HL Deb 27 September 1976 vol 374 cc1-9

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships would expect me to say something about the changes which have taken place in the House during the Recess. Noble Lords opposite, and indeed all your Lordships, have lost a shepherd who has led and driven and looked after us for two and a half years. I hope that our situation will not be as the prophet observed: "I saw all Israel scattered over the hills as sheep without a shepherd." I have known the noble Lord for nearly 30 years. We have looked at each other from opposite sides of the House for three decades. He has not changed my views nor I, alas!, his, but I can truthfully say that despite our political differences we are personal friends. Particularly, therefore, I regret, though I understand, his wish to resign his position as Leader of this House.

It is comparatively easy to be Leader of the Opposition when there is a Conservative Government, but to be Leader of the House when faced with a large Conservative, Liberal and Cross-Bench Opposition is a very difficult task indeed, one calling for a mixture of tact, resolution and exceedingly nimble footwork. If he placates the Opposition too much he will infuriate his own supporters. If he does not placate them at all, the Leader of the Opposition will, if it does not seem too far-fetched to your Lordships, become a little unfriendly.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has steered an admirable course to the general approval of all of us, and that is a considerable tribute to his skill. Perhaps more important, however, the Leader of the House is not primarily a Party Leader; he is the Leader of all of us, representative of our interests, guardian of our privileges and spokesman and defender of this House against the predators down the passage. He must take us to task if we offend against the rules; he must suggest delicately that we sit down when we have talked too long; and all this with no power but with only the influence that he has as Leader of the House.

The noble Lord has never taken a Party line on all this. He nearly did so once, but under considerable provocation—and nobody can provoke more splendidly than my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. Lord Shepherd has invariably stood up for all of us, whether it be for our customs, our expenses, our peculiarities or our rights, and we are very grateful to him. On this, his 58th birthday, we tender him our warm good wishes and thanks for a job well done.

Perhaps it would not be amiss, too, to say something about the noble Lord, Lord Peart, who, your Lordships may not know, has hurt his leg. In spite of that, he has just completed the course without touching a fence, though I must tell him that we do not usually genuflect to the Lord Chancellor. He, too, is an old friend. His interests—and I hope I do not misrepresent him—are agriculture and defence. No man who has those two interests can be wholly bad. I should know. We welcome him warmly. He will find us different from another place. He will find us courteous, kindly and extraordinarily quiet—not adjectives which immediately spring to mind when describing the House of Commons. He will have the good will of all of us. He will know from Lord Shepherd of the tightrope that he walks. He will, I know, walk it with grace and agility, and we wish him well.

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, in fully endorsing the tribute which has just been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I should like to put on record from these Benches our sense of very real regret at the decision of the noble Lord to leave the Government, though we fully appreciate and understand his reasons for doing so. We are indebted to him during his tenure of Office as Leader of the House for the staunch way in which he has upheld the conventions and practices of the House without assuming the regulatory role performed by the Speaker in another place. It has not been an easy task, nor an easy period in which to discharge that particular function. We should all be very grateful to him for the way in which he has carried it out. We should also be grateful for all the work that has been done by Lady Shepherd over the long period in which the noble Lord has served this House. She has established herself as an ambassador in her own right among the Commonwealth and other representatives of overseas missions in the capital of the Commonwealth.

To the new Lord Privy Seal, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, whom many of us have known for many years, I add my congratulations on his appointment. We pledge him full support in upholding the practices and conventions of this noble House—when he has discovered what they are! From these Benches we promise him the most vigorous opposition to the contentious legislation with which he has had the ill luck to be lumbered at such short notice.

2.56 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I am very pleased that it should be my first duty as Leader of the House to acknowledge the generous tributes which the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, and other noble Lords have paid to my noble friend Lord Shepherd and to associate my noble friends behind me with everything that they have said. We all feel a real sense of loss at his retirement from the Front Bench and my noble friends are truly sorry not to see him in the place he has occupied for so long. For my own part, I have been able to admire his wise leadership and his political skill from a different standpoint as one of his colleagues in the Cabinet for the last two years. During that time I have been most impressed by his deep knowledge of this House and his concern for it. I am delighted that he is here today on the Bench below the gangway and I am confident that, with his love for the House, he will go on giving valuable service here for many years to come.

