HL Deb 10 October 1994 vol 557 cc699-704
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, before we once again address ourselves to business after a long summer break, I am sure that, with your Lordships' permission, the whole House would wish to pause for a moment to pay tribute to the late Lord Shackleton. Any account of Lord Shackleton's life would describe a distinguished and unusual statesman. It is therefore only right that we should remember his outstanding official contributions to our national life as a Member of Parliament, when, according to my noble friend Lord Wyatt, his slogan was, "With Shackleton to the polls"; as one of the first Life Peers; as an RAF Minister and as Leader of this House.

In the latter post he carried the additional burden of Minister for the Civil Service—a heavy double responsibility when one considers that, as Leader of your Lordships' House, he led a Labour administration faced, perhaps unlike today, with a large Conservative Opposition, and that, as Civil Service Minister, he was responsible for implementing the Fulton reforms. As your Lordships will know, he led the Opposition in this House from 1970 to 1974 with the greatest of distinction before leaving active politics to devote much of his time to business.

Lord Shackleton displayed qualities of determination, prescience, high principle and, if I may say so, guile in everything he undertook. No doubt some of those qualities he inherited from his famous father. He certainly displayed all of them during his period as a defence Minister, which proved to be a particularly happy time both for him and his colleagues in that department. His prescience in particular was nowhere more obvious, in retrospect, than in his 1977 report on the Falkland Islands.

However, it is perhaps as a servant of your Lordships' House that Lord Shackleton will be best remembered. It would be fair to say that he suffered only one substantial reverse. In 1968 and 1969, together with the noble Lords, Lords Carrington and Jellicoe, and the late Richard Crossman, he attempted to reform your Lordships' House. That episode, together with his successes in this House, constitute a formidable record. He was one of the fathers of the Select Committee on Science and Technology and tried constantly to improve our procedures.

Above all it was as Leader that Lord Shackleton shone. When I first came to this place he was described by someone who should know as one of our greatest Leaders. When I asked why, essentially I was told that he knew and loved this place; that he regarded himself as its servant and that he gave of himself to one and all. I was told too that he adhered strictly to our essential principles of self-regulation, self-restraint and respect for minorities and that he had an exceptional gift for recognising and articulating the sense of this House.

The other two qualities that I have heard attributed to him as Leader I myself was fortunate enough to experience during my own time as a defence Minister. His relations with his political opponents were close and friendly; but he fought his corner with the very greatest of skill. His battles, in my experience, to save HMS "Endurance" and the hydrographic squadron will not be forgotten by those on both sides of the argument.

I was fortunate enough to come to know Lord Shackleton a little. I could therefore begin to understand the personal characteristics that made him such art outstanding Leader of your Lordships' House. I first met him when I was a young man and, characteristically perhaps, he offered me a lift home back from a party in an ancient Peugeot motor car. When I came here he gave me the warmest of welcomes together with a great: deal of thoroughly unpompous advice. Indeed, he asked me to dinner in your Lordships' Dining Room, á trois together with a delightful and highly intelligent actress. I still cannot make up my mind as to which of those two ideal dinner companions had more charm.

His warmth and zest were infectious. His conviction that politics was an honourable calling I found profoundly reassuring. I know that even on such a relatively slight acquaintance I, for one, shall miss him. This House will miss him, and the qualities that he brought to it, acutely. Today I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that our sympathy goes to his family from a House to whose name he added a lustre particularly his own.

Lord Richard

My Lords, we on this side of the House are grateful for what the Leader of the House has had to say about Lord Shackleton. We are grateful to him for his kind words and for his sentiments. He is quite right. Lord Shackleton's death is a sad loss which we all share. We pay tribute to him today not only for his massive contribution over the years to the public life of this country but also for his personal qualities as a man.

His history is well known. He was the son of a famous father whose exploits in the Antarctic were indeed legendary. He nonetheless became a traveller and an explorer very much in his own right. Born in 1911, the youngest child of his parents, he was only 10 when his father died on board ship off South Georgia in January 1922. He was educated at Radley and Magdalen College, Oxford, and when he was 22 he arranged the university expedition to Sarawak. As he himself recalled later with characteristic clarity, he was asked why he chose Sarawak. He answered thus. "It was quite simple", he said. "My heart was directed to the Antarctic but my head told me that if I immediately became involved in the Polar regions my contemporaries would suppose I was playing on my father's reputation, so I decided to go to the tropical forests and be my own person"—a characteristically Shackletonian comment.

