HL Deb 14 June 1990 vol 520 cc401-4
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the whole House will have been saddened to hear of the death of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, Opposition Chief Whip in the House since 1982. Over the past eight years Tom Ponsonby played a key role in the life of your Lordships' House. I know that on all sides we feel that he served the whole House with great devotion and integrity and that in Tom we had, and we have lost, a friend.

Through his skilful reconciliation of the demands of party politics and parliamentary duty, he ensured that the constitutional role of opposition was carried out in a way which did credit to all sides and all sections of opinion. A man of strong convictions himself, he was also a reconciler of opinions. In Tom Ponsonby we mourn the passing of a master of the art of securing agreement.

Outside the House he fulfilled many public duties for which his background and abilities had fitted him. His experience of local government was extensive and he had been an alderman of both the Kensington and Chelsea council and of the Greater London Council. He also played a leading role in the tourist industry in this country and particularly here in the capital.

We share the loss with noble Lords in his own party. Not only will Tom Ponsonby be remembered with great affection and respect. As Opposition Chief Whip he occupied a position of great importance. The way in which he carried out his responsibilities will leave its imprint on your Lordships' House for the future. I speak for us all in expressing our deepest sympathy to his wife, Maureen, and in paying tribute to Tom Ponsonby today.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his generous tribute to our noble friend Lord Ponsonby. Although he had been ill for some weeks, his death came as a distressing shock to us all yesterday. It is difficult to realise that he is no longer with us.

Tom Ponsonby came of a long line of distinguished public servants and his own life was one of unremitting service to public causes. As the noble Lord said, he made a notable contribution to London local government, becoming a councillor in Kensington at the age of 26 and ending as chairman of the Greater London Council, 20 years later. He was active in many other fields, not least the Fabian Society, and he supported a large number of charities.

When I started working with him in this House, I quickly realised that Tom knew everyone in London and everyone knew him. It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with him as our Chief Whip. As all of us know, the office involves heavy responsibilities, long hours and difficult problems, some of them insoluble. Tom Ponsonby coped with these with skill and good humour, and always with consideration for his colleagues.

He was recently asked in an interview which part of his life he had most enjoyed. He answered without hesitation, "My work in the House of Lords". He was a most devoted servant of this House. We have lost a fine parliamentarian and a most lovable colleague and friend. We send our deep sympathies to Maureen and the family.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I join in the sorrow and sympathy which have been so appropriately and poignantly expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, and the Leader of the House. The House feels an exceptional sense of collective loss. Yesterday afternoon when the news of Tom Ponsonby's death came through, there was an almost physical atmosphere of deprivation and dismay in the corridors, particularly those which he most frequented, such as I have never known before in this House.

I first knew Tom Ponsonby over 30 years ago when he was a Kensington councillor and an active member of the Fabian Society. He later became general secretary of that distinguished organisation. In that office he succeeded not only the almost legendary E. R. Pease of 100 years ago but also in the more recent past such diverse figures as John Parker, later Father of the House of Commons, the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, Mr. William Rodgers and Mrs. Shirley Williams. In Fabian circles he was widely and affectionately known as "Hon Tom Pon". The soubriquet reflected something both of his enthusiastic informality and of his distinguished provenance. His great-grandfather was a notable adviser and courtier to Queen Victoria; his grandfather, at the beginning of his career, was private secretary to Campbell-Bannerman, his successor as MP for the Stirling districts, and then a Labour Minister and Leader of the Opposition in this House for four years.

