HL Deb 07 January 2003 vol 642 cc873-80
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead died on Sunday last at the age of 82. Roy Harris Jenkins was born on Armistice Day in 1920. He grew to be one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century. Politics ran in his family. He was the son of Arthur Jenkins, Member of Parliament for Pontypool from 1935 to 1946. His father had gone to work as quite a small child down the pit and was later, unjustly, imprisoned for his political activities.

Lord Jenkins read PPE at Balliol, where he took a first, having had the inestimable benefit of a grounding in education at Abersychan Grammar School. During the winter of 1940, he and some of his friends began to feel that they were the only members of the Labour Club at Oxford not committed to the Communist Party line. Lord Jenkins therefore took part in a split from the Labour Club to help form a breakaway organisation. His main memory of that move was a long correspondence with Iris Murdoch, his opposite number in the old Labour Club. Murdoch would write, "Dear Comrade Jenkins"; he would reply, "Dear Miss Murdoch". Forty-seven years later, he was able to award her an honorary degree from Oxford University.

Lord Jenkins was a captain in the Royal Artillery and worked as a code breaker on the Enigma machine. During that period, he became committed absolutely to the idea of a united Europe.

He entered the House of Commons in 1948 and soon became one of the most powerful and formidable debaters in that Chamber. He became a Minister in 1964. In 1965, when he was only 45, he was appointed Home Secretary by Mr Wilson. He was very pleased to be the youngest in that grave office since Churchill in 1910. He was a liberal Home Secretary, who worked tirelessly to remove flogging from the penal code and the prison discipline system. He liberalised, or helped to liberalise, the laws relating to homosexuality, divorce, abortion and immigration. He abolished theatre censorship and was responsible for broader laws against racial discrimination. He introduced the concept of suspended sentences and majority verdicts, both of which were extremely controversial at the time, and yet the latter certainly proved a great success.

Mr Wilson appointed Lord Jenkins Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 1967. It was a very difficult time. The pound had been devalued, and in his three years of service in that great office, he instituted a programme of austerity to resolve the financial crisis. His party's position on Europe at that time was at odds with his personal views. In defiance of the party majority, he supported Britain's entry into the European Community. In 1972, he resigned as Deputy Leader when the party seemed to be turning its back on Europe. In 1977, he became President of the European Commission, having successfully led the referendum campaign in this country.

In 1981, Lord Jenkins became one of the Gang of Four, who co-founded the Social Democratic Party as a proposed and anticipated alternative to the Labour Party. His three co-founders are, of course, all now Members of this House. He became Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in 1987 and—perhaps one of the most distinct and discreet pleasures of his life—the chancellor of his own university in the same year.

As well as being one of the key political figures of the 20th century—if that were not enough achievement for a single life—Lord Jenkins was a prolific and successful author. His works on Gladstone, Dilke, Asquith, House of Lords reform and, latterly, his bestseller Churchill, show us a man with a deep historical sense and a significant literary gift. He knew that politics is not simply the art of the possible, but also the science of the moment—but he knew that both had consciously to be located in a wider, more profound, historical context.

In his autobiography, Lord Jenkins. summed up the House of Lords by saying: it is rather like Adlai Stevenson's comment on flattery: it is all right provided you do not inhale". I think that he did inhale a little; he certainly added to the fun of life here, as well as to the nature of politics. He had many accomplishments, although he was not a Welsh speaker. There is a good phrase in that ancient language: "Dyn a ddyn"—such a man that was.

We shall Miss Lord Jenkins a good deal, and more than we presently understand. We send deep condolences to those he loved and cared for.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the tribute paid by the Leader of the House to Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. From time to time, there appear in politics people whose career and influence stretch far beyond the confines of a single party. Lord Jenkins was such a man. Can anyone in the 20th century who did not become Prime Minister have exercised such a major impact on our politics? By his resolute chancellorship he saved the Labour Party as a party of government after the devaluation of 1967. Along with the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Owen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, he pointed the way to the future for the Labour Party a dozen years before that was recognised and accepted in Labour ranks.

The charge was also laid that by forming the SDP, Lord Jenkins had made Thatcherism possible. I would not necessarily see that as a vice in the noble Lord. But he was, with typical farsightedness, reacting to a reality; namely, that state-led socialism was a dead end and radical reform was needed for Britain to prosper.

