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10 May 2007 : Column 308

There is much else that I could say about Jack Weatherill, such as his contribution to his party in which he had a distinguished career before he took the Speaker’s Chair. In the other place, after he left the Chair, he pursued many great and small causes. I will mention just one such cause, which goes back to what I said about his courage. He had a profound commitment to the sub-continent of India. He had great affection for the place and he was ready to speak up for constituents and those who had made this place their home at a time when doing so was far less popular than it is today.

We send our condolences to Lady Weatherill and her family. We salute a great Speaker and mourn his loss.

12.14 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to Lord Weatherill.

As many have already said, Jack Weatherill was not just an esteemed parliamentarian but a true gentleman. He served his country throughout his life. As a soldier during the war, he served in the Dragoon Guards and in the Indian army with the 19th King George V’s Own Lancers. It was during his time in India that he learned to speak Urdu. During the 1942 famine, he became a lifelong vegetarian. Later, as we know, he served the constituents of Croydon, North-East from 1964 until 1992, after which he continued to serve his country in the other place. Between his service in the Army and Parliament, he worked as a tailor in the family business that his father established.

Jack Weatherill was, in many senses, the embodiment of the changes to the world, politics and Parliament that took place in the last century. As the Leader of the House mentioned, he was the last Speaker to wear the traditional wig and the first Speaker to see television cameras in the Chamber. At a time when we all talk a great deal about connecting Parliament with the public, we would do well to remember Jack Weatherill, who was determined that Parliament should be as relevant to the real world as possible. He said that it was his absolute intention to ensure that everything that went on in our nation was exposed in our House. That is not a bad motto for us all to remember today.

I am sure that many hon. Members are familiar with the story that shortly after Jack Weatherill was elected, he overheard an elderly grandee complain, “My God, what is this place coming to? They’ve got my tailor in here.” However, he was very proud of his background. As you said in your tribute on Tuesday, Mr. Speaker, he used to carry a thimble with him to keep him humble, to use his words. That was a mark of the man.

Jack Weatherill was indeed a fine parliamentarian. As Speaker, he was a resolute defender of the rights of Back Benchers, which was not always easy in the face of his own party in government. However, in all that he did, he won respect and high regard from Members on both sides of the House. He was a devoted churchman and a loyal family man. I am sure that the whole House will want to send condolences to his wife, Lyn, and his three children and seven grandchildren. We will all remember Lord Weatherill as a great parliamentarian, a fine Speaker and a gentleman who spent his life serving his country.

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12.17 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): I speak not only on my own behalf but, I hope, on behalf of many of Jack’s ex-colleagues who would wish they could be here today to express their sympathies to the family. Like them, I remember him as an outstanding Speaker and, above all, as a delightful man.

Jack and I came into the House together in 1964, although we were each unaware of the other for a long time. Although I discovered this only the other day, we both ascended—if that is the appropriate term—to the Front Bench in 1967. I was a little green Under-Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, while he was a junior Whip. It is often the case that people can be together in the House for years and know each other to say hello without their paths crossing politically for long time. That was the case with Jack and me.

Our paths coincided, rather than collided, on an occasion that I will never forget, although I will come to that in a moment. I used to do the mischief job of trying to mobilise what the Leader of the House called the rather rowdy element on the Opposition Benches. Our job was to try to claim prime time. It was a matter not of being rowdy but of trying to use the procedures of the House of Commons to secure the time straight after questions when everyone was still in the Gallery. We used points of order and got people to table private notice questions that were backed up with requests under Standing Order No. 24. We were using the procedures of the House to try to seize the time when we still had a press audience. At the time, he was the Speaker and I was doing a massively less reputable job in the House, but I will never forget the time when our paths coincided.

Those of us who were here at the time will remember that Mrs. Thatcher did not often come to the House to take part in debates, although she took part in Prime Minister’s questions. On one very big occasion—it was a debate on the Wright affair, which was a great scandal that had run for a long time in the press—the Chamber was absolutely packed. It was so packed that when I came in, slightly late, I could not even get on to the Front Bench; I had to sit on the steps between the Front Bench and the Bench behind it. During Mrs. Thatcher’s presentation, various requests for information were made, and she insisted that she could not answer because there was a case under way in Australia and the matter was therefore sub judice. I was puzzled, because that did not quite fit in with my understanding of the rule, but I was not sure about the matter. Even Roy Jenkins, who was speaking from the third row below the gangway, did not challenge her, so I thought that I had better check.

