HL Deb 11 October 2000 vol 617 cc321-3
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, I am sure that many noble Lords were deeply saddened, as was I, to hear the news this lunchtime of the death of Donald Dewar, the First Minister of Scotland. Donald was often recently called the father of his nation and he will always be remembered as the Secretary of State who brought the historic devolution settlement to Scotland.

Donald's great love of Scotland made it fitting that he should have been the first First Minister. He was a great politician, a loyal and trusted colleague and a good and kind friend. I know that his many close friends in all parts of this House will feel particularly sad today and will be among those who remember what a pleasure it was to be with him, to work with him and to enjoy his wonderful sense of humour.

Many tributes will be paid to Donald Dewar in the next few days but I am sure that at this moment all noble Lords will wish to join me in sending our very special sympathy and deep condolences to his family.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is with great sadness and regret that I join the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Donald Dewar. Like many others in the House, when I heard the news last night I wondered how it would all end. It has ended tragically.

Donald Dewar leaves a long shadow of political service behind him. It was a life of service not only to the Labour Party but also to Parliament. He was truly a titan, not only of Scottish politics but of politics throughout the United Kingdom.

It is my belief that, unusually for a serving politician at Westminster, he almost had more friends in this House than he did in the House of Commons. I need only turn to my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with whom he was at university, to recognise that that friendship transcended the usual political boundaries. He was a man of intelligence and integrity. As the noble Baroness said, he had a tremendous sense of humour and was a great debater and hard worker. Those are the values which will be missed most in the months and years ahead.

I join the noble Baroness in giving our thoughts and prayers to his family at this sad time. To those who take on his mantle in Scotland, we hope that his approach of common sense and decency, and the desire to bind together the United Kingdom, will not be lost.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps we, too, on these Benches may pay our tribute to Donald Dewar and say how profoundly we regret his passing. He passes into history as the first First Minister of Scotland. No one can take that away from him. It is a great milestone. We worked and co-operated with his government of Scotland and can say that he made an excellent start in the experiment on devolution in that country and that many people recognise his outstanding achievements after only a short time.

At a time when it is all too popular in the media and elsewhere to denigrate the profession of politics, Donald Dewar stands as a man of unquestioned integrity, of real goodness and of excellence and conscientiousness in his service to the people of Scotland and more widely to the people of the United Kingdom. We join the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing our profound and deep regret at his passing, and we extend our great sympathy to his family.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, perhaps we on these Benches may add to the tributes to a good and upright man. He was a most distinguished politician who served the United Kingdom, in particular Scotland, with great distinction. We add our prayers for him and for his family.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, perhaps I may associate noble Lords on these Benches with the words of praise and tribute to Donald Dewar. His name will go down in the history books. We shall miss him, and we extend to his family our most sincere condolences.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words not only on behalf of myself but of others in this House who perhaps cannot speak today but who were with Donald at Glasgow University some 40 years ago. I refer, first, to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to the noble Baronesses, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale and Lady Smith of Gilmorehill, and to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. Your Lordships may think that the Scots have taken you over! Perhaps I may add the noble Lord, Lord Elder, who although he was not with us 40 years ago was a close associate of Donald's in their political life.

All those years ago Donald was a great debater. We all thought that we were great debaters, but Donald was certainly one of the best. We had terrific debates in the Glasgow University Union and one thinks of them on a day such as this. In particular, we had debates and arguments in Donald's basement flat in the house his parents owned near the university. Goodness knows what his parents thought about all those young people who argued and turned night into day. We were all extraordinarily envious of his basement flat because none of us was so privileged.

Donald and I had fairly chequered political careers; we lost some seats and we won some seats. The decency of the man came through to me, which perhaps I can share with your Lordships, when he was shadow social security spokesman and I was Minister of State at the Department of Social Security. We met at one of the great think-tank meetings which the department occasionally holds and then went off to take part in a radio programme. In the car he said to me, "Do you know, we have both done well and I am so pleased that out of your problems of losing your seat and one thing and another you have got to the House of Lords and you are now a Minister of State". That illustrated the decency of the man.

I was able to reciprocate after the 1997 election when I told him that I was pleased he had become a Cabinet Minister and, later, Scotland's First Minister. On the way to a buffet lunch on the day of the opening of the Scottish Parliament—that was appropriate because at university Donald was known, very affectionately, and for very obvious reasons, as "the gannet"—I recall saying to him, "I may not like this experiment, but if anybody has to lead it, I am confident that you will be able to do it well".

The Scottish Parliament and people have today, in Donald's death, lost a great public servant. His passing is a great blow to the Scottish Parliament, his family and those who were his friends. But I should not go on too long because I can almost hear him snorting in the background and saying, "John, for goodness' sake, stop all this nonsense".

In the preface to a book of speeches by one of our other university contemporaries, John Smith, Donald wrote: We are not put on this earth to enjoy ourselves". That may sound a very Presbyterian statement, but I can assure noble Lords that it is not so. Donald enjoyed himself, and we enjoyed having him.

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