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House of Lords

Monday, 15th October 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Lord Fearn

Ronald Cyril Fearn, Esquire, OBE, having been created Baron Fearn, of Southport in the County of Merseyside, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Rennard and the Baroness Walmsley.

Lord May of Oxford

Sir Robert McCredie May, Knight, having been created Baron May of Oxford, of Oxford in the County of Oxfordshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Flowers and the Lord Butler of Brockwell.

Tributes to the late Lord Longford

2.48 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I rise today to pay tribute to Lord Longford and Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: two great men, both distinguished Members of this House, and both full of many happy and fulfilling years. The two men knew each other well: they were both born at the beginning of the last century; they were both men of first-rate intellect, both educated at Oxford and offered positions by that university. Curiously, the two men even contested between them the seat of Oxford City in 1945--a contest which Lord Hailsham won. Although there were many parallels in their lives, the two men were, in fact, remarkably dissimilar. I shall speak about Lord Hailsham shortly, but perhaps I may begin by saying just a few words about Lord Longford.

Frank was a very familiar figure here; known to all of us, and admired by many. He was, of course, a distinguished Leader of this House. It is with a sense of gratitude for a long life, lived to the full, that I pay tribute to him today. He was born as Frank Pakenham in County Westmeath in the centre of Ireland. He was educated at Eton and at New College, Oxford, where he took a first in 1927. He began his political career by working at the Conservative Research Department. He changed allegiance to the Labour Party, and for the next 65 years never wavered. Plainly, he believed in the power of redemption through good works--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: One of the most important events in his life was his conversion to

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Roman Catholicism. Throughout his life, his faith plainly sustained and supported him, and gave him a sense of moral and religious certainty.

From 1941 to 1944 he worked with Sir William Beveridge and, with him, drew up the blueprint for the foundation of the post-war welfare state. He began in this House as a Whip, and soon became Under-Secretary of State at the War Office with special responsibility for Germany. His approach was typical and controversial: he was ready to forgive the German people more quickly than many others. He worked tirelessly to stop starvation in Germany, focusing on the re-opening of schools and hospitals, and on currency reform. That approach did not necessarily make him universally popular at home. However, looking back, it may be that that period of his life was his finest hour.

Frank moved later to the Ministry of Aviation, and in 1951 became First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1955 he founded New Bridge, the first organisation dedicated to the welfare of former prisoners. In 1963, Harold Wilson appointed him chairman of a special committee to investigate penal reform. That committee's report, Crime--A Challenge, advocated the abolition of capital punishment, aftercare for prisoners, and the introduction of the parole system. I believe that we shall remember him most clearly for his contributions on those subjects.

His ministerial career reached its climax as he was appointed to the Cabinet as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of this House in 1964. He stayed in the Cabinet for four years but resigned on principle when the Cabinet abandoned a commitment to raising the school leaving age. I still remember that with admiration and recall that the days are not long past when a senior politician could resign over a question of deep principle.

Thereafter he campaigned and published. His most publicised campaign was for the release of the Moors murderer, Myra Hindley. It is fair to observe that his point of view on that matter was not popular. It was an article of faith for Frank to condemn the offence but care for the offender. He became a tireless prison visitor visiting anyone he came to hear of who seemed to need help or support.

He was a prolific author whose books commanded admiration and respect. As chance would have it, I read his obituaries far away from this House. The Daily Telegraph listed his books in order of publication. One that caught my eye was A History of the House of Lords. The next in order was Suffering and Hope. I think that somewhere Frank may be smiling at that felicitous conjunction.

