HL Deb 06 December 1989 vol 513 cc849-53

2.38 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the House will have been much saddened to hear of the death of Lord Elwyn-Jones on Monday evening. Lord Elwyn-Jones came to your Lordships' House as Lord Chancellor in 1974 and I well remember wondering how he would take to the different ways and customs here after a long and distinguished career in another place. But immediately he endeared himself to the whole House: his great charm and wise counsel will be sorely missed not only by his close political friends and colleagues but by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, by members of the legal profession and by all your Lordships.

Elwyn, as we came to know him, held strong views and debated with passion but never with personal rancour. He had a lightness of touch which sometimes made one forget his capacity for sheer hard work. After taking part as prosecutor in the Nuremberg war trials, he served as Member of Parliament for 30 years in another place while building up his legal practice. He was Attorney-General from 1964 to 1970 with a heavy workload and Lord Chancellor from 1974 to 1979. As Lord Chancellor he was skilful in balancing the legitimate interests of the executive and the judiciary. He maintained a steady flow of law reform measures including—and I think that this was very close to his heart—the Children Act of 1975.

His dedication to your Lordships' House was such that until very recently he was one of our most hard working Peers. It is particularly poignant that he died on the day that the House debated war crimes, a subject about which he felt very deeply.

Kind and resolute, a passionate defender of the rights of others and with the most wonderful sense of humour, Lord Elwyn-Jones personified so many of the qualities renowned in the Welsh people. Your Lordships will wish to join with me in offering our deepest sympathy to his widow and his family at this time.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the warm and affectionate tribute that he has paid to our dear colleague, Lord Elwyn-Jones.

Elwyn was one of three outstanding brothers brought up in the great Welsh nonconformist tradition. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has referred to his long and distinguished career in the law and in Parliament. We know that he was devoted to his profession of law and to Gray's Inn as well as to politics, to the House of Commons and to this, our House. In all of these he maintained the highest standards. As a result it is not too much to say that he was loved by his colleagues in the law and in Parliament across the Benches.

I had the privilege of instructing Elwyn when he was a junior barrister on the Welsh circuit. It was always a pleasure to work with him. His advocacy was eloquent and his mastery of the case in law and fact always impressive. Behind it all, however, I knew that Elwyn had worked very hard. The same was true of his parliamentary work. I think the House knows that when he spoke from this Box on Second Reading or in Committee he had spent hours ensuring that he would present the case at its best.

His service as Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor will be long remembered. His place in Welsh history is certainly secure, not least because he was the first Welsh speaking Lord Chancellor for centuries. Even before the war, as a young barrister, his passion for human rights impelled him to travel to Austria and elsewhere where those rights were imperilled. His appointment to prosecute at Nuremberg was, in a sense, a natural sequel to his experiences before and during the war.

The Holocaust, the suffering of Jewish people in Europe, was never far from his mind and in his last days he was still thinking about Monday's debate in this House on war crimes. Those who had the privilege of his friendship will not forget him. His kindness, his compassion and his sense of humour will remain with us. We shall miss that beautiful voice that we came to know so well.

I shall always think of him as a young man, because even at the age of 80 he was young in his attitudes and in his outlook. Age did not wither him and his memory will always remain fresh in our minds. Our sympathies go to Lady Elwyn-Jones and to his son and two daughters.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, there are some deaths of major public figures which are a special deprivation because of the sense of a career cut off in midstream with promise unfulfilled. Gaitskell, Macleod and Crosland come immediately to mind. And there are others where a life of rounded achievement has subsided and we perhaps feel more respect and admiration than shock or grief.

Elwyn Jones had some peculiar quality which made him span both categories. His life's work could, I suppose, be said to be complete. His career of public service is the now rare classical example of a great lawyer politician—barrister at 25, MP at 34, QC at 43, Attorney-General at 54, Lord Chancellor at 64, and then ten years of exceptional subsequent devotion to this House in Opposition. His career was fully rounded. Yet there is much of the poignancy of a younger life cut off about his going. I think it was because he was so vividly, so acutely and yet so benignly among us until very recently. Only a few months ago he looked and sounded the model of what many of us, without much confidence, might hope to be at the end of our eighth decade.

I worked closely with him during his two periods of high office. For two years while he was Attorney I was Home Secretary, the Commons Member of the Cabinet whose responsibilities are most closely intermingled with legal processes. For half the time that he sat on the Woolsack I was again Home Secretary. It is well known that the responsibilities of the Home Office and of the Lord Chancellor's Department are entwined with more closeness than logic. But we were mostly able to proceed in perfect amity and your Lordships will readily believe that if there ever was an acerbity the fault was always mine and not Elwyn's.

