The Bishop of Birmingham made his valedictory speech to the House of Lords on 10th October 2022, during a debate on the Economy Growth Plan 2022 (Motion to Take Note):
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I have been immensely grateful for the stimulation and companionship I have found in your Lordships’ House as a Member for the last 12 years, not least in the last three or four speeches this afternoon on this immensely complex subject. It is worth turning up, if only to feel the embarrassment of my colleagues when one of their number is called “mature” and “sensible”—where better to hear it than here, in public and on the record? —and to be with the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, with whom I share a long business background, although not necessarily in the same sector. I am particularly grateful to have been Convenor of this Bench for some years and to have been able to relate to the usual channels in the House informally. I am very grateful to those here who have accepted my presence at certain moments, whether they were to do with Brexit, the pandemic and the hybrid House, or even the late Queen’s funeral.
This is an opportunity just to say thank you to the officers of the House for the remarkable support that we received from them—in recent weeks, as it happened, day and night. I wish my successor as convenor of these Benches, my right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of St Albans, every success and the same wonderful co-operation and fulfilment.
For me the context of this deliberation on the economy and of many other debates in this House has been the vibrant and exciting life of the West Midlands, especially Birmingham, where we have recently enjoyed a financially as well as a socially and culturally successful Commonwealth Games. The first of my asks today is to ask the Government to be generous in supporting the legacy of this remarkable effort, and to do so much quicker than was mentioned earlier in this Chamber in response to a Question on the Olympic Games.
None the less, the numbers provided by economic science, checked, as they should be, by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and, if you like, a charitable organisation called Full Fact, are either swinging out of control—consumer prices have already been mentioned in detail—or simply depressing: the fact of the depression of real earnings.
The theoretical or political points that arise—they will be made many times this afternoon—are puzzling and confusing to people in the regions who run their own economic life, I dare to say, with intelligence and wisdom, if not always rationally, but knowing the cost of food, housing, heating, clothing and holidays and how much money they have available to bring them into their charge.
I was glad to see the governing party described by the Prime Minister, after the Chancellor’s Statement, as one of “aspiration, enterprise and growth”. I like that phrase because it describes exactly what I have been trying to do in the Church for the last 40 years. The Prime Minister is quoted as saying:
“We believe in making it easier for our wealth creators, doers and makers to get things done”
to reset the economy and not manage decline. Again, those are very agreeable aims for the Church. However, will the Government answer the difficult questions faced by all of us: wealth created for whom, in an unequal society, doers with what skills in a competitive world market, and makers of what that people will buy at the right price?
I hope that Ministers in the years ahead, as well as in the months and even weeks ahead, will think clearly about how to articulate the principles behind these numbers and behind the very important points which have been made already this afternoon—clear principles in a complex scene. This is my last chance to mention two or three that matter to me: transparent measurements of success and failure, because we are allowed to fail but need to measure them transparently; a bigger picture of worldwide interdependence—we have mentioned the war but I mean the whole oikumene of the world—and longer-term cycles to achieve real change. These can be framed in a way to strengthen and be supported by local households, businesses and local authorities: discipline, development, distribution and devolution.
I see that I have overrun my time but I will finish by saying that this last point, devolution of power and influence, is very close to my heart. The new investment zones are welcome, as are the infrastructure projects listed, which in our own region are led by Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor. We will do well, but I ask the Government to go further and to make local influence part of an equal partnership, putting responsibility and resources where they belong in the local regions.
As a former Member of this House, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, would remind us, to make a better world for all we need both market and state, but neither of those can provide the values on which they are to be built. Perhaps we should return to the prophet Micah as we continue this debate and remember that we are all called to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Bilimoria (CB): My Lords, as the chancellor of the University of Birmingham, I had the privilege to know the right reverend Prelate, David Urquhart, the ninth Bishop of Birmingham. In 2006, when he took office—taking over, of course, from John Sentamu, who went on to become Archbishop of York and now sits with us on the Cross Benches as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu—in his first sermon, he took out a mallet hidden under his cloak and smashed a clay jar in front of the whole congregation. His message was to demonstrate the fragility of human life in the world as a gift from God.
He has worked for the homeless. He has worked tirelessly for interfaith harmony. He has worked for the chamber of commerce, as somebody from a business background and with a business degree. He has been here in the House of Lords since 2010, and has been convenor since 2015. Note the word “convenor”. We on the Cross Benches do not have a leader, we have a convener, and the same goes for the Bishops. What a time, with the changes of Government and all the challenges. He is a knight of the Order of St Michael and St George.
Seventy is far too young an age to retire: you have just reached the middle of middle age. The right reverend Prelate always signed off as David Birmingham. Well, David Birmingham, the University of Birmingham, the city of Birmingham and this House will miss you enormously. Thank you for all you have done for all of us, and we wish you every success in your continued great work.
Lord Bridges of Headley (C0n): My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe on her appointment. It is great to see her back on the Front Bench. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on her excellent maiden speech. It is wonderful to see her here. I regret very much that we heard the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. We shall all miss him.
Lord Patel (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on her powerful maiden speech and I look forward to hearing more from her. I also wish the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham well in his retirement from this House. I join others in saying that we will miss his contributions.
Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, I add my best wishes to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham as he leaves your Lordships’ House. He has always been thoughtful, often provoked us and made us think about what he has said, and I will miss his bluntness in some of our debates over recent years—it has been vital for all of us to hear, and I thank him for it. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, to her place in the House and very much look forward to working with her in future.
Lord Inglewood (Non Afl): My Lords, in Cumbria, where I live and chair the local enterprise partnership, it looks as if the local economy will not return to its pre-Covid levels until 2024 at the earliest. Business has been under the cosh and widespread commercial and personal hardship has ensued, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, among others, told us.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, I welcome my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe back to the Front Bench and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on her maiden speech. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham is leaving us.
Viscount Trenchard (Con): I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham on his thought-provoking valedictory speech and the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on her passionate maiden speech.
Lord O’Neill of Gatley (CB): I too add my congratulations and best wishes to my noble friend Lady Gohir, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—perhaps best wishes especially to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for serving a second stint.
Baroness Kramer (LD): I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham that it is a really sad farewell. He has always spoken for ordinary people, he did so again today, and we will sorely miss him.
Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab): I also join the regrets of the House for the final speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. His insightful and compassionate contributions were always an important part of our debates, and I fear we are at a point in our history where we need more compassion and discussion.
Lord Callanan (Con): Today is clearly a day for our second city. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham for the contribution he has made to this House over the years. He joked about my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s reference to his “mature” and “sensible” contributions, and then proved how right she had been to say it. The right reverend Prelate made many noteworthy points in the few minutes allotted to him, not least about the importance of the need for the devolution of power and influence. He asked about “wealth created for whom”, an important question which I am sure we will be debating for many weeks to come, sadly without his presence.
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