I left through the Door of the Chamber and came down to the Table, where the ever-helpful Clerks confirmed my suspicion. I came back, muscled my way on to the Front Bench and got up and made a point of order, in which I asked Jack, as Speaker, to rule on whether the sub judice rule applied to a case in the Australian courts, or whether it applied only in this country. He confirmed that the rule was that it applied only in this country. The Prime Minister made no secret of the fact that she rather disagreed with him and she set about him, to some extent, so I jumped up on
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another point of order and said, “Isn’t it normal to apologise when you’ve misled the House?”

Some time later, I met Jack in connection with another issue—in fact, it related to the decision to move the time when points of order could be raised from straight after questions to after statements. In our conversation, I apologised for the grief that I had caused him on that day, and a broad grin broke out on his face. He said, “Don’t worry, I used to do the same job when I was in the Whips Office.” He used to mobilise the Maxwell-Hyslops of the House—not many of us will remember him—and other Conservative Members who were discontented with the then Labour Government. Jack said, “In fact, when I did that job, I had a nickname.” He told me the nickname, but unfortunately the proprieties of the House will not allow me to repeat it, and if I tried to, you would stop me, Mr. Speaker. If anyone wants to know it, the obituary in the online edition of The Independent carries it.

Jack was proud of the role that he played on behalf of the Opposition. In a way—I have said this on previous occasions, and not in a joking way—it would be a good thing if every Member could serve in opposition as soon as they came into the House, because it is in opposition that Members learn what accountability is about and why Ministers need to be brought to book. Today, I remember a fair, kind and humorous man, but also a very firm Speaker. My sympathies and thoughts, and those of so many of his ex-colleagues, are with his family today.

12.23 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Like the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), and indeed the majority of Members of the House, I am afraid that I did not have the privilege of serving in this House while Lord Weatherill was Speaker, but I had the great privilege of meeting him, in rather odd circumstances, soon after I was elected. We were both at Farleigh Hungerford castle in my constituency on a cold December evening to celebrate the life of Sir Thomas Hungerford, the first recorded Speaker of the House. I suspect that he was a very good Speaker of a very bad Parliament. Indeed, it was dubbed “the bad Parliament” because it introduced cash for favours and the poll tax, so it was very bad indeed.

When I met Lord Weatherill on that bitterly cold night in Farleigh Hungerford castle’s chapel, which had not been heated since the 14th century, and which was therefore not the most congenial of surroundings, what struck me first was his stoicism under the circumstances. He also gave the impression of being a kind, courteous man. He was interested in me as a new Member in a way that he had no need to be. He also struck me as a punctilious parliamentarian. He did not have to be in Somerset on a cold December evening, but he was there because, as a former Speaker of the House, he wanted to pay tribute to the first Speaker of the House, and he was there as a parliamentarian. The tributes that have been paid to Lord Weatherill all mention his fairness and assiduity in the post of Speaker and his preparedness to ensure that the people who make life difficult for Speakers, for Governments and for the Opposition were properly heard. That is the sort of testament that any Speaker would wish to hear.
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We Liberal Democrats send our condolences to Lady Weatherill, and we mourn the loss of a great parliamentarian.

12.26 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The office of Speaker of the House is never easy to fulfil, and over the centuries people have interpreted the role in entirely different ways. The tributes to Jack Weatherill have rather hidden one aspect of him that was of enormous importance, and that was his intelligence. He was an enormously warm and witty man and he was fun to know. When he left us for the House of Lords, he took with him his strong commitment to the essential qualities of a Parliament, which include the need always to represent the views of the whole community. Sometimes we underestimate the strains and the pressures that we put on the Speaker.

