Bishop of London makes first speech in Lords, on the NHS, disability and London

On 28th June 2018 the Bishop of London, Rt Revd & Rt Hon Sarah Mullally, gave her first speech in the House of Lords, during a debate led by Baroness Thomas of Winchester “that this House takes note of the different challenges facing disabled people in the United Kingdom in 2018”. The full transcript is below, along with the words of welcome to the House from other Members:

   The Lord Bishop of London (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their warm welcome and am grateful for the practical support I have received from the officers and staff. I am humbled by the knowledge and wisdom represented in your Lordships’ House and I am very conscious that it is a privilege to be a Member. It is a responsibility that I will take seriously.

I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, my predecessor as the Bishop of London, and his service in this House. I am glad that he continues to serve in his new capacity on the Cross Benches. When it was announced that I was to be the 133rd Bishop of London, my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, said that I was a nurse to my fingertips and a modern Boadicea. In this speech, I will try to channel more of the former and suggest that noble Lords speak to my right reverend friend about the latter.

I became a Christian as a teenager so my choice of career as a nurse was a vocation. It was an opportunity to reflect the love of God that I had come to know. I specialised as a cancer nurse and became a ward sister at the old Westminster Hospital just around the corner from here, and then later the director of nursing at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on the Fulham Road. In 1999 I was appointed the Government’s Chief Nursing Officer for England. While in that role I trained for ordination in the Church of England.

When I moved into the Church of England, I continued to contribute to health, first as a non-executive NHS board member and more recently as a member of the council of King’s College London.

I am a passionate supporter of the NHS. It has touched my life in many ways: as a parent; at the time of the death of my parents; and, of course for many years as a nurse. I have seen examples in this country of world-class care and, as we celebrate 70 years of the NHS, I pay tribute both to those who had the courage and vision to set up the NHS and to those who continue to care within the NHS today.​

They say you can take the nurse out of nursing, but never nursing out of the nurse. I am the Bishop I am today because of that first vocation to nursing, and compassion and healing are constants at the heart of who I am. I would not go so far as to say that this House needs a ward sister, for fear of being taken the wrong way; but I hope that in my time here and with my background, I can bring as much to this place of the pastoral and spiritual as I can of the professional.

I worked in London both as a nurse and as a priest before moving to the south-west as Bishop of Crediton in the diocese of Exeter. The people of Devon are thrilled that, as the Bishop of London, I come to your Lordships’ House with some understanding of rural life. Alas, the diocese of London has fewer farms. We serve a population of four million, covering 277 square miles of Greater London, north of the Thames and west of the Lea, from the Isle of Dogs in the east to Staines in the west and as far north as Enfield. Your Lordships will be delighted to know that you are sitting in my diocese.

London is of course world-facing. It is multicultural and multi-faith. It is a city of energy and diversity, open to all. But it is also a city of inequality and deprivation. As we have seen most recently in the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, it is also a city where people can feel ignored, marginalised and—often justifiably—angry. I am the Bishop of London, but I intend to be a bishop for London. And I will do so alongside those other distinguished bishops for London in this House, my right reverend friends the Bishops of Chelmsford and Southwark.

Along with celebrating 70 years of the National Health Service, I have been delighted to celebrate 70 years of the Paralympic movement. At evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this month we watched a demonstration of wheelchair fencing under the dome. It was a reminder of how sport can enable people with disabilities to flourish. We should not lose sight of the fact that in the UK, one in five of the population has a disability of some sort, the majority of those people acquiring their disability in later life.

Our churches, like our society, need to up their game when it comes to being welcoming and accessible places for people with disabilities. There are some good examples, including the Disability Advisory Group at St Martin-in-the-Fields, here in London. The driving force for their mission is to change attitudes towards those with disabilities—as not simply people presenting pastoral or practical challenges, but equals who bring unique potential to aid our renewal and mission as a church. In wider society, unlocking potential for those with disabilities brings benefit to us all.

As we celebrate 70 years of the NHS I am aware that for people with disabilities, going into general hospitals can be one of their biggest challenges, because their specific needs—such as their spinal needs—are often not met. Therefore, hospitals disable them. I know that as we move forward, there will be more challenges for the NHS and more difficult decisions, which is why I welcomed the recommendation in 2016 of the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, which called for a cumulative impact assessment of the decisions made in the public sector on disabled people.​

I am immensely grateful to all who have welcomed me today, and look forward to the rest of the speeches in this debate, and the many debates to come.


