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Lord Marsh: My Lords, as one who owes his entire ministerial career, brief though it was, to Harold WilsonI was appointed to his Government by him, promoted to his Cabinet by him and fired by himI am grateful to have been invited to pay tribute from these Benches to a quite extraordinary political figure and to express our sympathy to Mary Wilson to whom he owed a very great deal indeed.
He was a very considerable political figure. He was also an extremely complex human being. He was regarded by many commentators as a little bit of a political fixer. That grossly underestimates his abilities. He was a prince among political fixers and indeed that was something that was necessary for our political system, almost above all else, at that particular time.
When he took office in 1964, he did so with a wafer-thin majority and with a party which was split from top to bottom. He was surrounded by powerful colleagues whose admiration and affection for him was, to say the least, somewhat muted. That he kept that mutinous crew together, and went on to win the 1966 election, was due almost entirely to his political skills with such a small majority. And I do not believe that anyone else could have done it at that time. But although he could be a very tough political operator, on a personal level, as others have said, he was a very warm and concerned being.
I remember an occasion when a lobby correspondent whose writings were somewhat critical of him, and who had therefore been placed very high on Harold's black list, was rushed to hospital with a serious illness. One of his first visitors that same night was the Prime Minister who cancelled appointments because he wanted to wish him well in person. Such acts of kindness were by no means unusual although obviously they were never widely known. Like all Prime Ministers, he presided over his fair share of disasters, but I have no doubt that historians will find them eclipsed by the positive contribution which he made to the political life of this country.
On a personal level, all those who knew him have an enormous store of Harold Wilson anecdotes which they treasure. I believe that over the years, as long as we live, we shall continue to pin people in corners and repeat those anecdotes to them, and as we do so, the one thing that we shall all have in common is a very affectionate smile.
The Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I, too, rise to express my condolences with some sadness this afternoon on the death of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. It is a sadness that relates not simply to his death but to the circumstances
The noble Lord made a great mark on society. I cannot claim to be someone who knew him personally. However, as an observer it seems to me that there were particular characteristics about him which are worthy of comment. Perhaps the most notable is that he managed to combine closely two virtues: one was idealism; and the other was a pragmatic awareness of what was politically possible. The pragmatic awareness of the politically possible is a matter that other noble Lords in this House are better able to comment on than I am. But I can comment on the idealism.
The idealism lay in his particular roots which were those of strong, nonconformist, Yorkshire, Christian stock. That idealism marked his character. It was the idealism which surely led to his great concern for social justice which was expressed both in his time as Prime Minister and also in those earlier years when as a young man he worked with Beveridge on setting up the welfare state.
His relationship with the Church was of particular importance to me. As Prime Minister he had responsibility as regards the election of bishops who would ultimately sit on these Benches. I quote from a private letter which he wrote:
It is worthy of comment that it was during Lord Wilson's premiership that two most notable Members of the Bishops' Bench in front of me, Donald Coggan of Canterbury and Stuart Blanch of York, were appointed. The Church and society have much to thank him for with those appointments. With other Members of this noble House, I pay my tribute to Lord Wilson. May he rest in peace and may those who mourn him find their hope in the faith once delivered to the saints.
Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me intervening in the tributes. I do not speak for the Cross Benches; that speech has been made. Fifty years ago Harold Wilson and I, and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, entered the House of Commons together. Europe was shattered. We had high
One of Lord Wilson's characteristics was that he always had an enormous personal regard for the beliefs and opinions of other people. We little dreamt in 1945 that he would be Prime Minister and that I should be elected Speaker of the House of Commons. I had the privilege of serving with three Prime Ministers: Lord Wilson was the first; the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, was the second; and the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was the third. I had had a warm friendship with the Wilsons, but the minute I became Speaker, Lord Wilson respected the office. The friendship endured. There was never pressure of any kind.
My heart is full because I know that we are paying tribute to one who loved this land and was proud to belong to it. The right reverend Prelate referred to Lord Wilson's nonconformity. Lady Wilson is the daughter of a Congregational minister. They were married in Mansfield College at Oxford, and I know how much their faith meant to them. Like everyone else, my heart has ached in these past years as I have looked with love and admiration at the care given to Lord Wilson in his closing years. An example to the whole of our country has been set by Lady Wilson.
Perhaps I may say by way of conclusion that we who live in Wales have a special reason to be grateful, for it was hea Yorkshiremanwho established the office of Secretary of State for Wales. James Griffiths was the first Secretary of State for Wales, the second was the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and I was the third. James Griffiths used to tell us that he had only pen and paper in that office, but it has been built up until today it is on a par with the Scottish Office.
Just as the world salutes Lord Wilson and salutes his memory for the Open University, so the people of Wales have cause to salute him for opening the doors to a new era. I always found him to be a man of his word; that is because he was a man of his faith. I thank God that his life influenced mine.
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