Bishop of Lincoln delivers maiden speech during debate on economy

On 15th March 2018 the Bishop of Lincoln, Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, delivered his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the economy. The text is below, with comments from other Members who spoke in the debate:

Lord Bishop of Lincoln (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I thank those who have made me so welcome to your Lordships’ House, not least those who hail from Lincolnshire, including several proud doorkeepers who either live in the county or have served there in the armed services. We share a love for our historic county, the beauty of landscape and building, not least Lincoln Cathedral, about which noble Lords may have heard from the noble lord, Lord Cormack; the pleasure of its food—I am a bigger man now than I was when I went there—and, most importantly, the rugged, independent-mindedness of its people. I also thank those who have said warm words of encouragement in this debate.

I have been Bishop of Lincoln for over six years. My predecessor, Dr John Saxbee, is an expert in the work of the Danish theologian and philosopher ​Kierkegaard, one of whose most famous sayings is, “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards”. Trying to understand my life backwards now, I can see that providentially much of who I was and what I did before coming to Lincoln in 2011 prepared me for the role that I now inhabit, and will inform and guide the contributions that I hope to make in your Lordships’ House.

I come from working-class roots in the former steel town of Consett in north-west Durham, a town that was only there because of the steelworks, the place where all the men in my family worked. I found faith and a vocation to the priesthood at the age of 13. It was a surprise to me—a surprise that has not exactly left me yet—that God was calling someone like me to be a priest. This vocation took me to south London, Hampshire and Portsmouth, where the journey back to my roots began. Portsmouth, although 350 miles south of Consett and a little warmer, has been described as a northern city on the south coast—a reminder that the north/south divide is as much a conceptual division as a crude geographical line. There I was able to begin to engage with issues of poverty, inequality and low educational attainment that reappear now where I currently serve.

My journey back to my roots—or, as we members of the north-eastern diaspora call it, “home”—continued with a national job in Church House, Westminster, overseeing the provision of ordained and lay ministry across the Church of England. That sensitised me to the challenges facing the communities and churches in areas on the edge such as the north-east itself, Cumbria, Cornwall, Herefordshire and of course Lincolnshire.

That brings me to where I am today and the role that I now play, and to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement. There are some things to welcome in what was announced —what has been called the light at the end of the tunnel: the modest improvement in economic forecasts and the prospect of an increase in spending on and investment in public services, which will be good news to the people of Lincolnshire, especially if what is devoted to Lincolnshire addresses the challenges that we actually face.

Lincolnshire is formed by its history and its geography. In the words of one recent book, we are “prisoners of geography”. The impact on Lincolnshire of 50% of its population living in sparse, rural settlements is huge. Size matters, and in Lincolnshire this is expressed in challenges faced by the health and education services, not to mention the threat that climate change poses to Lincolnshire, which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury sees in a recent book as having,

“significant bite not only for our generation but also for those as yet unborn”.

However, Lincolnshire is not all rural or flat fens. There are communities like Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Lincoln itself and Boston. In those areas that voted heavily in favour of Brexit, there are the usual challenges of urban life, and there are more to come when the full impact of welfare reform is experienced. Unless economic policy as articulated in the Statement is directed as much towards the interests of these communities as it is to the more prosperous corners of our country, ​we shall be failing in our duty to create a fairer and more integrated society. Already I see in those communities a sense of alienation from the metropolitan elite. In the typology of David Goodhart’s helpful book, the “somewheres” resent the “anywheres”, while the “anywheres” do not understand the values of the “’somewheres”.

This is not new. The Lincolnshire rising of 1537 and the Pilgrimage of Grace that followed, were obviously about first of all a commitment to the old religion, but perhaps also driven by the resentment that King Henry VIII and his commissioners were the rich elite from the south who had come to plunder their assets. The King made his views on Lincolnshire clear. The shire was, he said,