Before the speech:

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con): .. I am also very much looking forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Her career is impressive. From Westminster Hospital to the Palace of Westminster, via Tommy’s, Chel West and the marvellous Marsden, it is pretty clear that Bishop Sarah, if I may, has positively impacted people’s lives every day. I look forward to sitting behind her in your Lordships’ House in the years to come and to her wisdom drifting up to this Back-Bencher.

Lord Patel (CB): ..My Lords, I too look forward enthusiastically to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I remember her work when she was Chief Nursing Officer, championing the cause of patients and their involvement, and introducing the concept of the modern matron.

After the speech:

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, it is a real honour to be able to speak after the new right reverend—and right honourable, for she is also a privy counsellor—Prelate the Bishop of London following her powerful maiden speech, in which she demonstrated her extraordinary life dedicated to Christ since her teens. We in this House note that she joins us as the third most senior cleric in the Church of England and the first woman in this role, after a meteoric rise from 2015 when she was made the Bishop of Crediton. She and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester were the first two women to be ordained as bishops in Canterbury Cathedral, and weeks later she was the first woman in the Church of England to lead an ordination service.

We have heard this afternoon of the impressive breadth of her experience beyond her priestly ministry and, indeed, of her many firsts in the Church. Bishop Sarah began her nursing career just over the river at St Thomas’ and around the corner at Westminster Hospital. It culminated in her appointment as Chief Nursing Officer and director of patient experience for England in 1999. It is worthy of note that she was the youngest woman to hold that position. Her passion for putting the patient first transformed nursing, perhaps most memorably through the new role of matron.

In her recent enthronement sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral, Bishop Sarah remarked that 150 years ago that week suffragettes had placed a bomb under the seat in which she had just been enthroned as the first woman to be Bishop of London. She said—I hope she will allow me to quote her—

“Let me reassure you, I do not come carrying bombs—or perhaps not literal ones, anyway. But I am aware that, as the first woman Bishop of London, I am necessarily subversive, and it’s a necessity I intend to embrace”.

This House and its predecessor, the King’s council of barons and bishops, have seen subversive bishops before, and I know that in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London to your Lordships’ House we see before us a woman who will not be afraid to tackle difficult issues and who will speak truth to her faith and to power.

Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB): … I am so pleased that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has made her excellent speech today, which adds importance to a matter that can so easily be discarded when there are so many demands on our overstretched country.

Baroness Eaton (Con): …I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for her inspirational maiden speech.

Baroness Ludford (LD)…My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Thomas for this debate and I appreciate being able to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London; it is an honour.

Baroness Wyld (Con)…My Lords, I add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her powerful and moving maiden speech. It is an honour to follow her, and I look forward to getting to know her here and outside the Chamber.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): …I also warmly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her inspiring maiden speech.

Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl): …I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who spoke eloquently about the challenges and progress of disabled people in our country. I look forward to hearing her and working with her more closely. There are two very good farms in Tower Hamlets that maybe we can visit together so as to reassure her that there is green space among us.

Lord Luce (CB): My Lords, it has been a most humbling experience to take part in this debate and listen to the very moving contributions that have been made. It was very ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and had an inspiring maiden speech by the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of London

Lord Borwick (Con): …I also pay tribute to the wonderful maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.

Baroness Jolly (LD): …As often happens in this place, a huge range of experience and expertise has been demonstrated, which brings me to my second point: to join noble Lords in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I am delighted that she brings with her expertise on the south-west as well as on health. She will enrich our debates.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, let me begin by offering my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on a wonderful maiden speech. That passion for the NHS will sit well with us all in this House. Perhaps I may also say that if she is tempted to exercise the calm authority of matron in this Chamber from time to time, that may not go amiss—but of course, not on these Benches

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Buscombe) (Con): My Lords, let me begin by joining all other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her inspirational maiden speech. We look forward to many more contributions from her in the future.

…Several noble Lords, and in particular my noble friend Lord Holmes and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, mentioned the Paralympics, as I did a few months ago. One of my proudest moments was representing Her Majesty’s Government at the Paralympics this year in South Korea. Indeed, I gave up trying to contain myself when the mother of one of our seven gold medallists hugged me and thanked me for being there. I was privileged to be there. Sport is one of the most brilliant catalysts for overcoming barriers.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords for getting across so much in such a short time. I warmly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her most impressive maiden speech, and I thank the Minister for her reply to the debate.




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