The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is with great regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Weatherill on 6 May. On behalf of the whole House I extend our condolences to his family and friends.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I rise to pay tribute to Lord Weatherill. Bruce Bernard Weatherill, known to all as Jack, made his mark on public life as Speaker of the House of Commons. He reached a far wider audience than his predecessors because his tenure as Speaker from 1983 to 1992 coincided with the introduction of television cameras to the Commons Chamber. He became known to millions for his interventions during Prime Ministers Questions. In Parliament he was known for his belief in making government accountable and in making Parliament matter.
Lord Weatherill was born in Guildford. His father owned a Savile Row tailoring business and it was into this trade that he was apprenticed aged 17 after completing his education at Malvern College. He remained involved in the family business throughout his life. Commissioned in 1940, he served as a Bengal Lancer during the Second World War. He referred to this period as formative years and many of his experiences clearly had a lifelong impact. He was proficient in Urdu, became vegetarian after seeing famine in Bengal and practised meditation. He maintained an interest in the region throughout his life. Noble Lords may recall his interventions in this House on the subjects of the Kashmir earthquake and the readmission of Pakistan to the Commonwealth.
After the war he focused on the family business. In 1964 he won election as the Conservative candidate for the seat of Croydon North-East. He retained his seat until 1992, standing as in independent candidate in 1987 after he had become Speaker of the House of Commons. He served as a Whip in opposition and, in government, as Deputy Chief Whip. He was elected as the 154th Speaker of the House of Commons in 1983. His years of service were marked by a desire to encourage the free flow of debate and the expression of all opinions. He championed the role of Back-Benchers and his tenure as Speaker was sometimes an uncomfortable period for the Government of the day.
Lord Weatherill also made a significant contribution to this House. He was raised to the peerage in 1992 and from 1995 to 1999 served as Convenor of the Cross Benches. From the beginning he commanded tremendous respect from all sides of the House. He
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Lord Weatherill was always modest about the role he played during the passage of the House of Lords reform Act of 1999, but this House will not forget it. It was in large part due to him that an agreement was reached which allowed the Bill to pass. He used his skills to considerable effect at what was an extremely challenging time for this House.
It is difficult to do justice to a life characterised by such a broad range of interests and experiences. Lord Weatherill will be remembered as a remarkable man; respected by all and missed by many. He is survived by his wife Lyn, their three children and seven grandchildren. I am sure that all sides of the House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to Lord Weatherills family and friends.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the Leader of the House in everything that she said about the late Lord Weatherill, whose death has saddened the whole House. We on this side, who were proud that he was a Conservative, deeply share her expressions of sympathy for Lady Weatherill and the family. They have lost much, but they will know that they were also given much, as was every one of us.
Jack Weatherill was a rare figure; someone who had, as Speaker of the Commons, been for millions the embodiment of that House but who, in coming here and being chosen as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers at such a critical time in their history, became part of the fabric of this House also. Those of us who saw him well into his 80s, with that crisp, swift, upright walk along the corridors, could have had no doubt that he was a military man in younger daysa cavalryman, indeed, who saw service in India and retained not only his love of horses from those days but some of his habits of life; his vegetarianism, for example, and his practice of meditation. As a horseman, it was apt that he personally sewed the riding breeches used by the king and queen at the Trooping, and it was no accident that the Royal Warrant was given to his firm.
It is as a true parliamentariansomeone concerned for, and about, the standing of Parliament inside and outside these walls and for his great and dedicated service to Parliamentthat Lord Weatherill will be remembered. It has been widely commented that he was the Speaker who encouraged, over the heads of many doubters, the introduction of television to the other placea House, incidentally, that was so much more reluctant to innovate than this House was at the time. That introduction was to the good of Parliament, as was so much that he did. He was rough only with Ministers who preferred the Today studio to the House for their announcements. One of todays obituaries calls him, rightly, a great Speaker. He was famously independent, not always to the delight of the Government, but he won the trust and affection of all Members; his ready wit and light humour were always there to defuse any situation that might risk getting out of
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When Lord Weatherill came to this House, he was Convenor of the Cross Benches at a time when a government Bill threatened the removal of 226 Cross-Bench Peers, nearly two-thirds of the then strength of those Benches, which are so vital to the character of this House. As the noble Baroness has outlined, Lord Weatherill played a major role in the compromise that led to the eventual House of Lords Act, moving the Weatherill amendment that shaped that legislation and saw the present House created with massive majorities in both Houses. Out of conflict he helped bring compromise and a House whose performance and independence since 1999 should surely have gladdened him who helped to mould it so much.
For all his great offices and achievements, Jack Weatherill always retained a great humility, symbolised by the famous thimble that he carried to remind him of his origins. For his epitaph, he wanted simply this: that he always kept his word. That he did; and with that word he kept a trust, a faith and a dignity that all of us who knew him will sorely miss.
