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House of Lords

Monday, 26 February 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Tributes: Earl Jellicoe

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of Earl Jellicoe on 22 February. On behalf of the House, I express our condolences to his family and friends.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I rise to pay tribute to Earl Jellicoe. He was a remarkable man.

Although we do not recognise the term “Father of the House”, which is used in another place, an exception might have been made for Earl Jellicoe, who was a Member of your Lordships’ House for 68 years, serving this House in a number of roles. In life, he was characterised by many as an extraordinary individual: full of energy and verve and a truly larger than life figure.

It is difficult to pay tribute to a life and career that was so full and accomplished across so many spheres. Service and, in particular, public service is an appropriate starting point for this tribute. Earl Jellicoe had an outstanding war record. He initially joined the Coldstream Guards but was later recruited into the SAS where he became first commander of the Special Boat Service, conducting highly dangerous missions into German-controlled Greek islands and, later, Italy and Yugoslavia. For his bravery and success, he was awarded the DSO at the age of 24 and the MC at 26. Foreign Governments also decorated him. He won the Legion d’Honneur, the Croix de Guerre and the Greek War Cross. After the war, he joined the Foreign Office, serving in Washington, Brussels and Baghdad. He resigned in 1958 for personal reasons and, from that point onwards, took a more active role in politics.

Earl Jellicoe lost his father, the hero of the First World War and Admiral of the Fleet—Sir John Jellicoe and later first Earl of Jellicoe—while he was still at school in Winchester and only 17 years old. Although he inherited his father’s title, he could not take his seat until 1939.

By 1958, when he had retired from the Foreign Service, the Earl had moved from the Cross Benches to the Conservative Benches. His talents and diligence were soon recognised and room was made for him on the Front Bench—first as a Government Whip and later as Joint Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and, soon after, as Minister of State for the Home Office. In 1963 he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a year later Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy. In opposition, he served his party as deputy leader and,

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when his party returned to power in 1970, he was made Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House and Minister for the Civil Service Department.

He approached his new role with characteristic vigour and charm. As Leader of the House, he played a significant role in raising the profile and status of this House. Earl Jellicoe reintroduced into the House the tradition of Select Committee work, which had been allowed to lapse since the Second World War. Under his guidance, the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure was set up in 1970. This was soon followed by the Select Committee on the European Community and set in train the tradition of committees of which we are so proud today. It seems hard now to remember a time when this House was not renowned for its work on committees and for the quality of that work, but at that time it was an experiment and one that can only be described as an unmitigated success.

Lord Jellicoe played another crucial role much later in shaping the committee work of the House. In 1992, he chaired an ad hoc committee on the committee work of this House, whose purpose was to look at the existing committees, consider their reform and extension and compare them with those of the House of Commons. The committee recommended that a permanent committee should scrutinise all Bills to ensure that the delegated powers sought by Ministers were appropriate and subject to the right degree of parliamentary approval. The result was the creation of the Delegated Powers Committee, which remains one of the most respected committees of your Lordships’ House. The committee’s report also led to a new era in the overall system of Select Committees with the creation of the Liaison Committee.

Earl Jellicoe often described himself as a reformer in the context of this House. He believed in a partly elected House of Lords based on the regions. Sadly, we will not have the benefit of his experience in our debates on the White Paper on Lords reform in a fortnight’s time.

In 1973, he retired from government and pursued a career in the private sector, but his days of public service were not over. In 1982, he became chairman of the General Medical Council, and for eight years he battled for funding at a time when research budgets were under great pressure. He campaigned for funding to research AIDS when the disease was little known in this country and subject to a great deal of prejudice.

Earl Jellicoe continued until very recently to play an active role in this House, making contributions to debates on education and Civil Service pension reform, as well as resources for Select Committees. He is survived by four sons and four daughters, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our heartfelt condolences to them all.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am very grateful to follow the tribute of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to Lord Jellicoe. Many Members will have been deeply saddened to hear of the death of this outstanding man, who, as well as being an enormously able Leader of this House, working in great harmony with his political opponents, was also “Father” of our House, having entered it in 1939 just before the Second

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World War. For those of us who are to debate 15-year terms for new Peers, that certainly puts it into perspective.

George Jellicoe was highly intelligent, winning an exhibition to Cambridge and duly taking a first. He was also an immensely brave man with a quite remarkable war record involving dangerous and—I use advisedly this often overused word—heroic missions behind enemy lines, inflicting great damage on Nazi forces. His leadership qualities struck everyone in those years, as indeed they did throughout his life.

He had a distinguished Foreign Office career before leaving, for personal reasons, to enter politics. The noble Baroness has set out the bones of his career. It was a piquant irony that the son of the commander of the Grand Fleet at Jutland should have been the last holder of the office of First Lord of the Admiralty, whose abolition foreshadowed the sad, slow decline of British naval power.

George Jellicoe famously loved life, but he was a highly honourable man, whose word was his bond in a brilliant business career. I find it sad that his name is so often linked to the resignation that ended his career in government in 1973. That principled resignation, freely offered when it was probably not even necessary, was regretted by political friends and foes. Thank goodness it did not end his long and active service to his country in so many areas—parliamentary, diplomatic, business, academic and scientific—which continued well into his 80s.

