[ACNS] The Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, has this afternoon become the second female bishop in the Church of England to take her seat in the UK’s House of Lords – the upper house of the British Parliament. The ceremony took place the day after her neighbouring bishop secured a Lords' victory over the government on child poverty reporting.
Bishops have played a part in Britain’s legislature since before the era of democracy; and today some 26 bishops have seats in the upper chamber. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are automatically members of the House of Lords. The remaining 21 places are taken by the most senior diocesan bishop by length of service. However, under transitional arrangements, for the next nine years the most senior female diocesan bishop will jump the queue and leapfrog their male counterparts.
At the start of business in the House of Lords this afternoon, Bishop Christine was led into the Lords’ Chamber by the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun and was followed by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Immediately prior to becoming a bishop Christine served the Diocese of Southwark as an Archdeacon. Her new diocese, Newcastle, is in the Church of England’s Province of York.
Her Writ of Summons – the Queen’s instruction to sit as a bishop – was presented to a House of Lords official who read it out loud; before Bishop Christine swore the parliamentary Oath of Allegiance. She was then taken to her place on the bishops’ benches, shaking the hands of the Lords’ Speaker and the Leader of the House of Lords on the way.
“Joining the House of Lords is a great privilege and responsibility,” Bishop Christine said before the ceremony. “God cares about the world as a whole – not just about the Church. I look forward to engaging and working with the other bishops and with key partners for all that leads to the flourishing of communities.
“I will make the most of this opportunity to speak on behalf of those whose voices are not always heard, and particularly alongside the Bishop of Durham to speak up for the North East.”
Yesterday, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, won a significant victory over the government when his amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was passed by Peers with a majority of 92. Bishop Paul’s amendment, unless overturned when the Bill returns to the House of Commons, will require the government to report annually on child poverty levels in the UK with reference to family income.
“It is, of course, possible to overstate the importance of material well-being alone,” Bishop Paul told Members of the House of Lords during the debate. “Many other things matter in children’s lives, including loving parents, good schools and safe neighbourhoods. They are all needed for children to thrive and achieve their potential. But it is also possible to understate the importance of income, or the lack of it – especially among those of us who have plenty, and perhaps take such things for granted.”