As people will speedily see, we move from one subject to another quite quickly, and we now come to the very happy business of the motion on tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain. I have the great pleasure of calling the Leader of the House to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House congratulates the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin on her twenty-eight years of ordained ministry in the Church of England, nine years of which have been in the service of Mr Speaker and this House as Chaplain to the Speaker, the first woman and the first BAME holder of that post; expresses its appreciation for the generous, ecumenical and compassionate spirit of her work among hon. Members and staff of the House; and wishes her every success in her forthcoming ministry as Bishop of Dover and Bishop in Canterbury.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker, to say we are moving on to a really happy discussion. It is a great honour to move the motion and give the House the opportunity to pay tribute to the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. I would like to thank her on behalf of the whole House for her service.
“Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.”
These are the beautiful uplifting words that the reverend prebendary reads to us in her strong, resonant, resounding voice every morning when we meet in private to send up our petitions to God. It is when your chaplain, Mr Speaker, creates an atmosphere of prayerfulness that allows right hon. and hon. Members to set their souls at ease with God as they prepare for the business ahead of them. She does so in a way that would move the heart of the most stony-hearted atheist to feel there is a true and a divine presence. To achieve this through the power of speech and the use of language is a great achievement, and one that has daily been the triumph of your chaplain, to the benefit of Members of Parliament.
It is not only liturgically that your chaplain, who is now retiring to go on to greater things, has been a major asset to this place, Mr Speaker; it is also in her pastoral work, for the chaplain has been a help to many Members, in counselling, guiding and supporting them through difficulties in their lives and giving them succour as a true shepherd to her flock. She has worked closely in a spirit of ecumenism with Father Pat Browne and has not been in any sense narrowly sectarian. Anybody who has had dealings with your chaplain or who has met her has found it a help and benefit. What more can possibly be asked from someone in clerical orders?
It has been 359 years since the first Speaker’s Chaplain, Edward Voyce, was appointed in 1660, and while it is of great significance that the reverend prebendary is the first in the intervening three and a half centuries to be a woman and the first to be from an ethnic minority, I look forward to the day when we no longer have to remark on the race or sex of the Speaker’s Chaplain. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but Lord looks at the heart. She is a person of God—the highest calling of all. Dare I say it, but the calling to God is a higher calling than the calling to political life, and all that matters is that calling?
For the chaplain, it has always been very simple. God’s calling has made her who she is, and she has followed her calling with the calm confidence we all admire so much. Her key responsibilities, in addition to pastoral care and daily prayers, have included running a weekly eucharistic service in the chapel and performing weddings, marriage blessings and baptisms for Members and their children. She has also led many services to celebrate the lives of those who have died during their service to Parliament. I think many of us would particularly like to thank her for her part in the commemorative ceremonies and her support following the loss of a dear colleagues, Jo Cox and PC Keith Palmer. We will never forget the bravery and passion of all those who have worked in this place, and we will never forget the chaplain’s dutiful care to her flock.
The chaplain has always shown her devotion to those who need her, whether in Montego Bay or on these shores, and I know so many people in the parliamentary estate feel that her remarkably self-possessed view of life has sustained them through difficult times. We will never forget the chaplain’s trust in God’s grace, which has, I think, helped give her the courage of her convictions to speak out during her ministry. We should all seek to live by her words on the importance of improving the culture in Westminster and making this a place where everyone is treated as they should be.
It only seems suitable to end with words from the 1662 Prayer Book—that great book of liturgical beauty, that ornament of the Church of England and, speaking as a Catholic, that bit of the Anglican Church of which I am possibly the most jealous; some of our translations are nothing like so beautiful. Leaving that to one side, it seems suitable to end with words from the Prayer Book:
“Almighty and everlasting God, who alone workest great marvels: Send down upon our Bishops and Curates, and all Congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing.”
I hope, Mr Speaker, that as your chaplain moves to Dover, the continual dew God’s blessing will rain down upon her.
I thank the Leader of the House for a really wonderful tribute to Reverend Rose. Before I pay tribute to Reverend Rose, I want to refer to your statement yesterday, Mr Speaker, on the new Speaker’s Chaplain. We welcome Reverend Canon Patricia Hillas, who will be with us shortly. I am sure she will do the same wonderful job as Reverend Rose has done. I was sorry to miss mass yesterday, when Reverend Rose and Father Pat were together. They have made a formidable team in our darkest hours.
We wish Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin—I am sorry she is not here in the Chamber, in her usual place—a heartfelt farewell. Reverend Rose arrived in the United Kingdom to join the Church Army as an 18-year-old young woman, displaying the Windrush generation’s adaptability. It did not take long for Reverend Rose to flourish, and in 1994 she was ordained to the priesthood, at the point where women had only recently been allowed to be priests. She continued to splinter the glass ceiling spectacularly given the context of the male-dominated area she was called to—not only for women, but crucially, and seemingly effortlessly, for women of colour.
It is no surprise to those of us who know her that, while holding the prestigious position of 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons—as you heard, Mr Speaker, in tributes to you, a well-deserved appointment—and being one of the three chaplains to Her Majesty the Queen, she is much loved by her congregation at Holy Trinity church, Dalston, and at All Saints church, Haggerston, where she has worked for over 16 and a half years.
If you ask Reverend Rose, I am sure she will say that her pastoral missions both here and in Hackney share a common thread, and that is to make sure that everyone is well spiritually and everyone feels good enough to do their jobs well. The Leader of the House was right: when she says prayers, which she does every day, I often feel as though I have never heard those prayers before. She has an amazing way of making you feel that that is the first time you have ever heard those important words. Reverend Rose will tell you that prayer is at the heart of what she does.
Reverend Rose has always been a visible presence and is often seen around Parliament, as she says, “loitering with intent”, comfortable in her own skin and “in her hair”. I know that she has sought out hon. Members when they have faced difficulties. We have not had to go to her; she comes to us, and she makes sure that she counsels us in the appropriate way.
