HL Deb 06 December 1945 vol 138 cc401-7

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure it will be your wish that before we proceed to the business of the day we should pay our tribute to a beloved member of this House, the noble and most reverend Lord who has passed from us, Archbishop Lang. I am sure that it: came as a shock to every one of us yesterday to hear the announcement of the most reverend Primate that Archbishop Lang had suddenly passed away in the early afternoon of that day. Some of us have known him in this House far better than we knew him otherwise, as an active and interested and leading member of our Assembly. I somehow think that his passing in the fullness of years and with universal respect, without fear and without pain, must have been what he himself would have wished.

Like that of many others in your Lordships' House, his was a life full of work. He began, as we know, as a young man who made his own way by his own efforts. Very soon, in a singularly rapid way, his qualities were perceived and he became a Bishop, and very soon after that an Archbishop, as Archbishop of York. In that capacity, and afterwards in the highest office of the Church, he became a leader in the Church, and I think that I could very well say a leader in this House. Many of us who knew him only in that latter capacity felt a great respect, and indeed a reverence, for him, in that he was not only a great cleric but a great man, full of human sympathies. Many a time have I, and I am sure many others of your Lordships, listened with admiration and intense interest to his exposition of some case in which the great human interests at stake were foremost.

It is not for me to assess, or even to attempt to assess, his life and influence in the Church, but I am sure it was very wide outside, and he set a very great example in so far as he brought the work and influence and life of the Church into living touch with the needs of the people. With him also, as with many of us, the experiences of his early life made an impression upon his outlook in a very permanent way, and were with him to the very end. We had an instance of that only this week, when he took an active part in our discussions on the problems effecting the Highlands of Scotland, from which he came. It was his plea for, shall I say, the spiritual influences of things of beauty which struck one most in his speech on that occasion. There is not one of us in any quarter of the House who will not miss him and feel deeply conscious of our loss on many occasions when subjects of that kind come before us. He was for many, as I know, a wise and trusted counsellor on all manner of things. We have lost in him as the Royal Commission very rightly says, a Father in God.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I think there will be no one who will not echo the words which have been spoken by the Leader of the House in the moving tribute that he has paid to Archbishop Lang—as we shall always remember him. Others can speak with far greater authority than I can of his eminence as a leader of the Church. It is of him as we knew him here that I would say a few words to-day. It is, indeed, a very grievous loss that this House has suffered by his sudden death. Over a period of many years he played a very notable part in our councils, first as Archbishop of York, then as Archbishop of Canterbury, and, in his later years, as a temporal Peer of the realm. In all these varied capacities, both as a churchman and as a statesman, he showed a distinction of mind and a breadth of outlook which would, I think, have been rare at any period of our history, and which we can ill spare to-day.

But, my Lords, it is not so much of his career as of the man himself that those of us who had the privilege of knowing him are thinking to-day. What was Arch-bishop Lang's outstanding quality? It was not, I think, the brilliance of his mind, nor his exquisite gift of speech—though both were wonderful. What we shall most remember him by, I feel, was the broad humanity which informed and inspired him. He was the friend of everyone, old and young. There was no question that did not excite his interest and sympathy, and he always gave of his best. His innate goodness and kindliness made him the sworn enemy of all that is ugly in this very imperfect world, and to the very end of his days, when he was old and frail, he continued to come to this House day after day to plead the cause of the suffering and oppressed. He wanted everyone to be happy, and, of a piece with this, he loved beauty in all its forms, in literature, in architecture, in nature. It was, I think, characteristic of his whole life that his last speech to your Lordships, delivered, as the Leader of the House has said, only three days ago, should have been devoted to a passionate plea for the preservation of the beauties of Scotland, of which he was so faithful and loyal a son, and that he should have met his death on the way to a debate on the sufferings of Europe. There could be no more typical example of those two qualities of Christian compassion and love of beauty which made his personality so rare and so delightful. He was a man who was greatly respected and greatly beloved, and we must all feel that with him virtue has gone out of the world. He died as he would have wished to have died, with his powers unimpaired. But he leaves a very empty place in the hearts of those who knew him, and our sympathy goes out to his relations in their irreparable loss.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords in this quarter of the House desire to join in the tributes that have been so admirably paid by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. Lord Lang was Archbishop, first of York and then of Canterbury, for a third of a century. During that long time he played a great part in the life of the nation. He was endowed not only with great mental powers but also with a remarkable gift of graceful speech and powers of persuasion. He brought to the service of religion the temper of the statesman, and he also linked the spirit of religion with the duties of statesmanship. He was always a unifying and pacifying influence. Whether in the great assemblies and conferences, or in the daily work of the Church of which he was the leader, or in promoting harmony and co-operation between all the Churches, or in his place here in Parliament dealing with matters in keen debate, that was his province and his special function. It was he who contributed as much as any man, possibly more than any other man, to lifting the great question of elementary education out of the storms of controversy in which it had long been buffeted, into the calmer atmosphere which rendered possible the passing of the recent great Statute by general agreement.