“the most brute and beastly of the whole realm”,

and he saw that the perpetrators of the rising were cruelly executed. In hoping to avoid a similar fate, it is none the less my sincere wish to be a small but proud voice for the successors of those good people of greater Lincolnshire in this place.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con): My Lords, the Members of the Bishops’ Bench in your Lordships’ House have a long record of making distinguished and distinctive contributions to our debates, and I think the speech we have just heard continues that tradition—not that I would have expected anything else from the right reverend Prelate, given his far-reaching personal, academic and pastoral background. This includes not just the wide-ranging work in the United Kingdom which he described; I am told on the highest authority that he is an exceptionally accurate sprinkler of holy water. He has a son and family living in Australia, which gives him a world dimension, and he himself studied in California, where he received a master’s degree in sacred theology. I hope I am not being irreverent, but I am surprised there are degrees in theology that are not sacred. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, he has made a powerful contribution to our debate this afternoon, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to hearing from him again soon.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley (CB): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on his excellent maiden speech. By complete coincidence, I attended a wedding last Friday at which at least half of those present came from that proud county, so I can vouch that they appear to be a rather robust bunch…

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, my first duty today is one of great joy: to welcome on behalf of this Bench, and I am sure the whole House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, and to congratulate him on a fine maiden contribution. Its quality was no surprise to me. He is remembered with great respect in the Diocese of Portsmouth, which I now serve and where my colleague and friend was parish priest and archdeacon. I know that his erstwhile congregation in Petersfield was delighted that he was able to visit them last year.​

I know, too, that serving in Lincoln is a particular delight for him, not just because the diocese is full of wonderful people, but because his grandfather played football for Lincoln City. As a Black Country boy and lifelong supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers, I understand the ups, which I am presently enjoying, and the more frequent downs of being a football fan, but I strongly suspect that playing and indeed supporting Lincoln City demands a very special kind of fortitude, resilience and above all hope. That, I also know, is the state of mind with which 18,000 ever-hopeful souls travel to Fratton Park, Portsmouth, of a Saturday. I applaud that, because hope is of course central to Christianity, anchored as it is in our sure and present hope in Christ…

Lord Freeman (Con): My Lords, I add my congratulations to those expressed earlier to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on his most excellent speech. I speak for the Back Benches and for many of my colleagues when I say that he is most welcome…

Lord Young of Norwood Green: …I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on giving us one of the lesser inscrutable quotations from Kierkegaard about whether you are living your life forward or backward; I understood that one. On looking at the Bill team, it reminded me that the challenge for young people today is to feel confident about their future, and the challenge for the older generation is to make it clear that we understand their concerns, whether they are about jobs, housing or even—if they are thinking that far ahead—their pensions…

Baroness Kramer (LD): My Lords, I join in the welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. He is obviously supported by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and my noble friend Lord Taverne, but when he mentioned that the doorkeepers largely hail from Lincoln, that is when I knew we had a real power to be reckoned with in this House. We know where genuine authority lies. We very much appreciate his speech. He focused very much on a divided society, and that issue was picked up by others in this debate—the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, was talking about the north/south divide, although the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln reminded us that it is not just geographic, as those who struggle can very well be located in the south as well. This is timely in the context of this particular Statement.

Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, distinguished by the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, in his maiden speech, and we look forward to him continuing to contribute to our deliberations often in the future. My only link with Lincoln was when I was concerned 20-odd years ago with my party’s higher education policy. I must say that you cannot go to Lincoln without seeing the majestic cathedral and think that it is the only structure worth concentrating on. What was being proposed in Lincoln then was the university, in what seemed to be a green and muddy flatland down by the river. Lincoln University developed with extraordinary rapidity. It is an enormous ​tribute to the people of Lincoln that they developed their university to real status in a very short time. I, for one, visit the cathedral when I am there, but I always go to have a look at the university as well.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I sense that the opening part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, might be the one area in which we find common agreement, on the majestic qualities and aesthetic beauty of Lincoln Cathedral, which is a great place to start. Again, in responding to this extraordinarily high-quality debate, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on his excellent contribution to it. As someone who hails from the same part of the world as he does, having been born in County Durham, I used to think that Durham Cathedral was the greatest cathedral on the planet, but even I was turned when I saw Lincoln Cathedral in all its splendour, particularly the facade. It was wonderful to hear his remarks, and I look forward to hearing many more.

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln referenced the north-east of England. Since 2010, there have been 78,000 more people in work in the north-east and 18,800 more businesses, and the north-east has seen the second-fastest growth in median gross weekly earnings since 2010, which is plus 13.8%.


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