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After a while, we both graduated and moved on to the same crowded room in the cross-corridor. Our friendship deepened because I foundperhaps because Gareth was such a clever personthat he always had time for a political discussion, a personal problem or a good political gossip over a large tea. He never seemed to eat until teatime in the afternoon, so it was always a splendid occasion on which to have a chat.
Even then he had begun what became a long-running refrainone could almost call it a jokeabout the appalling financial sacrifice of spending time as a parliamentarian compared to the time-based fees of a top QC. Only three weeks ago I congratulated him on the swift passage of a piece of complicated business in the House. He turned to me with the instant response that,
In the mid-1990s we both graduated to the Opposition Front Bench and then became Ministers together following the Labour victory in 1997. We of course worked most intensely and collaboratively together as Leader and Deputy Leader of the House from 19982001. Throughout all those years, Gareth was an incomparable source of strength. He was an intellectual mentor and a warm and wonderful colleague and companion.
Above all, he made life enjoyable, both for me and for all those around him. He could lighten the mood of any difficult meeting with a telling anecdote or mischievous snippet that he had culled from that morning's tabloids. As many of your Lordships will know, he was always the first to read the Sun newspaper. Put simply, he made us feel better; he made us laugh.
Those who have been the target of his wit and mimicry may know that it was not always benign, but whether he was recounting some apparently bizarre incident across the dinner table or using a humorous line to reinforce a serious point there was always his twinkle and his half smile. I have often said that if we relied on Gareth to choose the best arguments andmore important, perhapsthe best wine, all would be well, and it usually was.
But it was not only at Westminster that we shared interests and friendships. We often exchanged experiences of family weekends in the Cotswolds or the Chilternswalking, reading or making our amateur attempts at gardening. For me, one of the most affecting moments of the past two weeks since Gareth's death was to be shown by Veena the glorious blossoming flowers that he had proudly grown from seed and the empty pots that he had chosen for the autumn's planting. To be shown that by Veena and to know the strength of their relationship and the wonderful times that they had at Evenlode was indeed moving.
Veena has asked me if I would personally convey to all your Lordships her great thanks for the kindness and warmth of your sympathies and for the way in which you have all spoken and written to her following Gareth's death.
I would not be true to myself or to him if I ended my personal tribute without mentioning our most important joint political endeavourthe reform of your Lordships' House. It was during the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999 that the whole political world recognised finally my late noble and learned friend's profound social radicalism and deep political commitment. He was a beacon of principle then, as he had been to those who knew him throughout his life.
The most reverend Primate has already quoted from one of my late noble and learned friend's speeches. Perhaps I may also quote briefly from what he said on another occasion. He spoke of his principled objection to the parliamentary role of the hereditary peerageof his "adamant purpose"but he also emphasised his understanding of the hurt and disappointment felt by individual Peers. He continued:
Lord Rogan: My Lords, when I first entered this House, many showed me much kindness, helped me to understand its workings and made me feel comfortable. Several were especially generous with their time and patience, and none more so than Lord Williams of Mostyn.
Gareth, the man, will be greatly missed by his wife and family circle, to whom we send our deepest sympathy, and Lord Williams, the politician, will be greatly missed by this House and more widely afield. As noble Lords have mentioned, among his other duties he dealt with Northern Ireland affairs in this House. Many of us with an interest in Northern Ireland affairs will fondly remember invitations to his room for those round-table discussions, facilitated by his soft yet steely Welsh voice and a sense of humour that could defuse the most difficult situations.
Lord Williams visited Northern Ireland often, and on those occasions he would host luncheon and dinner parties to which the most diverse guests would be invited. I was last in his company during the recess when he hosted such a dinner party in Government House. Among those present in the gathering wereshall I saytwo interesting guests. I sensed that they felt as uncomfortable in my presence as I certainly was in theirs, but by the pudding stage Gareth, with his
In Ulster, we are not quick to heap praise on people, but when we do one of the best compliments that we can bestow on anyone is to say, "He was a brave fellow". Gareth, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was a firm friend, a true Welsh gentleman and a brave fellow.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn, like me, loved dogs and flowers. A week before he died he sent me some seeds of his rare white perpetual sweet pea. I never wrote to thank him; I should like to say thank you now.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn was a member of Queens' College, Cambridge, the college of which I am president and of which, over the past several years, Gareth Williams was an active member, particularly in support of young law students in the college.
We have already heard this afternoon that Gareth Williams combined a steely radicalism with courtesy, logic and witand a finely tuned sense of the possible. Those characteristics were already present in his student days. The eminent international lawyer, Sir Derek Bowett, arrived at Queens' as a young lecturer in law in 1960 to find that living in the rooms opposite his was a young Welshman, courteous in manner but somewhat unkempt in appearance, with a preference, Bowett notes,
To secure a scholarship at the Middle Temple, Garethfor that unkempt Welshman was hehad first to pass an interview with the formidable Arthur Armitage, the then president of Queens'. Bowett's recommendation that Gareth appear for the interview in suit, tie and polished shoes was greeted with a vigorous diatribe against middle-class values, superficiality and the charade of interviews. Meeting Armitage later in the day, Bowett was therefore astonished to be greeted by the comment,
Other noble Lords have commented on Gareth's brilliant legal mind. However, perhaps because of his rebellious nature, he did rather poorly as an undergraduate, being rescued from a third class degree only by a truly brilliant essay on jurisprudence. The consequence was a remarkably unbalanced combination of a rather poor second class degree and the reward of the most prestigious university prizefor jurisprudencean imbalance that has never been equalled before or since. Gareth then shone in the following post-graduate year with first class honours in the LL B.
There are important clues in those stories to Gareth's subsequent career. He became, of course, a brilliant criminal barrister and later libel barrister, but he came into his own when he entered your Lordships' House and became a lawyer politician. Here he put to good use the philosophical, social and moral judgments that he displayed in his work on jurisprudence. That is where his true strength laya moral commitment allied to a mature understanding of the forces that shape and change the law, politics and society. It is from those strengths that this Government, this House and the country have benefited.
Gareth saw himself as a radical. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, he was fond of saying that it must be something in the water in Wales. I like to think that his effective application of the radicalism that he imbibed in Wales had something to do with his time beside the waters of the Cam.
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