On 14 November 2023, Bishop Helen-Ann made her maiden speech in the House of Lords. You can read it below.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be doing my maiden speech in this House, and to be doing it in this particular debate. I offer my sincere thanks to your Lordships for the kind welcome you have extended to me, and I pay tribute to the dedicated parliamentary staff whose commitment to public service is exemplary. The Gracious Speech set out the bare bones of a legislative programme that will reveal its detail as we go. However, before making one or two observations on this, I will set out what I hope I might bring to the collective wisdom and discourse of this House from my experiences across the world.
My Lords, I began my ministry as a bishop in Aotearoa New Zealand, as Bishop of Waikato and my years of working closely with that land’s indigenous people, the Māori taught me much about the challenges and the joys of collaboration amidst difference and challenge. There are many phrases of wisdom that I learnt in this context: that leadership in the public square is like climbing a mountain: the higher you go the better the views, but the more unpredictable the weather systems.
My life began however, as a daughter of the manse in Coldingham in the Scottish Borders and my Presbyterian heritage remains close to my heart. My diocese is the most north in England and stretches from the Scottish border to the River Tyne across rural, coastal, and urban landscapes to the City of Newcastle, encompassing a small part of Cumbria to the West. This region is well known for the riches of its industrial, cultural, and sporting heritage. My Lords, noting the measures laid out in the Gracious Speech for changes in football governance, and welcoming the focus on women’s football in particular, the Bishop of Newcastle is the only Lord Spiritual who literally wears the colours of their local football team, but somewhat controversially perhaps our lanyard colours of red and white speak to the sporting colours of the city I grew up in: Sunderland. The diverse communities and landscapes of the northeast and Northumberland are etched deeply into my life: the innovation in business and cultural life, issues of farming and rural communities, the creativity, kindness and ingenuity of the region’s people and the deep challenges of poverty and inequality, and transport and educational attainment are on my heart. The footsteps of the Northern saints who mapped out the religious and cultural heritage of our nation have shaped my journey too, and for the first time this year my own footsteps joined 60,000 others for the world’s biggest half marathon which starts in the city of Newcastle and of which our region is rightly proud: the Great North Run.
I hope to focus in the near future on aspects of media policy. My Lords, I wish to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin: I am one of my noble friend’s ‘Playschool babies’! The government published its draft Media Bill earlier this year and it has been chewed over by many commentators and agencies. My time as chair of the Sandford St Martin Trust caused me to focus in a particular way on the place of religion and ethics in our media – not least in the importance of the PBS remit of the BBC, Channel 4, and other media in a dynamic environment.
What is clear from the draft bill is that particular scrutiny will be required on the detail of provision across communities of faith and particular interests like science. Currently, as I understand it, there are no metrics for ensuring a minimum service in relation to religion in public service broadcasting. ‘Flexibility’ is being offered instead; but, if there are no mechanisms for measuring requirements, then how will we know whether or not broadcasters are fulfilling their unquantifiable remit? My colleague, the Right Reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leeds, and I will be tracking this bill with great interest and attention to detail.
I conclude with a Māori phrase I offer to my Lordships in the House as I look forward to working with you: Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi with your basket and my basket the people will thrive.