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Peer of the Day - the Bishop of Bath of Wells for calling for an end to poverty

Bishop_of_bath_and_wellsThe House of Lords also debated the Queen's Speech yesterday.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells is one of the Lords Spiritual and so does not have a party affiliation. Nonetheless he made a highly entertaining and thought-provoking maiden speech that ConservativeHome readers shouldn't miss.

(There are some uncharacteristic typos in the Hansard report. These have been left in so as not to alter the text in any way.)

Readers will note that the Bishop was very funny, but also muscular in his insistence that we must address poverty. Conservatives may differ from him on the means, but it is encouraging to see a clergyman being both forthright and accessible.

"My Lords, I begin by expressing my thanks to Members of the House for their kind and generous welcome. I also thank all the officials, and staff for their courtesy and unfailing helpfulness to me and my family, particularly on the day of my introduction.

In the aftermath of the “Blackadder”television series, there are always perils for the bishops of Bath and Wells. I am constantly reminded of the alleged activities of one of my predecessors as a baby eater, as well as doing unmentionable things with a red hot poker. Entering your Lordships’ House has proved no exception, and the greeting from the Doorkeeper on my first day referring to these matters was capped only by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark seeing my five week-old granddaughter arrive and remarking, “The Bishop has brought his own lunch”.

I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in today’s debate on the gracious Speech. Having been a director of one of the church’s mission and development agencies for six years, I am particularly concerned to encourage the Government on matters to do with international development outlined in the Queen’s Speech.

The Jubilee 2000 debtcampaignraised to popular awareness the issue of debt in the poorest of the world’s developing countries. This in turn led to Make Poverty History, a campaign that creates awareness of the ongoing issue of poverty, as well as raising the profile of the millennium development goals, a subject on which the Prime Ministeraddressed the bishops of the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference.

We live in a world, to quote the words of the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, where:

“We cannot feast while others starve, we cannot be happy while others are sad, we cannot be fully at ease while millions suffer”.

As long as millions of people are in poverty in our world, our whole society is impoverished.The recent view of the world presented by the National Intelligence Councilisthat 63 per cent of the world’s population is expected to be poor in 2025—fewer people than today—but that the poor will be poorer. That emphasises the urgency of the challenge to meet the millennium development goals.

Prior to the launch of Make Poverty History, I wasinvited to participate in a small demonstration in the City of London entitled “Bread not Stones”.The idea was that a number of church leaders would take it in turn to ride in a donkey cart through the City, passing out bread, stones and leaflets to passers-by. The cart would be festooned with banners, stating, “Bread not Stones”, reminding people of Jesus of Nazareth’s question, “Would a parent give a child a stone instead of bread?”. On the day, the donkey and cart arrived but, embarrassingly, no banners or posters, no bread or stones and, I am afraid, no other church leaders, except the woman moderator of the United Reformed Church. Accompanied by two mounted City of London police officers we set off looking and feeling like prisoners being taken to the Tower in a tumbrel. After an excruciatingly humiliating half hour we drew into the churchyard that was our final destination. It was filled with church leaders, charity executives, banners, bread and stones. As we exited the cart, some climbed aboard and others surrounded it smiling at the assembled press corps. The resulting pictures were of an evidently successful demonstration.

I tell the story because it is easy to grandstand on povertyon the millennium goals, but the hard work goes on largely unnoticed or understood. The embarrassment of the failure of the demonstration was of no consequence, except perhaps to my pride. I am convinced, however, of the truth of the Haitian proverb: “God gives but doesn’t share”. We have everything we need to flourish. It is our responsibility to divvy it up. I believe that the first call on humanity as represented by Governments, nations and peoples of faith is identified by the priorities of the millennium development goals. This requires upside-down thinking.Along with the other bishops of the Anglican Communion during the Lambeth Conference, I marched down Whitehall on behalf of those goals. But I fear that the church’s obsessionwith internal agendas rather than with the priority declared in Jesus’s manifesto of,

    “good news to the poor”,

will leave the church open to the charge of grandstanding. The church must think upside down and radically reprioritise.

It is in the context of the further elements of today’s debate, including foreign and European affairs as well as defence, that I plead for a continuing reprioritising by Government. Rightly, defeating terrorism is high on the agenda of western nations, but if we are to defeat the mosquitoes of terrorism we must drain the swamps of poverty and despair, which result in the stones of anger, hatred and violence. In welcoming the British Government’s support for the arms trade treaty, I urge the Foreign Secretaryto call on the new United States Administration to sign up to that treaty. More than 695,000 people have been killeddirectly with firearms since the UN arms treaty process began in December 2006. That is about 1,000 people a day, illustrating the urgent need for worldwide compliance with the treaty.

In 2000, 189 countries adopted the millennium development goals with their aim vastly to reduce global poverty by 2015. While there have been some major achievements, most nations have defaulted on the promised 0.7 per cent of their gross national product and Her Majesty’s Government expect to reach their target by 2013.Today’s global financial situation provides little hope of a tipping point in favour of the world’s poor, but rather an increased downward spiral into deeper poverty and debt. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has observed that the global financial crisis,

    “threatens to undermine all our achievements and all our progress. Our progress in eradicating poverty and disease. Our efforts to fight climate change and promote development ... It could be the final blow that many of the poorest of the world’s poor simply cannot survive”.

In the diocese of Bath and Wells, we are committed to seeking ways of addressing the millennium development goals, but we are conscious that their title makes it difficult for them to be communicated simply and easily. I therefore urge DfID to look for ways of bringing the priorities of the millennium development goals into a popular and accessible form, so that readers of the red tops as well as of the broadsheets can engage in the task of remaking humanity.

Finally, Get Fair, which is a coalition of religious and secular groups, cites evidence in a recent survey that politicians must do more drastically to reduce domestic poverty and that it is in their own self-interest to do so. The poll indicates that 51 per cent of Britons, evenly spread across gender, age group, social class and region, say they would reward the political party that had the confidence to tackle poverty. Rising to such a challenge would ensure—in the words of Delboy in “Only Fools and Horses”—that everyone is a winner, and that is always appealing."


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