His war record was distinguished. He was twice mentioned in dispatches while serving as a wing commander in the Royal Air Force. He became the Labour Member of Parliament for Preston in 1946, defeating, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, in a famous by-election. Subsequently he went on to represent the Preston, South division from 1950 to 1955. I am told that in 1951 his majority was precisely 16, which must be a tribute to something—the perception and perspicacity of the Preston, South voters and also the way in which he had looked after his constituency in the period up to then. He was one of the first Life Peers and on the return of a Labour Government became Minister of Defence for the Royal Air Force. As the Leader of the House has said, he went on to become Deputy Leader of the House and then Leader of it and Lord Privy Seal. In Opposition he continued as the Leader of the Opposition until the election in 1974 and subsequently, as the Leader of the House has told us, he became one of the elders of this House, one of the wise men, if I may put it that way, who not only guided Labour Peers but also, I think, guided the House as a whole, particularly in its relationship with the House of Commons.

Undoubtedly Lord Shackleton's name will be permanently associated with the Falkland Islands. He undertook a survey of the islands in 1976 and produced an economic study for their future in 1982. The past 10 years saw from him a staunch parliamentary battle with the Ministry of Defence over the future of HMS "Endurance". The original "Endurance" was the ship that his father took to Antarctica all those years ago. It was the 1981 decision to withdraw it which was held by many to have sent the wrong message to Argentina about Britain's policy over the Falklands. In May 1992, therefore, when the Government—indeed the Leader of the House himself was then a Minister in the Ministry of Defence—announced that the Navy's Antarctic patrol ship "Polar Circle" was to be renamed "Endurance", that famous parliamentary victory gave enormous satisfaction not only to Lord Shackleton but, I think, to his many friends.

In this House he was a deeply respected Member of the Privy Counsellors' Bench. On all sides he was regarded as one who, while passionate in advocating his cause, nevertheless had an abiding affection for the House and always played the game strictly according to the rules. But above all, at least for me, he was an extremely nice man, friendly, courteous, kind and generous in his advice, which was freely given and often sought. We shall miss him greatly and we should like to extend our deepest sympathy to Lady Shackleton and their family.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, perhaps I may say, first, how much my noble friend Lord Jenkins regrets that he is in America today and is therefore unable to be here to pay a tribute to his old colleague and friend Lord Shackleton. I know he very much wishes that he could be speaking himself here today.

So much has already been said that there remains little for me to add about the career of Lord Shackleton. He was not only an outstanding politician in the best sense of the word, long before the name became as downplayed as it has been in recent years, but he was clearly a statesman, a statesman of the kind that we need greatly and do not so often see. He was a remarkably versatile man, almost a Renaissance figure. He was an eminent explorer, a successful politician, an outstanding Leader of your Lordships' House, a director of personnel at John Lewis, fostering the exceptionally good industrial relations for which that company is so well known, and a prominent member of the board— indeed, I think vice-chairman—of RTZ. This is a range of activity and achievement that few people manage to reach and which many of us wish more of today's statesmen could emulate. It is, alas, sad that so few people coming into politics today have the range of knowledge and experience which undoubtedly enabled Lord Shackleton to make the unique contribution that he made, calling on that experience and on the courage and determination which he developed in the various walks of life in which he was so distinguished.

Perhaps I may personally record one of his activities and achievements which has not been mentioned either by the other speakers or, I believe, in any of the tributes which have been paid. It is probably very little known. I was concerned with getting the Anti-Discrimination (No. 2) Bill through the House in 1972, and I was extremely ignorant of the precedents of the House. It was Lord Shackleton who said, taking the lead in the matter, that what was required was a special Select Committee of your Lordships' House to deal with the question of sex discrimination. I believe that it is not claiming too much to say that it was from the work of that committee—which would never have come into existence except for Lord Shackleton's initiative—that the Sex Discrimination Act flowed together with all the benefits, with their limitations, that that legislation has conferred on the larger half of the human race in this country. I believe that few women realise how much they owe to Lord Shackleton in that regard. I am very glad to have the opportunity to add that piece of information to the many tributes which have been paid to a most distinguished and much missed colleague.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, very few Cross-Bench Peers will have known Lord Shackleton when he was Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition since that is now about 20 years ago. But he will be remembered and admired for his persistence, as has already been mentioned, in eventually persuading the Government to change the name of the Antartic patrol ship "Polar Circle" and rename it "Endurance". The "Polar Circle" replaced the old "Endurance" after the Falklands War. The old ship played a very large part in his father's life.

