Bishop of Bristol makes first speech in House of Lords

During debate on the Queen’s Speech on Thursday 17th October, the Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, made her first speech in the House of Lords. The transcript is below in full.

Much has been unfamiliar but, having spent most of the last 30 years working in cathedrals, for the last 18 years as a dean, there was a certain familiarity on entering a building in need of significant structural attention.

As provost, then Dean of Leicester, I worked on plans for the reordering of the interior and landscape setting of that largely Victorian building so that the cathedral might be brought back into the heart of that extraordinary, multicultural city. As chair of the cathedral council, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was a vital source of wise guidance during those years of rapid change.

Shortly before my appointment to York Minster was to be announced, I received a message from across the road in Leicester that archaeologists had, they believed, found the burial place of Richard III and identified his body. That news, when made public, would transform the life of Leicester Cathedral and set a narrative for my start at York which was not altogether easy, as York and Lancaster competed for his bones.

I began in ministry as a lay worker and deaconess in Liverpool, some time before the possibility of priesthood for women. As will be familiar to so many women in many fields, I had few role models or established employment paths. I became a college chaplain, then a cathedral chaplain, because there were teams in those places prepared to make space and find funding for me. I flourished in those spaces, not least because I enjoyed presenting what was then a rather unexpected female aspect to the Church.

At the start, however, my family—particularly my mother—was profoundly concerned at my sense of vocation. My mother was a Bristolian from a family firebombed out of the ward of Redcliffe, in the city’s heart. While continuing their war work, my grandparents were housed in a prefab and then in Sea Mills, which is still a fine example of a community designed and funded by a local authority. My mother was evacuated to Cornwall, served with the Wrens and was awarded a scholarship to the London School of Economics. Once she had overcome her anger at her daughter’s calling to, as she saw it, a vocation that could not be received by the Church, she became a founding member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women—so here I am.

I have, to my surprise and delight, returned to my mother’s city. The diocese of Bristol exists because the citizens of Bristol wished it so, petitioning Henry VIII to stand alongside Gloucester. However, the diocesan funding model was never entirely realistic. Lands were added over time, including, for a while, the county of Dorset as no other see seemed to want it. Bishops of Bristol had to find their fortune, often via livings held in plurality. One of my predecessors was simultaneously both Bishop of Bristol and Dean of York and was, I think, not often seen in Bristol. In the 19th century, Bristolians regretted the grant of the see, burning the bishop’s palace down and threatening the cathedral after the bishop voted against the Great Reform Bill.

Bristol remains politically lively. It has been, and remains, a space where ideas are contested. At its civic heart, on the public space that was once the harbour quay, sit the statues of two men once seen as models of virtue, now a focus for impassioned debate about virtue. The first is Edmund Burke, the parliamentarian, who insisted on representative rather than direct democracy. The second is Edward Colston, the benefactor, who probably derived his great wealth from the proceeds of slavery. Slavery, as we know, is not simply confined to the past, and tackling the scourge of human trafficking is one of the areas I hope to be involved in during my time as a Member of this House.

Bristol is also a city of engineers, where ideas are turned into things which change our lives. My grandfather was an engineer who worked his way up from an apprenticeship to the line, as foreman for Hawker Siddeley. His stories were of his pride in Brunel, Rolls-Royce and, above all, Concorde. Concorde’s home is beyond the city but in the diocese, which is more than the city of Bristol.

Air travel is another focus for dissent. In recent years, Bristol and its hinterland have emerged as an area where ideas and responses to the harmful human impact on our planet have priority on the public agenda. The long-standing research and educational work of the Bristol Zoological Society and the Bristol-based BBC Natural History Unit, and in Westonbirt arboretum and Slimbridge to the north of the diocese and the innovative sustainable farming of the Chew Valley to the south, has demonstrated the extent of the threat, need and opportunity. Bristol engineers are now turning their practical ingenuity to sustainable building materials, decarbonised transport systems and waste-to-power plants.

The public mood in Bristol on climate change shifted some time ago, and church people are among them, leading in a whole Church response. The youngest diocesan synod member chose to give a maiden speech in the Church of England General Synod inspired by the school strikes. Church communities are being challenged to meet the Eco Church award, to green their churchyards and to walk to church. One Church primary school is teaching others about beekeeping and, in Swindon, our newest secondary school’s uniform is made from reworked plastic bottles. The whole diocese has, through our close links with the Church of the Province of Uganda, been reminded that climate change will have its first and greatest impact on those living in poverty with least protection from flood, drought and the consequent population displacement.

I therefore commend the measures outlined in the gracious Speech for a new world-leading independent environmental regulator, the progress of which I will follow with interest. I look forward to continuing to contribute to debates on that legislation. I pray that Almighty God’s blessing may indeed rest upon the counsels of this House.

via Parliament.uk


Her journey through the Church of England has been remarkable. She originally came from the Wirral and, as she has told us today, her grandparents have a long association with Bristol. She began her ministry in 1990 as a chaplain at Gloucester Cathedral, where she met and married Michael and was ordained a priest in 1994. That year she moved to become canon pastor, and later vice-provost, of Coventry Cathedral. She became the first woman to lead a Church of England cathedral in 2000, as Provost and then Dean of Leicester. In that role she led the Cathedral Church of Saint Martin, Leicester, a city with significant diversity and areas of great deprivation. In 2012 she was appointed Dean of York. As she told us today, the finding of Richard III in Leicester gave us, as a small cathedral, a huge challenge. From having probably 35,000 visitors, we were landed with 160,000 visitors in one year. It became a huge challenge, in which my right reverend friend played a very important part.

In 2009, she was elected chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals, the representative body for cathedrals, and she is serving her second term on the English Roman Catholic Committee. She was chair of the Deans’ Conference and in 2013 she was elected as one of the female representatives in the House of Bishops. We warmly welcome her today and we are deeply grateful for what she has brought in sincerity, breadth of knowledge and commitment. We particularly look forward to her work on human trafficking, to which she has committed herself…


Lord Hain (Lab): My Lords, I too welcome the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, especially what she said on climate change. I also honour her mother as one of the suffragettes of the Church of England…


Lord Fox (LD): My Lords, I join in the congratulations on the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol—a city from where my father’s family emanated…


Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP): … I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol: it is good to hear about her prospective work on trafficking and I would be happy to work with her on it…


Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, I add my welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol—having been brought up and schooled at Bristol, I am pleased to see her in this House…




Lord St John of Bletso (CB): My Lords, I join in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol on her outstanding maiden speech…


Lord Bates (Con): My Lords, I welcome the contributions already made in this debate on the gracious Speech, most notably the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol…


Lord Rooker (Lab): My Lords, I too welcome the maiden speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol…


Baroness Redfern (Con): My Lords, I welcome Her Majesty’s gracious Speech and, on day 3, I am pleased to have the opportunity of addressing the Chamber, but first I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for their excellent maiden speeches…