Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Ted Heath had a huge influence on my personal life of which I do not think that he was ever aware in his lifetime. I arrived on 18 January 1974, hardly speaking any English, during the three-day week, and I learned all my English and understanding of the British political system by asking awkward questions such as "Why do they call him, 'The Grocer'?", "What is a Tory?", and "How does the electoral system work?". It was because he brought this country into the European Union and signed the European Communities legislation that I was able to come here to live and work and enjoy the four freedoms. He left a huge legacy and is hugely respected on mainland Europe.

I make one brief observation. When our current Prime Minister was awarded the Charlemagne prize, I went over to Aix-la-Chapelle, and Edward Heath was there as one of the honoured guests who are there on every occasion and greatly revered. The people of Aachen, as I like to call it, were always extremely proud of the fact that they spotted him as one to watch when he was a young Back Bencher and not recognised in terms of promotion. As, in this case, the second British Prime Minister was receiving the Charlemagne prize, their only regret was that they did not spot his talent as early as they did the previous recipient's. The commitment to Europe is great, but I hope that, while the next generation might be different, it will be recognised that many in my generation, such as me, have benefited and become Europeans through their life experiences, and I pay tribute to Sir Edward Heath for that.
18 Jul 2005 : Column 1084

4.10 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I think that I owe more to Ted Heath than anyone else in the House because he did for me what he was unable to do for himself—he found me a wife. His quality as a friend—a friendship which began when he was my neighbour as a candidate in Greenwich and continued when I became Member of Parliament for Lewisham, West—was remarkable. It was hard for those who found him difficult because he did not know them, and who found him shy because he was, to know how warm he was, and how far he would go to help those who were young. His commitment to the young continued right to the end of his life. I happened to talk to someone this afternoon who remarked that as a 20-year-old he met Ted Heath at a function, they began to talk, and half an hour later they were still talking, and Ted was still fascinating and still wanted to learn from and hear as well as talk to a young person. He had that quality throughout his life. His friendship and the warmth of his character came through to those who knew him well.

For my generation, Ted represents something particular and special. He was never prepared to allow people to be bullied. He would not have the bullying that came from the natural hegemony of the Ulster Unionists. Nor would he have the bullying that came from those who thought that they could use the bomb and the bullet. He would not accept that we should have a society in which any section should be able to control the rest, as he felt that the trade unions, in their more militant guise, were seeking to do. He did not want there to be the kind of society in which people such as him could not progress to the top, and he never had a chip on his shoulder about it—he was enormously grateful that he lived in a society in which what he did was possible. That is a lesson, if I may say so, for many others—no chip on the shoulder but simply a recognition that this was that kind of society.

Ted was also clear that nobody should bully people because of the colour of their skin. The immediate and absolute action that he took about the speech by Enoch Powell was a pivotal moment, as was his acceptance, to which the Prime Minister rightly pointed, of those east African Asians who fled the tyranny of Idi Amin.

At all points in his life, Ted stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. He saw that as a natural part of being a one-nation Conservative. Those of us who hold that view of society have an enormous amount to thank him for.

Of course history will think of Ted Heath, and so should we, as the man who understood that it was patriotic to see Britain at the centre of the European Union, as part and parcel of a movement that could ensure that the nations of Europe would find their future together—as nations, but together—rather than in the destruction of each other in the absence of a mechanism to solve the problems that inevitably existed between them. He was consistent in that view, and was saddened by people's failure to see that the real idealism was not what we in Britain could get out of the European Union, but what we could contribute to it. That is what he understood: that a Europe without Britain would lose so much. It was that way round. That is how he always saw our membership of the European Community, and subsequently of the European Union.
18 Jul 2005 : Column 1085

As for those who knew Ted personally, it will be for warmth, laughter and above all kindness that we will remember him. Of course he was a great House of Commons man. There were the side comments, and the remarkable ability to be tougher, sharper and more difficult than almost anyone I have ever known. All that will be remembered and retold again and again; but for those who knew him, the one word "kindness" will come through all the time. No one who knew him will forget that.

4.16 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): In the 1960s, when I came to the House not knowing Edward Heath at all well, I found a man who was easier to respect than to like. I found it difficult to identify the warm, humorous man described to me continually by my long-term pair Terence Higgins—although later, thankfully, I came to see those qualities.

We talk today of the enormous stature that Edward Heath achieved, but we look back and realise that, remarkably, he achieved that in one of the shortest premierships since the war. That brief period was marked by a surprise victory, and ended with a surprise defeat; but in between, he made a decision of monumental importance to this country, which showed the tremendous character of the man and the fact that he was willing to take any risk with his own career to do what he thought was right for the country.

A measure of the man was that having lost the two 1974 elections and having then been deprived of a leadership that he felt was his, he did not flee up the Corridor. He did not go to the House of Lords for a comfortable, quiet existence. He chose to spend a further quarter of a century as a Back Bencher in the House of Commons. That is how much he loved this House. I think he took almost as much pride in becoming Father of the House towards the end of his career as he took in securing the leadership of his party.

In his final speech, Ted Heath urged us to protect the rights and also the standing of the House of Commons. He was to the end a House of Commons man, and I am sure that that is how he would have been happy to be remembered. I think we want to remember him for more than that, however. I think we want to remember a man of unshakeable integrity, which is the quality that the House admires most.

4.18 pm

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), spoke of the period during which Ted Heath was Prime Minister. I came to the House during that period, and I am the only current Member of Parliament to have done so. The two events were not unconnected. Ted Heath's Government was growing in unpopularity when I won a by-election, although that was not because of Europe. Indeed, I do not suppose that I would have won the by-election if that had been the reason, for we had supported him unflinchingly against fervent opposition from much of the Labour party during that time. Shortly afterwards came the February 1974 election. But like most of us
18 Jul 2005 : Column 1086
who were not members of his party, I got to know him much better later in my parliamentary life than in those early stages when he was the more distant figure of Prime Minister.

I echo the comments of other Members about Ted's kindness and courtesy. It was not that Ted always spoke to one; in fact, he was a man without much small talk, by which I mean that he did not say anything if he did not have anything to say—a principle that many of us should perhaps adopt in more circumstances. However, when he did have something to say, he said it with enormous wit and often with kindness. I experienced that kindness on a number of occasions when he was encouraging and helpful to me. I am sure that that was the experience of some Members in other parties who had the privilege of spending time in the House with him.

Ted Heath was a Prime Minister with whom I had one fundamental agreement and a number of less significant but politically important disagreements. The agreement was Europe, the disagreements were on a wide range of issues that made him a Conservative and me a Liberal Democrat, but I still remember with relish one experience before I came into the House: the occasion when he was seen leaving London sporting a red rosette in the middle of a general election while leading the Conservative party. A number of journalists pressed him on why that was so until he eventually said—some Members, including the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway), will remember—"It is because I am going to the north-east." It was not because of any hope of improving the still unimproved Conservative fortunes in the north-east. It was because, in those days, the Conservatives fought the north-east in red, the Liberals in blue and Labour in green.

4.20 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page