I was honoured and delighted to know Jack Weatherill and to have the chance to work with him, not least because he interpreted the multicultural and multi-political views of our society in a very civilised way. His civility was very important. He was so cultured and so interested in everything that we did; he was a delight. He took enormous pleasure in his family—in his marvellous wife, who made it possible for him to be such a good Speaker, and in his grandchildren and children. I remember him talking, in his last Christmas in the Commons, of the debate that the family had had about whether they should remain in the palace for that Christmas holiday. His final decision was that it had been such a pleasure and a delight to be Speaker that he wanted the opportunity to have the family with him in the palace for his last Christmas in office.

What Jack Weatherill did in the other place was representative of him. He took on the role of keeping the independent Members of the House of Lords involved in the work of the House and able to express their views. To me that was a demonstration of the man. He was a remarkable man; occasionally he masqueraded as a very ordinary man, although only idiots would have been taken in. His role in both Houses of Parliament, and among the population as a whole, was to do that very British thing of moving us forward while appearing to remain stationary, and only Jack could have done it. He will be very much missed, and I have the greatest admiration for what Jack Weatherill accomplished.

12.29 pm

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in what she has said. To me, Jack Weatherill was, above all, a friend. Mr. Speaker, as you said in your tribute earlier this week, he was an excellent Speaker. He got to the Speaker’s Chair not because he was the chosen representative of his party but because he was the person chosen by the House. I think that that indicates just how favourably Members from all parts of the House regarded Jack Weatherill. He was, as many of us know, deputy Chief Whip. He was, as you were, too, Sir, the Chairman of Ways and Means before achieving the highest office available to the House—that of Speaker.

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Jack Weatherill was primarily a friend. He invited me to become a member of the Chairmen’s Panel—a job that I have done ever since 1986, and which is a huge privilege as it enables people to serve the House and the institution of Parliament. He was a very personable man. I remember speaking in a debate on textiles. He was in the Chair, and during the debate, he arranged for a note to be passed to me. It just said:

I think that that shows the personable nature of his relationship with Members from all parties in the House of Commons. He shared another common interest with me. He was very senior to me, and served for longer, but we were both members of a cavalry regiment. He greatly enjoyed his time in the Army, particularly, as has already been mentioned, his period in the Indian army. It is not wrong to say that he was indeed in every way an officer and a gentleman.

When Lord Weatherill left the House, he did me a great favour. He was involved with three City livery companies. I invited him to be my guest of honour at a major livery dinner of the Worshipful Company of Weavers of which, between 1997 and 1998, I was upper bailiff. He attended that occasion, and it indicates Jack Weatherill’s loyalty to those organisations with which he was involved. He was a man who was greatly liked. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, he had a wonderful wife, Lyn. She was a wonderful tennis player, and I remember many games on the tennis courts of Westminster school in Vincent square. Jack himself did not come and play, but Lyn was a wonderful tennis player and a huge supporter of Jack during his time as Speaker.

I hope, Sir, that I am permitted to say that Jack Weatherill was hugely kind to my wife, our elder boy and myself. The reception after the christening of our first grandchild was held in the Palace of Westminster in Mr. Speaker’s State Apartments. Perhaps I should not have said that, as it may open the door to many approaches to you, Mr. Speaker, and I do not seek to do that. It shows the fact—it has not really been said so far in the tributes—that Jack was a real family man. Perhaps above all, to Jack Weatherill, whom we mourn—we send our condolences to Lyn, his wife and to his two sons and daughter—the House of Commons was his family; latterly the same was true of Parliament. He stood up for it. He was a great Speaker, and he will long be remembered.

12.34 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I was fortunate in sharing some characteristics with Jack Weatherill. I shared with him the honour of having had conferred on me by the President of Pakistan the Hilal-e-Pakistan. Jack Weatherill was extremely proud of the place that he held in Pakistan and in the Indian sub-continent. He was held in the highest esteem in Pakistan, and he will be much mourned there.

