On 8th September 2020 during the House of Lords second reading debate on the Government’s Trade Bill, Rt Revd Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn, delivered his maiden speech. The full text is below:
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the warmth of the welcome that I have received in my Introduction to your House. When I told my elderly father in 2013 that I had been appointed to serve as the next Bishop of Blackburn, many miles away from his home in Sussex, he was very quiet and somewhat disappointed that my wife and I would be living so far away, but then a light came into his eyes and he asked, “Does that mean you may be invited to enter the House of Lords?” When I replied in the affirmative, he said very quickly, “Well, then, that makes it all right.”
I come, first and foremost, as a Christian who will seek opportunity to support the convictions and values foundational to our faith in Jesus Christ, and to draw attention to those many today, around the world, who are persecuted for their faith in him, and then to advocate for the right for all to enjoy freedom of speech and belief, wherever they may live, and to do so in peace.
As my accent betrays, I come also as a southerner, having worked in London, Sussex and Surrey, but for the last seven years in the north-west, serving most of the red-rose county of Lancashire. Lancashire is remarkable for the diversity of its communities and achievements, past and present, boasting that significant role in the cotton industry; a strong connection with Her Majesty the Queen as the Duke of Lancaster; the vision of George Fox on Pendle Hill; the name “sirloin” beef from Hoghton Tower; the annual shield-hanging ceremony in Lancaster Castle, which goes back to Richard the Lionheart; and, of course, the beautiful Trough of Bowland. Lancashire’s glory is not just in the past: the north-west is the home of graphene, that new super-material; of the well-known golf course at Lytham St Annes; for some, not so excitingly, of “Strictly Come Dancing” in the iconic ballroom at Blackpool Tower; and of nearly 200 clearly and distinctively Christian Church of England schools and three universities. Also, 18 million tourists visit Blackpool each year for its different attractions.
Yet Blackpool includes one of the most deprived wards in the country, and it is for that fact that I wish to speak in this debate, to urge the Government, if this Bill grants them the powers they seek, to hear and to heed the voice of the north. This House may not be relocated to York during the refurbishment period, but its eyes and ears must not be blind or deaf to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the north of our country. Talk of a northern powerhouse must not be allowed to fade away into the history books, but must energise the commitment to improve the infrastructure and economy of the north. Better transport links around the north are long overdue and would have a transformative impact on the local economy.
The impact of Covid-19 has only exacerbated and increased the inequality between rich and poor. Blackburn has an unemployment rate of almost 6%. This is much higher than the national average and, according to a recent Lancashire Telegraph article, it could be as much as 18% when hidden unemployment is included. More than 11% of Blackpool’s population is claiming support through welfare payments, the highest proportion in the country. Statistics such as these require the powers granted by the Bill to be exercised with wisdom and skill, as new trade agreements are put in place for the post-Brexit era.
As the Bishop of Blackburn, I hope to speak in this House for the great people of the north of our country and, as a Christian, to speak for the human right to believe and express that belief in public without fear or favour. Good trade arrangements can be a way to achieve prosperity for all, as has been indicated already in this debate, as well as to develop relationships with our global partners which will allow us to act as a critical friend when human rights are ignored. I hope the Bill will assist us in both these noble goals.