The Christian faith of Lord Lyell, former Solicitor General under Margaret Thatcher and Attorney General under John Major, was remembered last week during a service of thanksgiving for his life and work.
On 20 January, MPs and Peers from across the political parties joined family and friends at the service at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.
Lord Lyell died after a long battle with cancer. He was a committed Christian.
At the service, his son Alexander, spoke movingly of the way his father’s faith had developed during his twelve year battle with cancer, and of how God comforted and strengthened him through his illness and treatment.
“Before he died”, he said, “Nick pondered some words from Ecclesiastes, which he wanted us to consider: ‘Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth … [before] the dust shall return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.'”
Leading the congregation in prayer, he cited Lord Lyell’s example “and his challenge to remember you, our Creator, in the days of our youth, before we too face the reality of death.”
He concluded his prayer: “We praise you more than anything else for your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for all who trust him, and rose again to show that death, the last enemy, has been conquered.
“Thank you for the confidence this gospel gave to Nicholas Walter Lyell, such that in the face of death he looked with tears of joy to the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ We continue to miss him terribly, but in Christ we will see him again.”
Lord Lyell was elected Conservative MP for Hemel Hampstead in 1979 and then Mid-Bedfordshire from 1983. He was made MP for North-East Bedfordshire at the 1997 election.
After 20 years at the Bar he was appointed Solicitor-General from 1987 to 1992 under Margaret Thatcher, and Attorney General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland under John Major from 1992 to 1997.
He served as an MP until 2001 and was made a life peer in 2005, the year in which Parliament saw some of its biggest battles over freedom of religious speech.
In October that year, Lord Lyell spoke out in support of amendments to the Government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which threatened freedom to preach the exclusive message of the gospel. The amendments succeeded and the threat was averted.
In November that year, during debates on the Equality Bill he again stressed the importance of the right to “preach your religion with the purpose of saving the soul of another person.”
Referring to proposals to introduce a new law against religious harassment (different from the religious hatred provisions debated earlier the same year) he called them “a deep-seated attack on freedom of speech and on freedom of religion. We fought over the centuries for freedom of religion. …Now we are making a move through this Bill—not deliberately, but this will be the effect—of actually restricting religious freedom very tightly and in very remarkable ways. Under this Bill, John Wesley would have been prevented from preaching in most open-air areas.”
Again, the House of Lords defeated the Government’s proposals and no harassment law was ever introduced.
In addition to politics, Lord Lyell had many other interests. He drew and wrote poetry. He also had a great interest in field sports.
He is survived by his wife Susanna, and their two sons, Oliver and Alexander, and two daughters, Veronica and Mary Kate.