Bishop of Gloucester gives Maiden Speech on International Women’s Day

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On the 7th March 2016, Baroness Williams of Trafford led a debate in the House of Lords, “that this House takes note of the progress made in the United Kingdom in the areas of women’s representation and empowerment 150 years after the 1866 petition to the House of Commons for women’s suffrage.” During the debate, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, gave her maiden speech, becoming the first female bishop in history to speak in the House of Lords.


Bishop of Gloucester 10The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords,

“This is a maiden speech, my Lords, and I would crave your indulgence”.

So began the maiden speech in November 1958 of Baroness Elliot of Harwood, the first female Peer to speak in this House. She went on to say,

“except for Her Majesty’s gracious Opening of Parliament, probably this is the first occasion in 900 years that the voice of a woman has been heard in the deliberations of this House”.—[Official Report, 4/11/1958; col. 161.]

I cannot make that claim but it certainly feels poignant to be participating in this particular debate as the first female bishop to be introduced as a Lord Spiritual. It is on that note that I thank noble Lords for the overwhelming warmth of their welcome, and for the most practical support that I have received from officers and staff.

I began my professional life in the NHS as a speech and language therapist. I am mindful that as soon as I started work, that profession was in the spotlight in the context of the Equal Pay Act. The legal claim was that speech and language therapists, who were predominantly women, were doing work of equal value to that of male clinical psychologists. That action was eventually settled successfully in the European Court of Justice. My work with children and families as a speech and language therapist fuelled my interest in communication, relationship and connectedness. Together these are a powerful key to understanding and interpreting what it means to be human and made in the image of God.

Bishop of GloucesterMy call to ordination was not something I welcomed, but I knew that as a follower of Jesus Christ this was about saying yes to an ongoing journey of becoming the woman I was called to be. In the early 1990s women could not be priests in the Church of England, and so when I went to theological college in Oxford I never imagined that one day I might be called to be a bishop. While there, it became possible for women to be priested. When the very first women were ordained as priests here in England in 1994, I was abroad on a placement in South Africa, just as that country was leading up to its first post-apartheid elections. This was another pivotal time in my desire for all people, irrespective of colour or gender, to flourish fully. All this is connected to my abiding interest in conflict resolution and how people stand together in places of difference. In a world of diversity, including gender, conflict will always be part of everyday life, and we need to learn to live it well. What we see across our world is that people are threatened by “the other”.

Over the years, I added my voice to the debate to enable the consecration of women to the episcopate, and my starting point was always the firm conviction that all people are created equal in the image of God and called to use their gifts to the glory of God and for the flourishing of all people.

Bishop of Gloucester 5I am conscious that part of my responsibility in this maiden speech is to give your Lordships a snapshot of the diocese in which I serve. Prior to becoming a bishop, I had spent my entire ministry in London, latterly in the wonderful boroughs of Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets. It was therefore a great surprise, and somewhat daunting, to be appointed Bishop of Gloucester last year, and extremely humbling to become the first female diocesan bishop.

The diocese reaches into counties around Gloucestershire—from Warwickshire in the north, down to Chipping Sodbury in south Gloucestershire. The Forest of Dean forms the western part of the diocese, and to the east the Cotswolds deanery runs into Oxfordshire. In my first six months I have discovered what a wonderfully diverse diocese it is: urban areas, market towns, rural villages, areas of outstanding national beauty and areas crying out for regeneration. There is great affluence and significant poverty. The diocese has a glorious cathedral and almost 400 churches. We have chaplains serving in schools, prisons and hospitals, and many clergy and lay people working together in both traditional and pioneering ways to share the transforming hope and love of Jesus Christ among an ever-growing population. It is predicted that by 2031 there will be over 30,000 new houses in the diocese.

