HL Deb 29 July 1965 vol 268 cc1438-43

3.24 p.m.

THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD) rose to move, That the Earl of Listowel be appointed Chairman of Committees of this House from August 1 next for the remainder of this Session in the place of the Lord Merthyr, who has signified his intention to resign on July 31. The noble Earl said: My Lords, in rising to move this Motion this afternoon I have two purposes. The first is to record the debt of gratitude which I am sure that the whole House feels to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, who for nearly eight years has filled the office of Chairman of Committees. Those who are intimately concerned with the conduct of our business will not need to he reminded of the conscientious manner in which he has carried out the duties of this important office. Those who are less involved in the day-to-day affairs of the House may perhaps be insufficiently aware of the extent to which we are indebted to Lord Merthyr. In addition to his work in the House itself, he has, of course, carried out many other duties, having been Chairman of our sessional Committees and having had the responsibility for Private Bill legislation in this House.

In all his many tasks Lord Merthyr has shown a devotion to duty and a scrupulous impartiality to which we have now become so accustomed that we take them for granted. But even his extreme modesty has not been able to conceal from us his exceptional combination of gentleness at all times and firmness, when it seemed to him necessary. We have indeed been fortunate to enjoy for so long the service and counsel of so wise and disinterested a man. I am sure that the whole House would wish me to extend to him our best wishes for the future—I will not say in his retirement, because we all hope that he will be in his place very often to give us the benefit of his wisdom and experience.

My second purpose is to move the other part of the Motion which stands in my name. I feel sure that the choice of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, as successor to Lord Merthyr, will commend itself to the House. The noble Earl has been a Member of the House for more than thirty years and is well known to all your Lordships. He has discharged many high responsibilities both at home and abroad, for example as Secretary of State for India, Governor General of Ghana and Deputy Leader of this House. I feel sure that this fact, combined with his well-known personal qualities of kindness and consideration, and tolerant friendly understanding of human nature, will fit him admirably to carry on the high traditions of the office of Chairman of Committees. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Earl of Listowel be appointed Chairman of Committees of this House from the 1st August next for the remainder of this Session in the place of the Lord Merthyr, who has signified his intention to resign on the 31st July.—(The Earl of Longford.)


My Lords, I should like most warmly to support the Motion which has been moved by the noble Earl, the Leader of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has been known to many of us for very many years. I had the honour, some fourteen years ago, I think it was, to follow him as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. Anybody who knows the noble Earl will know that he will do the job of Lord Chairman of Committees as well as anybody could possibly do it. He has had, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said, a distinguished career, both here and in the Commonwealth. I have absolutely no doubt that he will carry on the traditions of this important job. I know that all your Lordships will wish him every possible success.

As regards the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, if I am not reminiscing too much, I would say that it may surprise some of your Lordships who have not been here for very long to hear that once, when I was a Conservative Whip, Lord Merthyr took the Conservative Whip; and on no single occasion that I can remember did he ever vote for the Conservative Party. Your Lordships will therefore not be surprised that, as Lord Chairman of Committees, he has been impartial, fair and courteous. I think that we are all very sorry that my noble friend, if I may so call him, has had to resign: he feels that he must do so. In thanking him, everyone in the House will hope that he will have a rest, but that at the same time he will often attend this House. Although, as Leader of the Conservative Party here, I am quite sure that it will make no difference to me whether he turns up or not, his presence will certainly be greatly appreciated by all his friends, who include every single Member of the House.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I should like to join in the tributes which have been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and in the welcome given to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in this new arrangement of your Lordships' Business. It has been a happy tradition of this House that, certainly throughout the few years I have been a member—some seventeen years—the Lord Chairman combines, charm, competence, knowledge and great patience. And Lord Merthyr, has certainly upheld this high standard very well indeed. As the noble Earl, the Leader of the House has said, I do not think it is realised what a tremendous amount of work is put in by the Lord Chairman outside this Chamber—in the Moses Room, in the other Committee rooms, and in his own office: it is a very hard job indeed. I think that it is perhaps sad, in the case of Lord Merthyr, that he is such a conscientious man he probably gave himself no let-up at all. We wish him very much happiness in his retirement and thank him most gratefully for what he has done.

I feel it would be impertinent for a young Member of seventeen years' service to congratulate an older Member of thirty years' service on the new office to which he has been appointed, but at least during those thirty years the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has made himself a favourite of us all. He is absolutely reliable, is most good-natured and has fairness. Even on strictly Party political matters, he has never strayed over the borders of fairness, and that, indeed, is a great qualification for the very arduous office which he has taken on. I sometimes wonder whether he realises what a job it is going to be. In any case, may I say that I am sure that the whole House joins with me and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in welcoming him and in being glad that a Member sitting opposite to us should be so eminently suited for this high office.


My Lords, I should like very briefly to echo the tributes paid to the retiring Chairman of Committees by previous speakers. I do so both as a voice from the Cross-Benches and as one who has been a colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, as Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chairman of Committees. Those who have worked most closely with Lord Merthyr have learned to admire, to value and to rely on his profound knowledge, his unstinting conscientiousness, his scrupulous impartiality and his perfect consideration. We shall all miss him very much, and the whole House is deeply indebted to him for the service he has rendered over these years. Like previous speakers, I also wish warmly to welcome the appointment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, as his successor. I am sure that we shall be very happy under his guidance.

On Question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, first of all, most sincerely and very deeply, to thank your Lordships for all that has been said this afternoon, and in particular the several noble Lords who have just spoken. I feel that I do not merit what has been said, but that does not in any way diminish my gratitude.

When I became Chairman I took a little trouble to find out a little about the history of my office, and I wonder if I might be allowed to say that, having studied it somewhat, I felt in all humility very proud to hold this office. It is an office which, like many other things in this country, and many things especially in your Lordships' House, has just grown. It was towards the end of the eighteenth century, when each Committee had its own Chairman—a system which did not seem to work very well, I understand—that a post of Chairman of all the Committees was first established.

The first Chairman was appointed in the year 1800, since when there has been a very considerable degree of continuity in this office. I believe that continuity in this particular post is extremely important, because the work has many precedents to follow. It is most valuable that it should be carried on and (if I may venture to say this) that there should not be too many changes in the holder of the post. I was very surprised to find that in all these 160-odd years the average length of incumbency of this post has been no less than sixteen years; but that, I must add, is partly accounted for by the fact that two noble Earls—Lord Shaftesbury, and Lord Redesdale—occupied the post for a combined period of no less than 72 years. I also learned that my office is really quite respectable. I say that, because it was once held by a right reverend Prelate—namely, a Bishop of Bangor. I have often wondered exactly how he carried on the work of Chairman of Committees and of Bishop of Bangor at the same time; but no doubt in those days life was a little less hectic.

Be that as it may, I feel, as I have said, that the holder of this post, whoever he may be, may well be proud of it. I cannot sit down without thanking very much indeed all those noble Lords who have acted as Deputy Chairmen of Committees. They, I would remind the House, act in a completely honorary capacity, and certainly in these days they do very much work. To all of them I am most grateful. It may be of interest to remember—I can hardly believe this myself—that less than twenty years ago there was no Deputy Chairman of Committees at all. I do not know how we got on without one. I am sure that we could not get on without many of them to-day.

Then, my Lords, I should like just to say that I could not have held this post at all but for the great support I have always had from the staff of my Department, in particular, from my learned counsel, Mr. Talbot. He is one of those people who, apparently, is never ill. I suppose that he could not get ill, because if he did his work would completely stop. But I am most grateful to all the staff.

Finally, I would say this. Another part of my researches established the fact that this post has been mostly held, though not of course entirely, by Irish Earls. The first Chairman that I can remember was Lord Donoughmore. My immediate predecessor, for whom I had an immense respect, and at whose feet I learned much, was the late Lord Drogheda, and I am happy to think that another Irish Earl is to follow in their footsteps after this afternoon. I am only extremely sorry that I broke the continuity. My Lords, I wish my successor every possible luck, and I hope that he will receive from your Lordships the same measure of support that I have received.


My Lords, I rise only to thank my noble friends who have spoken for the far too kind words which they have said about me, and to thank my noble friends in all parts of the House for the great honour they have done me by appointing me Chairman of Committees. I assure the House that I shall try to deserve this confidence, and that I shall not follow the example of Lord Shaftesbury, or Lord Redesdale; that being one of the occasions when even a Chairman of Committees can be allowed to break a precedent. I should also like to say that I will do my utmost to follow the example set by my noble friend, the retiring Chairman of Committees, whom I would thank personally for his patience with me during my apprenticeship.