HL Deb 04 November 1976 vol 376 cc1445-55

Lord PEART rose to move, That the Lord Aberdare be appointed Chairman of Committees tomorrow for the remainder of this Session in the place of the Earl of Listowel who has indicated his intention to resign. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise as one of the newest Members of your Lordships' House to express on behalf of the House the debt of gratitude we all owe to one of our longest serving Members, the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees. The noble Earl has been a Member of your Lordships' House for nearly 45 years, most of which time he has spent on the Front Benches, either on this side of the House or opposite. For 11 years now he has been Chairman of Committees and has continued to be in the thick of things.

Those of your Lordships closely concerned with the running of Business will not need reminding how much the work of the House has increased during those II years. Much of the burden of this has fallen on the shoulders of the noble Earl as Chairman of Committees, but he has always carried out the duty of his important office with the utmost devotion. The noble Earl also has shown a scrupulous impartiality which we should not lightly take for granted merely because we have become accustomed to it.

Apart from the public side of the Chairman's work, on the Woolsack or in the Chair at the Table of the House, the noble Earl is Chairman of all the important Sessional Committees of the House, save for the European Communities Committee. Among other achievements, he has been the first Chairman in the long history of the post to have had responsibility for such matters as accommodation and security by virtue of chairing the Administrative Committee which came into being during his tenure of Office. He also has heavy responsibility for private legislation. Most of us are unaware of the growing load he carries in the Unopposed Bills Committee. In this field he made a major contribution by the meticulous way he presided over the examination of the County of South Glamorgan Bill, the first of what are expected to be many local authority Bills seeking to rationalise local law.

The noble Earl has helped to establish certain principles which will be of lasting value to the House and his successor. In addition to his years as Chairman of Committees, he has given long public service in other ways. He was Secretary of State for India under that great Cabinet of Clement Attlee. He later became Governor-General of Ghana. Perhaps it would not be inappropriate of me, as a former Minister of Agriculture., to mention that the noble Earl also served in my old Department. For a time he was Deputy Leader of the House. I am sure that the whole House would wish me to extend to him our best wishes for the future.

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, I welcome the fact that lie will continue to take an active part in the work of the House. I am also glad to be able to propose the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, to your Lordships as the new Chairman of Committees.

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has been Deputy Leader of the House, which is usually a good precedent for becoming Chairman. He has held ministerial office and served on the Front Bench opposite, an experience which will serve him well. We know of his personal qualities and charm, and of his clarity of mind. I am confident that the noble Lord will discharge the many responsibilities of Chairman of Committees with great ability and tact. Lastly, I hope that the faithful body of Peers, and the Deputy Chairmen, to whom we also owe a great debt of gratitude, will cheerfully serve under him as they have under his predecessor. If they do not, he is going to find himself sitting here night after night into the small hours. So to the retiring Chairman I give my best wishes for the future, and to his successor a very warm welcome.

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Moved, That the Lord Aberdare be appointed Chairman of Committees tomorrow for the remainder of this Session in the place of the Earl of Listowel, who has indicated his intention to resign.—[Lord Peart.]

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of those sitting on these Benches I should like warmly to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, who, if I may say so, behaves as if he had been in this House and led it for many years—and I can think of no better compliment than that. We wish to associate ourselves with what the noble Lord has said about both the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare.

My Lords, the Office of Chairman of Committees is an ancient and honourable one and, as most things in this House, it has grown up by accident rather than design. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has had some distinguished predecessors with familiar names: Clarendon and Delaware, Waldegrave and Cathcart, Sandys, Saye and Sele, Warwick and Drogheda. One of his predecessors, Lord Willoughby of Parham, became the Chairman of Committees on the day he joined your Lordships' House, and received a Secret Service allowance of between £400 and £500 a year for doing the job. I do not know whether the noble Earl has been in receipt of such an allowance. If so, it is probably the origin of the rather curious allegation made by the noble Lord, Lord Briginshaw, (if he is reported correctly in the newspapers), that it is the CIA which is actively operating this House.

