|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, may I say on behalf of these Benches that the House is a lesser place as a result of the death of Lord Williams of Mostyn? It is somehow appropriate that, as the summer begins to ebb from the skies, some of the light has left this House. Lord Williams brought to this place an extraordinary sense of warmth and magnanimity. It would be right to say that his loss will be mourned far beyond the Benches of this Chamber; he will be mourned by the staff of the House and by the many who worked with him and by those in his office. Wherever he walked around the House, people greeted him with a smile, knowing that he would be accessible to them and sensing strongly that he was their friend.
Lord Williams was in every possible way a brilliant man. He soared through the Bar and, as we all know, in 1992 he became Chairman of the Bar Council. He conducted himself in Swansea and later in London in the most remarkable way, dominating some of the most crucial law cases that have ever come before the courts. When he came into politics, having been elevated by Mr Kinnock, he rose extremely rapidly up the rungs of the ladder of politics. However, it is worth remembering that before he became a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office in 1997, he brought to his spokesmanship in opposition on Northern Ireland affairs his extraordinary capacity for seeking consensus among people fighting and battling against one another. Indeed, he played a very significant role at a difficult point in Northern Ireland history after the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly by bringing together people who had found it impossible to converse. He brought to bear his extraordinary ability for conciliation to influence them.
Once Gareth entered the Government, he played a distinguished role in the Home Office, then as Attorney-General and, finally, as Leader of the House. In that capacity, I should like to echo what we have all agreed: he brought to that role an incredible ability to get the House to understand how to work through some of the most controversial issues confronting it. Not only did he have an extraordinary sense of humour, he was able to deprecate himself. He was always modest and able to take into account the gifts and contributions of others. We shall miss him very greatly.
He was a radical. He once said that radicalism was part of the water in Wales: you drank it with your childhood. He was deeply radical and I am delighted that he was able to bring to completion two of his major objectives, which dated back to well before he entered this House and the Government: the idea of an independent commission to appoint judges and the concept of a supreme court. Those are two great monuments to his record as a politician and as a lawyerachievements that go far beyond what most of us will ever attain in our lives.
He was also a radical influence on this House and, as the Lord Chancellor has said, brilliantly and successfully steered the work of the committee looking at the modernisation of our working practices. The only thing that he was not completely able to achieve was to make this House more democratic and representative. That task will now fall to his successor, Lady Amos. Along with the Leader of the Opposition I warmly welcome her to her new position. She, too, has great achievements to her credit and I am sure that she will bring to her new role the dignity, thoughtfulness and conscientiousness that she has shown already in the departmental ministerial roles that she has held as a member of the Government.
I say finally to Lady Williams and her family that Members on these Benches too share the huge sense of loss that they will undergo. We believe that she brought much light and happiness to Gareth and we are pleased that she was able to share so many happy years with him. We extend our deepest sympathy to her. All will find Gareth very difficult to replace.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, it is a great privilege to be allowed to speak next. On behalf of all Cross-Bench Peers and myself, I pay tribute to Lord Williams of Mostyn. When he was last in this Chamber he was so much in control, so charming in manner, so ready as always with the disarming phrase, with the witty and pithy aside, that he seemed right at the very peak of his invariably excellent form. It was surely not unreasonable to expect him to remain a much respected, admired and popular leader of your Lordships' House for at least the remainder of this Parliament.
So, along with everyone both in this House and beyond, I was profoundly and deeply shocked and saddened by the news of his most untimely death. What a loss to the country, to the Government and this House, and to all his friends; but, most of all, a most tragic and grievous loss to his wife and family. On behalf of all Cross-Bench Peers I extend to them, one and all, our most heartfelt sympathy and condolences. He has sailed over the horizon where he still is, but now no longer seen or heard by those whom he left behind.
Those noble Lords who, like me, attended the funeral service in Great Tew Church last Monday will have marvelled at the poise and courage displayed throughout by Veena Lady Williams, and Imogen. Although a very private family man, Lord Williams would have been proudand rightly proudof them. We mourn for him, but remember him with great affection and admiration.
