Debates between Lord McNally and Lord Archbishop of York during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Debate between Lord McNally and Lord Archbishop of York
Saturday 10th September 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Archbishop of York Portrait The Archbishop of York
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My Lords, like most Bishops from these Benches, I have stories to tell; stories of doing jigsaws in Sandringham on Sunday evenings and of barbeques in the woods at Sandringham in the middle of January—I even have a slightly scurrilous story about healing the Queen’s car. Perhaps I will tell it.

I had preached in Sandringham parish church. We were standing outside and the Bentley was there to get the Queen. It did not start. It made that throaty noise cars make in the middle of winter when they will not start, and everybody stood there doing nothing. I was expecting a policeman to intervene, but nothing happened. Enjoying the theatre of the moment, I stepped forward and made a large sign of the cross over the Queen’s car, to the enjoyment of the crowd—there were hundreds of people there, as it was the Queen. I saw the Queen out of the corner of my eye looking rather stony-faced, and thought I had perhaps overstepped the mark. The driver tried the car again and, praise the Lord, it started. The Queen got in and went back to Sandringham, and I followed in another car. When I arrived, as I came into lunch, the Queen said with a beaming smile, “It’s the Bishop—he healed my car”. Two years later, when I greeted her at the west front of Chelmsford Cathedral, just as a very grand service was about to start and we were all dressed up to the nines, she took me to one side and said, “Bishop, nice to see you again; I think the car’s all right today, but if I have any problems I’ll know where to come.”

When I became the 98th Archbishop of York, during Covid, I paid homage to the Queen by Zoom conference. I was in the Cabinet Office; everyone had forgotten to bring a Bible, including me, but there was one there—which is kind of reassuring. Just as the ceremony was about to begin, the fire alarm went off. The Queen was at Windsor Castle, but we all trooped out of the Cabinet Office, on to the road, and were out there for about 20 minutes until they could check that it was a false alarm and we could go back in. When I went back into the room, there was the screen, with Her late Majesty waiting for things to begin again. I do not know why I find myself returning to that image of her, faithful watching and waiting through those very difficult times. That was a very small part of a life of astonishing service.

The other thing I have noticed in the last couple of days is that we are all telling our stories. Yesterday, I found myself sharing stories with somebody in the street. I at least had had the honour of meeting Her late Majesty; this person had never met her, but we were sharing stories. I said, “Isn’t it strange how we need to tell our stories? It’s not as if she was a member of our family.” Except she was. That is the point. She served the household of a nation. For her, it was not a rule but an act of service, to this people and to all of us.

I remind us, again and again, that that came from somewhere: it came from her profound faith in the one who said,

“I am among you as one who serves.”

The hallmark of leadership is service, watchfulness and waiting. It was her lived-in faith in Jesus Christ, day in and day out, which sustained, motivated and equipped her for that lifetime of service. How inspiring it was last night and this morning to see the baton pass to our new King, King Charles, in the same spirit of godly service to the people of a nation.

Her Majesty the Queen died on 8 September, the day on which the blessed Virgin Mary is remembered across the world and the Church. Another Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, said of her when she knew she would be the mother of the Lord:

“Blessed is she who believed that the promises made to her would be fulfilled”.

Shot through all our tributes in this House and another place, and across our nation, is that which we have seen, especially as it was only on Tuesday—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for reminding us—that the Queen received a new Prime Minister. Can it really be possible? She served to the end—a life fulfilled.

I will finish with a handful of her words. This is what the Queen wrote in a book to mark her 90th birthday, reflecting on her faith in Jesus Christ in her life:

“I have indeed seen His faithfulness.”

I am not supposed to call noble Lords “brothers and sisters”, but dear friends, we have seen her faithfulness too, and we see it now in our new King. May Her late Majesty the Queen rest in peace and rise in glory. God save the King.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I rise with no sense of provocation in following the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, but, when our new King spoke to the country last night, he mentioned a number of new responsibilities for the Prince of Wales and for his wife. He too had taken on a new responsibility from his mother—the Duke of Lancaster. I wear the tie today of the Association of Lancastrians in London because Her Majesty the Queen, throughout her long life, was our patron. Many noble Lords will have been at dinners where the toast was to the Queen, and heard someone in the audience say, “the Duke of Lancaster”. That responsibility as Duke of Lancaster is where I begin my remarks.

In the 1960s and 1970s, I had the honour and pleasure of working for two Prime Ministers, Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. Both affirmed what has been said by all the living former Prime Ministers: what a comfort, guidance and help it was to them in doing their job to have the opportunity of an audience with the Queen, with no leaks, briefings or anything else—just the benefit of her wisdom.

The nearest I got to finding out anything about it was when I accompanied Jim Callaghan to visit President Mobutu in what was then Zaire. In advance of our visit, Jim told me that, when Mobutu had come on a state visit to London, he was put up at Buckingham Palace. It was only after he had arrived, and his suite was ensconced there, that they found he had brought a dog with him, which had come through without quarantine for rabies. Jim said that, quite often when meeting the Queen, she would refer to “That dreadful man who nearly gave the corgis rabies”. I wondered how this would be handled when we met President Mobutu. Sure enough, when Jim and the President met, he said, “And how is Her Majesty?” “Very well, Mr President”, said Jim, “She speaks of you often”.

The other memory, which again ties in with the Queen’s interests, is going to a Privy Council meeting at Windsor, after which she kindly invited the three privy counsellors present for lunch. Before lunch she invited us into her study. Two things stuck in my memory. One was that on her desk was a photograph of her sister, Princess Margaret. The other, as has been referred to, was the BAFTA that she won for her performance at the opening of the Olympics. That epitomises two of her strong personal virtues: her commitment to family, and a sense of humour that did not take all of majesty entirely seriously.

I have one final reflection. I was alone in my office on Thursday evening, with the television on, when Huw Edwards suddenly interrupted what he was saying and said, “It’s just been announced that the Queen is dead.” I was shocked at how sad I was. I have worked around Whitehall and Westminster for over 50 years, and you become fairly hard-boiled to the passing of various personalities around this village. However, I really felt a sadness—I thought, “You’re getting soft, McNally”—but I found over the next 24 or 48 hours that that emotion, that initial feeling that she is gone and feeling sad about it was shared by millions of people in this country and around the world. In a way, that is the biggest tribute to a life of service that any words can convey. It was that we will miss her and that service, that dedication and that example but, in so doing, we know that she has worked so hard to pass that baton on to our new King, so that we can with confidence say, “God save the King.”