HL Deb 11 May 1972 vol 330 cc1125-8

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is with deep regret that I have to inform your Lordships that one of the best known Members of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, died earlier to-day. The name of Lord Silkin will always be associated with his tremendous work as Minister of Town and Country Planning in the post-war Labour Government. I find it difficult to think of any one Minister who has been more closely identified with a particular policy than was Lord Silkin. He was in essence, although there were forerunners here, the architect of our town and country planning policies, and he had been, prior to his Ministerial work in this field, Chairman of the L.C.C. Town Planning Committee. It is not going too far, I believe, to say that our New Towns, remarkable in themselves and very much remarked abroad, are particularly Lord Silkin's memorial.

Right up to his last few years, although almost visibly failing in health, Lord Silkin was still able to master the vast complexities of planning law, and your Lordships will remember that until very recently he used to take an active part in our debates on this subject; for example, we remember his contribution on the Land Commission Act. I personally well remember his speaking on this and a number of other subjects, but I think that perhaps town planning, housing and housing associations were the subjects dearest to his heart.

Many of your Lordships will best remember Lord Silkin for the part that he played as Deputy Leader of the Labour Opposition between 1955 and 1964, when he served under the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. Between them they led a very small but, as I think those of your Lordships who sit on these Benches will well remember, extremely effective Opposition for no less than nine years. And I think it right to pay tribute to the way in which that Opposition was sustained by a tiny handful of Members of your Lordships' House on the other side—the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for example, and indeed Lord Silkin himself—and this was very important for our Parliamentary processes. In 1964, when the Labour Government came into power, my noble friend Lord Carrington, said that neither Lord Alexander, as Leader of the Opposition for nine years, at the beginning with far fewer supporters than he had then, nor his colleagues under his leadership, ever let the Government of the day get away with anything. I think that that the same could be said about the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.

May I just add this, my Lords? Like many of those who come to your Lordships' House from another place, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, acquired a great respect—indeed, I do not think is going too far to say love—for our House. He was intensely interested in its workings, and his last speech but one in this Chamber was in the debate on the Report on Procedure which was made to me as Leader of the House.

I should like, in conclusion—I am sure that that all noble Lords will join me in this—to express our deep sympathy to Lord Silkin's widow, and to his family. We do so in the knowledge, which I think is pleasing, that two of his sons are following in his Parliamentary footsteps.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords all of us on this side of the House, and I believe throughout the House, are grateful to the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, for the tribute, the very comprehensive and indeed moving tribute, which he has paid; and when I say that what he says goes for us all I really mean it, because there is no doubt that the late Lord Silkin was in his way a unique person. As the noble Earl has said, he made a contribution in the field of town planning which was that of a giant, and it took a Lewis Silkin to make it. Of course the work for which he was responsible at the L.C.C.—I hesitate to say the "apprenticeship he served at the L.C.C." because it was much more than an apprenticeship—was in fact part of the glory of the L.C.C.

The noble Earl referred to the part that the late Lord Silkin played in sustaining the Opposition when there were so few of us here. I remember arriving as one of the first of the new life Peers, and coming from that numerous other place I was amazed to find how few were here. It is true to say that whereas the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, gave vigorous leadership, Lord Silkin was very much the mainstay as Deputy Leader. He provided the intellect, the horse-sense, and indeed the Parliamentary sensitivity which made him so very good at understanding the House of Lords and all of us. I remember the advice that he gave to me as a new Peer. There is little doubt that he had a great grasp of the unwritten practice of your Lordships' House, and showed the sensitivity that was necessary to carry forward our duties in this place.

I think it is also fair to point out—as one who sometimes found that Lord Silkin was not always in the same Lobby as myself when I was Leader of the House, although he sat on the same side—that he showed a great independence of character as well, and was not afraid to use his great intellect, however old he was getting, in what he believed to be the best way. The fact that he is regarded as the father of the New Towns, and indeed of much of town and country planning, was reflected by the very exceptional award that he received of the Gold Medal of the Royal Town Planning Institution.

Perhaps in expressing our sympathy to Lady Silkin and to his three sons it is worth noting that not only was he greatly liked by many of us, but he was greatly loved by his own family. They are a very devoted family, and our sympathy goes out to them all the more for that reason.


My Lords, we on these Benches would certainly wish to be associated with the sentiments which have been so admirably expressed by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the official Opposition. I, like a number of noble Lords in this House, knew Lord Silkin in another place in that great Parliament of 1945 to 1950. He had there the arduous task, as has been said, of piloting through the massive Town and Country Planning Bill. It was a radical concept. It was not an easy task in those days to get people to appreciate the objective of all the efforts that were being made, but he did it with great distinction. I associate myself and my colleagues with everything that has been said by way of tribute to the noble Lord, and we wish to be associated in the condolences which have been expressed to his family.


My Lords, in the years immediately following the Second World War there was a very close association between my husband, as Minister of Health, and the then Lewis Silkin, working in the related field. Maybe it is good at this moment to remember always the gay things. The legislation that he brought before Parliament in the 1945–50 period was extremely complicated. There was not only hard labour for Lewis Silkin and his colleagues but there was also laughter and teasing of one another. We often said that the only two people who understood the legislation were Lewis and God—and God got a bit confused sometimes.

I knew Lewis Silkin, and loved him and respected him, and I know that I am talking in the presence not only of your Lordships but of at least one of his sons. There was this close, wonderful family relationship. There was idealism and there was hard labour. I think it is good that at this moment there should not just be sorrow but that we should remember the fulfilment of a wonderful life, and remember also the happiness and the teasing that made the hard labour possible.

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