HC Deb 16 October 1995 vol 264 cc19-30 3.30 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)

A week ago Alec Douglas-Home, Lord Home, died at his home, The Hirsel. Alec Home was one of those people who light up politics with their integrity. I believe that the whole House will wish to join me today in sending our deepest sympathies to his family.

I was not privileged to know Alec Douglas-Home when he was Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary; I only had the pleasure of meeting him many years later. But even in those days, as someone who watched politics from far beyond this House, I felt from a distance that here was a man of many qualities and few pretensions. He believed that people with privileges had, with those privileges, to accept obligations. He could have chosen the leisured life of a Scottish laird, but he chose to accept obligation and a duty to public service. When fate called him to serve in the highest office, he disclaimed his historic titles, a step that no one in his position could possibly have taken lightly.

Alec Douglas-Home was a modest and a likeable man—a man of dignity, charming, witty and gentle. It is not surprising that he inspired affection among those with whom he worked and among millions who never met him. He never let public life take over. He was happiest with his family, fishing the River Tweed, studying the racing form book or on the cricket field. During one election, he abandoned the election campaign for a day playing cricket, which I think is a perfectly proper sense of priorities for an Englishman—and a very enlightened sense of priorities for a Scottish man. He was a good cricketer too, the only Prime Minister ever to play for MCC.

Alec Home was a family man. His wife Elizabeth, the love of his life, was both his inspiration and his most resolute champion. She shared not only his triumphs and difficulties but his sense of humour. Both of them were devoted Christians, but perhaps only Elizabeth Home could have described the parliamentary Christian wives as the "holy hens" and escaped without rebuke.

Alec Home first stood for election in Coatbridge, as Alec Dunglass, in 1929. He was shocked by the poverty and hardship that he found there. Two years later, elected for the neighbouring constituency of South Lanark, itself no stranger to poverty, he had already formed his strong belief in one nation policies. By the end of 1935, he was parliamentary private secretary at the Ministry of Labour. A few months later, Neville Chamberlain, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, invited him to become his parliamentary private secretary.

Suddenly, with Neville Chamberlain's elevation to Prime Minister, Alec Home found himself at the very centre of government. Although he did not accompany Chamberlain on all his foreign travels, he was with him at that crucial meeting in Munich with Hitler. Alec Home was not, of course, personally responsible for the agreements reached, but, with a loyalty that was characteristic of the man, he would never subsequently criticise Chamberlain's actions.

At the outbreak of war, Alec Home was keen to serve. To his bitter disappointment, he was declared unfit. When tuberculosis of the spine was diagnosed, year upon year of painful treatment followed. With his spine rebuilt, his parting words to his doctors were typical of the man's gentle, self-mocking humour. He said, "You have achieved the impossible; you have put backbone into a politician." Time and time again during his subsequent political career he demonstrated that backbone. He dared to criticise Churchill for the Yalta agreement and the way in which it treated Poland. But three months later, in a typical Churchillian move, Alec Home was appointed to the Foreign Office for a spell lasting only a few weeks before the 1945 election. It was, however, an important step in his political development.

Five years later, Alec Home returned to the House. Only 12 months beyond that he inherited the titles that took him to the other place. He heard the news in the Chamber. He immediately rushed away, only to discover outside the Chamber that he had forgotten his spectacles. In keeping with the tradition of the House, his return was barred now that he was a part of the other place.

With the return of a Conservative Government, Alec Home was appointed to a new post as Minister of State, Scottish Office. He cared deeply about Scotland and about the Union. He once said, "I have always taken the view that we have successfully borrowed the canniness of the highlander to make a living out of the Englishman."

In 1955, Anthony Eden promoted Alec Home to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. It was a time of unsettling change for the Commonwealth, which was struggling to adjust to the end of Empire. Alec Home was central to the Commonwealth's evolution, taking particular responsibility for developing economic co-operation. During that period, he held also the offices of Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council.

Harold Macmillan increasingly relied on Alec Home's wise and honest advice. In 1960, Macmillan made him Foreign Secretary. Alec Home quickly established authority across the world during an especially sensitive period in international relations. He displayed firmness in challenging the Soviet Union and he resolved a serious international crisis in Asia. He performed his role as Foreign Secretary as he did every role, without pretension.

The sight of a British Foreign Secretary climbing from an aeroplane in a rumpled tweed suit amused many foreign dignitaries. As Macmillan later said, "The Foreign Secretary has been accused of many things but never of being the best dressed man in the Cabinet." I do not know why I look around to see whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is with us this afternoon, but I am sure that there must be a reason.

When Macmillan resigned, Alec Home did not at first see himself as a candidate; but when it was clear that he was best placed to unite the Conservative party, he became one. As Prime Minister, he did unite the party. I believe that he restored confidence in political life. Just as he promised, people knew that they could rely on his plain, straight talking. He introduced the controversial retail food prices index legislation, which brought competition to the retail industry and lower prices for the consumer. He interrupted his Christmas holiday to take decisive action to prevent a bloodbath in Cyprus. Time after time he ensured that Britain came to the assistance of her Commonwealth partners in Africa.

The tribute to the mark that Alec Home made as Prime Minister was not that he lost the 1964 election but that he came so close to winning it. After his resignation as party leader, he served loyally under my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), in opposition, and later once more as Foreign Secretary. His stature as an ex-Prime Minister enhanced his role across the world. After he returned to the Lords, he continued to be a source of wise counsel, and he was able to enjoy his retirement back home in the house that he loved so dearly for all his life. He was once again able to pursue the life of the Scottish gentleman that he had remained for all of his days.

Alec Home's politics are best summed up in his own words. He once said: I want to get away from this 'us and them'; Britain is one nation—it belongs to us all. and we belong to it". Some have said that Alec Home was a politician of another age. The greatest tribute that I can pay him today is simply this: I profoundly hope not.

3.40 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

It is my privilege to join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lord Home and to send our condolences and sympathy to his family. I never met him but, like Harold Wilson, whose life we celebrated earlier this year, he was familiar to me, and, indeed, to all my generation, as one of the great political figures of our early years. If one reads any of the obituaries about him, two words recur: affection and decency. He was a straight man—genuine, liked and trusted by political foes and friends. However satirised and disparaged, and he came in for his fair share of both, his essential and transparent decency allowed him to rise above it, and people—ordinary people—had a great affection for him.

Jimmy Maxton, the Labour Member of Parliament for Clydeside, once said to him in the Commons Tea Room, "Alec, I have been thinking that, come the revolution, I'll have you strung up on a lamp post, but on reflection I'll offer you a cup of tea instead."

By making no attempt to conceal his background, and by allying it to a self-deprecating sense of humour, Lord Home turned political attacks against those making them. When challenged in the Kinross by-election in 1963 as to whether he would live in the constituency, he replied that he did not think that he would, since he had more houses than he could live in already. Most famously of all, when Harold Wilson mocked him for being the 14th Earl, he remarked that he supposed that Mr. Wilson, when one came to think of it, was the 14th Mr. Wilson.

The image that survives focuses often on Lord Home's character and the peculiarity of someone with his upbringing and apparent indifference to ambition becoming Prime Minister, but that should not cause us to overlook his substantial achievements, both as a parliamentarian and as a statesman. He entered Parliament in 1931. He secured re-election in 1935 and was, as the Prime Minister said, parliamentary private secretary to Neville Chamberlain, first when Chamberlain was Chancellor of the Exchequer and then when he was Prime Minister.

It is said against Lord Home that, working for Chamberlain, he was naturally part of Munich and appeasement and all that went with it, and I suppose that it is true to say that history has judged very harshly the motives of all those who were involved in that futile search for peace, but to my mind it is to his great credit that he never ran away from his part in Munich or ceased to defend the motives of Chamberlain. He could have disowned his leader—his own position in the affair was, after all, very minor—but he did not, and I think that that speaks volumes for his decency and courage.

When war broke out, Lord Home tried to enlist, as the Prime Minister has described, but through illness was unable to and spent almost two years in recuperation from tuberculosis of the spine. He used that time to read and to study voraciously. He dedicated himself particularly to the study of foreign affairs, becoming something of an expert on it, and when he returned to Parliament in 1945 he spoke out strongly in favour of the independence of Poland, which was a very brave and courageous thing to do. He spoke against the Yalta agreement and became a relentless and persuasive critic of Soviet expansion.

Throughout the 1950s, as Secretary of State for the Commonwealth and then later as Leader of the House of Lords, having gone there after his father's death, he argued a position with great clarity, of the dangers of Soviet imperialism, but typically combined it with a strong push for disarmament, saying that Britain would be pleased to play a substantial part in such a process provided a proper response was forthcoming.

It is fair to say that, when Lord Home was appointed Foreign Secretary in 1960, there was a total furore over the appointment. Motions of no confidence were tabled in the House; the newspapers deplored the appointment of a peer—a "faceless earl", as one called him—as Foreign Secretary. As ever, he reacted by not reacting, but getting on with the job.

With hindsight, most people would acknowledge Lord Home to have been a substantial success. He was strong in standing with President Kennedy over the Cuban missile crisis; but he was also strong in standing up against the American view when he thought it right to do so, as over Laos and the provision of a seat at the United Nations for China. That was something that Home strongly supported and others did not.

A greater prize was, of course, to come. That Lord Home became leader of the Conservatives in 1963 is a fact, but how he did so remains something of a mystery. Two things stand out, however: first, how extraordinary it was that, in relatively modern times, as a Member of the House of Lords, Home could ever have become Prime Minister. He was able to do so in part—a nice irony—because, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), he was able to renounce his peerage to fight a by-election and enter the House of Commons. His outstanding personal qualities, however, must have impressed his colleagues for such a risk even to have been considered.

As Alec Douglas-Home wrote in his autobiography, the greatest shock that he suffered was the culture shock, coming from the other place to the House of Commons. He wrote: My first appearance at the Box was nearly my last. I was quite unprepared for the sheer noise and if it had not been for the solid table between me and the Opposition, I should have been seen shaking at the knees. The second remarkable feature is, indeed, how close Alec Douglas-Home came to winning the 1964 election. He believed, and later said, that had it not been for the refusal of lain Macleod and Enoch Powell to serve under him, he might have won. After defeat, he behaved with his usual dignity. He changed the rules for electing the Tory party leader—a precedent that I understand the present Prime Minister is looking to follow. He supported his successor completely—a precedent that the Prime Minister no doubt wishes was followed. He served under his successor as Foreign Secretary—a precedent that the Prime Minister is perhaps unlikely to follow.

There were two other powerful points of view that Home held and articulated. He was, of course, a "one nation" Tory; but he was one of the first to make the case for Britain to join the Common Market, and for Britain's place in Europe. Although, as the Prime Minister rightly says, he was a passionate supporter of the Union between England and Scotland, he did propose—in his committee on Scottish government—devolving limited legislative powers to a Scottish Assembly, which is of more than passing interest.

What, then, is the attraction of Alec Douglas-Home, and how can we summarise it? There is an apparent contradiction. He was a laird who lived like a laird, who owned vast estates, who loved the country sports of hunting, shooting and fishing, yet was given great affection by millions of British people who shared neither his birth nor his politics. He was someone who had all the advantages of aristocracy sometimes associated with arrogance, yet was humble in his assessment of himself and his actions. He was a person who did not need to work at all, yet worked hard all his life in the service of others.

