HL Deb 13 March 1978 vol 389 cc1035-41
The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, it was a great shock to me, as it will have been to the House, to learn of the death on Saturday of Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie. I am sure that the House would not wish to proceed with business until tribute has been paid to the noble Baroness. She came to this House in 1970 and held positions of responsibility almost continuously until forced by ill-health to retire. She has made an indelible impression upon the work of the House and was responsible, in particular, for a major and lasting achievement in the development of the Select Committee on the European Communities.

I have already referred on another occasion to the elegance, good humour and hard work which the noble Baroness brought to the task of Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees and Chairman of the European Communities Committee when she succeeded Lord Diamond. To those qualities I should like to add the mixture of a sound judgment and enthusiasm which she displayed in this work. Under her guidance the Committee became a byword both in this country and in Brussels due to the exceptional quality of its reports. However, that achievement, substantial though it is, was only the latest in a life full of achievement.

For 20 years the noble Baroness was the Member for Aberdeen South. I vividly remember the first day when she was introduced to another place. During that time, among many other things, she was proud to have piloted the Protection of Birds Act through another place and from 1962 to 1964 she was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. That experience was to prove valuable to her when, in this House, she became Minister of State for Scotland in 1970. That office was followed, in 1972, by Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—a post which she held until 1974. In both Departments she is remembered with great affection.

In closing this tribute to the noble Baroness, I should like particularly to stress the affection which she inspired. Those who worked with her or who came into contact with her were immediately struck by her personal qualities and especially her unfailing cheerfulness and openness. Those qualities will cause her to be remembered by an extraordinarily wide circle, in all Parties, in both Houses of Parliament, in the country and abroad. She will be very much missed in this House. I know that noble Lords, in all parts of the House, will join with me in expressing deep sympathy to her husband, the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, and to her family.

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, we, on this side of the House, are grateful for the generous tributes which the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has made about our late colleague and friend. I would associate myself entirely with the sentiments which the noble Lord has expressed about the noble Baroness. She led a most distinguished life in politics, first in another place, and then in your Lordships' House. She was one of those rare people who managed to be very successful in all that she was asked to put her hand to and yet who remained intensely modest and humble in her work and in her achievement.

As a colleague on the Front Bench, whether in Government or in Opposition, she was always fun to work with, and what a difference that makes. She had a dedication to duty which, far from being serious, was always laced with an engaging humour and a happy laugh. Her real testing time came over the cod war which was a difficult task which she carried out with firmness and with dignity.

As a Deputy Chairman of Committees she guided your Lordships through many Bills and never once, to my knowledge, made a mistake—something which, when it is done well, looks so easy, but which everyone knows is only the result of careful preparation and attention to detail, which was, of course, one of the hallmarks of the noble Baroness in all that she did. Then, when she took on the office of Chairman of the European Communities Committee, she became the servant of the House and again guided your Lordships and the various Sub-Committees, which were her responsibility, through a maze of complicated legislation which would have defeated many of a seemingly more robust nature. When she spoke from her seat below the gangway, where latterly we became used to seeing her sit, she spoke with authority which time and knowledge had bestowed upon her, and with almost a majesty which was born of experience and humility.

Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie was a friend of all of us in whatever part of the House we sat. We knew her in her political work and, although that was important to her, her real love was the love of her family and her home in Scotland. It was the love of her family which was so noticeable to others and which gave to her that gentleness of character and infectious happiness which we were all lucky enough to witness.

Our deepest sympathy goes to her family and, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir. It is he who will inevitably bear the brunt of sorrow, but I hope that he will, nevertheless, take some comfort from the fact that there are those of us in this House who rejoice in the fact that we were able to know, appreciate and share the friendship of such a fine lady.

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support to the full the tributes that have already been paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir. Like the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I first knew the noble Baroness in the 1945 Parliament, and, like many others, I was delighted when she came to this House in 1970. We have all lost a valued and distinguished colleague, and a very lovable person. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, she brought to bear all the strength of her mind and her cheerful personality to introduce for the benefit, not only of this Parliament at Westminster but of the European Community as a whole, a scrutiny system of which we are all justly proud. We extend our deepest sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, and the family.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, I wonder whether I might echo the sentiments so aptly expressed by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I first knew Lady Tweedsmuir when she came to the Scottish Office with all the variety of work that that entails, which she handled with the greatest of ease. It will be a long time before her constituents in Aberdeen, South, and in particular the fishermen of Scotland, forget her for she did wonderful work for them. Then she came to the Foreign Office as Minister of State and, whenever we were faced with a real difficulty in any part of the world, I used to ask, "Where is Lady Tweedsmuir?". Whether it was in Europe, Africa, or at the United Nations, she was about the best ambassador that this country could have sent and she always returned having held the respect of those with whom she went to deal.

