On 25th May 2016 the House of Lords held its fifth day of debate the Queen’s Speech. During the debate the Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, gave her maiden speech, becoming the second female bishop to speak in the House of Lords. As well as introducing herself to the House she addressed the Government’s life chances strategy, and regional growth in the North. Her speech is below in full, alongside responses from Peers.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, the theological understanding of grace is of the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to deserve it. In these early days in your Lordships’ House, it is grace that I have experienced—wonderful kindness and a warmth of welcome from your Lordships, the staff and all who work in this place. It has been entirely undeserved but a truly heart-warming experience. It will be no surprise to your Lordships that one of the loveliest and warmest welcomes came from the late Lord Walton—a fine and godly man, and a distinguished son of the north-east.
Two things were key in supporting me through those childhood years. The first was to be fortunate enough to be born into a loving family and the second was to be blessed by some truly inspirational, vocational teachers, who gave so generously of their free time to expand our horizons above and beyond the ordinary. One of those teachers was Mrs. Boyd, who started a debating society at our school. She had a passion for the art of debating and wanted us to catch that passion. Her sister, the late Lady Birk, had just been introduced to the Lords as one of those pioneering early women life Peers. Through Lady Birk’s good offices, Mrs Boyd brought our little debating team to this place to inspire us by witnessing debating at its best. How could I have imagined, as a 16 year-old girl up in that Gallery, that one day I would find myself making a maiden speech in your Lordships’ House?
I have the privilege of being the 12th Bishop of Newcastle. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Bishop Martin—a fine Bishop and one of the longest-serving Bishops in your Lordships’ House. I will do my best to be a worthy successor, with the important exception that I will probably spend slightly less time in the smoking shed.
My diocese stretches from the River Tyne in the south to the River Tweed in the north and encompasses the city of Newcastle, North Tyneside and the county of Northumberland, together with a very small area of eastern Cumbria and four parishes in northern County Durham. Newcastle diocese is wonderful, with extraordinary contrasts: from the vibrant regional capital of Newcastle upon Tyne, with two world-class universities and 50,000 students, to the remote hill farms, some still without mains electricity and water; from the Northumberland Church of England Academy with 2,500 students in Ashington, to our smallest Church of England school on Holy Island with just four children. We have the stunning Dark Skies at Kielder and the bright lights of the big city, alongside places of pilgrimage such as Holy Island—or St James’ Park. The beauty of my diocese takes my breath away.
The gracious Speech emphasised the importance of increasing life chances for the most disadvantaged, supporting economic recovery, creating jobs and apprenticeships, and creating the kind of infrastructure that businesses need to grow. All these issues are absolutely key to economic and human flourishing in the north-east. The issues around the development of the northern powerhouse are also of great significance. I therefore warmly welcome the commitment from the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, earlier in this debate to regional growth in the north and the Midlands.
The people of the north-east are warm, hospitable, proud and resilient. Our workforce is famed for its loyalty, with a very low staff turnover. The north-east is not a problem to be solved by the rest of the country but an asset to be valued. We are one of the very few parts of the UK with a surplus of both water and energy. Rather than transporting these vital resources to other parts of the country, we should be looking to relocate water-and energy-intensive businesses to the north-east. We are the only region in the UK with a consistent positive balance of trade and we export nearly a third of everything we make and do.
As I have journeyed around the diocese in my first five months, I have seen more signs of hope than I have time to talk about. Let me give just one example— Port of Blyth. Blyth, on the coast in the south-east corner of Northumberland, is one of the most deprived areas in the whole of England. With the closure of the Alcan Lynemouth aluminium smelter in 2012, the future of the port looked bleak. But with great leadership, a determination to find new trade and a policy of recruiting local young people who stay, Port of Blyth is now facing an increasingly optimistic future. It has just announced record results for 2015, with a doubling of pre-tax profits to £1.2 million.
Human flourishing in all its forms, including economic flourishing, depends above all on our most precious resource: our people. If these signs of flourishing are to be sustained and grow, we need the commitments in the gracious Speech to be made real in everyday lives. The most important of these commitments is to our children. There are many areas of poverty in the north-east, Blyth among them, where children’s life chances will continue to be curtailed without the determination and ambition to give such children the start in life that they deserve.
As I experienced so powerfully in my own early life, education can be absolutely transformative. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England, so it is not surprising that our schools are inevitably among the smallest in the country. I therefore warmly welcome the commitment in the education White Paper to provide sparsity funding for every single small rural school, but I hope that this will not be at the expense of schools in urban areas. We need to support schools in all disadvantaged areas if the commitment to life chances is to be realised. That is made very clear in the report on northern schools issued this week by the IPPR North and Teach First, where the gap in secondary education for disadvantaged children is particularly highlighted.
The northern powerhouse will be anything but unless there is a 100% commitment to adequate funding—funding for education, apprenticeships and the infrastructure that the north-east needs. It would be this kind of vision and commitment that would make a real difference.
Extracts from the speeches of other Members:
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab): I have particular pleasure in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle to the debate. I look forward to her maiden speech and to the very particular perspective and wisdom that she will bring to the work of the House in years to come.
Lord Palmer (CB): My Lords, I am delighted and honoured to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. My only qualification in doing so is that I live just 10 miles out of her wild and wonderful diocese just across the border from her most northern outpost in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Her diocese could not be more different from her last post in Lewisham. As she said, her predecessor was a much-loved, respected and active Member of this House and I feel certain that she will follow in his illustrious footsteps.
