HL Deb 13 March 1996 vol 570 cc848-51

3.9 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, it is not usual in this House for there to be tributes to Members who have been Back-Benchers. I am told that tributes are reserved for more nominally exulted beings. However, for every rule there is an exception. Therefore, I hope that the House will allow me to say one or two words upon the death of Lady Faithfull.

We were all deeply saddened at the news of her sudden death. She was a colleague and, across the party divide, a friend. As I sat on this Bench this afternoon, my noble friend Lady Hollis said how strange it was to look across the Chamber and to see the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but not to see Lady Faithfull sitting next to him in the green suit that she so often wore. It is particularly sad because yesterday she was actively playing her part in the House.

In many ways Lady Faithfull was a Back-Bencher par excellence of this House. She pursued her causes with vigour, determination and a very considerable degree of single-minded independence. Her background in social work made her particularly effective in those areas of Parliament's work. She carved for herself a very special and unique role, which is why I venture to say a few words today.

We shall all remember her for her independence, persistence, sense of humour, compassion and, most of all, her kindness. She will be very sadly missed in this House and on behalf of my party I express my deep sympathy to her family.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for an act of, I think, the very greatest generosity of spirit in drawing your Lordships' attention officially to the death of my noble friend. His action is in the very best traditions of your Lordships' House. I agree with the noble Lord. Rules, particularly in this House, are there to be broken, if the House allows. I can think of no better occasion than this to do so.

I know that all of your Lordships will have been very shocked and saddened by the news that my noble friend was taken ill yesterday and died this morning. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, her presence in this House and her valued contributions to our proceedings will be greatly missed. I remember in particular my noble friend's look of deepest distress when she used to come to see me to explain that on one particular issue on which she was an acknowledged expert, once again she could not support the Government. But her distress in no way deflected her from her absolute determination to pursue what she thought was right. Her independence was a quality which above all distinguishes Members of your Lordships' House. However awkward that may be for the Government from time to time, we must always value it and I trust that it will always be an integral part of your Lordships' nature.

Above all, apart from my noble friend's independence and deep knowledge of the matters in which she took an interest, she radiated a quality of kindness which is extraordinarily rare in humankind. I know that my noble friend had great faith. That faith was reflected in her name. I particularly mourn her because she never ceased to point out that one of her 19th century relations was the rector of my home town in Hertfordshire and that I should follow more often his example and my noble friend's example rather than the dictates of my party. The whole House will miss her and we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for what he said.

While I am on my feet, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to mention one other matter. The shock which ran through the country at the unprecedented news from Dunblane this morning was palpable. With your Lordships' permission, I shall convey to the town of Dunblane, which I happen to be fortunate enough to know fairly well, to the families of the victims, and to the people of Scotland, the absolute horror of this House at what has occurred and our deepest sympathy for the families.

The Secretary of State for Scotland and the shadow Scottish Secretary left this morning Ito travel together to Dunblane. They will return tomorrow and a Statement will be made in another place. In the normal way, at that time an opportunity will be given to your Lordships to have the Statement repeated. I hope we shall then be in a position to answer in full and factually any questions which your Lordships may have.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I associate myself and my noble friends with the exceptional tribute which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, paid to Lady Faithfull. She was an exceptional servant of this House and of the public good. Her death has a particular poignancy for me, as I am sure it does in differing ways for many Members of your Lordships' House, because as I was coming into the House yesterday afternoon I saw her in a chair in the yard being moved into an ambulance. I shall never forget the smile of patient serenity on her face. That was perhaps an appropriate last memory of her. We associate ourselves very strongly with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, as we do with the remarks made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House about the terrible incident in Scotland.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, on behalf of the Convener, who I believe does not know that this sad event has occurred, and the Cross Bench Peers, I join with all that has been said about Lady Faithfull. I know that she will be particularly missed by those who served on the all-party children committee where she did such wonderful work. She is one of those rare people whom everybody loved and nobody knew how to disagree with because she was generally always right. On behalf of the Cross-Bench Peers, we send our condolences to her family.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as a Back-Bencher who for some years was a Minister dealing with matters in which Lady Faithfull took a close interest I noted that she sat immediately behind the Dispatch Box. Therefore, one could not ever see the effect of what one said but one got the result in a way which made me say to her in the Lobby on one occasion that my back was full of her darts. She said that she never threw darts at me. It is true that all she was doing was protecting the interests of children with courage, fortitude and no regard to any other loyalty. That enormously enhanced the reputation of this House and the quality—I have the humility to say—of some of the legislation I helped to put through it.

There is a sad irony about the fact that children were the victims of the atrocity to which my noble friend the Leader of the House referred. It makes it all the more fitting that the heartfelt sympathy of your Lordships should be sent to the families of the victims.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I spoke to Lady Faithfull yesterday morning at 11.30 on a matter of common interest, namely, my group on youth clubs. We were to meet this afternoon because she said there were three defects in my proposal. I shall now never know what they are, and I shall sadly miss her.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, living as I do less than 20 miles from Dunblane, when I heard the news on the radio at 11 o'clock this morning I was terribly shocked. As the Leader of the House said, Dunblane is a beautiful place. If there is any place on earth where one would not expect an atrocity of this kind, it is Dunblane. All the people there will take this terrible tragedy as a personal loss.