Lord McNally: My Lords, since the Lord President and the Leader of the Opposition have not mentioned it, I start my tribute with the story that Lord Weatherill told so often against himself. He used to say that when he was elected in 1964 as a young Conservative Back-Bencher, he found himself in the gents toilets down the other end of the Corridor and heard two of the Conservative knights of the shire talking. One said to the other, I think this place is going to the dogs. My tailor is in here now. He loved to tell that story.
As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said, it would be difficult not to see Lord Weatherill as both a tailor and a solider: dapper, crisp and well dressed. He was a skilled Deputy Chief Whip. Indeed, he has one of the few battle honours that any Opposition Whip could have: he brought down a Government, as the pairing Whip during the 1979 Government. As has been said, he was a respected chairman of Ways and Means, and an even more respected Speakerour first TV Speaker. The fact that he was able to move from a background as a Whip to Convenor of the Cross Benches is also a clue to his character. He had a personal integrity that allowed him to be at certain times partisan and at other times absolutely neutral. I once attended a dinner at the Pakistan High Commission when he was there, and was impressed by his affection for and deep knowledge of the subcontinent.
I was never in favour of the Weatherill amendment, but admired the skill with which he played poker with the Government of the day. They blinked first. Apart from the epitaph given him by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it can truly be said of him, If you seek his memorial, look about you.
Lord Weatherill was a parliamentarian who had affection and respect at both ends of the Corridor. We on these Benches share the sense of loss that his family must feel at this moment, and send them our deep condolences.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, the death of Bernard Weatherillalways Jack Weatherill to his friends hereis a sad occasion for the whole House. I express my sympathy, as others have, to Lyn and his children.
Today is a particularly sad day for the Cross-Benchers, because Jack Weatherill was a most distinguished and respected member of the Cross-Bench group. Here in Parliament we think of him as a remarkable parliamentarian, embodying for me the spirit of our democratic Parliament; as a Member of the House of Commons, one of the most distinguished Speakers and a national figure in that office; and as a real star in this House. We on the Cross Benches also like to remember how he was always willing to share his knowledge and experience. He was invariably helpful, often humorous and a source of much wisdom.
I had many contacts with Jack Weatherill myself, in particular because he was one of my predecessors as Convenor of the Cross Benches, from 1995 to 1999. He was a true independent Member and an independent spirit here, as we saw with his role in the last reform of the membership of the House. I learned a lot from him, and can honestly say that I never once failed to enjoy our meetings and discussions. He gave of his experience not only in this House but also more widely, in the organisations and charities that he supported. I particularly remember the Industry and Parliament Trust which he chaired for nine years and supported very effectively, reflecting both his affection for Parliament and his links with commerce and industryparticularly small businesses, since he was not only a great parliamentarian but also, from experience before he entered politics, the best tailor in the House. His interests extended far beyond our shores. He held office in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for many years and had lots of contacts with Parliament, Government and people, particularly in the Indian subcontinent and other countries with close links to the United Kingdom. We shall miss Jack Weatherill very deeply. Parliament has lost a great servant.
The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I add our condolences to those of other noble Lords who have spoken. We have the title Lords Spiritual, but Jack Weatherill was one of the Lords Spiritual in reality. We have heard about the integrity of his life and the thimble of humility; he was a genuinely spiritual person. In addition to the services to Parliament, about which Peers with better right to speak have referred, he cared for the coherence of the whole of society. I think of his work on the Speakers Commission on Citizenship, for example, which gave birth to the Institute of Citizenship Studies.