The right reverend Prelate has long been influential in Church of England legislation and, coincidentally, I discovered an hour ago that she was ordained in the same year as my female first cousin. We share the same year of birth and I greatly admire the way that she has completed successfully the London Marathon no fewer than three times. Now that she lives in the north, she will have further opportunities to take part in the Great North Run. It was a real pleasure to listen to her pearls of wisdom, and on behalf of the whole House I congratulate her most sincerely on a first-rate contribution this afternoon.
Noble Lords: Hear, hear.
Lord Young of Cookham (Con): My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in paying tribute to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. It was a positive and moving speech which underlined the importance of committed parents and teachers if one is to improve the life chances of a child. We look forward to her future interventions in our debates.
Baroness Featherstone (LD): My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle for her maiden speech. What a pleasure to be in this Chamber to listen to her. I could not agree more that when all else fails you in life, it is education that can transform your life chances.
Baroness Young of Hornsey (CB): My Lords, I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and thank her for her excellent speech. I very much look forward to her future contributions, especially on education.
Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, let me join the queue to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her terrific maiden speech and, I gather, on her athletic prowess. She is a very welcome addition to your Lordships’ House.
Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, I add my welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. As someone who at best can do a half-marathon, I can only admire her. I share with her my recollections of the late Baroness Birk, whose views on faith I shared.
Baroness Drake (Lab): Finally, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her maiden speech. Her passion for the people of the north-east shone through and she certainly did them proud.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, in responding to the gracious Speech, I am delighted to welcome, first, the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and to congratulate her. To be in the House and on this Bench today is a pleasure. We are colleagues again here, as we were in St Albans diocese some years ago. We have a shared conviction that the work of the Church and of government is to support the welfare of all people, reminding ourselves that welfare is properly understood not in the restricted sense in which we so often use it in our debates about benefits and eligibility but as the well-being of all people in the whole of their lives. Bishop Christine has powerfully reminded us of the perspective from her diocese and the north-east.
Lord Shipley (LD): I join in the congratulations of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her maiden speech. As a fellow Novocastrian, I share her pride in the north-east, its successes and potential. I hope the Minister noted her concern about the need for adequate funding and that the Government should make the commitments in the gracious Speech real in everyday life.
Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con): My Lords, I add my welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. As the Magpies’ trashing of Tottenham on the last day of the football season demonstrated, nobody from the Toon Army should be taken lightly. In that the right reverend Prelate also has my noble friend Lord Ridley in her flock, she will always have a fair amount of work on her hands as a rational optimist.
Lord Shutt of Greetland (LD): I end by commending the speech of and welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I welcome her call for real resources for the northern powerhouse.
Lord Stunell (LD): I start by saying how much I appreciated and was content with the contribution made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle in her maiden speech. I know just how difficult I found my speech to make back in January. Her speech was outstanding and shows what a contribution she will be able to make to the House in future on behalf of both the Church and her diocese, for which she spoke so eloquently.
Lord Oates (LD): My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her compelling maiden speech.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): I end by warmly congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her brilliant, moving and historic maiden speech. I hope that it will not be too long before she has other women Bishops joining her on those Benches.
Baroness Donaghy (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her heart-warming and inspiring maiden speech.
Baroness Kramer (LD): My Lords, I join in the warm welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I suspect that her ears must have been burning, even when she took a break from the Floor. It is rare to see a new Member so warmly welcomed and so appreciated, and she earned it with her outstanding speech, which not only gave us a feel for her but was, I suspect, a small warning to the Government that they had better live up to their commitments to the north-east, because she will be looking over their shoulder from the Benches just behind them.
Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, my first task is to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her inspiring contribution. I have a very close friend who is a Geordie. I fear he spends rather more time at St James’ than at St Augustine’s, although he is a fairly regular churchgoer. I will certainly be able to give his spirits a little lift—and, by heavens, those who went to watch Newcastle United over the past season need more than a little lift at this stage—from the very good impression the right reverend Prelate made in the House today.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): It would be remiss of me not to immediately align myself with the many comments that have been made in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her excellent maiden speech. As we all know, delivering a first speech in this House is quite an achievement, but doing so in such a high-profile debate is doubly impressive. We have learned a great deal about the right reverend Prelate, including the fact that she is a marathon runner. I welcome her to her first marathon in your Lordships’ House, although, as she will appreciate, this is one that you have to do sitting down. She has already made a significant contribution to the diversity of the House. As we all know, she is the second woman Church of England Bishop to take a seat in your Lordships’ House. I know I speak for everyone across the Chamber and beyond when I extend the warmest of welcomes to her. I look forward to working with her on a range of issues in the coming months and years…
…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, in her maiden speech, along with other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Shutt, also raised the issue of the northern powerhouse. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, specifically, that much is happening on the northern powerhouse. The Government are investing £20 million a year in the northern powerhouse skills strategy, for example, committing £161 million to accelerate the transformation of the M62, and £75 million to improve other road links across the north. From May 2017, 54% of the population of the north will be covered by elected mayors, backed with over £4 million of new funding. That will give local areas control over key powers including skills, transport and housing. That is perhaps why the shadow Home Secretary wants to put himself forward as the mayor of Manchester.