THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

(HANSARD) in the second session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II

FIFTH SERIES

VOLUME DCLIII THIRTEENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 2002—03 House of Lords


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Monday, 6th October 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Tributes to the late Lord Williams of Mostyn

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, we have lost our Leader. Lord Williams of Mostyn—Gareth—died on 20th September 2003. At the time of his death, his command of the House and the faith that the House had in him were total. He brought to the job of Leader of this House his characteristic qualities: incisiveness, respect, friendship and humour. He led the House brilliantly, calmly, efficiently and effectively. I know that he will be deeply missed in all parts of the House.

Gareth came from north Wales. Right from the beginning, he was special. It says something about his impatience that he chose to be born in the taxi his mother was travelling in to the hospital to have him—rather than wait for its arrival—and about his skill that all was well. He never lost his connection with Wales or his understanding of where he had come from. Indeed, on the night before his untimely death, he was back in Wales, in Swansea, addressing a legal dinner with his usual wisdom and wit.

He went up to Cambridge without either a dinner jacket or any of the connections that eased the passage of so many of his contemporaries. He went to the Swansea Bar, where his dominance was established very quickly. He thrived at the Bar. He was never like many other lawyers: he saw the point, and he said what it was clearly and only once. And whether it was the jury or the judge, they usually accepted it.

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By the early 90s, Gareth stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Bar, but he never disguised his bewilderment at the funny practices and clothes of the courts. Those of you who heard Gareth describe how the singer Michael Jackson, one of his libel clients, reacted with incredulity as Gareth detailed what he should expect when he went to the High Court—wigs, gowns and orotund legal argument—will know the wicked glee he took in lampooning the eccentricities of the law.

Gareth was never going to stay his working life at the Bar, moving to high judicial office—though that would unquestionably been his, had he stayed. He was a man of passionate and radical views. He wanted to change things. He relished the opportunity that going to the Lords gave him. But, just as he was not like other lawyers, he was not like other politicians either. His way to achieve the things that he passionately believed in was by quietly persuading others to do them. He knew that he could achieve so much if he allowed others to take the credit, but no one who knew Gareth was misled into believing that the quiet of his persuasion reflected moderate support for change. He desired change passionately and persistently.

When he joined the Government in 1997, he did so as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Home Office. He was responsible for prisons, and he spoke for the Home Office on all its issues in the House. He was a source of real strength in the department. Officials and Ministers alike relied on him for guidance and confident wisdom. Throughout his time in government, his advice was always listened to. Here, Home Office Questions became the biggest box office draw: numbers went up; he was funny; he answered the Question—usually—and he transmitted his views loud and clear to the House.

Without ever a hint of disloyalty or aggression, very quickly after 1997 he marked himself out as the pre-eminent parliamentarian in this House. His pre-eminence came in part from his debating skills. His power to persuade was immense. Without rancour or sourness, he was able to deflect every attack, often

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using humour and always putting the best argument. Somehow, he was always able to convey to us that, however serious the issue might appear, it was not an issue that we could not sort out. There was no crisis that he could not avert; there was no injured feeling that he could not mend.

But his pre-eminence came from so much more than his debating skills. Having Gareth beside you on the Front Bench was like having the writing team of "Yes Minister" on your side. As you listened to the unanswerable supplementary question about how truly dismally you had mishandled the Dome, Gareth would whisper the life-saving answer that diverted the question and saved your bacon. His unselfish quickness was legendary. He did it for all of us. We looked so much better than we were, because we had Gareth.

Gareth did not stay a Parliamentary-Under Secretary long. In 1999, he became the first Attorney-General in this House. Because he was someone who so totally had the confidence of both the lawyers and the politicians, his tenure was extremely successful. He made the precedent stick.

He was the only possible Leader in 2001. His achievements during that period are remarkable and well recorded—including the changes in working practices, the register of Members' interests and navigating the House towards changes in the speakership. As regards the Bills he steered through the House, who else could have had the confidence of the House to steer the Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission etc.) Bill through the House in two days flat last month?

But Gareth's remarkable achievement in this House is so much more than the record could ever show. Gareth has, above all, been the person who has most influenced how the House has coped with change. His period as Leader, and the blinding obviousness of his claim to that role, showed that it was the qualities which Gareth had that the House was both influenced by and aspired to. And those qualities—decency, selflessness, co-operation, friendship, humour and respect—he has left with us in the way that he influenced this place.

For all of us, it is next to impossible to imagine the House without Gareth. The sad requirement on us all is that from now we will have to do so. But his loss is so much more profound than only to this House. All of our thoughts are with Veena and his family. The whole House joins me in sending our deepest sympathies to Gareth's family.

On a beautiful autumn day last week in a small country churchyard, Gareth, surrounded by friends, family and colleagues from all through and all across his life, was laid to rest. His funeral could have filled cathedrals. Every Member of this House from all sides mourns the loss of Gareth Williams. He was a great Leader of the House. His death deprives us all. Losing Gareth takes away a piece of everyone here. We will never forget him.

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2.45 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, even in these present sad circumstances, I know that the House will forgive me if I take the opportunity to congratulate and welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, on her appointment as Leader of the House. I look forward to working with her for the good of the whole House.

How unbelievable it is that Lord Williams of Mostyn is not in his place today. I share the shock and incredulity that we all felt when we heard of his sudden death just over two weeks ago. When I last saw him a day or two before his death, he was all his usual self; that is, courteous, urbane, practical and good humoured. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us much about Lord Williams's background and his brilliant career at the Bar, to which I cannot add. But in reference to his origins, in my time in this House Wales has produced two remarkable men to lead the party opposite; namely, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and Lord Williams of Mostyn. They both treasured their Welsh heritage. Neither was altered for a moment by the grandeur of this place. Each was a giant in politics, but their feet were always firmly on the ground. How sorely we now miss them.

In his time as Leader, Gareth Williams dominated this House. He was formidable at the Dispatch Box, powerful in arming his own case, never afraid to strike and he was deadly with a wit that could disarm his opponents in an instant. Many great parliamentarians can deploy remorseless logic. Some have remarkable wit. Few have both. Lord Williams was one of those very few.

Gareth Williams used the same skills in leading on legislation, even when it was sometimes uncongenial to the House. He was sensitive to the mood of the House. His sharp mind unfailingly cut through the verbiage and went to the essence of the matter, which is, after all, the first duty of a revising Chamber. He may have taken many briefs at the Bar, but he needed no departmental brief here. He spoke always from the heart with true understanding and conviction.

Gareth Williams was a great Leader of the House. There are some who say that we need new ways of controlling our debates, but one only had to see him in action to see how misplaced that is. With a soft word, a quiet joke, or the merest lifting of an eyebrow, he steered the House past rocky places—a sure mark of the respect in which he was held by all.

Finally, a personal word: the relationship between the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition is never entirely easy, least of all at a time of radical change and experiment, of which Gareth Williams was such an advocate. But both sides, at their best, are driven by a sense of duty to the House. Gareth knew that. It was not only his door that was open, his mind was open too. One could always trust him, and sometimes one could even persuade him.

I grieve for Lady Williams at such an untimely and bitter loss and for the whole Williams family. I hope that it is some small consolation to her to know how

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widely that sense of loss is shared. This was a remarkable Leader of the House, a brilliant, straight and decent man and a truly memorable one.


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