Lord Shackleton was a man of very wide interests many of which have already been referred to in the tributes. We endorse all the tributes which have already been made and we express sympathy to his family. We would like to draw attention to two points in which we are particularly interested. After leaving the Commons in, I believe, 1955, he joined the John Lewis Partnership and played a major role in the management and recruitment of staff. He was known for his skill in finding the right man for the job.

Later, in 1973, after ending his full-time party political career, he took a directorship in Rio Tinto Zinc where once again his special skills were used in sorting out problems and getting the confidence of personnel and fitting them in the right jobs.

His friends on the Cross-Benches would like to draw attention to one or two matters: his openness to new ideas; his ability to admit when he did not know, and to ask for help; his skill in getting to know people and in gaining their confidence; and his pride, as a non-scientist, in being made a fellow of the Royal Society. Therefore, it is not surprising that throughout the life of Lord Shackleton so many people and organisations thought that he was the right man for the job.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, on behalf of all Bishops in your Lordships' House, may I also pay tribute to Lord Shackleton and his distinctive contribution to this House and to this nation. As we have already heard, to follow a famous father is never easy, but it was one of those admirable qualities which Lord Shackleton exemplified that his sense of history allowed him to be independent of his father's achievements and yet at the same time to enjoy the same love of adventure and exploration.

Three words particularly strike me when I think of his life: self-reliance, resourcefulness and initiative. Those qualities stood him in good stead during his political career as well as in his geographical adventures. His breadth of interest and his contribution to the life of this nation, spanning both scientific and political careers; and his abilities and his achievements are a tribute in themselves. It is my sincere hope and prayer that his life may well be an example to many for its richness and sense of adventure. I am sure that all people of faith will want to say with me, "May he rest in peace".

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, the death of Eddie Shackleton removes a colleague of nearly 50 years and a friend for all that time. I wish to pay tribute to the enthusiasm with which he pursued every cause, the tenacity with which he followed it up and the generosity which he always showed. I especially remember the way in which he put aside his personal affairs in 1976-77 in order to help me with the Falkland Islands at a particularly difficult time when there seemed the possibility of invasion. We were trying to tempt others into joining with us in what would have been a matter of mutual advantage in the economic development of the South Atlantic. I carry these and many other memories of a warm and generous colleague. He was one who never carried opposition into enmity. He also never stood any nonsense. I am so glad that a member of his family is able to listen to us today and to the elegant tributes which have been paid. We shall miss a dear friend.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me very briefly to support what the Leader of the House and others have said about Lord Shackleton. I do so for two reasons: first, for a great many years he and I sat on opposite Front Benches either as Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition or in various other capacities depending on which government was in power. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has said, we were both of us involved in what I suppose one would now call the "non-reformation of the House of Lords".

Secondly, he was a doughty opponent and a vigorous debater. He was scrupulously fair and honourable. In politics, as in business, he was a man of the highest principle and of the greatest integrity. In all those years he was, for me, a close personal friend. He was a great servant of his party, of this House and of the country. I remember on one occasion when he was Minister for Defence for the Royal Air Force, he announced the arrival of the Shackleton mark II maritime reconnaissance aircraft, declaring that it was a great improvement on the mark I. In my judgment there was no improvement possible on the original Shackleton. Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him remember him with respect and affection.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I endorse all the fine and true things that have been said about Eddie Shackleton. As he succeeded me as Leader of the House, I suppose it is inevitable that I should say one or two words. I first got to know him when we welcomed him to this House in 1958 as one of the first Life Peers. I remember Clem Attlee saying what a fine debater we should find him—and so we found him then and in the years that followed. My relationship with him later was close and rather delicate. When I was Leader of the House, he was Deputy Leader and it was then widely understood that he would succeed me at the earliest possible moment. That was perhaps not the basis for a very close friendship. But nothing could have been more sensitive or loyal than his behaviour at that time. He was generosity itself, both when he took over from me when I resigned and later. I shall think of him in the words of a well known novel: He was a good man and he did good things".

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