The Bishop of Lincoln has this afternoon made his maiden speech in the House of Lords (Thursday, 15th March 2018). Bishop Christopher made the speech in response to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Statement made to Parliament on Tuesday of this week.

It is possible to watch the speech by clicking on the image below (a transcript also appears below).



My Lords, I want to begin by thanking those who have made me welcome to your Lordships’ House – not least those who hail from Lincolnshire, including one proud doorkeeper. We share a love for our historic county – the beauty of landscape and building (not least our cathedral – about which you may have heard from the noble lord, Lord Cormack) – the pleasure of its food and most importantly the rugged, independent-mindedness of its people.

I have been Bishop of Lincoln for over six years.

My predecessor, Dr John Saxbee, is an expert in the work of the Danish theologian, Kierkegaard, and one of his most famous sayings is that:

‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards’.

And trying to understand my life backwards now I see that providentially much of who I was and what I did before coming to Lincoln in 2011 prepared me for the role I now inhabit, and will inform and guide the contributions I hope to make in your Lordships’ House.

I come from working-class roots in the former steel town of Consett, in north-west Durham; a town that was only there because of the steel works – the place where all the men in my family worked.

I found faith and a vocation to the priesthood at the age of 13. It was a surprise to me, a surprise that has not entirely left me, that God was calling someone like me to be a priest.

This vocation took me to south London, Hampshire and Portsmouth where the journey back to my roots began.

Portsmouth, though 350 miles south of Consett and a little warmer, has been described as a northern city on the south coast – a reminder that the north-south divide is as much a conceptual division as a crude geographical line. There I was able to engage with issues of poverty, inequality and low educational attainment that re-appear where I now serve.

My journey back to my roots (or, as we members of the north-eastern diaspora call it, ‘home’) continued with a national job in Church House, Westminster overseeing the provision of ordained and lay ministry across the Church of England which sensitised me to the challenges facing the community and the churches in areas on the edge like Cumbria, Cornwall, Herefordshire and of course, Lincolnshire.

And that brings me to where I am today and to the Chancellor’s Spring statement.

There is much to welcome in what was announced. The light at the end of the tunnel, the modest improvement in economic forecasts and the prospect of an increase in spending on and investment in public services will be good news to the people of Lincolnshire, especially if what is devoted to Lincolnshire addresses the challenge we face.

Lincolnshire is formed by its history and its geography. In the words of one recent book, we are ‘prisoners of geography’. The impact for Lincolnshire of 50% of its population living in sparse, rural settlements is huge.

Size does matter. And in Lincolnshire this is expressed in challenges faced by the health and education services. Not to mention the threat climate change poses to Lincolnshire, which the most reverend prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, sees in a recent book as having ‘significant bite not only for our generation but also for those as yet unborn’.

But Lincolnshire is not all rural or flat fens – there are communities like Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Lincoln and Boston and, in those areas that voted heavily in favour of Brexit, there are the usual challenges of urban life and there are more to come when the full impact of welfare reform is experienced. Unless economic policy is directed as much towards the interests of these communities, as it is to the more prosperous corners of our country, we will be failing in our duty to create a fairer and more integrated society, where none feel ‘left behind’. Already I see in those communities a sense of alienation from the metropolitan elite. In the typology of David Goodhart, the ‘somewheres’ resent the ‘anywheres’, and the ‘anywheres’ don’t understand the values of the ‘somewheres’.

This is not new. The Lincolnshire Rising of 1537 and the Pilgrimage of Grace that followed were obviously about a commitment to the old religion, but perhaps also driven by resentment that King Henry VIII and his commissioners were the rich elite from the south who came to plunder their assets. The King made his views of Lincolnshire clear. It is, he said, ‘the most brute and beastly shire of the whole realm’ and he saw that the perpetrators were cruelly executed.

My Lords, in hoping to avoid a similar fate, it is nonetheless my sincere wish to be a small but proud voice for the successors of those good people of greater Lincolnshire in this place.


A response made by the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth, may be viewed below.



A report published by the Church of England Parliamentary Unity is available here.


The main photograph and video clips are courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv