HL Deb 22 January 1968 vol 288 cc1-10

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is with very mixed feelings that the first occasion on which I address your Lordships as Leader of your Lordships' House is to make some remarks about the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on the occasion of his resignation, and to thank him on behalf of us all for—I never quite know the right word—guiding, presiding, being with us and generally acting as Leader of this House over the last three years.



My Lords, the last occasion on which the Leader of the House resigned was when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury (who I am sorry to say is still not very well and is not able to be with us to-day), was succeeded by the noble Earl, Lord Home; and there was an earlier occasion when the Duke of Devonshire resigned in 1904. It is always questionable whether we are in order in having this sort of discussion, but one of the charms, and indeed one of the virtues, of your Lordships' House is that we can more or less do anything we like, provided that your Lordships' agree, because it rests with your Lordships as to how we conduct our affairs.

The noble Earl has graced our councils with charm, learning, wit—a wit that touched but never wounded very deeply—and we shall miss him sorely from the Front Benches, where he has occupied a place, either on this side of the House or on the other side, for some twenty years. He is a friend of us all, and I would venture to say that there are few among us who command so much affection or indeed respect. There is always a danger on this sort of occasion that remarks of this kind sound rather like an epitaph. The noble Earl is anything but dead. In his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister he said that he intended to take his place with zest on the Back Benches, and I do not doubt that it will be zest which is entirely typical of the noble Earl. I am sure we look forward to those zestful contributions. We shall indeed have one tomorrow afternoon.

We respect his reasons for leaving the Government. We are sorry that he has gone, but I am sure I speak for all of your Lordships when I say that we shall welcome him here in any capacity whenever he can come, and we know that we shall benefit from his counsel. He epitomises, above all, a man of principle, a man in whom all the Christian virtues shine forth, and none of us could have had a better friend or counsellor than the noble Earl.


My Lords, I should very much like, in the unavoidable absence of my noble Leader, to associate myself and my colleagues on these Benches with the tribute which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has so justly and so appropriately paid to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I assume, since I am following the steps of our new Leader, that I am in order in so doing. I did not know your Lordships' House, or hardly at all, before the war. However, at least so far as the two post-war decades are concerned, I think I can truly say that as a House we have been most fortunate in our Leaders. We have certainly been so in the case of the noble Earl. Every Leader, of course, has his own distinctive style, especially if, as is most certainly the case with the noble Earl, he is himself very much an individualist. Therefore, to his task the noble Earl has brought his own distinctive qualities.

In the first place, there is his gift for personal friendship. There must be very few Members of your Lordships' House who do not count Frank Longford as a personal friend. The noble Earl holds his convictions—some might say, in certain instances, his prejudices—strongly and sincerely, yet he has always been prepared to look at the other side of the question, an invaluable quality in a Leader of the House. He has also an especially generous nature. I have seen this, as I think we all have, on many occasions, but never more so than in his encouragement in a very personal way to the newer Members of your Lordships' House. Above all, the noble Earl has always shown himself prepared to stand up for the rights of this House. However much we may have disagreed with him on this or that, we all know that he has always held the interests of your Lordships' House, its institution and its Members very much and very steadily at heart.

My Lords, I should like to add that I feel that his resignation, the reasons for which I, too, respect, comes at a particularly unfortunate moment. We know how ardently he has espoused the cause of House of Lords reform, and it is I think unfortunate that at this precise moment we should find ourselves deprived of what I might term his inner counsel. There are consolations, of course, for his resignation. We have lost a good Leader, but I am quite certain that we are gaining an excellent Back-Bencher. We know, too, that the noble Earl is above all a many-sided man. He may now find himself freer to make his contribution also outside your Lordships' House in those special fields which are his own particular interest.

Finally, my Lords, we have the consolation of knowing that although we are losing Lord Longford as our Leader we are gaining, in his successor, someone of very real stature. We may regret—we do regret—that the noble Earl is passing on the baton of Leadership, but we know from personal experience that he could not be passing it into safer or surer hands than those of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. Not only is Lord Shackleton a personal friend of all of us, but he has, over the years—and I am sure that all your Lordships will agree with me—shown a very special feeling for the particular requirements and sensibilities of your Lordships' House. May I therefore, in most sincerely regretting the demise as Leader of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, welcome the advent of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.


My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Byers I should like to associate myself with what has been said about the noble Earl, Lord Longford. When I first began to take an interest in your Lordships' House in 1945, the noble Earl was, I think, on the Government Front Bench, and since then he has been on the Front Bench, on one side or the other, all the time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House. In fact, I shall not quite know what to do now that I see him not in his accustomed place but sitting on the Back Benches. All noble Lords will respect the reasons he has given for his resignation, which I am sure we all regret; but I am very pleased to have the opportunity of saying this now, while he is still here, because so frequently we cannot pay tributes to our friends in this House until they have died. I am extremely pleased that we are able to say these things about the noble Earl while he is still very much alive—as I am sure he will continue to be for a long time to come. He has been an excellent Leader, and very friendly to all of us.

Having said that, I should like also to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as his successor. We have all got to know him very well, and he could not be kinder or more sympathetic, both to new Members and to old Members of the House. Speaking for noble Lords on these Benches, I can assure him that we shall do the best we can to make the running of this House as easy and as smooth as possible.


My Lords, perhaps I may just add that from the day that I became a very ignorant Back-Bencher, and subsequently in the Office which I now hold, I have had nothing but help and support from the noble Earl. He has led the House with a mixture of wisdom, tact and good humour, and with a considerable degree of panache. He remains in the House, I know I can say, a friend of us all.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid the noble Earl must be feeling as though he were reading a number of obituaries from papers of various hues. I am sorry that he has to endure just a word or two from these Benches, but he has always been so extraordinarily kind and generous to those of us who sit here that I think it would be ungracious if we remained entirely silent.

I have recently been reading a book about the life of Bishop Bell in which a tribute was paid by Lord Longford to the late Bishop. That gave the noble Earl an opportunity to appreciate qualities so near to his own heart, including care for those who are oppressed or in need of help and succour. We shall think of the former Leader of the House not only as a man of great learning and ability, of intelligence and of courtesy, able to deliver a word of exhortation and to speak the truth with love, but also as a great friend of all those in need. For that reason, I am sure that all my fellow Bishops would particularly wish to be associated with this tribute, and also to express a very warm welcome to our new Leader, to whom we shall look with complete confidence for understanding and help in every way.


My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity (if the House still recognises me after so long an absence) of joining in the tribute to my very old friend—and I am perhaps his oldest friend in this House—the noble Earl, Lord Longford. We have all come to know him very well, and we have all deeply respected his sincerity. We have all appreciated the way in which, as Leader of the House, he has always treated all of us, irrespective of Party, with equal courtesy and, I think I may say, sympathy; and we always understood him. Although many of us must have disagreed on almost every occasion with nearly everything he said, we have appreciated deeply the sincerity which lay behind it.

I have said that my friendship goes back a long time, perhaps longer than that of anybody here; because, oddly enough, my noble friend—I was going to say "Frank Pakenham"—started life as leader or head, I believe, of the Conservative Research Department. He was a frightfully good head of that Department but it was in that environment that he contracted the virus of a foot and mouth disease which possibly may have accounted for something that happened afterwards.

But to our very old friend we extend our sincere understanding, our deep sympathy and—here may I say I thank I speak for all of us—our most sincere affection. If we have to lose him—and to my noble friend I say, "We don't want to lose you; we don't think you ought to go"—and if we have to have a successor, I am quite sure there could not be a better successor (and I do not say this in any formal way) than the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He has all the qualities which are needed as a Leader of this House—and they are not few. It is not an easy job. But the noble Lord knows the House; he has always shown the House courtesy and frankness and—this goes without saying—integrity. I think I may say that he loves this House as well as respects it, and I am perfectly certain that the future of the House will be quite safe in his hands.