Another of the noble Earl's precedessors, Lord Cathcart, was a very assiduous Lord Chairman at first, but increasingly, it is said, he left his work to the Bishop of Bangor. Why the right reverend Prelate was not more fittingly occupied in Bangor we are not told, but we do know that Lord Cathcart, on the outbreak of war with France, immediately decided that an active military career was more agreeable than being Chairman of Committees—not, however, that he renounced his allowance, or the job, until he was granted the office of Vice-Admiral of Scotland, with a salary of £1,000 a year. Since he was a brigadier in the army, this was no doubt a very satisfactory solution. I look forward to my noble friend the Deputy Chairman General Lord Cathcart's future career with interest.

My Lords, the post of Chairman of Committees is not an easy one. Certainly those who only know of what he does on the Floor of the House misunderstand and underestimate the influence and the hard work of the Chairman. But we have been particularly fortunate in the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in these past years. In him we have had someone who is a devoted and loyal servant of the House and of your Lordships. Those of us who have known him for very many years, as I certainly have done, underestimate the contribution he has made as Chairman of Committees.

My Lords, in the time that I have been in this House, your Lordships have been outstandingly lucky or outstandingly adroit in appointing the holder of this great Office, and today we pay our tribute and give our grateful thanks to him. I do so in the words of a predecessor of the Leader of the House who was thanking Lord Walsingham, who was retiring in about 1800, in the following terms: The Office of Chairman of the Committees was an office that required great ability, great industry, and a perfect knowledge of Parliamentary forms, and the rules of proceeding, and that no noble Lord could be found who possessed a larger share of those qualifications than the noble Lord who now—so highly to his own credit—and so much to the advantage of the House and the public, held that office, the duties of which he discharged with singular diligence, correctness and propriety". My Lords, we welcome, too, the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—I nearly said my noble friend. But after six months of abstinence from these Benches, he is now in such a state of grace that he is capable even of exchanging the Whip for the Convenor. The noble Lord has moved into the political limbo which exists between Right and Left. He has joined the noble army of Cross-Benchers who, recently, daily and painfully have to make up their minds between Right and Left, or right and wrong. But I am sure that wherever he sits, we have the greatest confidence in his fairmindedness and his integrity. We wish him well, and many happy years as a distinguished successor to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support this Motion. I remember the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, as an active member of the Attlee Government of 1945 to 1950, but I shall remember him much more clearly in the service which he has rendered to this House during nearly the whole of my time here.

Since 1965, a great deal of new ground has been broken within the responsibility of the Chairman of Committees, much of it as a result of the greater burden of Parliamentary work and of the increasing breadth of the Membership of this House. There has been a great increase in the amount of work and the length of sitting hours. The numbers of Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chairmen has had to be increased accordingly. I am told that when the late Lord Kilmuir was Lord Chancellor he rarely left the Woolsack, which is hardly feasible in present times with the burden of present legislation. In increasing the number of Deputy Speakers, I know that it must have given great pleasure to the noble Earl to be the Chairman of Committees at the time when a Baroness of this House was first made a Deputy Speaker—the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger.

Over this period we have witnessed a great increase in the number of general Bills committed to Committee rather than being taken on the Floor of the House. Through all this increase in work and responsibility the noble Earl has at all times been a civilising and humanising influence with the interests of the House as a whole very much at heart. We wish him and Lady Listowel a very happy retirement and we welcome the proposal that he should be succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, whose qualities, and whose modesty, if I may say so, are very much admired by your Lordships.

With full confidence in his ability I support the proposal that he should succeed the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.


