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12.41 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In October 2000, in a debate about the election of a Speaker, I praised—and rightly so—Betty Boothroyd, the outgoing Speaker, and said that in my view, for what it is worth, her two predecessors who had most defended the right of Back Benchers were Selwyn Lloyd and Bernard Weatherill. It was characteristic of Jack—everyone knows that he was known as Jack—that he sent me a note, which I have retained.

It is no secret that Labour Members wanted Jack as Speaker in 1983, just as it is said that the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, did not. We thought he would defend the right of Back Benchers, and we were never disappointed. I am very pleased that he held the
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Chair with such distinction. I first came across him during my Croydon days, in the 1960s, when I had a Croydon constituency with a marvellous majority of 81. From the beginning I found Jack—a political opponent, obviously—very easy to get along with. Over the past few days I have tried to recall whether I ever had a quarrel with him. All that I could remember was that we had a tiff some time in the late 1960s. Given my record, one disagreement is not bad. I am glad to say that we got on extremely well.

Obituaries do not always get it right, as we know, whether of politicians or of other people. What has struck me about the obituaries of Jack Weatherill is that they have been spot-on. To a large extent, they reflected his personality, which has been spoken about today. He was naturally a kind man. He was modest, as I found on many occasions, and very helpful in situations relating to oneself or family, as the case may be. Those who wrote the obituaries understood him well, I am glad to say.

I always got the impression that Jack recognised that he had had a number of advantages in life from the beginning, but he never forgot for one moment those who had not. I do not know what sort of Conservative one would describe him as—perhaps not in the Thatcherite tradition. I have no doubt in my mind that Jack had a genuine interest in people outside who never had the advantages that he had, and was very sympathetic, as he was to migrants in his constituency and elsewhere, bearing in mind his Army service in India.

Jack always carried a tailor’s thimble. I remember that he said once that it was his mother who suggested that he should always carry it in his waistcoat pocket. If his mother had not suggested it, he probably would have kept it anyway. He knew his family background. His father had been an active trade unionist, sacked because of his union activities, and apparently his father had also been a Fabian socialist. I would have wished that Jack was a Labour Member, but he was not. Nevertheless, he was a person with the qualities that have been described. I kept in touch with him, as other Members did, when he was in the Lords. He was a good man, he was a kind man, and we shall miss him greatly.

12.45 pm

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I speak on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who cannot be present today because this afternoon they are burying a young friend who was a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I came to the House for the first time in 1983. Between 1983 and 1987 I had the privilege of serving under the speakership of Bernard Weatherill. I can honestly say that during that time Jack Weatherill was every bit a gentleman. He was very sympathetic, yet he was very strong. He had the strength and determination as the Speaker to control the House, but he had a sympathy for new Members who were trying to make their way and their mark in the House. That speaks much of him and the character of the gentleman.

Jack Weatherill was a great and distinguished parliamentarian who made his mark by becoming Speaker. I remember that he was not the choice of some of his colleagues, especially the Prime Minister at the time, but he certainly was the choice of the House
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and he had the confidence of the House. He not only allowed the House to hold the Executive to account, but defended the rights of Back Benchers and of the smaller parties, to which he gave an honoured place in the House.

Like many other hon. Members today, I salute the memory of Jack Weatherill and mourn his passing. To his wife, Lady Weatherill, and her family circle, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I offer my sincere condolences.

12.47 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): On behalf of the whole parliamentary Labour party, I want to join in the tribute to Jack Weatherill and offer our sympathy to his family.

I first entered Parliament in 1983, at the time that Speaker Weatherill first took the Chair. I echo the remarks that have been made. It was obvious that, as Speaker, he had command of the House, particularly when it was a little buoyant, a little excited and a little excitable. He controlled the House well on those occasions, but it is right to say that he was also a man with a great sense of justice. He recognised that the Speaker of the House had a responsibility not only to the great and the mighty, but to the relatively humble, particularly those who were new in the House.

I recall that, new as I was and coming from a local government background, when I made one of my early speeches I addressed the Speaker as “Mr. Mayor”. That was probably at 9.30 at night, when there were few Members present, so only a small ripple went round the Chamber. At the end of my speech the Speaker called me over, looked at me sternly and said, “Mayor? Not at all.” I thought that was terrible. Then, with a smile, he said, “I wouldn’t aspire to those dizzy heights.”

That is a minor footnote among all that has been said, but it conveys the humanity of the man, who understood what it was like to be new and perhaps over-awed by this place, and therefore what it was like for someone in the position of Speaker to bring on and encourage those who needed it. In the end, it is the humanity that has come across today and in the various obituaries that we have all read, which is the mark of a man who was a good, sound parliamentarian, a very good colleague and a good advertisement for what we as a democratic Parliament should be about.