Another shared quality, if it can be called that, is the fact that my father was a tailor, just as Jack was. Jack, however, was a master tailor—a cut above my father, who worked in a factory. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) recalled the statement made by a senior Tory when Jack entered the House of
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Commons:“My God, what is this place coming to? They’ve got my tailor in here.” That, of course, was in the far-off days when the Tory party was led by old Etonian toffs. What was interesting about that, as has been said, was the fact that Jack Weatherill was always very proud indeed of having been a tailor. He always dressed immaculately. Indeed, if he was sitting in the Chair today, Mr. Speaker, he might well ask whether hon. Members have a tailor any more. He was a very generous man. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) pointed out that he would be kind enough to send letters or notes to Members across the House when he appreciated something that they had done. Like the hon. Gentleman, I received one of those notes. He was very good, too, at protecting Members of Parliament when they were in difficulty.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) put a question to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, which began with the words, “If the Prime Minister had been in jail for 27 years”. I was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, and I muttered to a colleague that she should have been. That was picked up by the microphones in the House; it was heard by the whole House and it caused huge uproar. He beckoned to me when the event had taken place and said, “Gerald, I think it would help you with the House if you apologised for what you said.” I said, “Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate that, but I don’t think it would help me with the Labour party if I were to apologise in that way.” He laughed, because he was a House of Commons man and he fully understood the quirks of the House. Like you, Mr. Speaker, and like his predecessor, Jack Weatherill never held high office, and I think that that is a very high qualification for being the Speaker of the House of Commons.

12.37 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). I hope that he will not dismiss me as an old Etonian toff.

I want to add a brief footnote to the generous tributes that have been paid to Jack Weatherill. Before he was Deputy Speaker and then Speaker, he was a Whip. In fact, he was a Whip for longer than he was Speaker. He was the Opposition’s deputy Chief Whip from 1974 to 1979 in a Parliament that ended with an Opposition Whip’s dream—the defeat of the Government by one vote. Whips get a bad press, but Jack never used the rougher tactics that are often attributed to members of the Whips Office. He was unfailingly courteous, good-humoured and totally disarming. If anyone threatened to rebel, he was not angry—he was disappointed. One would be invited to his office, and he would explain that the Government were on their last legs: they were losing by-election after by-election and they would not last the year so it was not the time to rock the boat. That argument lost a bit of credibility when the Parliament entered its fifth year, but it was very effective. He had a rapport with the many senior members of the party who had a good war.

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Jack Weatherill was very kind, too, to those who entered Parliament in 1974, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Peter Viggers), Leon Brittan, Douglas Hurd, Nigel Lawson and the rest of that intake. He was kind and paternal to us. He was totally discreet, loyal and a shrewd judge of character, and he was very supportive of colleagues who went through a difficult time. He was a stickler for punctuality. It was not a good idea to be late for the 2.30 Whips meeting, which began with the order from Jack, “Stand by your beds.” One colleague was late, but before Jack could rebuke him, he said he was late because his tailor, a colleague of Jack’s, had been late for the appointment and had held him up.

Jack Weatherill had a difficult relationship with the leader of our party. There was a free vote in the 1974 Parliament—on whether we should have proportional representation for the Scottish Parliament, I think. Those who voted for PR found as they came out of the Lobby Margaret Thatcher taking the names of those who had voted that way. When we won in 1979, Jack Weatherill was the only member of the Front-Bench team who was not appointed to the Government. As we know, he then began an alternative career as Deputy Speaker and Speaker. He was totally fair, standing up for the rights of Back Benchers, and standing up to the gentle intimidation he received from members of his former party.

Jack was a generous entertainer in Speaker’s House. He unearthed an old Victorian song about the MP who could not catch the Speaker’s eye, which we all had to sing, with Toby Jessel on the keyboard. Jack was supported by Lyn. He had one of the happiest of political marriages. He was decent, honest, without pretension, without malice, one of the straightest men I have come across. He was not totally infallible. Just after the 1974 Parliament, he sidled up to a newly elected colleague sitting on the Back Benches and said, “I’ve been reading all about you. You’re exactly the person we need to sit on the Council of Europe.” My colleague was delighted that his talents had been recognised so early in the Parliament. Five minutes later Jack came back. “I’m frightfully sorry,” he said. “Just remind me of your name.”

Jack was a good friend. He was a popular MP for Croydon. He was a great Speaker. Our thoughts are with Lyn and his children and grandchildren as we mourn his passing.

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