He saw his own contribution to the story in the light of the continuous story of the generations. He looked back to some of the great Speakers of the past; he located himself in a continuing story and saw
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He was conspicuously fair and inclusive. It was typical of Lord Weatherill that he was the patron of the Three Faiths Forum, and its members were all keen to share him as their own. I remember vividly him describing the first time that he was under fire, not politically but in that period to which the Lord President has referredthe Second World War. He was in a vehicle, the bullets were buzzing around him and it was being driven by a Sikh. The Sikh turned round to him and said, Put your trust in God, sahib, hes a very reliable fella. So we believe, but so, more importantly, Jack Weatherill lived.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, my first encounter with Jack Weatherill was when he was chairman of Ways and Means in the other place. I had just been made a chairman of a Standing Committee there. I was very wet behind the ears. My first big committee meeting was a housing committee. At a Division, I thought that all the Members were there, I called for the doors to be locked and for the Division to take place. I had locked out the Opposition Whip and the Opposition Front Bench Member dealing with the Bill. A hullabaloo broke out. It was a Thursday morning and I spent a terrible weekend because I knew that I was being reported to the chairman of Ways and Means, whom I did not really know. On Monday morning, I went into Jack Weatherills office to see him and confess all, believing that my days of chairmanship were well and truly over. I opened the door and he came in and said, come along, Betty, come and sit down. I dont care what youve done, but I am totally in support of you. I am on your side. Throughout the years that I worked with Jack Weatherill, that was his attitude to all those who worked with him. He was totally loyal, committed and supportive. He was my dear friend and mentor. I shall miss him very much indeed.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as is usual on Europe Day, the flags of all 27 EU member states and the European Union flag will be flown in Parliament Square. The Minister for Europe will be visiting a comprehensive school in west London tomorrow to mark Europe Day, with pupils involved in the German presidencys Ambassadors in Schools initiative. This will also enable him to promote the year-long Learning Together initiative which was launched in March as part of the 50th anniversary of the EU. This school partnership project is one of a range of activities that helps to raise awareness and debate on EU issues.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. At least the flags are flying in Parliament Square today and tomorrow, but are not the Government being characteristically shy and modest about the European Union? After 34 years of membership, could we not have celebrations up and down the country instead of just one school visit in London?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we believe that Europe Day is an extremely important opportunity to raise awareness about the European Union and the importance of our membership of it, but every day is an important occasion on which to raise awareness of the European Union and we celebrate that.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, would not a good way of celebrating Europe Day be to announce a referendum on the slimmed-down European constitution, so that, amid all the scheming, the British public will have a say in the matter?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, in addition to celebrating Europe Day, will the Government give a little more thought to how we celebrate Commonwealth Day alongside it? The two need not be rivals. Although we have the Commonwealth Day service in Westminster Abbey, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm about distributing information about the Commonwealth to schools. This countrys place in the Commonwealth network is vital for our future position and prosperity, so will the Minister urge her colleagues and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give far more emphasis to the future importance of the Commonwealth, which contains some of the richest and most advanced countries in the world and whose development is crucial to the stability of the whole planet?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I fully agree with many of the noble Lords comments. It is entirely proper that we raise awareness about the Commonwealth. I draw the Houses attention to the Global Gateway, a government initiative for schools. I believe that that website refers to aspects of the Commonwealth, although I will check that. That is a good way of making the Commonwealth much more visible to the children of this nation.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that the European Union does not constitute the whole of Europe and that therefore Europe Day is a misnomer. As the Governments policy is now to promote Britishness, does she agree that perhaps we should have a British Day, even though it might be called St Georges Day?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in factual terms the noble Lord is correct. The continent of Europe is wider than the European Union, although, thankfully, the European Union keeps growing, but
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Lord Teverson: My Lords, the greatest leaps forward in Europethe accession to the Rome treaty, the Single European Act and the Maastricht treatywere all achieved by Conservative Administrations, although without referendums being called. What do the present Administration see as their greatest achievement in their 10 years in power?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, our greatest achievement is perhaps in ensuring that the European Union focuses its attention on practical issues that are important to the daily lives of the people of this country. I am talking about issues such as climate change and the environment, which we have to address in this 21st century but which we cannot address alone; we have to work on them in partnership with our European colleagues.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if Her Majestys Government really wish to raise awareness and increase debate about our membership of the European Union, would it not be more appropriate for them, rather than having a visit to some comprehensive school in west London or whatever the Minister said the celebrations were to be, to commission and release for debate a genuinely independent cost-benefit analysis of all aspects of our membership of the European Union? Might the Government not then discover whether the 68 per cent, at the latest count, of the British people who wish to reduce our relationship with the European Union to one of free trade with the single market are right?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I referred not to just some comprehensive school but to a particular school in London which we are very pleased is a part of the Comenius project. I very much hope that schools such as Eton are also a part of these projects but I do not have those facts at my fingertips. As for a cost-benefit analysis, although I know what the noble Lord is referring to, many such studies are already available in this country. The Government firmly believe that the costs of the European Union are far outweighed by the benefits to the people of this country.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the less than 1 per cent of total UK expenditure which is the cost of our membership of the European Union represents some of the best value for money that this country has ever had? That was recognised by the last Government; it will continue to be the case under this Government and even further under future Governments of this country. To do anything other would be an act of isolationism which would damage every interest that we hold important.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I fully agree with my noble friend. It is another of the Governments achievements. In 1997, when we became a Government, we were totally isolated in the European Union; now, we are not isolated. We are part of the mainstream, and I am glad about that.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, on this auspicious day when the shared devolved Government of Northern Ireland take their position at Stormont, does the Minister agree that one of the substantial contributions to that great achievement was the Irish Republics remarkable economic growth under the European Union? It is one of the outstanding achievements of that Union.
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