But what Rose has always been keen to emphasise is that in all she does she feels connected with—rooted to—her past in Jamaica, her grandparents and their grandparents, with sacrifices, ideas and hope passed through stories flowing from one generation to the next. She says that such a foundation will be an integral part of success for the next generation of young black people growing up in the UK, on the basis that “they survived, so we must thrive.” Yes, she has a way with words.
True happiness, Reverend Rose maintains, flows from where you come from, where you are rooted and the depth of spirit that tells you who you are. She poses questions: why should women be seen and not heard? Why not live in this world and not in the past? Why should not women be in leadership? Why should people of colour not be seen in all walks of life? But a good leader, she says, acts with integrity and loves the people whom they serve.
We certainly have felt the warmth of the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin’s spiritual leadership while she has been in Parliament, and at a very exacting period of our history. In an interview with The Observer, she revealed that her secret prayer was that she would like to see a more civil attitude among MPs. She warned that the world was looking in, and she would like to see a change in the way we MPs handled listening and speaking to one another. I think that it is a work in progress. Perhaps, when she is looking back on us from Dover, she will see that we have achieved her aims.
I have seen Reverend Rose sitting through many debates, particularly the European debates. Rose, we shall miss having you with us, guiding us gently but—in the words of Labi Siffre—with “something inside so strong” so that we learn to deal with our individual experiences through the way in which we respond to them, and, in the case of us women, teaching us to respond to high barriers by becoming taller.
We wish you, Ken, your two daughters and son all the very best in your new role. We know that you will continue, as Bishop of Dover, with your own mantra: to achieve, to excel, to overcome obstacles—that no limitations will rule your efforts. As we have already witnessed, we know you will go on to greater things and are proud to have crossed paths with you. A true pilgrim’s progress, from Jamaica to Canterbury. As Aretha Franklin would say—respect! Reverend Rose, we thank you. You were there for us when we needed you most.
I must thank the shadow Leader of the House, and I think I speak for the House in doing so, for the sheer warmth and magnificence of that tribute. I think that there is an electricity in the Chamber as a result of what the right hon. Lady has said and the unadulterated passion with which she has delivered it, and I want to thank her.
As parliamentary warden of St Margaret’s church, Parliament Square, may I join in supporting the motion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? The only thing that surprised me about his speech is that he did not mention—although the motion does—that Rose Hudson-Wilkin will be the Bishop in Canterbury, where my right hon. Friend married his wife, with a number of people presiding, and he managed to incorporate in this presently Anglican cathedral a Roman Catholic mass. I think that it is almost coming home time for him.
May I say how much I welcomed the words of the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)? Watching Rose Hudson-Wilkin work with John Hall as Dean of Westminster, with Andrew Tremlett and with Jane Sinclair, who have been the rectors at St Margaret’s, and in her sharing of the monthly parliamentary communion and the breakfast in your house, Mr Speaker, we have seen closely in private what she is also well known for in public. I add that it was a delight to meet her grandchildren at the reception in your house, Mr Speaker; they are a tribute to the modern generation in this country, and if some of them were to come here not perhaps as Speaker’s chaplain but as Members of Parliament it would be a delight, especially if I could remain here to welcome and join them.
I want to end with some words that will be familiar to Rose Hudson-Wilkin:
“Our vision is for everyone, everywhere to encounter God’s love and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action.”
She says she comes from Montego Bay; I say she comes from the Church Army, and those words are the Church Army dedication. I thank her for her dedication to us.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind if I start by briefly expressing my thanks to you for your service in the Chair and wishing you all the very best for the future. You have been a source of encouragement and sound advice to many of us in the Scottish National party, and I have been particularly grateful for your support in my role as Chief Whip. Of course, for Scottish National party Members, staying at Westminster is not a long-term ambition, but the role that you have played and the reforms that you have introduced have certainly made our time here more tolerable.
As others have said, Mr Speaker, one of your most significant legacies and early decisions is the appointment of Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin as your chaplain. I remember as a younger, keener but casual observer of business in this place reading some of the coverage and criticisms of that appointment at that time, but, as you have previously said, Mr Speaker, those critics were wrong in every single respect.
From the start, SNP Members here have found that Rose brings a presence of welcome, comfort and reassurance. There are some who would question the value or relevance of starting the parliamentary day with Prayers, but of course participation is voluntary and, as the Leader of the House alluded to, I do not think that anyone, believer or non-believer, who has had the privilege of experiencing the prayers led by the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin could doubt their value. No matter how tense the day may be, no matter how important or portentous the business to come, her tone and eloquence at the start of each day have a levelling effect and remind us all that ultimately we are all equal—for believers, we are equal in the sight of God.
Prayers, especially in recent times, have provided some memorable moments, even if they have not always been visible to the public. The Rose’s choice of texts often matches with uncanny ability the occasion of the day and hits the right note. At the start of our proceedings on the historic Saturday sitting a couple of weeks ago, she began with St Paul:
“Do not be anxious”.
That was the moment that broke the ice, and chuckling could be heard across the Chamber.
By leading those prayers, Rose has ministered to the House collectively. Her presence in the Under Gallery, literally praying for us as we have taken part in some of the biggest and most historic votes of recent years, has not gone unnoticed. She has also ministered to many Members individually as a chaplain, especially at times when tragedy has struck Parliament and the House. She has also built strong ecumenical relations, forging, in particular, a firm bond with Canon Pat Browne He may officially be titled the Roman Catholic duty priest to the Houses of Parliament, but to the Catholic community in Westminster—and, I believe, to many others—he too is undoubtedly a chaplain, and early-day motion 71 congratulates him on his 10 years of service. He invited Rose to address us at mass in the crypt yesterday—it is, after all, the chapel of her chaplaincy—and her reflection was once again on that admonition to not be anxious but to trust in God. We hope that that is what she will do as she takes on the role of Bishop of Dover. Once again she is breaking down barriers and conventions, as she has done here in Westminster, and as you have done, Mr Speaker, in appointing her.
