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Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I may be the only Member of the House who shook Ted Heath's hand after the election of 1970. I had flown over from New York to celebrate a great Labour victory and I was sitting in my hotel a few yards from the Albany, where Ted Heath lived. As the newspapers of the time said, Ted had sailed into 10 Downing street.
Seeing all the crowds outside the Albany and being only a few yards away, I went down and stood among the crowds. As I stood there, finally they parted, a car came up, Ted Heath's hand jutted out of the window and I shook his hand. I covered my bets by going down to Transport house immediately to commiserate with Harold Wilson, who was there giving his kind thanks to our staff who, of course, were very respectful to him and
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gave him the kind of cheers that Ted Heath had received outside the Albany. Years later, at the Inter-Parliamentary Union, when I saw Ted Heath and said, "I had my picture taken with you on the day of your election," he looked at me and said, "It didn't do much good, did it?"
Later still, as an international lawyer, I represented Hermes, the tie company that makes the best of ties. I could recognise a Hermes tie a hundred yards away. I saw Ted Heath in the Smoking Room wearing a Hermes tie. I said to him, "Sir Edward"we had more respect for him then"You're wearing a Hermes tie. I am their lawyer." He looked at me and said, "I often wondered why they were so expensive."
As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said, Sir Edward was a fundamental European, on the basis of his war years. He made his first speech in 1950 on the European Coal and Steel Community, he tried to get us into the European Union, as it is now known, in 1963, and he took us in in 1973. One of the questions put to him by President Pompidou at the time was whether, if the United Kingdom joined the European Union, it would accept the common agricultural policy. Ted Heath gave that commitment of our country from that day and it still runs today.
We have heard much of Ted Heath being a House of Commons man. He was a Back Bencher, a Whip, a Minister and Prime Minister. When he retired from the front line of politics, he stayed in the House for the rest of the 51 years. He saw us through two speakershipsyour own, Mr. Speaker, and Lady Boothroyd'sand when the time was up, he used the famous phrase of your predecessor. Time was indeed up. He did not go to the Lords.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): It is daunting to follow so many eloquent tributes to Sir Edward Heath, but not half as daunting as following him as the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. Those who knew Ted well would have expected him to be generous and helpful to his successor, and indeed he was. He gave me sound advice and a great deal of encouragement. I wondered whether, having served in the House for 51 years, in his later years he had become a little tired of it all and had slowed down. The average length of service for an MP is between eight and 10 years, so 51 years would give any reasonable person time to slow down a bit.
As I padded around the streets of Sidcup and Bexley village, I discovered that Ted was still an assiduous Member of Parliament. Although the House rightly pays tribute to his time as Prime Minister and his renown as an international statesman, the people of Old Bexley and Sidcup will remember a famous Member of Parliament, but one who took an enormous amount of time, patience and trouble over their concerns. They were often surprised when Ted dealt with their concerns personally rather than using a special adviser or assistant.
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Not only did Ted do the normal jobs such as holding surgeries and visiting schools, but he was a great champion on local issuesfor example, selective education still survives in the London borough of Bexley. Ted was, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said, a tremendous champion for selective education, having benefited from grammar school himself, and he fought tooth and nail to establish Bexley grammar school, where he is still revered.
Tributes have been paid to Ted's involvement in the European issue. He was clearly an unashamed Europhile, so naturally he thought that the channel tunnel was wonderful. Sadly for the residents of Sidcup, the proposed rail link went smack through the middle of his constituency, which resulted in a conflict between his avowed Europhile beliefs and his constituents' interests. He stuck by his constituency and helped his constituents fight for a more sensible route that damaged fewer homes. I have discovered that people had an enormous wealth of respect and affection for their Member of Parliament.
I have known Ted since I was 18, when I was northern area Young Conservative chairman. Our leader was my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who was young and dashinghe had a sports car and a trendy beard. Ted encouraged the Conservative party youth movement, and he used to have the Young Conservative officers round for dinner at No. 10 or lunch at Chequers, which was impressive. He also used to encourage young musicians and he enjoyed his sport. He will be remembered with affection not only in this House, but outside it.
Michael Brown, who is now a distinguished columnist in The Independent, is one former Member who will remember Ted with affection. He served in this House from 1979 to 1997, and he used to sit behind Ted when Ted sat in the seat that is currently occupied by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He used to contribute vociferously and frequently to debates, and his comments made Ted more and more irritable. On the day that Michael Brown was appointed a Government Whip, he was wandering down the Library Corridor, when Ted came out of the Smoking Roomas a former Chief Whip, Ted had an enormous affection for the Whips Office. Michael expected Ted to amble by and ignore him, which he usually did, but on this occasion Ted turned around and said, "I see that they have managed to shut you up at last." By tradition, Government Whips cannot speak in this Chamber.
