HL Deb 13 March 1997 vol 579 cc419-22
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, as Leader of your Lordships' House, it is one of my sadder duties, although perhaps a privileged one, to lead tributes in your Lordships' House. Today I rise to pay tribute to the late Lord Listowel, who sadly died yesterday afternoon.

Lord Listowel—or Billy as he was affectionately known to his many friends in your Lordships' House—had recently joined the distinguished band of your Lordships active into their nineties. He succeeded his father as long ago as 1931, and took his seat in the following year. This made him the longest serving active Member of our House. He thus had the distinction of having been a Member of your Lordships' House for 65 years. I suggest, if I may, that few can equal his record of service to this House. I should also record that he had the distinction of being the longest serving member of the Privy Council, having been appointed to that body in 1946.

Lord Listowel had an unusual career. Having gained experience in local government both before and after the Second World War, he served in Sir Winston Churchill's Government from 1944 to 1945 as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India and Deputy Leader of your Lordships' House. He then served as Postmaster General; as Secretary of State for India and for Burma; as Minister of State for the Colonies; and as a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. He was also Governor-General of Ghana from 1957 to 1960. As your Lordships will know, Ghana was the first African nation to achieve independence from the United Kingdom. As Governor-General, Lord Listowel saw that fledgling nation through its first heady days of independence. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that there can be few Members even of this august House who can record such a varied and distinguished record as a Minister and servant of the Crown.

Lord Listowel also had a remarkable career in the House. As your Lordships will remember, he was Chairman of Committees from 1965 to 1976. At the start of his term of office, he oversaw a major reorganisation of the administration of this House. For the first time the Administration Committee operated as an executive body; and for the first time an executive rather than merely an honorary Black Rod was appointed. This period also saw valuable additions to your Lordships' facilities. The Dining Room was extended, and infill building work took place in State Officers' Court providing a considerable amount of new accommodation.

As Chairman of Committees, Lord Listowel spent many hours on unopposed Bill committees following the passing of the Local Government Act in 1972. The Act established a framework for a new local government structure, but individual authorities needed to apply to Parliament for their own Private Bills. Consideration of these Bills by the Chairman of Committees ensured the effective scrutiny of this highly complex legislation. Lord Listowel also sat for many years as a Deputy Speaker of your Lordships' House. Indeed, his friendly face was a familiar sight on the Woolsack right up until 17th July last year. Those of your Lordships who were in the House in the early 1970s will remember that he worked particularly long hours during that time when the House sat far later far more often than has perhaps recently been the case. The Chairman of Committees tells me that after Lord Listowel's last sitting on the Woolsack he wrote to say what a joy it had been to sit and feel wanted at his age. He remained on the panel of Deputy Speakers right up until the day of his death.

As a man, Lord Listowel, I think it is fair to say, was held in as high a regard as any Member of your Lordships' House. He was always kind and gentle and an unfailing friend to all of your Lordships no matter where they sat in this House. I can say without fear of contradiction that he will be sorely missed. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join me in giving our condolences to Lady Listowel and her family and to pay tribute to a much loved figure in your Lordships' House.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Viscount the Leader of the House in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Listowel. It is a somewhat sobering reflection to realise that he was a Member of this House longer than I have been on this planet. It is always sobering when that happens. I remember appearing in a case not too long ago when I discovered that another barrister on the case had been called to the Bar five years before I was born. I suppose one has to get used to longevity in this House, but it is a somewhat sad event when one has to do what we are trying to do this afternoon.

Lord Listowel was a well known, prominent and much respected Member of your Lordships' House. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, his political career was long, distinguished and varied. It was based firmly upon his commitment to the Labour Party and the principles—as he perceived them—on which that party was based. It is said that he went up to Balliol but his father removed him after he had been there a year because he had shown dangerous Left-wing tendencies and had started to make radical speeches in the union. Having been removed from Oxford, he was then sent to Cambridge. I am told that Cambridge proved no less subversive than Oxford had been. His political career followed from that.