We will warmly welcome, in due course, Canon Tricia Hillas. She brings considerable experience of promoting diversity, inclusion and ecumenism, all of which means that we can have every confidence in her as a worthy successor to Rose.
Rose said to us last night that, although she was leaving this place, she would carry us in her heart and in her prayers. She can be assured that we will do the same for her, in ours. This morning, at Prayers, she invoked the priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers:
” The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you”.
Perhaps, in return, we can invoke the old Irish blessing:
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I hope that observers of our proceedings understand the enormous affection and esteem in which we all hold Rose. I just want to mention that a constituent of mine, and a former constituent, are in the Public Gallery: Julie Kincade, my constituent, and former councillor Sue Polhill, who was one of my constituents until relatively recently. In this session, I hope that they are seeing the House at its best.
I want also to mention, because I think it is apposite and there is a piquancy about it, that the Church of England’s diversity adviser, Elizabeth Henry, who has helped to deliver real beneficial and progressive change, is with us as well. Elizabeth, you have been the most enormous asset to the Church, but I want to thank you publicly. You have been a great support in relation to Rose—you were an early champion of hers, knowing her quality—and you greatly assisted my colleagues and me only the other day in the recruitment of her successor. I salute the work that you do, the passion that you share, the experience that you bring, and the counsel that you offer. They are very precious.
I have always thought that the job of the Speaker’s Chaplain is rather like the job of the person known as “the bish” on one of Her Majesty’s warships. That person prowls around the lower decks, surrounded by heathens and heretics, waiting for somebody to call upon him. I guess that this place, particularly in the last few months, has been just a little bit like that. But the wonderful thing about Rose is that she has always been there to be called on when she is needed, and through some very stressful times for everyone on both sides of the House she has been a tower of strength.
You guys and girls have come to say goodbye to Rose. I have come to say hello. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, the Bishop of Dover is the Bishop in Canterbury. Let me also say, just as an aside, that earlier today, during questions to the Church Commissioner, it was asked, “How does the Archbishop of Canterbury manage when he has so much to do, not only at home but overseas?” The answer is, of course, that he is not the Bishop in Canterbury. That will be Rose, and I know that she will be a tower of strength to Archbishop Justin, as she has been to this place.
But Rose is coming to east Kent, and I have warned the lady who is going to become Bishop Rose that one of her first duties will be to visit the wonderful constituency of North Thanet, and to spend a couple of hours on Margate’s seafront—in January, when the rain and the wind and the snow will almost certainly be horizontal. That is when we in Margate celebrate the Blessing of the Seas. That is the occasion, on the feast of the Epiphany, when we throw a small Greek Cypriot boy into the freezing waters of the North sea and—so far without success—try to drown him. The Bishop of Dover—the Bishop in Canterbury—plays a key role in that event. Rose, we are looking forward enormously to welcoming you to east Kent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this tribute, but I regret that I was not in my place to take part in the tributes to you, Mr Speaker. I should say that I was not here for your tributes because I was adhering to your rule that we cannot just beetle into the Chamber after the start of a debate, although I realise that you might not have been adhering to that rule quite so strictly today as on other occasions. Had I been here from the start, or had I had the opportunity to participate, I would have said that one of the things you have done, with which I would like to associate myself in every way, is to give steadfast support to Rose. Not only before I joined this House but subsequently, on a number of occasions, I have heard you stand steadfastly and resolutely against racism associated with her as an individual, and against gender bias and gender discrimination. What you have exuded with your appointment of Rose as Speaker’s Chaplain is what I hope we as a House embody. I have never heard a Member of this House—maybe they did previously— criticise Rose. I think she is wonderful. She exudes a faith that I do not talk about often but that I hold personally and privately.
The shadow Leader of the House, who is also a wonderful lady, said that she was sorry that Rose was not here. I think that that embodies Rose’s character. She was here during your tributes as a steadfast support for you, Mr Speaker, but she is much too humble to be here for this. She exudes the Christian strength that we should all embody. I have been here four years. On occasions I have gone to Rose, tapped her on the shoulder and shared with her the difficulties that some of my colleagues have been facing. I know, without asking, that she then went to see them. She provided the strength, the assurance and the love that she exudes on our God’s behalf.
The Leader of the House mentioned the comfort that we get from liturgy. There is huge comfort from liturgy, but depending on who gives it, it can often appear repetitive. That has never been the case during Prayers in this House. I remember the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is not in his place, talking about her beautiful intonation. The poetry she injected into scripture brought it alive for us. As somebody from Ulster Protestantism who knows how important Sunday morning is, I did not think I would skip into those Anglican ways of believing that coming into this Chamber for Prayers was important. Not only is it important, but it has provided huge comfort for me. Not every day, but on the days when we are facing difficulties collectively and on days whenever, nationally, we know that politics is in a bad place, just coming here for those three or four minutes and hearing the Word expounded in such a beautiful way is a huge source of strength.
I have never spoken publicly before, and I probably will not do so again, about the difficulties that my wife faced when my son was born. Those difficulties meant that public baptism at the front of church was not an option. So, two years after he was born, Rose baptised him here, very privately and very personally. As a two-year-old, when the light of life was passed, he blew it out. When solemn prayers were being shared, he was trying to run around. Rose just put her arm around him and held on there during all those precious moments. She has been precious to me and to my wife, and I know she has been precious to many in this House. For my part, Mr Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to speak so early and for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate and to thank Rose from the bottom of our hearts.