Roy Jenkins was never afraid of change. Being a son of a Welsh miner, he presented as a quintessential Englishman and for five years after 1982 became a Scot. It is a little remembered fact that Hillhead, the seat of his great by-election win, was represented for nearly 35 years—until 1982—by my father. It was so little remembered, in fact, that when Roy Jenkins was telephoned and told "Galbraith has died", he thought that it was the economist J.K. Galbraith rather than his passport back to Westminster.

Obviously, I see Hillhead in a very personal light, but no one could doubt the courage and conviction with which the noble Lord threw himself into the uphill battle for that unlikely seat. He was always a man of courage, and one of deep and lasting convictions. Like them or not, his great and often controversial reforms as Home Secretary in the 1960s will last and, like it or not, he took bold, public and often unpopular stands on issues such as deeper European integration, proportional representation and entry into the euro, over which he did not hesitate and from which he did not waver.

Lord Jenkins's term as President of the European Union reflected the deep respect for the noble Lord across Europe. His cherished chancellorship of Oxford reflected his deep love for Oxford and his distinguished achievements as an historian. Like Rosebery's memoir of Lord Randolph Churchill, his books on Asquith and Winston Churchill will live long as rare examples of great political biographies by a leading politician.

It is perhaps no accident that Asquith and Churchill thrived in eras when parties were made and unmade, and great issues scored across the conventional lines of politics. Lord Jenkins lived in such a time. He helped to mould that time. That he was also a person of such charm, humour and zest for life, and someone with such unashamed enjoyment of the good things and the civilised virtues, make him a man all of us who had the good fortune to know him will long remember. Our hearts go out to his family and his friends, but they can take consolation in the remarkable journey on which Roy Jenkins led them, and the respect and affection that he won.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, from these Benches and on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, who is abroad, we are grateful for the remarks made by the Lord Privy Seal about Lord Jenkins. We share the love and sadness of his wife Jennifer and his family.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—Roy Jenkins—was a statesman and a man of letters of Victorian proportions, and many things besides. The noble and learned Lord has set out his career and achievements, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has added his own generous comments. Above all else, Roy Jenkins had a great capacity for friendship and loyalty. In return he could draw warmth and affection beyond expectations. His death leaves a huge gap in the lives of many of us. It will not be the same again.

Lord Jenkins last attended the House on 7th November when illness was casting a shadow over his plans. But he hoped that, with progress, he would return to Westminster soon after the end of the Recess. Meanwhile, he continued to follow the pages of Hansard, even including the Licensing Bill in Committee. Rather less surprising, he would join with his visitors for a genial lunch either at his home in East Hendred or in a well chosen country pub. He was working on an article about Hugh Gaitskell, the 40th anniversary of whose death falls later this month. On Friday last, when his immediate health problem had apparently been resolved, he signed a contract for yet another book, in this case about J. F. Kennedy.

Just over two years ago, when faced with cardiac surgery, Lord Jenkins recognised the possibility that he might not be able to complete his book on Churchill. But he recovered and, astonishingly, very soon he was writing again—500 words a day. When it was completed it was a triumph.

Lord Jenkins was a Member of Parliament in either the Commons or the Lords for almost 50 years, with a break only when he was President of the European Commission. The 1950s presented a bleak political prospect for Back-Benchers in opposition, but he attended almost every day and piloted through his Private Member's Bill on reform of the law on obscene publications. Even in 1972, when he resigned as deputy leader of the Labour Party, he was determined to rebuild his outstanding reputation in parliamentary debate. Later again, in 1986, after another difficult time, he was chosen as Spectator "Back-Bencher of the Year". He was resilient throughout his career.

Lord Jenkins led the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords with great distinction for almost 10 years. He continued to attend the House on most days, although, as he put it: I do not often trouble noble Lords these days". In fact, as we know, most noble Lords were happy to be troubled by Lord Jenkins, whether remaining on the Benches or coming into the Chamber to listen. He made a characteristic speech about reform of the Lords a year ago on 10th January. Another speech— his last—on his fears about war with Iraq was on 24th September. Both were very different but both were rich in quality.