It is in that context of the old and the new that the church is seeking to connect with people’s hopes and needs across the diverse range of communities, working alongside other Christian denominations, people of no faith and people of faiths other than Christian. There are food banks, debt advice centres, work with children and families, youth projects, lunch and breakfast clubs, work with refugees and asylum seekers, and lots of connection with art, music and sport in a part of England which hosts numerous festivals, shows and sporting events.

Bishop of Gloucester 8I am particularly excited by the huge contribution made to human flourishing through the work of 116 church schools, which are there for everyone. I also want to mention those within the diocese who serve the common good in ways to keep us safe—among them NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and GCHQ in Cheltenham, whose work began at Bletchley Park, where of course 75% of the code-breaking workforce during World War II were women.

While most of the famous filming in the diocese has revolved around male characters, including Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown and Harry Potter, I realise that I live in the only county where the lord lieutenant, high sheriff, bishop and chief constable will soon all be women—something that perhaps seemed impossible in 1866.

However, International Women’s Day is about not gender competition but gender parity: women and men, and girls and boys, being of equal value and enabled to fulfil their potential. It is for this very reason that I have chosen to spend much of Holy Week in Eastwood Park women’s prison, and it is the reason why I am committed to supporting the work and campaigns of those who seek to engage with the unequal treatment of women across the world. The Gloucestershire online pupil survey has enabled us to listen to the voice of young people. It is concerning that over the past 10 years more young people report not feeling confident about the future, with girls feeling less confident than boys. Such findings are reflected in other national reports, such as those of the Children’s Society. International Women’s Day reminds us that we have much yet to do together to work for the flourishing and valuing of women worldwide as well as in the UK.

Bishop of Gloucester 2Lady Elliot said in her maiden speech that she would,

“try to set a precedent and be short and to the point”—[Official Report, 4/11/1958; col. 161.]

In this I fear I may have failed, but I hope that my words may have enabled us further to take note of the progress made in the UK in women’s representation and empowerment. I thank noble Lords once again for their very warm welcome.


Other members paid tribute. Extracts below:

Baroness Northover (LD): It is extraordinarily appropriate that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who has broken through the church’s glass ceiling, has chosen to give her maiden speech in this debate. We now have two women on the Bishops’ Benches, but let us not forget that we have 23 men.


 

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Con): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester follows me in this debate, and what a great pleasure it is for us all to welcome her here. I talked this morning to my mother, now 91, who was married in 1952 by one of the right reverend Prelate’s predecessors, CS Woodward. I suspect that he would have been astonished to see her sitting here, but I hope that he would have been pleased. We very much look forward to hearing her voice today and in future.


 

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, it is a distinct pleasure and privilege to follow the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. It was historic and excellent in every way. I was struck by her career prior to ordination and the fact that she had worked in the National Health Service as a speech and language therapist—a vital role. I understand that during that period of her life she developed a concern for and deep commitment to ensuring that people’s voices were heard. I have no doubt, following her remarkable maiden speech, that in the years to come the people of Gloucester and, more broadly, our fellow citizens in this great country will have their voices heard very well and effectively through the contributions of the right reverend Prelate in your Lordships’ House.


 

Baroness Corston (Lab):  I also want to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on her splendid maiden speech. I am one of the few Members of your Lordships’ House who lives in her diocese, and I am proud of that fact.


 

Baroness Mone (Con) (Maiden Speech):  It is an honour to be making my speech alongside the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and I congratulate her on a brilliant and historic maiden speech.


 

Lord Fowler (Con):  I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on her outstanding speech—the first woman bishop to speak in this House. My noble friend has already paid her tribute and my only question, having listened to her, would be: why has it taken so long for a woman bishop to get here?…

The position of women with HIV has to rise further up the agenda. It means people in this country trying to take a lead even when we are not directly affected. For example, all efforts should be directed at ending the criminalisation of homosexuality because it has a direct read-across on the position of women generally, not just gay women. Where Governments have such laws, they make an explicit statement that prejudice, discrimination and stigma are all to be tolerated. I was encouraged to hear the right reverend Prelate’s comments on that and I hope that the churches will take a leading role.