The contradiction is resolved in this way. Alec Douglas-Home was above all a man of honour, who stayed a man of honour: a decent man who, through all the temptations and anxieties of politics, remained decent—not a man from another age, but a rarity in any age; a good servant of the people, for whose life we give thanks.

3.48 pm
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join in the tributes to Lord Home of the Hirsel. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) for his suggestion that, in view of our close Scottish border connections, it might be appropriate for me to say a few words on behalf of our party, and to add our expressions of sympathy to David and Caroline.

I said on the news of Sir Alec's death that he was probably the last of the gentleman politicians, motivated solely and dutifully by a call to public service. That may have made him seem, as Prime Minister, strangely old-fashioned; yet he incorporated good, old-fashioned virtues—honesty, straight dealing, hard work, lack of malice, openness and a readiness to listen. He was also self-deprecating in his enjoyment of his own caricatures, and he would have detested today's trends towards sound bites and image spin makers.

At the time, Sir Alec seemed rather set in his ways as a cold warrior, and perhaps that stemmed from a reaction to his period with Neville Chamberlain. However, he had a genuine and consistent detestation of tyranny in every form. As Commonwealth Secretary, he pursued Harold Macmillan's wind of change policy towards South Africa. As Foreign Secretary, he could easily have done a deal with Ian Smith in Rhodesia that would have been popular with sections of his party and the press but would have surrendered African majority rights. He steadfastly refused to do that.

Sir Alec's earlier experience as Minister of State, Scottish Office led him to recognise with equal consistency the shortcomings of Scottish legislation at Westminster and, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, he advocated the creation of an elected Scottish convention. Whatever its defects in detail, that could have been a step in the right direction. In the 1979 referendum in Scotland his intervention was possibly crucial when he urged a vote against the Labour Government's devolution proposals with the promise that a Conservative Government would present better ones. It was not his fault that, with a change of leadership, that promise was never fulfilled.

The Prime Minister rightly referred to Sir Alec's characteristically puckish sense of humour. He was a highly entertaining after-dinner speaker and, like us all, he had a small stock of well-used tales from his own life. I many times heard him recount the incident when he tried to butter up some truculent individual with forced bonhomie: "How's the wife?" he asked, only to receive the challenging reply, "Compared to what?"

One cold winter night, Sir Alec and I were driving together after a dinner in the borders to catch the Edinburgh-London sleeper at Berwick-upon-Tweed where it passed through at about half-past midnight. For those who do not know it, that station consists of one long windswept platform. As we drove along the banks of the Tweed and were about to pass the gates of the Hirsel, he looked at his watch and said, "We will be 20 minutes early at Berwick. Why don't we stop for a drink?"

We drove up the long drive to his stately home and I must admit that I had visions of roaring log fires and butlers with silver trays. Not so, Elizabeth was in London and the place was deserted. We went in by a side door and he blundered about the rambling basement corridor searching for the light switches. He produced a jug of beer and we went upstairs to his high-ceilinged study. The central heating was off and the grate was empty. We sat huddled in our overcoats and he raised his glass in welcome and said, "I suppose you're thinking that we would have been warmer on the station platform."

As Sir Alec's books in our Library testify, his first love was the Scottish border country. He was genuinely interested in the farming of his estates, as well as the shooting and especially the fishing on the Tweed. The Hirsel stable and coach block now houses an enterprising craft centre and rural museum. My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and I were always astonished at the way in which in his later years this international statesman, who was fully entitled to put his feet up, never found any dinner, flower show or school prize day in the borders too insignificant to attend. He was a readily approachable local figure and I can best conclude by quoting from an editorial in one of the border newspapers. It states: Lord Home's traditional family values, warmth and integrity won him a special place in the affections of his fellow Borderers. He was quite simply one of the nicest people in public life and we remember him today with gratitude.

4.53 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Sir Alec Douglas-Home's death is a sad loss to his family and friends and to all those who knew him. Our consolation is that he lived to a great age and that his was a life of great fulfilment. My generation first got to hear of him when he came back from Munich with Neville Chamberlain. Looking back on history, it is interesting to note that he was never tarnished with the label of appeasement. Nobody ever suspected for a moment that Alec Douglas-Home would give way to pressure and agree to something that he believed to be wrong. It was only long afterwards that he admitted that he had advised Neville Chamberlain against waving the piece of paper which he resisted at the airport. However, when he got back to the balcony of No. 10, he was so moved emotionally that he gave way and waved it with "Peace in our time". It is true that Alec Douglas-Home never criticised him, but that was certainly his view of the episode.

I sometimes felt that the four long years that Lord Home had spent on his back due to illness had led to his peacefulness but, at the same time, his determination in carrying out what he wished to do. I do not think that those years were wasted years, because they created in him the strength of purpose that carried him through the rest of his life.

After the election of 1950, Alec Douglas-Home was back in the House. When the news of his father's death came through, it fell to me, as a Whip, to rush into the No Lobby where I knew that he was voting, grab him by the arm and rush him out, trying at the same time to explain to him quietly and clearly that his father had died and that if he went through the Lobby, having inherited his title, he would be liable to a financial penalty, which I thought thoroughly undesirable. I just managed to get him out in time so he did not commit the grave offence of voting in this House when he had already become a peer.

When Lord Home became Foreign Secretary, I went with him to the Foreign Office as Lord Privy Seal. Harold Macmillan realised of course that his appointment from the House of Lords as Foreign Secretary would create a great commotion. I remember that Mr. Cecil King, the owner of the Daily Mirror, went so far as to blazon across his paper the fact that Harold Macmillan had ignored Cecil King's advice. It was, however, a very good appointment, if I may say so.

We worked closely together for three years as I was Lord Privy Seal dealing with matters in this House. Throughout the European negotiations—our first attempt to enter the Community—Lord Home backed me to the hilt in the Cabinet, in his House, in our party and at party conferences. Of course, the same occurred when we resumed negotiations in the 1970s and were successful. In one of the last telephone conversations that I had with him, he said that he had thought about it a great deal and concluded more and more that we were absolutely right to take this country in the European Community and that that was where our future rested.

When Harold Macmillan summoned us and told us that we were both going to the Foreign Office, it was late July. As we left, Sir Alec—or Lord Home, as he then was—said that we should go to his office and that the first thing to do was to settle our priorities. I said, "Of course," and, when we got there, I asked what the priorities were. He said that the first priority was to fix the date of our holidays. I asked what he proposed and he said, "I think you ought to take yours first—you're in more need of them than I." I said, "Thank you very much. I shall go to Venice." He said that I would have to be back by 10 August for "reasons that I hope you'll understand".

While in Venice I was approached on the beach by a gentleman with a telegram from Harold Macmillan which said that we had unexpectedly had an invitation from Chancellor Adenauer to go to Bonn to discuss our entry into the Community. It said that Alec and he had agreed but had pointed out that they must leave by 8 August for "a reason that you will fully understand".

I was still on the beach when another telegram arrived saying that there was now an invitation from Mr. Fanfani, the Prime Minister of Italy, who had heard secretly about Chancellor Adenauer's invitation and wanted us to go to Rome on 16 August. The telegram said that that was of course not possible for Alec and him "for reasons that you will fully understand". It had therefore been arranged for me to go to Rome.

Then came the period after the defeat of 1964 when Sir Alec was Prime Minister. That period was controversial, as the Prime Minister said just now. I proposed legislation for the abolition of retail price maintenance which, to a certain extent, split the Cabinet. However, he backed me throughout and, when he backed one up, one knew that his backing was firm.

After the 1964 election, Lord Home made me responsible for policy, but in July he came to the conclusion that he did not wish to continue. In his book he recounts that I had nothing whatever to do with that. In some ways, I wish he had continued, but it was obvious that he was tired of it all and he firmly resolved that he would not continue because it was better that he should not.

Then I invited Alec to be Foreign Secretary in the shadow Cabinet and when I became Prime Minister I appointed him Foreign Secretary. There were never any disagreements between us, but that is not always understood. Whether on domestic or foreign policy, from 1960 onwards, when we first worked together, we always believed in the same policies and we always put them into effect. That is why there was no room in either of us for criticism of the other.

Lord Home's characteristics have been brilliantly described today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, by the Leader of the Opposition and by the spokesman for the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). One outstanding point is that whoever he was dealing with, it was exactly the same—everybody trusted him. It made no difference whether he was talking to somebody at the highest level in this country or to somebody at the lowest level in what was then Rhodesia—he was always the same. When he was dealing with foreign affairs at conferences, he was always respectful and polite to those with whom he was negotiating, no matter from which country they came.

In 1963, the two of us went to Moscow to sign the first test ban treaty. Lord Home's attitude to and relationship with Mr. Kruschev could not possibly have been faulted. The same was true when he was dealing with the Commonwealth, the colonies or other European states. He was held in the greatest respect.

Above all, Lord Home loved his Scotland. It is true that he wanted to see the constitutional development of Scotland. When I was Leader of the Opposition, I appointed him chairman of a very distinguished committee which included Sir Robert Menzies, the former Prime Minister of Australia. It recommended that there should be further development in Scotland, including an assembly. Had we been re-elected in 1974, we would have gone ahead with that; indeed, the buildings had already been prepared. That was his view of Scotland because he foresaw the dangers of a narrow Scottish nationalism and he wanted to prevent that.

As has been said, in all spheres Lord Home was notable for his modesty, for his genuine nature, for the fact that one could trust him and for the fact that he got his priorities right on every occasion. This country, and Scotland in particular, owes him a great deal.

4.2 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

May I add a word or two, Madam Speaker? The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and I are the only people who sat with Viscount Dunglass MP in 1950 and 1951. At that time he was in his late forties, so I do not think many people imagined that he would go on to occupy the highest offices of state. I cannot think of any major question on which I agreed with him, but his great quality, as has already been said, was that people trusted him—a phrase not often used in political comment nowadays. He was a signpost, not a weathercock.

In 1951 Lord Home became a peer and he went quite happily to the House of Lords—unlike Lord Hailsham the previous year, who had gone with some resistance. As I was absolutely determined not to allow that fate to befall me, I was responsible for bringing Lord Home back to be a commoner, which he may not have liked, and to be Prime Minister, which he did like. Indeed, in the whole. of our long parliamentary history only two men have sat in the Commons, the Lords, the Commons and the Lords successively. It is what I think of as the Hailsham-Home convention—that after every election certain persons quietly indicate in which House they want to sit. Only in this country could such a subtle combination of the ballot box and blue blood be used to such great advantage by those who could use it.

Having said all that, Lord Home was a very formidable party leader—of that there was no question. He took over the fortunes of the Conservative party when it was at a low ebb, and, as the Prime Minister said, he very nearly succeeded. Only by a handful of votes did he lose. That was of course at a time when the press reported Parliament and before it began trying to replace Parliament. It was also at a time when it was possible to have passionate and serious and fundamental disagreements without the insults which now characterise and debase so much of our public debate.

In the media-orientated world in which we live, it is supposed that to succeed people have to have a good image, charisma, sound bites and a spin doctor. But like Clem Attlee before him, Alec Home had an absolute contempt for such gimmicks. He was absolutely content to be himself. I pay my respects to him because he argued his case always with great knowledge, great courtesy, great sincerity, but without ever indulging in abuse. The House might do well to follow that example.

4.5 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

It is my privilege to associate the Ulster Unionist party with the tributes that have been paid today to Lord Home. The one thing that has come across very clearly, not only in the House this afternoon but throughout the country during the past week, is the very great affection in which Lord Home was held. The words which have been used as being characteristic of him are decency, sense of duty and sense of integrity. It is because he had those characteristics in such full measure that he had such a place in the affections of the people of our country.

The thing that most typifies Lord Home's decency and sense of integrity was, after having been a successful Foreign Secretary, and a more successful Prime Minister than was generally acknowledged, the way in which he was prepared after leaving the leadership of his party to serve for so long and so loyally in opposition and later in government. He will be regarded as one of the outstanding Foreign Secretaries of this country in this century.

The Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister have both mentioned the fact that Lord Home was a unionist—that he supported the Union and believed in the United Kingdom. That is something of which we in Northern Ireland were very conscious—then and since.

More than just a supporter of the Union, as a Scotsman Lord Home knew that this diverse United Kingdom is held together by a series of understandings about the relative weights of the parts of the kingdom and about the concern that should exist for the various parts of the kingdom. I am sure that in putting forward proposals for a modest measure of devolution for Scotland, he was anxious to ensure that the respect for Scotland as a constituent part of the United Kingdom was not lost in the simple majoritarianism of this House. It is for that sense of balance, which he displayed throughout his life, that he will be most keenly remembered.

4.7 pm

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

In paying a very brief tribute to Lord Home, may I associate my comments with my colleagues in the Scottish National party and the other nationalist parties in the House?

It may seem strange for a nationalist to be paying tribute to one who was seen very much as the epitome of the Scottish laird, but I have two things in common with Lord Home. First, I grew up in south Lanarkshire and as a very young child I remember the very high regard in which Lord Home was held by all his constituents, be they gamekeeper, landowner, farm worker, shopkeeper or whomsoever. Everyone regarded him as a perfect gentlemen who was prepared to give of his time to listen to problems which his constituents might have had and to meet with them.

Secondly, I also suffered from tuberculosis of the spine. During that long illness I was often reminded of the fact that Lord Home had recovered from it and that there was life ahead of that particularly difficult illness. It may well be that the Prime Minister regrets that I was not given the same kind of backbone as Lord Home. Indeed, our backbones are made of very different stuff. None the less, Lord Home was held up as an example and, like him, I learnt a great deal of patience.

There are many memories of Lord Home in Scotland. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale have already referred to the Scottish constitutional matter. It is my belief that from the declaration of Perth onwards there was a genuine belief among people like Lord Home that progress should be made towards the recognition of the aspirations of the Scottish people. It is, indeed, not his fault that the Government who took over in 1979 killed off the Scotland Bill, but his intervention, "Not this assembly but a better one," is seared into many psyches in Scotland. We are still waiting for that better assembly.

I hope that as we pay tribute to Lord Home and his recognition of democracy there will perhaps be some recognition on the Government Benches of the need for the people of Scotland to have that constitutional change.

4.9 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I rise to speak because the western end of my constituency was formerly Sir Alec Douglas-Home's constituency. I believe that I speak on behalf of all the people in that part of my constituency. I vividly remember what Sir Alec—Lord Home, as he was then—said to me when I inherited with the boundary changes that large part of what had been his constituency. He said, "There are some very remote parts, some very difficult roads and you will find that in the winter months when you are required to go somewhere for a meeting you will wish that you were not in fact representing that part of Scotland. But when you get there, you will find that the people there make it all worth while, and you forget the journey, you forget the difficult roads and you forget all the problems." That was so typical of the man.

The other advice that Sir Alec Douglas-Home gave me, which I have never forgotten, was, "Bill, if you have thought something through carefully and you believe that it is right, stand by it because in time, you will find that you will be shown to be right." I believe that that guide that he had for himself was a guide that all politicians could well follow. He was indeed a man who left memories that are remarkable. My constituents would wish it to be put on record that anyone could telephone The Hirsel at the weekends and speak to their Member of Parliament. How many Members in the House today living in that grand manner in that grand style would answer the telephone at the weekends in the way that Alec Douglas-Home did? It is that example and leadership that we miss very much today. We think of him today.