My Lords, as my name has been mentioned I hope that I may take the opportunity to add a word on behalf of myself and my colleagues, Deputy Chairmen, of appreciation for the kindness and helpfulness with which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has guided our early steps and instructed us in our duties and the patience with which he has tolerated our incessant mistakes. We could not have been more fortunate, and I can only recall one occasion on which it might have appeared that our loyalty and affection or certainly our loyalty was beginning to be breached. That was many years ago when I think it was the London Government Bill that was being debated and the House proposed at very short notice to sit all night. According to the rota we had already agreed it fell to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to take the final session which would begin at 9 o'clock in the evening to the end. He immediately called a meeting of his Deputies, in despair at the prospect that he would have to sit from 9 o'clock until 8 a.m. His Deputies sat down and initiated a sit-in strike. But I may say that this matter was settled immediately without any reference to an arbitration service, and this was the only occasion on which it looked as if we were going to falter. I recall that I took the Chair at 5 a.m. as a demonstration that our loyalty was still as staunch as ever.

I am sure that all wish the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and Lady Listowel happiness in their retirement and we hope we shall see as much of him as before, and perhaps as a rather more vocal Member of this House than he has been able to be hitherto. I should also like to say how much we welcome the appointment of his distinguished successor. I have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that there will be certain changes, that in our weekly 'meting we shall in future be expected to stand to attention and salute, and I can assure him that we are all diligently practising that.


My Lords, this is an exceptional occasion when the Cross-Bench Peers speak with one voice, and on their behalf I should like to express our gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for the guidance, thoughtfulness and courtesy he has always shown to these Benches and to the House. We would also wish to thank him for bearing in mind the interests of Cross-Bench Peers in matters of the Sessional Committees and, lastly, we can assure him that we shall be very proud to have him sitting on the Cross-Benches.

We should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on his forthcoming appointment as Chairman of Committees and to say how much we have appreciated his sitting on the Cross-Benches before taking up this non-Party political appointment. We thank him for taking on this very arduous job and we wish him well in his new office.

3.44 p.m.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)

My Lords, as Principal Deputy to the Lord Chairman I have the honour to join in the tributes to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I do so personally, and I should like to try to add some more words to the admirable tributes given on behalf of the Deputies who have served the noble Earl for so long. The noble Earl has always tried to avoid the limelight but today he just cannot do it. On behalf of all the Deputies I should like to thank him for his kindliness, for his courtesy, for his humour, and to say to time how very much we all enjoyed working for him. For myself, I have only had the luck to serve closely with the noble Earl for about two years. Therefore, I should like to thank him for initiating me into the mysteries of Private Bills and not least the one mentioned by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and well known to your Lordships; namely, that of the County of South Glamorgan. I would also thank him very much for guiding me through the pitfalls of the procedure of this House and for giving me an insight into the various duties of his office. The noble Earl's quiet, unassuming manner in which he has carried out his duties is the climax of a long an distinguished public career and I am sure that every Deputy is glad to know that, despite the undoubted attractions of his family, he will often be among us. I hope that when he comes here he will do so in the knowledge that your Lordships' House really appreciates everything that he has done. We wish him every happiness in the future.

Now he is to be followed by—formally, I cannot say "my noble friend"—the noble Lord who has been elevated to the Cross Benches, Lord Aberdare; and as a colleague of his, both in Government and in Opposition, I also know well those qualities of his which have been spoken of by those who have gone before me. I am sure that every Deputy will enjoy working with him too, whether it be by day or by night, and we wish him every success and happiness in a task that is well worth the doing.


My Lords, may I, as one who was the opposite number of the noble Earl for nearly four years in another place, be allowed to say one word of appreciation of him. It is probably not very well known by noble Lords, and perhaps even less by Members of another place, how much the Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means have to collaborate together if the working of Parliament is to be smooth. In these days when there is so much bitterness between our two Houses it is perhaps well to ponder for a moment that behind the scenes something goes on which is not at all bitter but very friendly and co-operative. When the noble Earl and I had to meet, as we did on a number of occasions, I always found him a wonderful person, to help and to understand and to work with. In saying this I think it is only fair that one should also pay a tribute to his staff and mine who made that co-operation so easy for us.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, may I on behalf of my predecessors on the Woolsack and myself express our gratitude to the noble Earl for the wonderful and constant advice he has given us throughout the years. Frankly, without the assistance of the Lord Chairman and the Deputy Chairmen the contemporary duties of a Lord Chancellor could not be performed. When Winston Churchill was asked what his attitude was towards the Church of England he said, "I regard myself more of a buttress than pillar". For Lord Chancellors the noble Earl has been both a buttress and a pillar. We are immensely grateful to him; we thank him; and wish him every happiness for his future.