 

Lord Cashman (Lab):  I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, on her excellent maiden speech, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on hers. Interestingly, we share something in common. The noble Baroness, Lady Mone, was born in the east end of Glasgow and I was born in the East End of London, where my first job was working in a shop at the age of seven standing on a beer crate so that I could see the customers on the other side. Unlike the noble Baroness, I did not work my way up in the business field. Of course, the right reverend Prelate also worked in and saw the beauty of the East End and its amazing people. I congratulate them both on their maiden speeches.


 

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to take part in today’s debate and to have listened to the excellent maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Baroness, Lady Mone. I too have things in common with them. I was raised in a religious household, albeit of a different variety from that of the right reverend Prelate, and I worked in a greengrocer’s when I was at school. Indeed, there was a time when I could weigh perfectly a pound of vegetables in my hand. Like them, I never thought that I would end up as a Member of your Lordships’ House. That I did is owed in part to visionary people like John Stuart Mill and William Beveridge who believed in women’s place in society and did what they could to encourage our involvement in it. I look forward very much to working with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness to make sure that, now that we are here, lots of other women benefit as we did from such efforts.


 

Lord Patel (CB): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, on their brilliant speeches. They are obviously women of ability and talent, and are great communicators. I look forward to hearing them more.


 

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on her excellent maiden speech. How good it sounds to say “her” maiden speech.


 

Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill (Lab): My Lords, I, too, offer congratulations to the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, on their excellent and inspiring speeches.


 

Lord Loomba (LD): My Lords, I start by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the first female Bishop in this House, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, on their brilliant and interesting speeches.


 

Baroness Tonge (Ind LD): My Lords, I add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, although they are not in their places, on two sparkling speeches—not just sparkling but interesting and fascinating. I admired them very much.


 

Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl): I add my warmest regards to the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Mone, on their remarkable contributions.


 

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Lab): This year’s debate was made all the more rich by the two maiden speeches. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester made a wonderful speech, not just in terms of its content but through her compassion and conviction, which are so important in this Chamber. I look forward very much to her future contributions, but would just ask people to reflect on why the dickens it took us so long.


 

Baroness Newlove (Con): My Lords, I am privileged to speak in this debate today. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Mone.


 

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD):  I join others in praising the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I had not realised that we have something in common: we may have grown up in very different religious backgrounds but I, too, cut my political teeth in community work in Hackney and Islington. Indeed, I went to school in Hackney and grew up there so our paths may have crossed. It was very interesting to hear about her life experience and the journey that brought her here. I look forward to more contributions from her.


 

Baroness Gale (Lab):  On 4 November 1958, history was made when Baroness Elliot of Harwood became the first woman Peer to speak in the House of Lords, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned in her maiden speech. I raise this because in her maiden speech Baroness Elliott said she was very conscious that,

“except for Her Majesty’s gracious Opening of Parliament, probably this is the first occasion in 900 years that the voice of a woman has been heard in the deliberations of this House”.—[Official Report, 4/11/1958; col. 161.]

So how appropriate it is that tonight, 58 years after the first woman Peer to speak in your Lordships’ house, we have witnessed another historic event, as this is the first time that we have heard a woman’s voice speaking from the Bishops’ Bench. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on making history tonight by making her maiden speech. It is a privilege to have been here and participated in such a great occasion, and to have listened to what she had to say. We are looking forward to many more contributions from her.


Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, the debates for International Women’s Day are always outstanding, and this has been no exception. It has been a privilege to listen to a debate that has, as usual, encapsulated a huge range of topics and themes. I particularly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Mone on their excellent maiden speeches. They both highlighted the wealth of experience that women in your Lordships’ House bring to our debates. Their personal experiences are inspiring and, like other noble Lords, I look forward to their future contributions.


 

(via Parliament.uk)