However, my most vivid and warm memories of him will be those of the past few years in this House. The pleasure of hearing him pick up a point and shape it into an extremely effective question in a tone of voice which combined in almost exactly equal proportions the authority of the state, a liberal sympathy and a most perfect courtesy is something I shall never forget.

We will cherish his memory, and we send our deepest sympathy to his widow and children.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, Elwyn Jones will certainly be mourned on all sides of the House. He was always so kind and courteous, and his extrovert and friendly manner put everyone at their ease. He was a superb raconteur with a very wide range of humorous stories. I remember the long nights and the all-night sittings on the devolution Bills when Elwyn could be relied upon to dispel any tetchiness on the Front Bench in the early hours of the morning with a humourous aside or a whispered anecdote. He will be remembered for his service as a member of the War Crimes Executive and for his handling of the Nuremberg Trials.

He had a distinguished military and legal career. As an MP he served his constituency faithfully and well from 1945 until 1974 when he came to this House and quickly became a very beloved Lord Chancellor.

One can almost say that his interests were world-wide, and he enjoyed travelling to far away places. He had many humorous stories to relate on his overseas visits. He was always willing to extend a friendly hand to political friend and foe alike, to the most humble of his constituents and to the highest in the land. He retained the common touch and we are all the poorer for his passing.

Our sympathy goes out to his widow, herself in hospital at this time. They were a distinguished and devoted couple and her loss will be immense. To her and to his family, from these Benches we send our love and compassion and our thanks for the privilege of sharing Elwyn with them.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords, our convener has asked that I should associate the Cross-Bench Peers with the tributes that have been paid. That I most gladly do. Lord Elwyn-Jones was held in the greatest esteem and affection by all noble Lords on these Benches on account of his accessibility, his invariable courtesy and the moderation and elegance with which he expressed his views. To my noble and learned colleages in particular he was valued on account of his warm-hearted humanity and his strongly felt sense of justice.

As Lord Chancellor we valued his unvarying affirmation of the independence of the judiciary and his law reform projects. In later years we came to appreciate his experience and common sense when he came to sit as a judge, an activity which I think he greatly appreciated.

Internationally he had a wide reputation as a caring lawyer always able to express his thoughts in that natural eloquence with which his native country so liberally graces its sons. The legal profession will be the poorer for his absence.

The Lord Bishop of St. Albans

My Lords, I wonder whether I can intrude by saying a few words of tribute from these Benches. They are inevitably personal ones. I learnt of the death of Lord Elwyn-Jones just two minutes before taking prayers yesterday. I felt instant regret that the traditions of this House did not allow me an opportunity to voice the prayers of those present at the loss of so distinguished a Member. However, 24 hours later I am glad to rectify things.

My words are personal because as a very nervous newcomer to your Lordships' House I stood up here four years ago to make my maiden speech. Not knowing how to begin such things, and aware that in the view of your Lordships most bishops are indistinguishable from each other, I began by saying that before I was Bishop of St. Albans I was Archdeacon of West Ham. "Hear, hear" came the words of a benevolent gentleman on the Front Bench opposite to encourage me on my way, and I instantly guessed who he must be.

His twinkling eyes, his disarming smile, those expressive eyebrows, his rubicund countenance and his avuncular generosity made him for me the very personification of kindliness. And behind it all was the acute legal mind, the penetrating advocacy, demonstrated from the days of his time as president of the Cambridge Union to his time as Lord Chancellor—brilliance clothed in warm humanity.

I believe that I may speak with authority because the people of his constituency in Plaistow and Newham South were the people of my constituency. I know how well they will be mourning him now. Perhaps I may be privileged to voice their gratitude for the way in which—and from the totally different culture of the Welsh Valleys—he identified completely with the aspirations, the needs and the interests of those great East Londoners whom he represented in another place.

It is all too easy to say that your Lordships' House will be infinitely the poorer for his passing but in this case it is certainly true, as the former tributes have amply demonstrated. In him the bishops have lost an unfailing friend.

I know that Lord Elwyn-Jones featured in the prayers of many of us here during his illness in the hope that he would be upheld by God and maybe spared. But now he remains in our thoughts as we commend him to God, the loving and merciful Father, before whom he would not dream of pleading his own cause. We pray too for his wife in her frailty and for their family in thanksgiving for the man that he was and the influence and the memory he leaves with us all.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I shall not detain the House but perhaps it will not be thought inappropriate if I say how much I shall miss Elwyn. When in my profession we talk about "my learned friend" it is no mere figure of speech in the forensic encounters of a lifetime, in the anfractuosities of political division. But I shall always owe to him an immense debt of gratitude because of his kindness to me. It was of a particular kind when in 1978 I returned from Australia absolutely shattered by a personal bereavement. My sympathy goes out to his family in proportion to what he did for me then.