12.49 pm

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): For a while after the election of every Speaker, there is a period when the House wonders what kind of stamp or mark they will put on the House, so for a few weeks after the election of Mr. Speaker Weatherill the House was wondering how he would be as Speaker. During that period, there was a vigorous debate—it was a noisy event—and a very much loved, popular Member on the Labour Benches, Eric Heffer, was in full flow. If Eric Heffer had a fault, it was that he had a bit of a temper. He was being baited mercilessly by one of our younger whippersnappers on the opposite side of the House. Eventually, Heffer completely lost his cool, spun round and shouted, “Shut up, you stupid git!” From the
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Chair, Mr. Speaker Weatherill said, “Order, order. I think I’m meant to say that.” [ Laughter . ]

Jack was universally respected and popular. I should like to join those who have expressed their condolences and best wishes to his charming family.

12.50 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am very glad to be able to pay this short tribute to Speaker Weatherill.

Speaker Weatherill was my first Speaker. I entered the House in 1987 alongside the late Member for Tottenham, the former Member for Brent, South, and the current Member for Leicester, East. It is a long time ago now, but we were regarded with extraordinary trepidation by the House authorities, not least our own party managers. We were considered the very last word in black and ethnic extremism. The particular concern of the House authorities was that we would turn out to be the equivalent of the 19th-century Fenians and submit the House to endless disruption, all-night sittings, chaos and so on. I clearly remember that Speaker Weatherill went to enormous trouble to make us feel welcome and involved, even to the point of sharing a few late-night glasses of port with the late Member for Tottenham. The point of that was not just his courtesy, but that what he taught us was that every Member of the House was the equal of any other—that we were all primus inter pares. That reflected not just his kindness but his concern for the House as a living, democratic institution in which everybody ought to feel able to make a contribution; and I think that all of us, in our different ways, made some contribution to the House over the years.

I want to recognise and remember Speaker Weatherill’s care for the House, not as a mausoleum but as a constantly evolving reflection of and avenue for the democratic process. Of course, as everyone has said, he was a tremendous supporter of the rights of Back Benchers, and I am glad to be able to pay this tribute.

12.52 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): There have been many fine tributes in this Chamber this afternoon, all of them very well deserved. What comes through is a man of great humanity and great courtesy—a man who was respected in all parts of the Chamber.

I do not think that I can add very much to the fulsome tribute that you, Mr. Speaker, paid Lord Weatherill on Tuesday in the Chamber. However, on behalf of my party, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National party, I wish to associate myself fully with your words of tribute and condolence.

Lord Weatherill was, as we know, an outstanding Speaker, bringing gravitas to the office. He also brought wisdom and discipline to the Chamber, but always tempered by humility and by humour. He was ever mindful of the rights of Back Benchers and ever generous towards them. He was a founder member of the Industry and Parliament Trust and a founder member of the Industry and National Assembly for Wales Association, which is fairly new. He was also a
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great supporter of devolution, and he was a constant source of advice and assistance to my predecessor in my seat, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly.

Lord Weatherill will be sorely missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

12.54 pm

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Mr. Speaker Weatherill was dragged to the Chair in the same year I was elected. Fulsome tributes have been paid, and I concur with them all. Like all good parliamentarians, he had a full life outside Parliament. That fact was brought home to me last September, when I attended the 80th birthday party of a mutual friend. I was struck by the enormous loyalty that he showed to his old school friends and that they showed to him. I realised, too, that his family were so important to him.

His sartorial elegance was legendary, but he also had a sense of fun, and, being a tailor, he was intensely practical. I remember that in the hot summer of 1983 I went to him in the Chair and said, “Mr. Speaker, it’s really very hot and stuffy in here—could you ask for the ventilation to be improved?” He said, “You should wear short-sleeved shirts, like me.” I have always taken that advice as the temperature rises.

12.55 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): On occasions such as this, one thinks it sad that the person we talk of, Jack Weatherill, cannot be here now to listen to what we have all said; I expect that his spirit may well be. Lady Weatherill will no doubt draw great comfort from the very proper tributes that have been paid to this very human of beings.

I often think, Mr. Speaker, that the job that you and your predecessors have to do is like that of a good headmaster. You have to know your pupils and your staff: you have to know what makes them tick. I have learned one or two things from the tributes that other right hon. and hon. Members have paid so far. I, too, was a recipient of one of Jack Weatherill’s little notes. I had been here for a couple of years and had made a particularly robust speech from the Back Benches, which in the days of Margaret Thatcher’s Government was quite a brave thing to do. I got a little note of encouragement, and felt absolutely wonderful as a result. One gets very little feedback in this place. Our Whips will tell us if we are not doing the job properly from their standpoint, but nobody comes up and says, from an impartial point of view, “You’re doing a good job”, or “You’re doing a bad job.” To get a note from the Speaker, a person whom one immediately respects—one’s new headmaster when one comes into this House—is very special indeed. He did, in a way, maintain a pastoral watch over Members of this House and make certain that we got the odd little bit of feedback and comment that was ever so useful.