Leaders of your Lordships' House have to combine two very disparate attributes: strong partisanship and scrupulous fairness to all sides and Members of the House. In Lord Williams of Mostyn those commanding attributes were evident to all and never compromised, even though it was clear from a number of comments he made to me and to others that he did not find the dual role easy. All the more credit to him that he discharged it so well.
Peers on these Benches, and in particular those who sat to the right and behind him, could count on his assistance to be heard. He seemed to have eyes in the back of his headperhaps an inherited Welsh giftalong with all the other gifts of intellect, radical compassion and great success in his chosen profession of the law, which he had developed and practised in, along with his affection for the Principality. Of course there were occasions when his views and one's own did not coincide, but he would always listen, even if his mind was already made up.
In the many fine obituaries for this remarkably talented and likeable man, I was struck by one phrase attributed to him when speaking about himself. It might even form a kind of colloquial epitaph. It describes the inner strength and sense of destiny of one of the most astute, charming and yet radical personalities that one could meet anywhere and at any time. According to his own account, he decided at the age of eight that he wished to be a barrister because he had the necessary characteristics,
All who knew him, and in particular all those who knew him well, will grieve at his so abrupt and unexpected death. He will be greatly missed and long remembered. He lived up to the Welsh motto on his coat of arms, which translates to read, "The Truth Against the World".
The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, one of the marks of a good lawyer is surely that he or she should confer dignity upon those situations and those persons with whom they have to deal. It may well be that this House needs no such conferrals of dignity, but what has already been said this afternoon has indicated that sense of seriousness, that sense of enjoyment and that sense of broad vision which are always inseparable from dignity.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' House of the late Lord Williams's involvement, over many years, with the legal work of the Commonwealth and of his sympathy and involvement with Commonwealth lawyers, as well as his sustained involvement with issues surrounding prisoners' rights. In both of those respects, he showed himself to be as we entirely expected: a lawyer in the sense that I have already outlined. He was someone concerned with the conferral of dignity: the dignity that is shared by the partnership of the Commonwealth and the dignity that alas we are often reluctant to confer on those at the wrong end of the legal system.
To speak of dignity may sound somewhat pompous. All that has been said so far has indicated a point of which none needs to be reminded: the late Lord Williams was in no sense a pompous person, but one who, confident in his own dignity, was able to recognise it in and confer it upon all those around him.
It will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that we shared one or two things in common that had perhaps a little to do with the water of early childhood already described and an involvementnot restricted to the two of us in this House, I am happy to saywith Swansea. To be welcomed to this House by someone with whom I felt instantly at home was a great bonus and a great benefit.
Reference has been made to the passionate concern of Lord Williams for involvement in the affairs of his native land. Some have spoken of the way in which the Welsh political tradition has been shaped by ideals of corporate and co-operative work to such an extent that Welsh people make naturally good lawyers. Those critical voices that ascribe the legal enthusiasms of the Welsh to less salutary and salubrious motivations should be silent perhaps at this point and allow the benefit of the doubt to those of us who share that lineage.
One who heard it described a speech by Lord Williams, in which he referred to his ancestry and his lineage, as the most moving moment he had ever encountered in the House. Although I belong to a different branch of the ubiquitous Williams clan in Wales, I should like to quote from those words with some sense of identification and some sense of the powerful contribution that they make to our common sense, in every sense, in the House. The remarks were made during a debate on the future of this Chamber. He referred to pride in family, history and ancestry. Quoting Yeats, he said of his ancestors, "they are no petty people". He spoke of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather; of those who suffered in difficult times in Wales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and he spoke of those who live unremarked, though not unremarkable, lives of duty and service. He continued:
Lord Williams was no petty person. It is with a great sense of corporate love and pride that we can pay tribute to that absolute lack of pettiness; that instinctive and unfussy dignity; that wit and that sense of service which we miss so sorelyalthough not as sorely, we know, as his family. He was no petty person.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page