My Lords, I should like to endorse, if I may, without repeating them, the many tributes which have been justly paid to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. There will be sadness at his departure and warm sympathy for the decision he has had to take. There is one further point that I should like to make. Although I cannot speak in a formal way for those who sit on these Cross-Benches, I am sure that all my colleagues here would like me to say that they have very much valued the sympathetic regard for their interests which the noble Earl always showed during his period of office as Leader of this House. For those of us who sit on these Benches our independence is something we cherish and which we believe makes a notable contribution to the status and functioning of this House. It has therefore been most welcome to us that the noble Earl has been at pains to see that our interests have not been overlooked in the developing life of this House. In a personal way, too, I have enjoyed many acts of kind consideration from the noble Earl which I shall always gratefully remember. As has already been said, he has been and is the friend of us all.

My Lords, a Leader who retires must have a successor; so it is fitting to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to his new office. We already know him well; we admire the vigour and application which he has devoted to everything he has touched; we admire the broad humanity of his approach, his grasp, his tolerance, his wisdom and his humour. We wish him well; and we wish him well particularly at this moment when the reform of your Lordships' House is in immediate prospect.


My Lords, there is one thing that I think has been left out. I was present at what I always call the "obituary" of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when the Members got up from all sides and tried to say everything about him, and they left out the most notable thing about the noble Marquess when he led this House. That was that in the long history of this House he is, I think, the only noble Lord who has led the House in the presence of his father who had also led the House. That was, I think, the unique thing about the leadership of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury.

There is also something that has been left out in noble Lords' tributes to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. He will know, as well as I do, that he and I have been at odds on very many occasions, and he will probably recollect that there have been occasions when he has suggested to me that I have spoken to him with too much warmth; and we have continued our argument outside the House. But however warm those arguments, I have never been able to detect that any dart I threw was barbed; it never seemed to have left a sting. He always met me on the next occasion with all the charm and courtesy that he inherits from both sides of his family. For that I am personally very grateful and I should like to express that gratitude to your Lordships, as I have done now.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply touched, more touched than I can say, by the very kind words that have been said, in the first place by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Leader of the House, and then by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and other speakers. I am delighted to think that everyone here knows that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will make a first-class Leader; that there is no doubt about that in anybody's mind. And least of all is there doubt in mine. He has proved himself a valiant servant of this country in peace and in war—and last year in Aden in conditions which I suppose were halfway between. No-one has worked harder for the reform of the House. He is a highly sensitive friend. When he first came here it was pointed out to me by the late Lord Attlee that he was an exceptional Parliamentarian; and there is no doubt, I repeat, about the great success he will have as Leader of this House. I must not refer to other speakers because I would detain the House too long; but I could perhaps lust mention the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who I know has been far from well but who seemed to me at least as vigorous as I feel. I was overjoyed to hear what he had to say this afternoon. As a matter of fact, I was never head of the Conservative Research Department; I was the "bottle-washer" for the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. But otherwise the noble Earl's recollection is accurate. I am very pleased that he said what he did say.

I need only draw some consolation from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. Speaking as a doctor, he seemed to doubt at first whether I would, in fact, be here for very long; he seemed to imply that he was lucky to get in a word before I was carried off. But when he took a second look, I thought he was a little more optimistic. At any rate I should like to thank everybody here. I have said something already in public about my own Party; but I should like to thank everybody, irrespective of Party, whether they be Independent or belong to any particular group, whether they sit on the Bishops' Benches or wherever they may sit. I will end simply by using two sentences which fell many years ago from an infinitely greater man than myself on a much sadder occasion. He said: I have served you, mistakenly perhaps, but to the best of my ability. My prayers are yours to the uttermost and to the last.


My Lords, I feel the noble Earl will realise how sincere were the remarks that have been made to him. I should only like to express my thanks. The difference between the noble Earl and myself is that he has earned the encomiums; I have yet to prove them. In many respects I cannot hope to equal the noble Earl. I shall never be able to say on any abstruse subject, "My Lords, as a matter of fact I have written a small book about that." But one thing I can say: I cer- tainly hope that I equal the noble Earl in my affection for your Lordships' House.