I am delighted to be able to associate myself with and wholeheartedly support the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I want to say two things about my memories of Rose. First, from those few minutes at the beginning of our parliamentary days when the Speaker’s Chaplain reads a psalm and leads us in a brief session of prayer, I will always remember the sheer musicality of Rose Hudson-Wilkin’s voice, which gave extra resonance and meaning to the texts in which she was leading us. I remember, too, her willingness to vary the normal order of prayers when the occasion made that right. There have been times—I remember this from when I was Leader of the House in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on Westminster bridge and the Palace of Westminster—when the sense of shock in this Chamber at the beginning of the day has been palpable. Somehow on those occasions, Rose knew which psalm, which passage, which prayer to introduce in place of one of our usual prayers to reflect that mood in the House and to respond to the particular occasion.
My second point is about her pastoral care. The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) has spoken of his and his family’s experiences. Again from when I was Leader of the House, in the months and, indeed, years that followed the dreadful murder of our colleague Jo Cox, one of the things that is etched in my memory is how Members on all sides—particularly, though not exclusively, women Members—began to open up about the abuse and threats that they had been suffering for quite some time. Whether it was about those things or whether it was dealing with a Member at a time of personal or family crisis or tragedy, Rose was always there: quiet, listening, offering comfort, and offering solidarity when it was most needed.
In years when the reputation of this House and of its Members collectively has been under fierce and sometimes vicious attack, Rose was also willing to speak up in public to affirm the value of the political vocation and to assert that, from her experience, she knew that most Members here, regardless of which political tradition they represented, had come into politics with a noble motive of trying to make things better for the people they serve.
Rose is now going on to greater things within the Church, and I am sure that the people of Margate and the rest of north Kent will soon discover that they have a shepherd in Rose Hudson-Wilkin of great talent and unparalleled pastoral commitment. Those of us in this House now, whether we are hoping to stay or intending to leave, will always remember Rose with affection, with pride and with a sense of love, because love was what she brought to this place and what she always sought to embody.
I appreciate that you, Mr Speaker, are occasionally someone who believes in constructive iconoclasm. This is the sort of occasion when I say to myself, “Would it not be wonderful if, just for once, we could not sit as Robespierre demanded we sit in the revolutionary council, on the left and the right, but we all sat together, on one side or the other?” I say that because today we are not divided. We are not divided by politics, theology or religion; we are divided in no way. We are united by an extraordinary admiration for a truly remarkable woman. We have heard some extraordinary contributions. Everyone who has spoken related to Rose Hudson-Wilkin in their own particular and personal way. That is so typical of the henotic qualities of the woman: that she appealed to every one of us, from our different traditions, in so many different ways.
Some of the tributes that have been paid today have been emotional. Some of them have been stirring. Some of them have been hard to listen to. But in many ways, that was Rose’s ministry here in this place; sometimes she went when the words were difficult to say. When my mother died, Rose was an extraordinary source of comfort to me, and I think every one of us has had a similar story to tell. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) was slightly censoring his comments when he gave that famous Irish blessing about the wind always being at your back and the road always rising up to meet you. I mention my late mother, God rest her soul, and I seem to remember that the last two lines of that blessing are:
“And may you be in heaven
half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”
I cannot imagine why my late mother, Dominica, felt it appropriate for me to learn that couplet, but she certainly did and, in the manner of education back in those days, she made me repeat it on a regular basis.
Slightly oddly, we have heard Rose described as the “Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin. As she ascends to the Episcopal purple, some of us refer to her as the “about to be bishop”. But whatever we call her, a Rose is just as sweet by any name, and what we have here is our Rose, be she bishop, prebendary, or canon. Be she whatever, she is our Rose Hudson-Wilkin and she is remarkable for that.
The horror of the murder of Keith Palmer was mentioned earlier. Many of us were in the House on that occasion, and many of us remember that Rose and Canon Pat Browne organised three different services on that very day, so that everyone could have the opportunity to make their peace with God and to find comfort and succour on that day. It was a truly remarkable occasion, and she rose to that occasion. I think you rose to that occasion too, Mr Speaker, as did the House. It is a tragedy that it took that appalling, cold-blooded murder of such a good man for us to come together, as we did in the memory of Jo Cox. We have had some terrible times in Parliament in the past decade, but we have also had some great, great times, and the terrible times have been mitigated by the love, warmth, illumination and prayer of Rose Hudson-Wilkin.
Last night, as my friend, the hon. Member for Glasgow North said, Rose concelebrated the holy mass in the Chapel underneath. The reading was from Romans, which has wonderful lines saying, “Don’t worry too much about praying because if you can’t find the words, God will give you the words. God will always find the words for your prayer. You don’t need to worry about getting the words right. You don’t even need to worry about getting them in the right order. You don’t even need to worry about your vocabulary or your enunciation. God will give you the words.” Rose Hudson-Wilkin always had the words; she always knew what to say, be it a short contribution or a long one.
It has been mentioned that Rose is not in her usual place in the Under-Gallery, where I have seen her sit many a time, shaking her head, almost imperceptibly, but sending us the message that says, “Oh dear, oh dear, what are you doing now?” and praying for us. I believe she is without at the present time, but close, and I like to think she will always be close to this place.
The former Bishop of London the Right Reverend and right hon. Richard Chartres and I were at school together. We have an arrangement whereby he does not say anything about what got up to and I reciprocate. We took different theological paths, but when it came time to appoint the next Bishop of London, I felt it appropriate to write to him to say, “I make no suggestion as to who the next bishop should be, but she should be a woman of colour, she should be a woman, her initials should be R. H. W. and if possible, she should come from Montego Bay. If you can find anyone who fits those criteria, I am sure she would make an excellent Bishop of London.” An excellent choice was made, and I am glad to say that Rose has found her bishopric down on the south coast—although I have to say that when the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) talked about hurling young boys into the foaming brine for some extraordinary marine sacrifice, I thought that perhaps a bit of exorcism might be appropriate in such places. Had Rose been appointed the Bishop of London, she would have broken not only another ceiling but a stained-glass ceiling. That is what Rose has done. She would have achieved so much by doing that.