3.49 p.m.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)

My Lords, I am indeed deeply grateful, more grateful than I can possibly say, to all the noble Lords and noble Baronesses for their exceedingly and quite undeservedly kind remarks, and I shall always remember them with pride and pleasure. I was particularly glad to hear some voices from the Back Benches; but of course the Chairman of Committees is a creature who belongs just as much to the Back Benchers as to the Front Benchers. I must also thank your Lordships as a whole for your patience, tolerance, and understanding during my period of office as Chairman of Committees. No one who has occupied this office could possibly carry out his responsibilities without the friendly support of the whole House. The volume of work has of course considerably increased in recent years, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House has iust pointed out, but I have been exceedingly fortunate in being the first Chairman of Committees to have had the help of a whole-time Deputy, and I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, for all she has done as my Principal Deputy, while at lie same time being Chairman of the European Communities Committee. How she has managed to spare sufficient time from the work of that Committee and all its numerous sub-committees is something I have never been able to understand. She has also sat with me until the early hours of the morning during the present spill-over and on several other occasions when we have had late night Sittings, and I am most grateful to her for that also.

I should also like to express my gratitude to the 18 unpaid Deputy Chairmen who have already been referred to by several other speakers, most justly, without whose willing help on the Woolsack or in the Chair particularly late in the evening I would have resigned long ago from sheer fatigue and overwork. I am sure they will continue to serve the House under my successor, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, just as faithfully as they have served it during my term of office. I am also indebted to the many noble Lords who have spared the time to serve on long Private Bill Committees. These Committees usually sit all day, and it is sometimes not realised how much work is done by noble Lords off the Floor of the House.

I must now say thank you to all the staff of the Chairman of Committee's Office and especially to my counsel, Mr. Talbot. He has now been counsel to successive Chairmen of Committees for 23 years, and his determination to ensure that private legislation is of the highest standard and entirely worthy of your Lordships' House is as lively today as it ever was. When he retired in 1965 the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, my predecessor, said Mr. Talbot is one of those people who apparently is never ill. In the subsequent 11 years his stamina has been equally remarkable, though he is long past the age when most people are obliged to take things a little easier.

I should also like to thank Mr. Graham, the Clerk of Private Bills, for his invaluable advice whenever I hake had to pilot Private Bills through your Lordships' House. I think perhaps I realise, as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, how much we owe to the three Clerks at the Table for keeping us on the rails about procedure. I could not possibly have discharged my responsibility for giving the House procedural advice without their unfailing help.

My Lords, my immediate predecessor as Chairman of Committees was a Welshman, the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and his predecessor, the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, was an Irishman. So it is obviously now the turn of another Welshman, and I dare say a very long time hence the Scots, or even the English, may have their chance, too. I wish my successor, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, the very best possible luck in his appointment, and I hope he will have the same generous support from the House as I have been privileged to receive.


My Lords, I am very honoured that this Motion should be before your Lordships, and I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for proposing it in such kind terms so far as I was concerned. He has not known me very long perhaps. I should also like to thank everybody who has been so kind in what they have said about me. I can only say that if your Lordships agree to this Motion I will do my best to follow in the traditions of this ancient office. In fact I find it much easier to say that having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about some of the traditions. I am absolutely open to any offer to be Vice-Admiral of Scotland, or a General, or to take any sum from the Secret Service which they like to offer me.

In all seriousness, I will do my best to fulfil this office. Certainly, to re-assure the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, I will try to follow much more closely in the footsteps of Chairman Listowel than Chairman Mao, or any other chairman she might have had in mind. Finally, may I express my own great personal gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for the kindness he has shown me over the last few weeks in trying to indoctrinate me into the mysteries of the office. If I make mistakes, they will be my own and nothing to do with the fact that he has not briefed me properly.

On Question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente.