Thought for the Day - Rev Professor David Wilkinson
Good morning. ‘There are advantages and disadvantages in belonging to the House of Lords,’ commented Lord Tredegar in 1892, who went on to say ‘The peers are deprived of the right which other citizens have of standing on the hustings and receiving eggs that are not fit for breakfast and cats that have not received honourable interment. But they have the privilege ….of being roundly abused by those whose talents lay in that direction.‘
Over a century later, the report of the committee of MPs and peers to reform the House of Lords yesterday moved to a different model for an 80% elected chamber. As we’ve heard, while most people would think that reform of the House is sensible and reasonable, there are different views on how that should be done, even within the members of the committee. Certainly one of the key issues is how an elected chamber will view its power in relation to the Commons and other devolved bodies.
Standing for election raises questions of the consequent power and responsibility. As Lord Hennessy has commented, the reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries saw the Lords as a house of respected revisers, a diverse group who are there primarily because they know things, and have diverse experience and expertise. Will an elected chamber see its role differently?
Recently I was talking with a senior Bishop and a senior academic, both radical reformers at heart, who nevertheless wanted to defend the Lords as ‘a house of wisdom’. While I agree, it raises the question of what is wisdom? Although it clearly involves experience and expertise, a dog collar or a professorial title is no guarantee of wisdom – as my wife would quickly point out!
A much quoted verse from Proverbs is ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. But what this means is itself quite complex. In the Bible, fear of the Lord may be sometimes moral respect or religious piety, but it can also mean the attitude of humility rather than the seeking of power. Indeed, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul sees the embodiment of such wisdom in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Here we see a model of seeking to serve, to ask questions of accepted norms, and to risk self to make the world a better place.
The book of Proverbs goes on to say that ‘by wisdom a house is built’. Perhaps, in the reform of political structures as well as in my own life, this view of wisdom is a reminder about the value of the attitude of humble service rather than the grasping of power.