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House of Lords

Tuesday, 24th September 2002.

The House met at half-past eleven of the clock, pursuant to Standing Order 16: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Tributes to the late Lady Young

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, Janet Young died on 6th September. Although we knew of her serious illness, the news came as a deep shock to all of us. She was a great woman. A moral crusader, a distinguished Member of this House for over 30 years, Lady Young was born in Oxford and retained the Oxford links throughout her life. She took a Master's degree at St Anne's and married a Fellow of Jesus College, Dr Geoffrey Tyndale Young, in 1950. They had three daughters, to whom Janet was a loving and devoted mother.

She joined Oxford City Council, as a Conservative, in 1957. Some 10 years later, she was leader. In 1970, she became a life Peer.

Life in the Lords suited her; and it suited us too. She became the first woman Leader of this House under the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, whom we are all pleased to see in her place today. Indeed, I think I am right in recalling that Lady Young was the only other female member of any Thatcher Cabinet. She was a much respected Leader of this House. She was devoted to this place, while recognising the need to adapt to changing times. Apart from her long career in government, she enjoyed success as a director of several public companies.

The focused energy with which she fought for her convictions was remarkable. She was a doughty crusader, but also a consummate politician. She knew how to organise, as we on this side had cause to know and regret. She often used to come to see me at the Home Office, or when I was Attorney-General, and invariably left our meetings saying that she would be very disappointed in me if I failed to adopt her amendments and point of view. I am very sorry, I was a serious and serial disappointment to her.

She and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, gave many of us innocent merriment when newspapers frequently—I believe maliciously—printed the wrong photograph of the wrong Baroness Young. We often used to wonder which of the two would sue first, and on what grounds.

Janet was a staunch Christian believer. That faith sustained, supported and comforted her, not least during her long illness. She and I corresponded regularly in those last months. The last letter I had from her was an invitation to join her and Geoffrey for a glass of wine at their home in Oxford. But that was not to be.

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When we still had an imperial Navy, there was a class of heavy battleship called Dreadnought. I always think of her as "the last of the Dreadnoughts", because she was fearless and determined in what she believed to be right. I know that the whole House will wish to send condolences to her family in affectionate and grateful remembrance.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for his kind words of tribute to Lady Young. I do not think that there is anyone in this House, whatever their differences with her, who would not turn to her accustomed place today and feel a deep sense of emptiness—for a great parliamentarian has passed on.

She became known to millions outside this House for the battles that she fought on many issues. She was truly a public figure in a way that few of us are or ever will be. But above all, she was a House of Lords person. She never sat in the other place. She gave her counsel to us for over 30 years. She loved and honoured this House, and in all the stances that she took she embodied the independence of mind and the essence of this place.

She made up her mind on the merits of a matter as she saw them, without fear or favour to those in her own party, or indeed to others—even, sometimes, to the right reverend Prelates in her own Church, and most memorably to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern in regard to his divorce reform legislation. She was, it can safely be said, a person whose courage and integrity were an example to all. It is right that such a person will go down for all time as the first woman to be Leader of the House of Lords.

The noble and learned Lord has spoken of Lady Young's many achievements and accomplishments in this House and outside—achievements particularly in politics, in the academic world, in business, in the voluntary sector and beyond. Last week I received a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, expressing her sorrow that she could not be present today. She added that Janet Young was,

    "a person of formidable intellect as well as resolute opinions and moral conviction",

and said that,

    "it was a privilege, as her female successor, to be able to draw on those qualities as well as her practical experience".

Many here knew her in different spheres. She was a distinguished Minister in the Foreign Office, and above all in education, about whose standards she cared with a passion.

I do not want to speak for too long, but I, too, should like to touch on two great threads that ran through her life: Oxford and the Christian faith. In Oxford, she was educated, both as a child and as a student. In Oxford, she married and settled with the husband and family to whom she was so devoted for over 50 years. In Oxford, she entered politics. There, she became an alderman and later a deputy lieutenant. It was there, as she would have wished, that she died and will rest. There are some who denigrate our great universities and their milieu. No place could be bad that produced and sustained Janet Young.

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Finally, there was Lady Young's faith—though "finally" is perhaps not the right word. For this was her lodestar in life and her safeguard at the end, when, with her courage, she lifted all who knew her. Her life was a life of service, nobly done, to her family, to her nation and to her God. My thoughts, and, I know, those of the whole House, go out to Geoffrey Young and to the whole family. They should know that this great House is with them in sympathy. They should know that in this House Lady Young's name and memory will always have a high place of honour.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I believe that noble Lords on all sides of the House will deeply regret the loss of Lady Young. That may be particularly true of those in the House who are women and who recognise the way in which she led the procedure whereby women can today become leading figures in the community. She did this with elegance, tolerance and grace. I should like to remind the House that Lady Young also achieved a quite remarkable, almost miraculous, combination: she was one of the few Conservative politicians who was both respected and promoted by Mr Edward Heath and by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—quite an achievement!

It is true to say that Lady Young was a great achiever in the areas of the community and also within this House. Perhaps I may add that, to me at least, she represented the best of the traditional values in a way that evoked both nostalgia and respect. She believed in courtesy; indeed, her courtesy was absolutely unfailing, even at moments of controversy and even when she was under pressure. Lady Young believed in principle: her principles were unbending. They were iron principles but she was always ready to explain them, to defend them, and to discuss them. Her values were those of community, as her work in the Oxford City Council so clearly indicated, but not, as with some councillors, limited only to her locality. She saw it as a principle of what democracy is all about.

Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, so elegantly said, Lady Young was illumined by her faith. She brought to this House great grace—one might even say, as she would have seen it, the grace of God—through all her deliberations and presentations. Although there were issues on which some of us, including many of my colleagues on these Benches, would necessarily have disagreed with her, I do not believe that any of us who might have disagreed on some issue failed to recognise the conviction, the courage, and the commitment with which Lady Young spoke and with which she cleaved to the principles that she held. I share with other Leaders and Members of the House our deep sympathy for her family and for the three daughters whom Lady Young brought up with such care and love. We should also like to extend our deepest sympathy to her husband, Geoffrey Young.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, from these Benches, on behalf of Cross-Benchers, I should like to

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pay a warm and sincere tribute to a most remarkable and respected Member of your Lordships' House, and to send our condolences to her family.

Those who knew Lady Young over many years will speak of her many achievements and successes in life. I know that she was highly regarded and very much respected by the senior officials of the Whitehall departments in which she held office as a Minister. She was always particularly good at registering her appreciation of the support that she received from officials in the public service at all levels.

But Lady Young's time as a Member of this House must count for some of her finest and most rewarding years, not least as the first lady to be the Leader of the House. Her personality and strength of character, her vision and determination to maintain standards of morality and behaviour that she felt were so important to any civilised society were utterly formidable. By any measure Lady Young achieved results that most others would have found beyond them.

Like many Members of your Lordships' House I received from Lady Young over a number of years numerous letters of persuasive argument and advocacy, to be followed invariably with a note of thanks and appreciation. Her output was quite staggering. No doubt her attachment to the controversial causes that she championed led to her receiving mountains of mail. She seemed to be quite at her best in responding to such pressures and was a truly remarkable and principled Member of this House.

Lady Young's recent illness and withdrawal from the work of this Chamber served only to remind me of the loss to us, given the contributions that she made over many years to the fine reputation of this House. She is rightly remembered and honoured by the tributes that are being made from all sides of the Chamber today. On behalf of these Benches, I join in saluting this astute and gifted lady.

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