As for myself, I am deeply honoured to be taking his place as Leader of the House, and I am conscious of the very heavy responsibility that rests on my shoulders. It is extremely rare for someone to make his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box as Leader of the House. I believe that the only precedent is Disraeli, who came to this House in 1876 as the Earl of Beacons-field. I realise that I shall need even more than the usual indulgence which your Lordships so generously give to maiden speakers.

My task will be difficult both in earning my position as Leader and in earning the respect and good will of the House. I was, of course, Leader of the House in another place from 1968 to 1970, but I recognise only too well how different the two Houses can be. I shall try to make use of my experience in that office, but I shall also remember that the role of Leader here has no parallel and that I am really starting from scratch. I hope that I can count on the support of all Members of the House to guide me and to see that in our debates the conduct of the House is as sensitive as it was under my noble friend Lord Shepherd.

I can assure the House that I come here with real humility and a recognition of the problems that lie ahead. I shall therefore make it my business to be available to all noble Lords, wherever they sit, and I want to be accessible at all times. I have no doubt that I can rely on the usual channels and particularly my noble friend the Chief Whip to keep the House running smoothly but, if things are not always as they should be, I hope that I shall be the first to know and that I can play my part in resolving any difficulties. I have already expressed the honour that I feel at being made Leader of the House. I shall now try, through this appointment, to maintain the honour and the traditions of the House and to further the interests of your Lordships in every way I can.


My Lords, nobody can speak for the Cross-Benches. Unlike the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, we are not members of the Opposition; everyone speaks for himself. However, I feel that, on this occasion, someone from the Cross-Benches ought to express to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, our admiration for the distinguished way in which he has carried out his office and our good wishes to the new Leader of the House.

2.58 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, as an ex-Leader of the House, I rise to express my sadness at the fact that my noble friend Lord Shepherd is Leader no longer, but at the same time to express every possible good wish to my noble friend Lord Peart. My noble friend Lord Shackleton, who was as intimately associated with Lord Shepherd as I was for many years, wishes to say that he does not feel that endless ex-Leaders ought to address the House, but he would like his own sentiments to be fully understood.

I sat next to my noble friend Lord Peart in the Cabinet for a time and I thought he possessed many qualities to make him an excellent Leader of the House—`friendliness, courtesy and a capacity to suffer fools gladly. I am not saying that that will come in useful here but once or twice in the Cabinet of those days—and I shall not say to which Party that belonged—it helped. So I am sure, as are Lord Shackleton and all of us, that he will be a great success here.

Speaking personally, I must pay my tribute to my noble friend Lord Shepherd for all he has done. In a personal sense, I benefited from his kindness and helpfulness so greatly when I was Leader of the House and he was Chief Whip, and on many other occasions. In my time, counting the noble Lord, Lord Peart, we have had 11 Leaders of the House. I do not know what they would look like if they ever went, so to speak, in to bat, but we now have 11 Leaders and ex-Leaders. I would say that there has never been a Leader who was more effective or more acceptable than the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I can say that without saying that he was better than anyone else.

Some of the older Members of this House will remember the song, "I want to be happy, but I can't be happy unless I make you happy, too". Well, I feel that that was the signature tune of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I am sure that no Leader was ever quite so happy, so obviously happy, as Leader of the House, and he made us all very happy accordingly. Therefore, with everybody else here, I want to join in most heartfelt tributes to him.

