Bishop Coggan in 1961, where he stayed until his retirement in 1971. However, he appears to have remained a stranger to Parliament during that time.
Bishop Ross Hook, 5th Bishop of Bradford, began his first speech in the Lords in 1979 with an apology for having been silent in the House for the first four years of his membership. He chose a debate on immigration rules , drawing attention to what he saw as positive race relations between different communities in Bradford and West Yorkshire.
“at the risk of being monotonous, harmonious race relations only spring organically from person-to-person contact. That may seem simplistic, yet even in so great an area of concern, it is a powerful lever which in the end operates to influence the whole. For when there is such contact men and women are judged, not on their colour or on their culture, but on their worth as human beings.”
The speech was well received by participants in that debate and he followed it with another the next year questioning the effect of new immigration rules on the Asian communities in his diocese. Following his retirement in 1980 Bishop Hook became ‘Bishop at Lambeth’ (a Chief of Staff role) to Archbishop Runcie at Lambeth Palace. In its obituary of Bishop Hook The Independent noted that
“The fact that the office of Bishop at Lambeth is now an accepted post on the Archbishop’s staff, is due in no small measure to Hook …. His soundness of judgment as well as his refusal to be fussed or to appear as over- busy, meant that when he retired from Lambeth it was to everyone’s regret.”
Paul, Williamson & Smith
Rt Rev Geoffrey Paul sadly died in office after only two years as Bishop of Bradford and so was unable to join the Lords. A former missionary priest in India and Bishop of Hull, his daughter Jane married the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
His successor as the 7th Bishop of Bradford, Robert Williamson, entered the House of Lords in 1988 and made a number of significant contributions. His maiden speech was during a debate on Higher Education, during which he explained how he had left school at 14 and been educated at ‘the University of Life’. A Lord Spiritual who saw his role as speaking up for the people of his diocese in parliament, amongst other contributions in the House of Lords was a speech in a debate on Land Use, in which he spoke about the challenges of the decline in industry and the potential for redevelopment: “It is essential that cities such as Bradford have a coherent and comprehensive economic strategy.” He described the need to grow the facilities available to visitors in the Dales area of his diocese, without which economic viability would be hampered. Bishop Williamson spoke in favour of a 1989 Private Member’s Bill to make it harder to obtain an abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy and during the passage of the 1990 NHS and Community Care Bill. During the Gulf War with Iraq in 1991, the Bishop of Worcester made reference in a Lords debate to how “we must all take opportunities to be alongside moslem people in this country. Indeed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford is taking great trouble over this matter in his own diocese.” Bishop Williamson was translated in 1991 to become Bishop of Southwark.
Rt Rev David Smith, 8th Bishop of Bradford joined the House of Lords in 1997, and remained a Lord Spiritual until his retirement in 2002. Within those five years he made arguably the most impact of a Bishop of Bradford to the life and work of the House of Lords. His maiden speech, on the political situation in Sudan, focused on the need to think of the families trapped between the conflict
“we can articulate some of the anxieties of the people in between—that is a phrase worth pondering, ‘the people in between’ — the fighting whose main concern, indeed, whose whole concern, is simply that of survival.”
His second speech was made during the Lords Second Reading of the Labour Government’s first Social Security Bill in 1998, in which he expressed concern about the provisions for lone parents and on the general principle underpinning the reforms:
“To be effective means that one must have some underlying principles as to why one is going into the exercise and what difference it is going to make to the people on the receiving end. One will be judged as to one’s effectiveness not by how quickly it is done, but by how well those changes are effected. I believe that the principles are being published today. I hope that we shall have more put out about exactly why the exercise is necessary. Is it just a question of cost cutting?”
Baroness (Barbara) Castle of Blackburn later said “the best speech so far this afternoon came from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford when he asked (the Government): where is the vision? I ask: where is the concept? Where is the analysis?”
The Labour Government’s 1999 Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill came in for similar criticism from Bishop Smith at its Second Reading:
“We went to four of the most deprived areas in Bradford and Keighley, took the so-called great and the good of the area in politics and public life, including the bishop, and made them sit down for two hours without speaking a word, in order to listen to people who lived in those deprived areas saying: “This is what it’s like to live here”. Those people needed a lot of help to do that; they are not used to standing up and speaking for themselves. I ask the Minister this: who has sat down and listened to such people when creating a vision and seeking to construct the Bill? It is a foolish thing to ask, but we are dealing not with statistics and concepts such as the poor and the unemployed; we are dealing with human beings.”
Bishop Smith also spoke in the Lords on church schools, Christians in the Middle East, race relations (including a debate on the Parekh report on multiculturalism), child welfare, global poverty, and in the Queen’s Speech following the 2001 General Election raised concerns about the changing situation for farmers and the rural population.
In a Lords debate following the terrorist acts in the USA of 11th September 2011 he spoke of tensions in Bradford and between religious communities. Setting out proposals for how Government could improve community relations, he concluded:
“I believe that if Bradford and cities like it, which are multicultural, multiracial and multi-faith on any reckoning, can be encouraged to get all the communities together, committed to living in peace and justice, in harmony and tolerance, the county and beyond will feel the benefit. However, if we allow them to become seedbeds for youth discontent and disaffection, God help us.”
James and Baines
The Rt Rev David James, 9th Bishop of Bradford, was introduced to the House of Lords in 2009. Though he retired only a year later in July 2010, he used his brief time in parliament to speak on poverty, global affairs and community relations. Bishop James gave his maiden speech in a 2009 debate on the economy, on the need to “eradicate poverty and continue investing in our young people’s education.” He also made interventions on Sudan, asylum, child poverty and during the passage of the Equality Act 2010, including in support of an amendment on Catholic adoption agencies. His final speech, during the response to the 2010 /11 Queen Speech, he gave a warm welcome to the Coalition Government’s commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes.
As well as being a keen follower of Bradford football club, Bishop James was one of the first Bishops to read a speech in the House of Lords from an electronic hand-held device.
The 10th and last Bishop of Bradford is the Rt Rev Nick Baines. Although he will not have the opportunity to join the House of Lords as Bishop of Bradford, he will enter (likely later in 2014) in his new capacity as Bishop of Leeds, overseeing the newly created Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. A regular blogger and tweeter, he frequently writes and comments on contemporary political issues.