I think it is right to say that apart from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, Lord Listowel was the last survivor of the coalition government. Indeed he was Labour Chief Whip in the House of Lords from 1940 to 1944. In 1944 he became Deputy Leader of the House. I think that the grandfather of the Lord Privy Seal was at that time the Leader of the House. With the change of government in 1945, he moved into ministerial office. I suppose that he will be remembered most for his contribution to colonial and Commonwealth affairs.

The noble Viscount the Leader of the House referred to Lord Listowel's time as Secretary of State for India. He played a crucial role in the run-up to the independence of that country. Later he became Governor-General of Ghana, where he struck up, it seems, a remarkably warm relationship with President Nkrumah. I do not think that was a relationship that followed necessarily from all President Nkrumah's relationships with British politicians, governors-general or Ministers; but with regard to Lord Listowel, deep respect and affection were felt on both sides.

The noble Viscount referred to Lord Listowel's time as Chairman of Committees. He was, I think, the first Labour Chairman of Committees in your Lordships' House. He served his time there with distinction. He sat regularly on the Woolsack until last summer. I have one personal memory of Lord Listowel which I treasure. The first election I ever fought was in 1959 in South Kensington. That is not a part of the country noted for its Socialist affiliations. It was very difficult to get anyone to come down to make a major speech on behalf of the cause, in so far as one did make major speeches in South Kensington. Lord Listowel was approached. He accepted. I well remember a packed meeting in Kensington Town Hall where Lord Listowel, with perhaps uncharacteristic robustness, took on the record of the then Conservative Government. Lest it be thought that it had a great effect upon the result, I can say only that with his efforts and mine I saved my deposit by 40 votes.

Lord Listowel was, as the Lord Privy Seal has said, a man of extraordinary politeness, kindness, patience and natural courtesy. He will be greatly missed by the House as a whole. He was a distinguished and assiduous servant of the House. Those of us on these Benches would wish to remember him as a good and loyal colleague who served his party and his country well. On behalf of my noble friends, may I join with the Lord Privy Seal in expressing our deepest sympathy to Lady Listowel and her family.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, Lord Listowel was, until almost last week when I think I remember last seeing him, living history, expressed with a quiet dignity and a modest sense of service which had infused his whole long life. He was a Peer, as we have been told, for nearly 66 years; a junior Minister in Churchill's Grand Coalition; Deputy Leader of your Lordships' House over half a century ago; a Secretary of State under Attlee, who later, when he had discharged his task of getting rid of the charge for which that department of state was created, was content to become a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. That shows a true sense of humble duty, although he later reblossomed as a successful governor-general and as Chairman of Committees here for 11 years. It was a great record of un-self-seeking service. He will be much missed in this House and I join with my noble friends in expressing sympathy to his widow.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, I was not a Member of this House when the very distinguished Lord Listowel was Leader of the House. With all the Cross-Benchers, I should like to join in the tributes which have already been paid by so many of those who knew him many years ago and latterly.

As Convener of the Cross-Bench Peers, I was in the fortunate position of getting to know him better when he was Chairman of Committees, and also, for some time, as has been said today, Deputy Speaker. We on these Benches always admired his impartiality. He was always tremendously patient. He showed courtesy and many kindnesses, about which no one really knew anything. He was more popular because he was modest, and he was loved as a result on all sides of the House. We on the Cross-Benches admired him. I believe, as the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal said, that it was 17th July last year that he sat last on the Woolsack. On these Benches we shall always remember him with affection and great respect.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, from the Bench of Bishops I wish to add a word of gratitude and respect to Lord Listowel. We valued a colleague who, as long ago as 1931, had written a book on the values of life. He was a philosopher who was both wise and good—in the true sense of the words, a philosopher prince. He will be missed, and we are grateful for all he gave to the country and to this House in all those years.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, as I knew Billy Listowel before most people in this House were born, I wish to record one of what his father regarded as his dangerous and disagreeable Left-wing tendencies. He formed a group of people, of which I am ashamed to say I was not one, to try to live on the dole, and they did for about five years.

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