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, I did not think it was going to be quite so difficult to respond to what I believed to be the feeling of the House towards me during my period as Leader of your Lordships' House. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of what has been said, which has been supported by very many letters written by Members from all parts of the House—and, frankly, I have no idea at all who some of them are. They signed their letters with their Christian names on House of Lords notepaper, and I am sorry that I could not identify them. But I have been more than grateful for all that has been said. As a result of those letters I should like to deal with two misconceptions, on behalf of myself and I believe, the House. There were some who wrote to me feeling that I was ill, that I was resigning on grounds of ill-health. I hope I can dispense with that particular fear. Secondly, it was felt by some that my departure was a consequence of creating a facility for a Cabinet reshuffle. My Lords, there is no truth in that whatsoever.

My decision was taken last May. I have always recognised the nature of your Lordships' House; that none of us can genuinely be professional politicians, and that one day I would return to industry and commerce. Last May I was asked to return to an interesting and demanding post. I gave it very great thought indeed. At the end I decided that this is what I should do—that I should go back—and I informed the Prime Minister at the end of July. I had only two dates in mind. The first was that I could be released by the 1st January 1977, the second that I might remain until the end of this Session, recognising the very heavy burden that my noble friends on the Front Bench would have to bear during the spill-over period. But one can well understand the Prime Minister's difficulty. Mr. Roy Jenkins was due to go to Brussels. A Cabinet reshuffle is never an easy thing and, therefore, one can understand why the Prime Minister wished to make the change in one go. I fully understand it, but I must say that I have a sense of regret that I cannot be with my colleagues at the end of this Session, with the programme completed. But, my Lords, I am quite happy to leave that credit to my noble friends Lord Peart and Lady Llewelyn-Davies.

I should like to add my congratulations to those already extended to my noble friend Lord Peart upon his appointment as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House. I think the House knows the qualities of leadership involved here. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, touched upon this point quite well. My noble friend has led the House of Commons with distinction. Above all else, he was a very popular Member of another place. I think that these two qualities are the qualities which will see him through, not only during this particular difficult period, but during the years in which he is called upon to be Leader of the House.

I should like to express appreciation to the Clerk of the Parliaments and to the Clerks who sit at the Table, and to all the many officials who have given not only to me, as Leader, but to all Members very sound, sensible advice. I should like to express my appreciation to Black Rod and to all those who work under him. Without them, Parliament, your Lordships' House, could not work. I should also like to express appreciation to Paul Hayter, who was my Private Secretary; and I am glad to see that he is to advise my noble friend Lord Peart. I should also like to express appreciation to three people who, during my period as Lord Privy Seal, served me well: Nick Gurney, Louise Chanter and Richard Pratt. They were three civil servants who were to be found in Whitehall at eight o'clock in the morning most days of the week.

I should like to thank my noble friends on this side of the House. Their loyalty has never been questioned. As I said to the Prime Minister, I hope that the sense of duty, the sense of loyalty, which they have given to the Party will one day be fully appreciated by our Party as a whole. I wish to pay a special tribute to the usual channels, to my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies and to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. But if I were to single out the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, it would not be because he is Chief Whip of the major opposition Party, but because he and I have served together in the usual channels for very many years. The noble Earl has, perhaps, done more for your Lordships' House than have those who speak with great regularity from the Front Benches. I say this because without the usual channels, without the spirit of co-operation and understanding, and sometimes sympathy, whether it be a Conservative Government or a Labour Government in Office, the business of your Lordships' House could not be conducted with the spirit, the understanding and the precision with which it is.

My Lords, my last words of gratitude must be to every individual Member of your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Longford said that I was always happy. By nature I am happy, but I could well imagine under certain circumstances that one's happiness could be less. But I have enjoyed every moment of my time, not only as Leader of the House, but in undertaking the various other functions in which I have been involved. This House has always risen to the difficulties of the day. It has sometimes risen with a touch of asperity, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington; but that asperity has often helped to get a movement forward and an agreement reached upon the arrangements of business.

My Lords, there is one thing I shall take with me, and that is a sense of friendship and happiness which time will never erase; and if I can in any way repay all that has been offered and given to me, I hope it will be by continuing to remain a Member of your Lordships' House and doing what I can to ensure that this House plays its proper part within the constitution and life of our country.