I recall, equally, that when he left this place that kind of feedback and interest in what one was doing as an individual did not stop. I would see him in the Lobby or walking somewhere around the place, and he would stop and say, “How are you, Michael? How’s it
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going? What’s happening in the party?” He remained very interested in what happened in this place and demonstrated, as colleagues have indicated, that he was, without doubt, a parliamentarian to his dying day.

12.56 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): I should like to pay my own very brief personal tribute to the late Speaker Weatherill. I was one of the cohort of 1983, among many colleagues who are in the House today. I well remember sitting almost diagonally opposite at the time when Jack Weatherill, as we all knew him, was dragged to the Chair. He was indeed a gentleman in the true sense of the word and was very much respected. He had a depth to him that at first, perhaps, people did not realise, and he had an independence of character. He was personally extremely kind, and opened up Speaker’s House to Members on both sides of the House and their families. I remember going to Speaker’s House on many occasions and meeting Mrs. Speaker, as she was known—Lady Weatherill. I would like to express my deepest sympathy to her and her family on their great loss.

At one of those informal occasions, I was able to say to Mr. Speaker Weatherill that we had in fact met many years previously. When I was about 11, I won an award at the Royal Windsor horse show for best rider in one of the show pony classes. The prize was a pair of jodhpurs to be made by, I think, Bernard Weatherill Ltd. So I was taken by my father by train to London—a big day out—and went to this very smart tailor’s emporium, where I met Jack Weatherill. I told him that I still had that small pair of jodhpurs with buckskin strappings, which we had in those days, how very proud I was of them, and how they had done stalwart service. He was extremely pleased by that story. The fact that he carried a thimble in his pocket for the rest of life to remind him of what he was showed the character of the man. He will be greatly missed. He was a great man who was much loved, and the tributes that have been paid today bear out those comments.

1 pm

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Several colleagues from my 1983 intake have spoken about how they found Speaker Weatherill when they were new to the House and the proceedings and he was new to the Chair. Hon. Members have rightly said that, as an occupant of the Chair, he had complete control of the Chamber and its proceedings. When I became a Whip, I found him extraordinarily helpful in the kind advice that he gave. As several hon. Members have
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said, he not only presided over the Commons but gave helpful advice when he was not in the Chair.

Like you, Mr. Speaker, and Mrs. Martin, he and his wife were equally generous in Speaker’s House. When my daughter, Claudia, who is now 18, was baptised here, Mr. Speaker Weatherill generously allowed us to have the post-christening reception in his apartment. My middle son, who is now 21 but was then three-and-a-half, complained on my daughter’s arrival that he would have preferred a rabbit and was disappointed to have a baby sister. Speaker Weatherill heard about that, so after the christening, at the reception in Speaker’s House, he proposed a toast of health to Claudia—squalling baby that she was then—and, from behind his back, produced a stuffed rabbit and presented it to Freddie, who has it to this day. That was the mark of the man.

The number of times that people have commented on not how Mr. Speaker Weatherill conducted himself in your great office, Mr. Speaker, but his human side is enormously pleasing. I am sure that, although Lyn and his children and grandchildren will mourn the loss of Jack as a husband, father and grandfather, they will take enormous comfort from and great pride in the fact that, as the tributes have made clear, he was personable, kind and, above all, a great family man. That was reflected in his conduct in the great office that he held. He will be fondly remembered by those of us who saw him as our first headmaster as well as our first Speaker.

1.3 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): As a member of the 1997 intake, I can offer only the tiniest cameo from my knowledge of Lord Weatherill because I did not meet him until I attended a private dinner in 2003. In the course of the conversation, I happened to mention that my father, who was then only 90, had been a tailor for 71 years and recently had, sadly, had to go into residential care in the evening of his life. Lord Weatherill immediately insisted that I should give him not only my father’s name but that of the residential home and the address. He said, “I’m going to write to him as one tailor to another.” That is precisely what he did. When, from time to time in the years that followed, I bumped into him in the Corridors of the House, he unfailingly inquired after the welfare of Sam Lewis, my father. If you judge the largeness of a person’s character by the thoughtfulness of their small acts of kindness, I will always remember Lord Weatherill for that act of wonderful kindness, if nothing else.

Mr. Speaker: I will undertake to send the extract of Hansard to Lady Weatherill. We will remember Speaker Weatherill with pride.

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Point of Order

1.4 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Leader of the House said, a couple of weeks ago in business questions I asked for the whereabouts of the identity card scheme cost report. It has today been published in a written ministerial statement. I have no further questions to raise on that specific issue—we now have the report. However, there is an issue for the House. What recourse do hon. Members have when the Government fail not only to fulfil an expectation of providing material to the House but a statutory duty to provide material in a timely way. Could that matter be examined? What recourse is available to us when the Government fail in their statutory duty to the House?

Mr. Speaker: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. Perhaps he will allow me to look into it.

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