All his speeches had much in common. He would find historic analogies; he would find humour and especially paradox; he would find precision of words— usually some unexpected ones; and, above all, he would demonstrate the force of argument. Most of his speeches were short. He was rather proud about that. Some speeches were said to be magisterial and others baroque, but they were all written in his own hand. They were his own speeches, set down carefully on cards. He also had a rather special gesture of his own, difficult to describe and difficult to copy, although we all tried.

I am tempted to set out again his distinguished record as a reforming and civilised Home Secretary, as a tough Chancellor of the Exchequer in difficult economic times, his Charlemagne Prize, his role as Chancellor of Oxford University and his Order of Merit. Then there was his special relationship with the United States, which he found no contradiction with his strong European ties; and there was his crucial role as one of the founding fathers of the SDP and the Liberal Democrats. But the catalogue is much too long for this occasion.

Lord Jenkins was a great luncher—never on his own, and sometimes in the Barry Room—and his evenings during the week were filled with social and literary occasions. He was also in demand, if I can put it that way, with those who wanted a stylish, well-chosen oration at a memorial service.

Lord Jenkins died shortly after 9 a.m. on Sunday, two days ago. During the previous evening, he was putting the final touches to another book—on Franklin Roosevelt. I think he would like one of those anecdotes about him with which he so enriched and entertained his own biographies. At breakfast on Sunday, his wife, Jennifer, asked him what he would like. The reply became his last words: I would like two eggs lightly poached". Roy Jenkins would have enjoyed that.

Lord Owen

My Lords, from the Cross Benches it is a pleasure to endorse what was said by the previous three speakers from the three political parties. For me, it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who was undoubtedly Roy's longest-standing political friend—a frank and faithful friend and someone who contributed greatly to his political life.

I do not want to cover all the different things that have been said today in the House and I speak only of two legacies. One is permanent, and that is his contribution to Britain's membership of the European Community. I suppose that three people will be judged by history to have taken this country fully into the European Union: Prime Minister Edward Heath for getting us through the parliamentary legislation and Prime Minister Harold Wilson for carrying the full-hearted consent of the British people in the referendum. But without the contribution of Roy Jenkins, we would certainly never have gone in at that time.

Lord Jenkins played a crucial part in rallying 69 Labour MPs to vote. It was a very difficult vote in very difficult circumstances. I admit that, at the time, I was rather tempted by an abstention, but he convinced me unequivocally that that would be falling below the level of events. Then, when he resigned as deputy leader and when, again, it was tempting—as I was tempted—to go for the referendum amendment which we were being asked to support, he made it abundantly clear that, if we did so, we would ditch our chances of going in at that time. We had to face the issue of sustaining parliamentary authority. From the moment that he resigned, any doubt that we would go in was over. That was a great achievement, and he followed it as president of the Commission and in many other ways. That, I believe, is a permanent legacy—one of which historically he would be extremely proud.

It is difficult to be sure that the other legacy will last. As a Cross-Bencher now, it is interesting to watch the political parties exaggerate the divisions. But in the 1980s there was no exaggeration of the divisions in party politics. They were immensely deep and covered every aspect of our political life: defence, foreign and economic policy. Looking back—how long the new politics of a greater readiness to find a compromise, a consensus, between the parties will last I do not know but it certainly started during the 1990s—there have been genuine and real differences of opinion and long may they last: they are the stuff of politics and of democracy. But the bitterness, the division and the inability to find a consensus and common ground were absent—perhaps that divisiveness started in the 1970s but it went on certainly all through the 1980s.

In his Dimbleby lecture, in being the first leader of the SDP and in being an SDP MP for five years, Roy helped that party and the country to make what I hope will be a long legacy of ending that raw, vicious divisiveness which damaged our country, our economic strength and our political weight in the world. I should like to think that that will be as important a legacy as the one that he gave to this country through our membership of the European Community.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, from these Benches I want to say quite simply but as strongly as I can that we shall Miss Lord Jenkins. His was, indeed, A Life at the Centre, as the title of his autobiography puts it. His was a presence that we felt on the Benches opposite, even when he was just sitting there quietly. Despite, or perhaps because of, his great distinction, he was, from a personal point of view, not only friendly but enormously and warmly encouraging.

Of his political career, I make a single point: his willingness to put his democratic principles to the test by standing for election. Whatever future historians may make of his decision to leave the Labour Party and found the SDP, he was prepared to go to Warrington and Glasgow to ascertain the will of the people. In a similar spirit, he was willing to submit himself for election as Chancellor of the University of Oxford—a post which we know gave him the most enormous pride and pleasure.

