Bishop of Lichfield makes maiden speech on parliamentary democracy

On 25th April 2023, The Bishop of Lichfield made his maiden speech in a debate on the strength of parliamentary democracy in the UK, speaking on the importance of freedom of faith and belief, and the benefits of interfaith relationships and communication:

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this House for the first time. I promise that I will be brief. I thank all noble Lords for their warm welcome and all the parliamentary staff and officers for their kindness and patience in explaining to me the procedures, traditions and geography of this extraordinary place.

Throughout my ministry I have had the joy of living and working in places of cheerful diversity—in Leicester, in south London and now in the West Midlands—and it is in the context of a diverse society that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has rightly asked this Question about the strength of our parliamentary democracy.

In 2010 the late Pope, His Holiness Benedict XVI, spoke about parliamentary democracy in an address here in Westminster. He pointed out that democracy is a process rather than a value in itself—a process whose vitality depends on its being open to people who are guided by the values and commitments that inform their conscience. He asked the question,

“where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?”.

We might all answer that question in different ways, but we can all recognise its importance for the strength of our democracy. For many of us, the answer to the Pope’s question will be found in the faiths and beliefs we hold dear. Our parliamentary democracy has grown out of deep roots in the Christian tradition, as we are reminded at the start of every sitting in this Chamber, when we begin our business with prayer.

For our democracy to remain strong, we must recognise that many people, individuals and communities alike, are motivated by values that are given them by their faith or belief; that they need assurance that their freedom to practise and express their faith or belief is not under threat; and that differences between and within faiths in our society are not a problem or cause of anxiety. To these principles the Church of England is resolutely committed. Church of England parishes cover the whole nation of England, and our clergy and people often find themselves building strong friendships with people of different faiths in their neighbourhoods.

In my own diocese, for example, we have churches twinned with mosques in Walsall and Wolverhampton. During the pandemic, leaders of different faiths came together for online programmes to combat vaccine hesitancy. Over the last winter, people of all faiths and none have together been organising warm spaces and places of welcome. Examples like these could be multiplied across the country; faith or belief gives people values to motivate their civic involvement, and that strengthens our democracy.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, reminded us, in 10 days our King will be crowned in a joyful service that will both be deeply Christian and deeply honour people of different faiths. In a speech soon after his accession, the King said:

“The beliefs that flourish in, and contribute to, our richly diverse society differ. They, and our society, can only thrive through a clear collective commitment to those vital principles of freedom of conscience, generosity of spirit and care for others which are, to me, the essence of our nationhood”.

Such a commitment in our diverse society can only strengthen our parliamentary democracy.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, I am very happy to welcome the right reverend Prelate to this House. He comes from an interesting background. Apart from being a priest in the south of England, Leicester and Staffordshire, he has also worked in Japan. He was involved in setting up the national Christian Muslim Forum and now chairs the Council of Christians and Jews. I gather he is also one of the Church of England’s team of bishops for prisons. That is a good range of expertise from which to speak with authority in this House. We look forward to that, and to him, as with his colleagues, bringing his diocesan perspective to this sometimes rather overly metropolitan House.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con): I start by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield on his excellent maiden speech. Lichfield is actually one of my favourite cathedrals, so he is most welcome; may he continue to make insightful contributions to the House. I was particularly glad that he reminded us of the Christian tradition of parliamentary democracy, and of the importance of freedom to practise different faiths.

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