I find Rose’s kindness, generosity, warmth and love remarkable—they are characteristics from which I draw strength—but let us not forget her intellect. She has a formidable intellect: she is a great Bible scholar and a great student of theology. From the discussions we had, perhaps from slightly different theological perspectives, I learned such a number of things from Rose. She is one of those people who believes that intelligence is like a fire to be lit and a brain is like a bucket to be filled. She actually wants to draw you out and discuss matters with you. She is a truly remarkable woman. I feel the need to head down to Dover just to keep in contact with her. Whether or not I transport myself corporeally down to Dover, all I know is that her prayers will be enveloping this building and this place, because she is part of our history and part of the culture that we have here, and we are the better for it.
This morning, during the tributes that were quite rightly paid to you, Mr Speaker, one thing we could not do was give any credit to your successor, because we do not know who your successor is—bookmakers appear to know, but that is entirely inappropriate to mention—but in the case of Rose we can mention my good friend Tricia Hillas. On behalf of all the community and congregation of St Barnabas Northolt, may I say what an excellent choice you have made, Mr Speaker? Despite an unfortunate predilection for Watford football club—I rather suspect she was attracted to Vicarage Road for theological reasons, rather than the lure of Troy Deeney—I must warn you, Mr Speaker, that when we come to meet Tricia Hillas, there will be dancing, singing and music, because Tricia Hillas can never stand still in one place from one minute to the next. We have talked about our different theological traditions—I tend to be with the late Monsignor Ronnie Knox, who felt that by and large enthusiasm was not a good thing and that we have a bit too much of it—but Trisha Hillas is an enthusiast. She is a marvellous pastor and will bring so much energy, courage, colour and excitement to this place.
I am, of course, backing away from the stage and the limelight, returning to well-merited obscurity—[Hon. Members: “What a shame!”] No, no; were it put to a vote, I think I would have left years ago. [Hon. Members: “Never!”] Well, I think there is precedent for holding a seated vote, or a standing vote—I forget which one is which—but let us not chance fate. I wish everyone who is standing in the election every success and happiness. I want Members to know two things for when the new House assembles and they meet Tricia Hillas. First, she is absolutely a woman of God to the marrow of her bones. She is a woman who will bring God’s blessing to this place. Secondly, it is almost impossible to imagine anyone following Rose Hudson-Wilkin, but believe you me, Mr Speaker, Tricia Hillas is going to come very, very close.
We are here to mention Tricia for the future, but for the present and for the future in Dover, let us remember for a moment how incredibly lucky every one of us has been to be touched by that extraordinary, joyous, joyful Christian woman Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Chaplain to the Speaker, a woman who has taught us all so very much.
There was a time when I was the mayor of Ealing, and I revived the old habit of appointing the mayoral chaplain, which had fallen into desuetude. I appointed Father Pat Foley, my parish priest. At the beginning of each council meeting, he would stand, look at all the councillors, look at them again and then cast his eyes up to heaven and pray for the Borough of Ealing.
I have to say that Rose has never ever stopped praying, not just for us poor parliamentarians, but for what we stand for—for our democracy, for our nation, for our community and, I hope, for a better, fairer and safer world. Rose has been an exemplar. She is going to Dover, but she is going with our prayers. Let us ask her to take with her our thanks, our gratitude, our respect and, if you will allow me, Sir, our love.
As I have listened to the successive tributes, I have been looking at my page of notes of all the things that I wanted to say in order to show appreciation for everything that Rose has brought to this place during her years of service here, and I have been having to cross them off one after another, because the heartfelt speeches so far have really encapsulated everything. But, as we know, Mr Speaker, in politics, everything may already have been said, but the show is not over until everyone has said it.
I wish to try to say something that has not been said explicitly from a slightly unusual perspective in this context. What I mean is that most of the tributes that have been made so far have clearly come from people blessed with deep religious belief, but, sadly, I am not such a person, having had my religious belief holed below the waterline when I read too much for someone at a young age of some of the things that had happened in British and European history in the first half of the 20th century.
If, as some people say, religion is irrational, then also agnosticism can be irrational, too. What do I mean by that? I mean that somebody who does not have a particular religious belief is nevertheless hugely touched and impressed by those people who do, and particularly by those people who do and who put it into practice by praying on one’s behalf. At the risk of slightly embarrassing him, and I suspect that he will be the next to be called, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has a habit of sending little notes to colleagues on the eve of elections—[Interruption.]
As I was in mid-sentence saying, the hon. Gentleman has a wonderful habit of sending little notes to colleagues at election time and at other times when he thinks that they may need a little bit of encouragement saying, without any sort of patronising air, but with an air of true Christian love, that he is praying for them and their welfare. As someone who is not blessed with deep religious faith, I know how much I deeply appreciate that, and that is, I am sure, one of the reasons why he, irrespective of politics, is loved and respected in all parts of this Chamber. Rose Hudson-Wilkin falls into, from my perspective, exactly the same character. It must have been very daunting for her to descend into this pit of monstrous egos, but she carried it off tremendously. She has never talked down to us or scolded us. She has gently guided us. As has been said, she has given hints through the choice of appropriate prayers and appropriate language, and through the putting forward of a philosophy of righteousness, encouragement and love from which we all have benefited, whether we are religious, whether we have faith or whether we lack it. For that and for her kindness to all who work in this place, I thank her.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). He has come through a hard time in relation to health. As I was aware of that, I made it my business to hold him very much in my prayers, as I do many people in this House—not that anyone will know, because our prayers are private. The right hon. Gentleman does know that, however, because I spoke to him about it.
I am also very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who made a constructive contribution, as he always does. I will miss him when he leaves, as he is my friend in this House. In fact, he was one of the first Members I met when I was first elected to the House. I wish him well in whatever the future may hold; I know it will be a good one. I have very much enjoyed our fellowship. He has also had a hard time health-wise, and has come out the other side, due—I believe in my heart—to the prayers of God’s people.
I wish to add my voice to the many who have paid tribute to the Speaker’s Chaplain, Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. I have met her on many occasions, and I have always been inspired by the gentle, measured and thoughtful manner with which she has approached personal conversations as well as scheduled events. I do not think there is one of us who could say that they did not enjoy and feel uplifted by a conversation with Reverend Rose. I know that I always did; I just always felt so encouraged by what she said.
Scripture says, in Proverbs 31, “Who can find a virtuous woman? Her value is greater than that of rubies.” Well, this House has been blessed and encouraged to have been guided spiritually by Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. We can easily see the worth of her guidance and the worthwhile things that have been accomplished in this place. Rose by name, rose by nature; I think every one of us has enjoyed her time here. Parliament has seen frustration and tempers rising to unheard levels in this place, with repeated calls for calmness and compassion. Reverend Rose has had a gentle spirit and calming influence, and has been a true ambassador for the Lord Jesus. We are exhorted by the word of God to speak the truth but to do so in love, and she does so all the time. That has been missing all too often in this Chamber, but never, ever in the actions of Reverend Rose.
I am a member of the Baptist Church. When I first came to this place, I was made aware that there was holy communion in St Margaret’s church across the way. Although I am not an Anglican, I felt that I should—I wanted to—be there. From the very beginning, I was encouraged by that holy communion. As I look around the Chamber today, I see many Members who were also at holy communion. We enjoyed that time of fellowship together.
We have daily Prayers in the Chamber. People back home ask me whether we still have Prayers and Scripture in the Chamber, and they are encouraged when I tell them that we do. I am also encouraged every day when I come into this Chamber and hear Scripture and Prayer, which is so important. I can honestly say that that makes me feel encouraged for the day ahead. I said to Reverend Rose once, “I would like to have holy communion at least once a week or maybe every day, if that is possible, instead of once a month, because every day that we have holy communion I feel that we have had a visit from the Lord himself.” Holy communion was an important part of what she did.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) referred to the empathy and compassion that Reverend Rose has shown him, his wife and his young child. None of us in this Chamber—especially not me, as his colleague and friend—could fail to be moved and encouraged by that.
I wish Reverend Rose every success and God’s richest blessing as she continues her ministry as the new Bishop of Dover. I exhort her to keep pressing towards the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. May the words of St Patrick—our patron saint in Northern Ireland—be her battle cry as she moves forward:
“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
I thank Reverend Rose. God bless her in all that she does and will do in the future. I know that in Dover or wherever it may be, she will serve her Lord and Saviour, who we serve here.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) referred to the holy mass. What is the meaning of the word “holy”? Daily, at Prayers, we invoke the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. I know that the hon. Member for Strangford would say “Holy Spirit”, but I prefer to stick with the original words. I have no idea how to define “holy” or “holiness”, and I am satisfied that there is no satisfactory dictionary definition, but I know holiness when I have encountered it, and we have encountered it in the presence of Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin.
I want briefly to add a personal note of thanks and tribute to Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Rose married Anne-Louise, my wife, and I about 18 months ago. She did that with great charm, great style and joyfulness, and great Christianity. She showed great care and sensitivity to us in preparing us for that wedding, and also to our families, and, in particular, Anne-Louise’s two children, who had lost their own father tragically. The care that she showed has always stuck with us. Since then, particularly in the past few months, when Anne-Louise, sadly, has been unwell, Rose’s continuing support and prayers, and the kindness that she has shown to our family, mean more to us than words that I can say in this Chamber could ever adequately convey.
I also want to say a quick word about Rose’s husband, Ken, who has been a great support to her, and who I, as Chair of the Justice Committee, had the pleasure of meeting when he was working as a prison chaplain. He, too, has been a great servant of God and of the broader community, and a great witness to his faith. That enables me also to say how valued the work of the prison chaplaincy service is by many in difficult times of their lives.
Anne-Louise specifically asked me to come here today and say that she is still in hospital but on the mend, and that Rose’s support has meant more to us than anything. For those of us who do have a Christian faith, she could not be a better pastor and shepherd. For those who do not have such a faith, there could be no better ambassador. Dover will gain immeasurably from her arrival as its suffragan bishop.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I wish you every success and your family every happiness for the future. It might not be so easy for me to see directly eye to eye with your successor; that might be more of a physical challenge for some of us. I wish you well and hope that all goes happily for you and your family in the future. In the end, we ought to remember that the things that bring us here in our desire to serve our communities are more important than the things that may divide us on political grounds.
The beauty of the hon. Gentleman’s tribute to Reverend Rose will, I think, remain with colleagues for a long time to come. As to the matter of physical stature, he, I and the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) share in common that characteristic of notable shortness, but I have always argued that we should at least be regarded as environmentally friendly on the grounds that we do not take up excessive space.
It is a pleasure to join these tributes to Reverend Rose. Only a remarkable lady could have come from Montego bay to the position of your chaplain, Mr Speaker, and those of us who have heard something of her journey realise how remarkable it has been.
I am one of those who has regularly attended her morning communions, followed by breakfast in your apartments, Mr Speaker. One of the great beauties of those occasions is that, as the Leader of the House said, the service is based on the Book of Common Prayer, which is vastly superior to all that has followed. We have heard a wide range of speakers from the community, and Rose has introduced us to many people who have shared with us the challenges of their ministry or work, which has been exceptionally valuable. On those occasions, Rose has also invited individual Members to describe their faith journey, and I have found those sessions to be of particular value.
I also want to talk about Rose’s wider ministry. Last year she came to my parish church in Grimsby, St Giles with St Matthew, and I learned that she has visited other Members’ constituencies—or, in my case, the neighbouring constituency—to preach at their parish church. It was a wonderful occasion, and I know that the whole congregation greatly appreciated it.
As we heard earlier, Rose has varied the Prayers that she says at the beginning of our daily sessions. I am sure that that has caused a few ripples here and there, because the exact prayers that must be said are probably laid down in statute, but it has been extremely helpful and valuable. She is not in the Chamber at the moment, but when I popped out a short while ago, she was providing pastoral care and comfort to a Member. That just shows her devotion to her calling, which I think we would all want to place on record.
Mr Speaker, if you will indulge me for an extra minute or two, I would like to say a few warm words about you. We first met when I was the constituency agent in Gainsborough. I drove you around on various visits, one of which was when I was studying at Lincoln University, and you spoke to the politics group of which I was a member. I can assure you that that went down particularly well. You returned to Lincoln University two or three years ago to give an address. You spotted me in the audience and spoke very warmly about me as a Member. My wife said to me, “He’s going a bit over the top, isn’t he?”, and I said, “John going over the top? No, never!” I greatly appreciated that.
You have called me relatively early in the proceedings. One or two of us at this end of the Chamber have, on odd occasions when we have been bobbing up and down, thought that your eyesight may be failing. You have always been particularly courteous to me, and I thank you for that. In particular, this occasion calls for our thanks to Rose. May God go with her.
I shall be very brief. Throughout the time that Rose has been the chaplain to the Commons, it has been abundantly clear that her pastoral skills are outstanding. Those of us who have gone to the monthly communion in St Margaret’s have come to value her fellowship and her company. In addition, we have had the benefit of seeing her around the building and enjoying her pastoral support at times when some of us have needed it.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I have had Rose visit my parish to preach, during a time when we had an interregnum between priests. She was something of a star attraction, which showed just how extensive her reach had become in using her chaplaincy of the Commons to spread the gospel and the word that she wanted to put forward in her own way. I will be very sorry at her departure, but I am delighted that the Bishopric of Dover will be available to her, where I am sure her pastoral skills will be used to full measure. I wish to use this opportunity—on behalf of both myself and my wife, who got to know her—to wish her farewell.
Finally, I would just say that Rose was of course your choice, Mr Speaker, which I seem to remember attracted some controversy at the time. As we consider the end of your career here in the House and of your period as Speaker, I would just like to repeat my thanks to you. It is abundantly clear that if you have ruffled feathers, but there are some feathers you ruffled for very good reasons. Ten years on, those who look back will conclude that our proceedings and our life in this House were enhanced by many of the things that you did.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is very kind of him, and I take it in that spirit. As he knows, I wish him extremely well. Quite apart from his contributions in the House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the most exemplary county colleague that anyone could want. He has been a brilliant colleague for me in Buckinghamshire over the last 22 years, and I salute him.
At the beginning of my short address, perhaps you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to thank you for and congratulate you on your work. I think we have known each other in excess of a quarter of a century. You have visited my constituency, and you were very helpful to me when I was Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. You have championed Back Benchers; I have a long record of being one. I would like to thank you and wish you well for the future.
Mr Speaker, you very kindly allowed me to use your state rooms on the occasion of my wedding reception on 7 February 2015. Mentioning that leads me seamlessly into thanking Rose for her work, because she did me the great honour of marrying my wife Annie and me on that date in the chapel downstairs—St Mary Undercroft. What a wonderful day it was. No one who attended will ever forget it. It still gives us strength and fills us with great affection when we look back at it. I well remember that I had to be interviewed separately, Annie had to be interviewed separately and then we had to be interviewed together before Rose recommended to the Dean of Westminster that we should be allowed to be married, and it was a wonderful occasion. That is my personal recollection.
It has also been wonderful to see Rose in action over the past 10 years. I have attended many services. I tend to go to the one at 12.45 pm in the chapel downstairs, which is immediately after Prime Minister’s questions, and it is a welcome contrast from that experience to hear Rose tell us about Christianity, peace, love and how important the way we treat each other is. I hope that one of her many legacies, as she goes, will be for us to remember that how we treat each other is very important. Personally, I will never say anything in this Chamber in a tone or in words that I would not say outside it to the person I am talking about or to, and I hope that we could all try to do that as we move forward. I think the public would really like us to take on the lesson that Rose has taught us.
It hardly seems credible that, 25 years ago, there was a terrible split in the Church of England about whether to ordain women. That seems incredible thinking back. I was very much on the side of ordaining women because I believe that the person who should get the job is the one who is best qualified and best able to do that job, regardless of whether they are a man or a woman. I am glad the right side won in that debate, because we would have been deprived of the services of Rose if that debate had gone the wrong way. Many years on, when it came to the question of women bishops, it was hardly a debate at all—quite rightly—and that has enabled Rose to move on to be appointed as the Bishop of Dover.
I would like to thank Rose for all the enormous work she has done in this place, and the messages she has instilled in us about Christianity, the beliefs and what it means to be Christian. I would like to wish her all the very best as she goes forward.
It is a pleasure to take part in this brief debate, Mr Speaker, and have the opportunity to offer my own tribute. I will start by offering a tribute to you, Mr Speaker, because I was not able to be here earlier. I remember well, as a young man, running into the party conference in 1985 to hear you speak, so we must have known each other for at least 34 or 35 years. You were a remarkable young man, and you have had a remarkable, and in some ways famous and controversial, speakership. Of all the things you have done—someone said earlier that you have undoubtedly ruffled feathers—I think that your best decision was to appoint Rose as your chaplain.