The party leaders and others have rightly paid tribute to Ted Heath the statesman but, for the people of Old Bexley and Sidcup, he was not only an extraordinarily able man, but a conscientious MP and, more importantly, a very good man.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con):
My late constituent, Sir Edward Heath, was a very great Englishman. When, after just one year in this House, the Government Chief Whip asked me whether I would fulfil the unofficial role of Parliamentary Private Secretary to an ex-Prime Minister, which is traditional in our party, it led to several comments in the newspaper diaries. As has been
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said, it was an act of bravery, but I have never regretted taking up that challenge, because I learned that Sir Edward was not only a great Englishmen, but esteemed enormously throughout Europe and beyond as a man who was prepared to lay down his life for his beliefs. He fought against Nazism, he joined in the democratic battle, he challenged the establishment and he faced up to the realities of Britain and its economy in the 1970s. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, he was ahead of his time, but he achieved an enormous amount.
When Sir Edward asked me, his PPS, to find him a house, it seemed a little beyond the call of duty. Within a few weeks, however, I had found him a house in Salisbury close. When he came down to see that wonderful house, he looked around it without saying a word, and then we drove back to London. At about midnight, he phoned me and said, "I hope that they have not sold my house." He purchased the lease and then the freehold on "Arundells", and became a figure of great affection in Salisbury and south Wiltshire.
Anyone who doubts his capacity for being an ordinary human being should talk to anyone who ever worked for him in his private officehis constituency secretaries and his political staff, many of whom, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer), have gone on to do other things with great success and distinction. Sir Edward was held in very great affection by all those people. He inspired enormous loyalty. That is no surprise, given that he had been a distinguished musician used to holding an orchestra and a chorus together, as well as a distinguished soldier under fire.
During his distinguished political career, Sir Edward also managed to inspire loyalty among his dear constituents, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway). Having travelled with Ted in the capitals of Europe in the 1980s and met, with him, some of the leaders of those countries, I know that he never for one moment forgot the importance of his constituents and why he was where he was. One evening in the château de Rambouillet, when we had been over to meet the President of France and were enjoying his hospitality, there was a sudden flurry and the French Justice Minister turned up. He had asked to see Ted because he was engaged in a prolonged correspondence with him about a constituent who had been arrested and thrown into prison in Paris for some reason. Ted had immediately taken the case up so, when he saw the President, he told him that he was most disturbed about it, and immediately the Justice Minister was dispatched to sort it out. Ted never forgot the importance of his constituents.
In Salisbury, where he lived for the past 20 years, he made a name for himself as the man who goes and talks to people. One will find 20 and more pubs in south Wiltshire where people will say, "That's where Ted sits", or, "That's where Ted used to come and have his malt." The enormous affection in which people in Salisbury hold him extends right across the political spectrum and the age spectrum. We should not forget the generosity with which he raised millions of pounds for Salisbury cathedral over the years to maintain that magnificent edifice, at the same time as restoring his own wonderful house.
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Sir Edward Heath has made an enormous impression on a very large number of people in many walks of life. Many tributes have been paid to him today, and I merely add my own. He was a wonderful man who was proud of his country. He loved his Queen, our constitution and our way of life, for which he was prepared to lay down his life. Right to the end, he was shouting the odds for democracy in our country.
Yes, he had his difficulties with his successor as leader, and harsh words were expressed on all sides, but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Lady Thatcher for her warm tribute to him, about which he would no doubt be shrugging his shoulders.
I do not doubt that, when we think back on the life of Ted Heath, he will be seen not only as a very great Englishman, a great democrat and a great European, but a very warm human being. Let us not forget how proud he was of his house, the paintings, every bit of china and every photograph on the piano. Let us not forget how proud he was of his garden, as the greatest armchair gardener Salisbury has ever known, or that he was enormously proud to serve one with broad beans out of his precious garden, where he knew every plant, tree and shrub.
Ted Heath was a great Prime Minister and a great member of the Conservative party. He was always loyal to our party and never voted against it in all his years, even though he may have sometimes had his disagreements with our leadership. We are very grateful for the life of Sir Edward Heath and, in Salisbury, we will remember him for a very long time as a great moonraker who was formerly a man of Kent but adopted with love in the county of Wiltshire.
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