Tom Ponsonby fully maintained that tradition of public service, whether as Fabian secretary, chairman of the Greater London Council or Opposition Chief Whip in this House. More than that, he was an eminently lovable man. We shall all miss him very much. On behalf of those on these Benches, I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife and the other members of his family. I also extend my sympathy, if I may be permitted to do so, to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. It is a heavy blow for him and he will not find it easy to obtain a replacement who will serve him and the whole House as well as did Tom Ponsonby.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, the Cross-Bench Peers would, I know, like to be associated with the tributes already paid to Lord Ponsonby. As Cross-Bench Peers are not members of the usual channels, we did not have regular contact with him, but whenever there were any little difficulties that had to be sorted out, he was always very helpful. He was also a patient listener. He was a delightful character, helpful to everyone, although he held what must have been a difficult and exhausting job. We should like to join with others in sending our sympathy to his relatives.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield

My Lords, as a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I did not have the pleasure of meeting Tom Ponsonby. Yet in addition to what we have heard, I have been taken aback by the clear sense of shock and deprivation which other noble Lords have mentioned, making it quite clear that he was a person who was held in the highest regard. I know that he was a man who never allowed differences of political view to cloud personal friendships. He was highly respected both outside as well as within his own party. I am told, too, that he held your Lordships' House in great affection. I know that he will be greatly missed for his sagacity and his good humour. It is an honour for me as a newcomer to pay him tribute and likewise to extend my sympathy to his family.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, I should like to say a few words about Tom Ponsonby because when I was Opposition Chief Whip he was my deputy and later he of course succeeded me. I had known him and worked with him in the Fabian Society days and in general party matters for nearly 30 years. I suppose we were rather old-fashioned socialists in those days. We worked in a world of antiquated duplicating machines and piles of dusty books and pamphlets. That world was punctuated by fighting fierce elections, mostly for perfectly hopeless seats. He was a splendid colleague. He was hard working, loyal and always kind. He had a quality of originality which made him remarkable. He was an unusual man. He was dedicated, very private, and gently eccentric if one may call it that. Our party loved him and valued him highly.

Above all he was a complete and natural House of Lords man. The whole House will greatly miss him, especially his instantly recognisable presence striding down the corridors and presiding over the Division Lobbies. He always lightened solemn moments with his warm humour. His tragic and almost unbelievable death came much too soon. Above all we grieve deeply for Maureen and his family and we send them our heartfelt sympathy.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to contribute a few words on this sad occasion of the death of a good friend and a most likeable man. I, too, have known him for over 30 years. I found him one of the easiest of men to work with whom I have ever come across because he seemed to bring to his work not only the qualities which we have all observed but also a fund of goodwill, understanding and patience which he could draw on to make difficult moments a little easier.

It is especially poignant to me, and I daresay to all other noble Lords who have well exceeded the allotted biblical span of life, that we should pay tribute to a man who has died at a comparatively young age when he had so much left to contribute to life, to his family's happiness and to the work of your Lordships' House. I hope it will be taken as a token of my sincerity when I say that I very much hope his wife and family will have the strength to undergo the ordeal which faces them.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, I wish to say a few words as a relation of the late Lord Ponsonby. He was a great friend of mine and he was indeed my noble kinsman. Although he was on the other side of the House he had no objection to my saying that he was my noble kinsman. I am moved by his tragic death. The noble Lord was a great friend of mine and he lived in a part of the world not far from where I live. His grandfather, Arthur Ponsonby, who I believe was the first Leader of the Labour Party in your Lordships' House, was a close friend of my father. They were devoted to one another. I can tell your Lordships that it is not only noble Lords on all sides of the House who greatly regret his passing but also all the Ponsonby family.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, Tom Ponsonby was one of my sponsors when I was introduced into your Lordships' House. My other sponsor was the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I was proud and privileged to be introduced by two Chief Whips. I asked them both to introduce me because that epitomised to me the importance of the usual channels in the running of the parliamentary system. I got to know Tom well through the usual channels long before I came here, through my work in another place. I was not only struck by his great good humour but also by his tolerance. Long before I came to your Lordships' House he taught me the importance of the usual channels in the system, particularly in relation to your Lordships' House, and the essential part they play in the running of our Constitution. I wish to extend my tribute to him and to his work. I also wish to extend my sympathy to his family.

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