Speaker’s Chaplain

It would be remiss of me, would it not, if I didn’t pass a teensy bit of comment on this story.

John Bercow, the Speaker, reportedly stepped in to prevent Canon Andrew Tremlett being promoted to the position of Commons Chaplain.

On Sunday, Mr Tremlett, the 46-year-old Canon of Bristol Cathedral, said he was not in a position to comment, but the move was criticised by his congregation. He is said to favour the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a Jamaican-born priest and the current vicar of a hugely deprived parish in east London. She is set to be named within days as the chaplain in the first such appointment to the centuries-old role.

Sources close to the negotiations said Mr Bercow refused to accept “another white middle aged man” and instead wanted a “priest with the personal and popular touch”. Sally Barnes, spokesman for Women and the Church, backed the decision saying Mrs Hudson-Wilkin was a “worthy candidate”. “She is a women with great strengths, abilities and gifts,” she added.

It is the latest controversy to surround the Speaker who has been criticised for refusing to wear the traditional Speaker’s outfit and giving his grace-and-favour Westminster apartment a £45,000 refit.

Do you know what disturbs me about this. It’s not Rose Hudson-Wilkin isn’t by all accounts terrifically good at what she does, and if you’re going to have a female chaplain she’s so obviously the lady for the job. No, it’s the fact that a white, male, middle-class man says he doesn’t want a white, male, middle-class man doing the job. But it’s not just the frightening irony and hypocrisy of the thing. Imagine if Bercow had been reported saying he didn’t want a black woman doing the job?

If I were Canon Tremlett I would sue for discrimination of grounds of sex and race. Does anybody know if one could lodge an official complaint with the police?

3 Comments on “Speaker’s Chaplain

  1. I guess that the person who was rejected on the grounds that he was "white" and "male" would have recourse to an employment tribunal compensation for racial and sexual discrimination (particularly if he knew that he was the preferred candidate up to that point).

    But, just maybe, anti-discrimination law doesn't apply to parliament – it often doesn't… But surely the speaker could still be reported for sexist and racist speech (a la the various people who have been reported for homophobic speech after speaking publically about the pros and cons of gay adoption, for instance).

    It's wierd how the very people who vehemently proclaimed anti-discrimination as their mantra, and voted for the strict regulations that we have in the UK, often also voted for those restictions to not apply them to themselves!!!

    Maybe they need to experience what it feels like to have the police anti-discrimination unit "interviewing" them about their free speech!

  2. Peter

    This is an odd post for several reasons.

    1) I presume the job of Parliamentary Chaplain is awarded by patronage anyway? So in this respect, it is a post where there is, by its nature, discrimination.

    2) Why are you getting your cassock in a twist for, when there is positive discrimination? The same method was employed for some Tory election candidacies ( see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politi….

    3) ‘Does anybody know if one could lodge an official complaint with the police?’ – gosh… Best not to comment on this…

    Although there is an official chaplain, there is a rotation of clergy who perform chaplaincy duties in Parliament – both men and women. Personally, given the demographics of the Commons & low church attendance in the nation as a whole why bother is my attitude. The post should be scrapped!



    • Steven,

      1) The position is in practice appointed by the Dean of Westminster Abbey. His candidate was reportedly rejected by the Speaker because he was white and male.

      2) Yes, and it's utterly wrong (and has done the Tory party no favours)

      3) Oh go on – dare you!

      As to your last point, Michael Langrish made a fantastic observation on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme how the saying of prayers in Parliament (and in other parliamentary and local council meetings) is integral to our constitutional settlement. You can hear his wisdom here.

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