Rose has served this House extraordinarily well, and she always seemed to have a knack of knowing what to say. In one of the most difficult times in my life, I happened to bump into her in New Palace Yard. She looked at me from across the yard, pointed at me, and said, “I need to see you.” Although I had not talked to her at all about the difficulties I was facing, she already knew. She had a way of having her finger on the pulse and of knowing who needed help and counsel. Within an hour and a half or two hours, she had made time in her diary, and I spent probably 80 minutes in her study. Those were the most reassuring and illuminating 80 minutes of all the time that I spent talking to people about the difficulties I was facing, and she gave me an enormous amount of reassurance and relief. Rose has an extraordinary gift for pastoral care, and I shall always be extraordinarily grateful to her. She set me on the course that I am relived I ended up on, and I felt reassured by her that it was an okay course on which to embark.
I endorse the tributes we have already heard. The Church of England often gets a lot of stick, and people worry about the future of our established Church. I believe that so long as people such as Rose are within it, and rising within it, the future of our Church will also be secure.
I appreciate the opportunity to pay a tribute to Rose. Like many in this House, I had experiences here that, when the personal combined with the professional, meant that I found myself having what might professionally be called “a bit of a wobble”—I know that many colleagues from my intake have had similar experiences. The one thing I would say about Rose is this: she was there. Her office is one of duty, but everyone would agree that her performance goes far beyond that. She makes time to see people, and gives them the opportunity to speak. She listens, far beyond the level that her office would necessarily require.
Rose has set an incredible example and a fantastic precedent for new Members and the future chaplain to follow. More broadly, the prayers that she leads before each sitting of the House give us the chance to reflect. In a time when we are constantly on social media and looking at emails, iPads and phones, that gives us a moment to step back in silence, listen to the words being said and think about the principles that are laid out here and that make this place and make us who we are. That is one of the greatest contributions that Rose has made to this place. Both personally and professionally, Rose has helped all Members strive to become the better part of ourselves while we are here, and I thank her on behalf of myself, my colleagues and our families.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House congratulates the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin on her twenty-eight years of ordained ministry in the Church of England, nine years of which have been in the service of Mr Speaker and this House as Chaplain to the Speaker, the first woman and the first BAME holder of that post; expresses its appreciation for the generous, ecumenical and compassionate spirit of her work among hon. Members and staff of the House; and wishes her every success in her forthcoming ministry as Bishop of Dover and Bishop in Canterbury.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you indulge me for a moment? I have a bit of FOMO—fear of missing out—because as a Front Bencher I have not been able to say thank you for everything that you have done in the House. I thank you for all you have done on issues of equality and for not shying away from talking about race. I thank you for all you have done on LGBT+ issues, and for making this House more inclusive. Thank you for opening your state rooms, so that small organisations that thought the Houses of Parliament did not care about them could come to some of the grandest rooms in the Palace and feel valued. Thank you for all you have done.
I also want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for bringing Reverend Rose into the House. Hearing everybody’s testament on how she has touched all our lives has been very moving. She has touched my life in many ways. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) spoke about Labi Siffre. Reverend Rose and I talk often about this song and I just wanted to say the first verse:
“The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The further you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide
To turn your face away
No matter ’cause there’s
Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone, oh no
There’s something inside so strong”.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for being so strong. I thank Reverend Rose for all that she has done for the House, for me and for everybody. Thank you.
Well that was extraordinary and magnificent. I thank the hon. Lady for her excessively generous personal remarks as regards me, but what is much more important is what she said about Rose and I want to underline and reinforce that.
Colleagues, I am extremely grateful to each and every one of you, as we approach the end of this Parliament, for sparing the time and making the commitment to share your experience of and demonstrate your—I was going to say respect for—devotion to the Reverend Rose, who has after all been devoted to us for nine years. In every particular—I say this not so much for colleagues, but for those observing our proceedings—Rose has not just done the job, she has excelled beyond anything that we could reasonably have imagined or contemplated. Her daily commitment is there for all to see, day after day, combining her duties in the Chamber with the responsibility for the conduct of services and the need to attend to St Mary-at-Hill in the City and to interact with large numbers of people on the parliamentary estate.
On big occasions, as so many colleagues have eloquently evidenced, Rose has found the words that needed to be expressed. She has expressed them with feeling and with a transparent and undeniable sincerity. It is that authenticity about her that impresses everybody who hears or meets her. We all know, of course, that a very important part of Rose’s role, as has been referred to by many colleagues during these tributes, is the offer of pastoral care. To Members, to Members’ staff, to the staff of the House, to anyone not employed by the House but contracted to work for it, or to anyone who has reason to be on the parliamentary estate who needs help, Rose has been there to provide that help. It has been a singular and unforgettable contribution.
I certainly do not mind vouchsafing to the House that as well as being aware in many cases of when, how and to what extent Rose helped other colleagues, she has been a terrific source of support, succour and counsel to me. Until my dying day, I will appreciate that support, that succour, that counsel and that camaraderie, which she has been able to provide. Many people have also referred to the circumstances of the terrorist attacks. In those circumstances, we could not have wanted anyone, for the purpose of providing comfort and mitigation of pain, other than Rose.
So many people over the past three years have referred to our departed and beloved colleague, Jo Cox, and someone referred earlier to Birstall in Yorkshire, where the then Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition went the day after the appalling murder of Jo. Of course I went as well, but what was really significant was how Rose went, and each of us, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and I, observed the impact of Rose’s presence and persona—her love, kindness, compassion and empathy—on people who were experiencing quite unendurable pain. That pain could not be removed, but it could at least be mitigated, and it could be mitigated by no one better than the Reverend Rose. I have a sense, my friends and colleagues, that we are all agreed in this Chamber that the House of Commons’ loss is Canterbury and Dover’s gain.
Adjournment of the House
That, at this day’s sitting,
(1) the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until—
(a) any Message from the Lords has been received and any Committee to draw up
Reasons which has been appointed has reported; and
(b) he has reported the Royal Assent to any Act agreed upon by both Houses, and
(2) Standing Order No. 41A shall not apply.—(Rebecca Harris.)