Of his role within this House, some words of Dean Stanley, which he quoted, about Gladstone's parliamentary style apply no less to him. Stanley wrote: One great charm of his speaking is its exceeding good humour. There is great vehemence but no bitterness". At a more trivial level I always marvelled at his capacity to read his notes, in the most minuscule handwriting on tiny cards; and when he was clearly having great difficulty reading them, allowing the eloquence of his body to carry him through.

Finally, there is his style as a person and as a writer, as befits someone who was President of the Royal Society of Literature. My fellow Bishop, the right revered Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, described one sentence in his book on Gladstone as: Laced with self-deprecating irony and a charming and paradoxical immodesty. One of my favourite sentences occurs in his biography of Churchill. In 1915 Churchill went on holiday to a farmhouse in what was then countryside near Godalming. We lived very simply here", he wrote to his brother on 19th June, But with all the essentials of life well understood and well provided for—hot baths, cold champagne, new peas and old brandy". This combination of relish for the simple pleasures of life described in such an elegant and finely-balanced sentence entirely fits the late Lord Jenkins. His was a constructive, productive life right to the end. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, pointed out, he signed a contract for a major biography only last Friday.

Our sympathy goes to Dame Jennifer and other members of his family and close friends as we thank God for his outstanding achievements in so many spheres and for the fact that his life, lived with such vigour and purpose, enhanced the political life of the nation in so many ways. My prayer is that as he enjoyed the hospitality of the earth so he might, with even greater relish, enjoy the hospitality of heaven.

Lord Neill of Bladen

My Lords, I should like to add a brief footnote to the eloquent tributes paid, which deals with Lord Jenkins's interest in higher education. When the Earl of Stockton died in December 1986 the University of Oxford lost its chancellor. I was then vice-chancellor. We organised an election. It was a three-cornered fight. Lord Jenkins won the contest.

Mention has been made of style. When Lord Jenkins assumed office he organised a special degree ceremony, as the rubric stated in the Gazette, to mark the start of the period of office of the new Chancellor of the University". Noble Lords will be the judges of whether the list of those who received degrees is characteristic of the Jenkins' style. He began with two degrees by diploma, the first to His Majesty King Baudouin, Knight of the Garter, King of the Belgians, and the second to His Excellency Professor Francesco Cossiga, President of the Italian Republic.

He then moved to the second tier: honorary degrees. In the list as doctor of civil law was the former Taoiseach of Ireland, Dr Garret Fitzgerald. Across the Atlantic was Robert McNamara, former president of the World Bank. Then came one of our own ambassadors, a close friend, ambassador in four embassies: Warsaw, Bonn, Paris and Washington—you will have guessed—Sir Nicholas Henderson. As Doctors of Letters were Sir Isaiah Berlin, Order of Merit; Dame (but not comrade) Iris Murdoch; and Arthur Schlessinger Junior. As Doctor of Science was emeritus Professor Dorothy Hodgkin, Order of Merit. That gives the flavour of the list and of the Jenkins' style within the university. Others were included in the list for reasons of piety or tradition.

On becoming a Member of this House, the noble Lord threw his energies into trying to improve the Education Reform Bill, which was then passing through this House, and made many notable contributions to that. I shall refer to only one, which became known as the "Jenkins amendment"; a clause on academic freedom. Noble Lords will recall that academic tenure was being abolished. Fears were expressed in the university that that would lead to people being pushed out of their posts if they were writing heterodox or controversial views or experimenting in doubtful areas. Great alarm was spread. Lord Jenkins moved the amendment which embodied these simple words; that the university Commissioners, to whom relevant powers were given, must have regard for the need, to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions".—[Official Report, 19/5/88; col. 471.] That was put to a vote and carried by quite a narrow majority. Surprisingly, no subsequent effort was made in another place to remove it. Perhaps it was thought it would be like voting against motherhood. That passage stood and Lord Jenkins gave tremendous support to the academic community by having achieved that. He made many subsequent contributions to education Bills, but I say nothing of that today.

Back at Oxford, he was an outstanding chancellor, as everyone agreed. He was dignified and witty on all public occasions. Behind the scenes and in private he was a constant support, a friend and a wise counsellor to successive vice-chancellors.

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