My noble friends and the noble Lord the Leader of the House have mentioned her qualities. I think that there are two qualities which were conspicuous—a natural authority and a clear and incisive mind. She brought those qualities to bear in every situation that she handled She will be enormously missed in this House in particular where we owe a great debt to her. I, too, offer my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, I am sure that it would be the wish of all my noble friends on the Cross-Benches that on their behalf I should express their sorrow at the passing of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and their sympathy for her husband, my old friend—with whom memories go back to our schooldays when we shared a common tutor at Eton—the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir.

Of the Cross-Benchers who served under the noble Baroness on the Sub-Committees of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House which is concerned with European affairs, I am the only one present today. Therefore, it seems appropriate that I should pay tribute to that very gracious personality that she always brought to bear upon her noble colleagues—graciousness which noble Lords have experienced many times, whether or not in Sub-Committee—on those occasions when she presided over our affairs from the Woolsack. We shall all mourn the memory of a very gracious lady whose departure we view with great sadness.


My Lords, I know that all the Members of the Select Committee would wish me to express on their behalf the grief that we feel at the loss of one who not only has done so much for her country, for both Houses of Parliament and for Europe, but still had so much to offer. Last Tuesday in the debate on the Bill for Direct Elections to the European Assembly I was privileged to pay tribute to what the Lady Tweedsmuir had done. Only a week before I had spoken to her over the telephone and she was as gay and as indomitable as we had always come to think of her. It is hard to realise that we shall no longer know that sense of fun and that infectious enthusiasm which she always had, and that we shall not have the pleasure of her company or the benefit of her always wise advice.

I should like to join with those noble Lords who have referred to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir. If we are grieved, how much greater is the burden of grief that he and Lady Tweedsmuir's daughters are bearing at this time. May I conclude by saying that, after all her suffering, I know it will be the wish of every one of us in this House that she should rest peacefully in the Scotland that she loved so much.


My Lords, I do not intend to detain noble Lords, but as one who sat for many years in the neighbouring constituency of Lady Tweedsmuir's—Aberdeenshire, East—I should like to say in what high regard she was always held by all the people of the North-East of Scotland, irrespective of Party. On their behalf I should like to pay a tribute to her.


My Lords, perhaps as a Back-Bencher it would not be inappropriate for me to say a few words on behalf of my colleagues, and in particular to express our deep sorrow at the departure of the noble Baroness and our sincere gratitude for her friendship and all her work. My own memory of her goes back to my early days as a Member of Parliament when her father was senior officer holding a posting in my constituency. I first heard her—and I may say my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—speak at a Unionist rally in Dumfriesshire. Very soon afterwards, in 1946, she came to the House of Commons. I well remember the impact that she made in the House of Commons. Whenever she started to speak all the lady Members flocked into the House to admire—possibly to emulate—her eloquence, her charm and her personality. She was of them all, I believe, the ablest speaker and the bonniest. I was also with her at the European Movement meeting in The Hague in 1948 and she captivated The Hague by her oratory then. She really made her mark for the first time then.

I should only like to add that I think she reached her greatest powers here in this House, as was most fitting, both as Minister of State at the Foreign Office and as the Chairman of the European Communities Committee. In her closing months, she showed tremendous cheerfulness, courage, and imperturbability, as indeed she has shown throughout her life. I should like to join with those who have offered the deepest sympathy to my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir. He too has shown the greatest steadfastness in these last few months. While feeling the greatest sympathy for him, and I hope showing it, we shall certainly be glad to welcome him back.


My Lords, as I came into the House today, one of our newer Members said to me, "What happens when a sad event like this takes place?" I said, "I hope, and I feel sure, that there will be an opportunity to pay tribute to Lady Tweedsmuir". I should like to pay my small one. I sat in another place with her. She was a wonderful friend. I think one only had to look at her to realise that she was intensely competent, but one also knew at the same time that she was nice, and those two things do not always go together.

She was completely fair. I looked on her as a very real friend. I had a long letter from her about only a week ago, and one would never have thought that there was anything wrong with her at all. I think it was quite wonderful. I should like to send my sympathy to her husband. I am not a women's "libber", but I should like everyone to know how much the women of both Houses admired her, and how much we shall miss her.


My Lords, as one of the Sub-Committee chairmen, may I just add a reminder that when she managed a committee, contentious moments were dissolved in laughter. Her management technique was a smile, and, if discipline there was, it was imposed by a frown, which happily melted in a moment.

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