After his retirement he devoted much of his leisure to the service of this House. As has already been mentioned by the previous speakers, only three days ago he was pleading here for the things that are more excellent, and I quote his own words. He said: in this age of a necessarily and increasingly mechanical character, the things that do elevate, sustain and strengthen the spirit and soul of the nation, have a great, a unique and an indispensable value. I think he would have been pleased if he could have known that the very last sentence that he uttered in this House was a plea that the "imponderable but profound values" should be given the preeminence that is their due.

2.50 p.m.


Naturally, my Lords, in this House on this occasion we think especially of the notable and, indeed, the outstanding part that Archbishop Lang took in the life and the affairs of this country and it is altogether fitting that tribute should be paid to him by laymen rather than by ecclesiastics, and I would be well content to leave it where it has been left by the moving tributes which have been paid to his memory. This is not the place, I think, to enlarge on those other parts of his life in which he served other causes. May I, in a sentence, bring to the mind of the House what many noble Lords know full well, that great though his work was in the public life of this nation, his greatest work is to be seen in the range and depth of his influence in the Church of England, as a leader of all the Christian forces in this country, in the drawing together in harmony and understanding of the different denominations of this country and beyond, and his wise and constant counsel and knowledge in the building up of the Anglican communion throughout the world and the vital increase of fellowship with other Churches on the Continent and elsewhere.

I would only mention one thing which will always be associated with his name. In the year 1920 the Lambeth Conference put out an appeal to all Christian people which will for ever be a landmark in the long, arduous and difficult process towards reunion among the Christian Churches. That appeal, whose full work has not yet been done, owed its initiation and execution more to Archbishop Lord Lang than to anybody else. He had immense personal ability and gifts. Some of us can remember him as Bishop of Stepney or as the young Archbishop of York, with those striking handsome features, with that rich and resonant voice which he kept to the end of his days, with the power that he had to draw and move immense audiences, and particularly immense audiences of men, up and down the country. With it all was an eloquence so polished, so apposite, so well phrased, which once more remained with him to his last day.

It was at the early age of forty-five that he became Archbishop of York and for twenty years he worked in the closest harmony with that master of wisdom, Archbishop Davidson. So he came to Canterbury with all his powers matured by training and experience and, yet more, by the ceaseless 'discipline of his own Christian faith and devotion. So he became the wise, the trusted and the gracious leader, friend and counsellor whom we knew. As Archbishop Davidson lay on his deathbed, Archbishop Lang knelt by his side and Archbishop Davidson laid his hands upon him and prayed "Lord, give him judgment, judgment." Judgment Archbishop Lang had indeed, the fruit of all his abilities and the fruit of grace. Schooled by immense industry, he knew because he always took immense trouble and pains to know. He was schooled, too, by a patience and serenity which we all observed and which controlled strong and forceful impulses. His closing years illuminated that inward grace which was always his. In 1942 he laid aside the office which he loved to make room for a younger man. It was a decision not lightly made, but one made cheerfully because he knew it to be right. Once he had made it he had no regrets except for a moment when his successor, the man he desired as his successor, was so prematurely taken from us.

He passed utterly contentedly to a private station happy in the work which he did for many causes which had always been dear to his heart, such as the care of the British Museum as the principal trustee. He was happy in long sojourns in his beloved Scotland, happy in the flowers of Kew Gardens to which he could pass by the turning of a key, happy in the multitude of his friends. I believe that the last sermon he delivered was a Sunday or two ago in Canterbury Cathedral to the boys of King's School, Canterbury, and I knew before this week that it had made a profound impression on the boys of that school. So in his old age he was able to link together youth and age because he never himself grew old. The end came swiftly and we can be thankful for it. After a noble life as Christian, humanist and statesman, after an eventide of pure happiness and delight and usefulness in the associations and friendships he had formed, he has passed not into darkness but into the light.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, my friendship with the late Archbishop extended over a period of very many years. I first became acquainted with him in the old days in another place when I was Chief Whip and he was Archbishop of York. We came into frequent contact and the friendship then formed, I am happy to say, endured to the end. Although the differences between his views and mine were profound he never allowed them to interfere with our friendship. He was always most sympathetic and kind to me, and I consider his loss to be absolutely irreparable. I venture to offer my condolences to the most reverend and right reverend Prelates in this House who were his colleagues, because I know what a great loss this is to them. Only a few days ago in this very House I was having a friendly conversation with him and I cannot say how deeply I mourn his loss.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that one voice from the North of England should perhaps be raised on this occasion, because for many years the late Archbishop Lang was our beloved Archbishop of York and I am sure that there will be a feeling in the North of great regret at his loss. For many years he was our Archbishop and I may say he was also one of my oldest and best personal friends. He was deeply respected there, as elsewhere, for his great administrative capacity, his power and desire for conciliation and the great eloquence which your Lordships know so well, couched in that perfect English of which he was such a master. He was also, besides all that, a very great personal friend and a very good Counsellor to a great many people. There was a very deep human side to Archbishop Lang. He was devoted to beautiful things. To those who have seen him in the garden which he made that was apparent. He is a man we shall miss terribly. It is with great humility that I venture to say these things to your Lordships, but I feel that someone from the North ought to say them.


If the noble Viscount the Leader of the House would allow me, I would add that the funeral service will be in Westminster Abbey on Monday next at eleven o'clock. There will be a second funeral service at Canterbury Cathedral that afternoon. Noble Lords may be glad to know.

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