He was a man of principle. I did not always agree with him; I do not think that he ever agreed with me. However, we all respected the way that he followed his conscience, whatever the issue and whatever the cost. He did sometimes look absent-minded and dishevelled but one should beware--as we on the Government Front Bench all discovered--as that masked a clear, accurate and witty mind. He was for 56 years a Member of this House. Therefore, it is no wonder that

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it is strange not to see him here today. I know that the whole House will wish me to express to his family not only our sincere condolences but also our affection, respect and admiration for this grand old man of politics.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I join the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Lord Longford and Lord Hailsham. Like the noble and learned Lord, I shall begin by paying tribute to Lord Longford who was one of the most interesting characters to sit in this House and was one of the few people of whom one can genuinely say that he became one of the fixtures and fittings of the House. He was with us until an age far beyond that allotted to most. As the noble and learned Lord has said, Lord Longford was a Member of this House for over 55 years and to the end he spoke out for what he believed.

Interestingly, Lord Longford acquired a medley of peerages which I suspect will render him for ever unique in Labour Party circles. He acquired an hereditary peerage of first creation in 1945, an earldom in the peerage of Ireland in 1961, an inherited UK barony in the same year and a life peerage in 1999--not bad at all! It was a collection he was openly proud of. I do not suppose he would ever have been described as a "People's Peer" but perhaps he should have been, for wherever there was suffering, whether in the form of poverty or, as he saw it, unjust imprisonment, there he was on the side of people who could not speak for themselves or for whom others did not care to speak. That flowed from that powerful Catholic faith which informed his entire career and which I suspect made him not always the most comfortable of colleagues in either Cabinet or Parliament. He was not one to compromise the diktat of conscience even in the face of scorn and hostility from parts of the media.

He was a Cabinet Minister over 50 years ago, before some of us were born. He led this House in the 1960s but he was someone who throughout that long career of public service always loved this place and loved it with deep emotion and passion. I join wholeheartedly the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in expressing our sympathy to his family and friends. As the noble and learned Lord has just said, Lord Longford began life as a Conservative. Someone "boobed" in 1932 when we lost him to the Labour Party. His sense of social justice was respected in every part of this House. It is by standing for that sense of natural justice in the future that this House will best honour his memory.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I add the voices of these Benches to the tributes paid to Lord Longford and also to those paid to Lord Hailsham, about whom we shall speak shortly. The good fairy obviously gave to both those distinguished men an astonishing array of gifts, in particular a remarkable intelligence, a deep sense of humanity, a very strong sense of integrity and a profound religious faith.

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Lord Longford was a member of the Attlee government and subsequently of the Wilson government and served them both in senior capacities. As a young man he had been a politics lecturer at Christ Church. In that he shared a link with Lord Hailsham as both had been educated at Eton and Oxford. I agree with the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House that perhaps the single most distinguished period of Lord Longford's life was when he had responsibility for occupied Germany. He brought to occupied Germany an astonishing sense of compassion and empathy. I for one believe that one of the reasons why Germany is one of the great successes of the post-war world and is a truly powerful and strong democracy is that it was taught by Lord Longford a different way from that of violence and war.

As has been said, Lord Longford became Lord Privy Seal and in that capacity resigned over the issue of the raising of the school leaving age. At that time I was a junior education Minister and that action profoundly met my own sense of sadness at the decision of the then government to abandon their commitment to raising the school leaving age.

As we all know, having left the House of Lords and politics, Lord Longford became chairman of The National Bank which was effectively the National Bank of Ireland. Subsequently in this House he played a large part in two areas open to derision and criticism. One of them was prison reform with which he was closely identified, often with its least popular aspects. The second was pornography on which he wrote a distinguished report which immediately turned him into a cartoon figure for virtually every one of the tabloids.

The remarkable thing about Lord Longford, whose family have been friends of my family all my life, was that, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, criticism and derision slid off his back like water off a duck. He paid not the slightest attention to it. If he believed that what he was doing was right, the press could go and create whatever cacophony they liked; Frank was undisturbed and in no way impeded.

Finally, some people called him a fool. If so, like Dostoevsky, he was a holy fool. He brought to this House an astonishing sense of spiritual mission and an astonishing belief in the infinite potential of every human being. He was one of the luminaries of this House. Now that the light has gone out, many of us recognise what the House owes him and will not forget his passing.

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