In 1998, on the eve of the passage of the Act to remove all hereditary peers from this House, Lord Jellicoe came to see me to inform me that he would not put his name forward for the by-elections. He left my room with a tear in his eye. What I was unable to tell him then was that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was about to announce that as a former Leader of the House he would be offered a life peerage. It was a measure of the man that he stepped aside to allow others to be elected when he most certainly would have been elected himself. Equally, his rejoicing when he heard the news was a wonderful thing to behold. It also gave him great satisfaction to rejoin the House that he loved so much.

He was a thoroughly likeable man. He was gifted, courageous, humane and multitalented; a respected friend of many other countries, but a deep patriotic lover of his own. Our sympathies go out to his entire family. How proud they can be of his extraordinary career.

Lord McNally: My Lords, it is always difficult to pay tribute to someone whom one did not know personally. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we are fortunate in having a keeper of the collective memory in my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester. She is often a ruthless assessor of your Lordships but, when I asked her about Lord Jellicoe, she said without hesitation that he was a man respected and admired by all sides of the House. She went further and said that in her view, and as was indicated by the Lord President, his work on committee reform was the real start of House of Lords reform.

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He was the son of a war hero, but the DSO and MC clearly did not come with the rations. For those who are not regular Guardian readers, I shall quote to the House today’s obituary in that paper:

That would not look out of place in a James Bond film, yet he was one of our colleagues in this House.

For my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter, from her childhood, George Jellicoe was a family friend. She swears that there are many elderly Greeks who today are convinced that George Jellicoe liberated Athens after he commandeered a bicycle to race ahead of liberating forces to reach the appropriately named Hotel Grand Britannia first.

The Guardian obituary, to which I referred, lists him as having backed the abolition of hanging in the 1960s against the opinion of most of his party, and as clashing with the then Lord Salisbury over support to Rhodesia at the time of UDI and with the Duke of Norfolk over stem cell research. He was not a “yes” man. The Independent sums him up as a soldier, diplomat, politician and businessman, concluding:

As with all long lives, there were, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, indicated, both lows and highs, but he was a great servant of his country in war and in peace and he was also a great servant of this House.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, we on the Cross Benches join in the warm tributes to Earl Jellicoe and send our sympathies to his family. Although he may be remembered in this House mainly for his political career and as a very successful Leader of the House, he was indeed a man for all seasons and a man of remarkably diverse talents. It would be difficult to think of an Englishman of this generation who achieved more and in so many fields.

His wartime career was quite outstanding, including death-defying operations in the SAS and the Special Boat Service. His name was still remembered in Crete when I recently visited there. Having helped to win the war, he turned to diplomacy in Brussels, Washington and Baghdad, where he was deputy secretary-general of the Baghdad Pact, and then turned back from service abroad to begin a political career at home. We on these Benches note that he began here as a Cross-Bencher before joining the Tories and becoming, first, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and, subsequently, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House. There is a lot to be said for being in three groups over a period of time.

He was a dedicated European, and I have always appreciated his saying that nothing would please him more than encouraging some of the best in the British Civil Service to work for the European Community in Brussels. Outside his military, diplomatic and political

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career, he held important posts in business and research, including in the medical field, and was a fellow of the Royal Society. When shall we see his like again?

The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, so much has already been said and a huge amount has been written in the newspaper obituaries. We on these Benches, on whose behalf I speak, would want to be closely associated with everything that has been said about Lord Jellicoe in the tributes today. Some of us are particularly aware of his extraordinary energy and drive when he was chair of the council of King’s College, London in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a time that laid the foundation for huge development, in which he played an important and fundamental part.

Because of the unusual and possibly unique relationship between the diocese of Hereford and the SAS, which is based in the city, it would be right to acknowledge the remarkable role that Lord Jellicoe played in the SAS, in the early days with David Stirling, then as the first commander of the SBS and latterly as president and subsequently patron of the SAS Regimental Association in the late 1990s. We mark the passing of an extraordinary and larger-than-life man, who made a considerable contribution to the life and work of this House and as a Minister of State. Our thoughts and prayers are today very much with his family.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I was George Jellicoe’s junior Minister back in 1972-73, when he was Leader of the House and responsible for the Civil Service Department. I was lucky, as a fledgling politician, to learn so much from him. He was a heavyweight in Ted Heath’s Cabinet and had also served in the Macmillan and Douglas-Home Governments.

Something that has not quite come out is that he had enormous vivacity, liveliness and an enhancing spirit. Given his war record, I always felt that it was a great pity that there was no war somewhere in the world at that time that George could have won. He was devoted to his department and it to him, for one simple reason. He had a characteristic that many people who committed acts of great bravery and courage in fighting in the Second World War had; they evoked enormous devotion and loyalty from those whom they led. That was the case in the department.

On the day he resigned, several senior civil servants came to me, including Sir William Armstrong, and expressed their sadness in very emotional terms. They were appalled that he had to go. His resignation was a ricochet of the Lambton affair. I doubt whether a Minister would have to go today.

On the night before his resignation, his last public engagement was to speak in the great painted naval hall at Greenwich. There was a fiendish witch-hunt going on; the paparazzi were around him and his family. Most weaker figures would not have turned up that night, but he did. It was fitting that his last speech as a Cabinet Minister was made in the hall so dear both to him and his family. I was lucky and proud to serve George Jellicoe.

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2.54 pm

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, Iran is an influential player in the Middle East, including in maritime areas. There are many close ties between Iran and its neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iranian Government have committed to support the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to build security and stability. We welcome Iran’s efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics across the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. The recent provocative Iranian exercises in the Gulf, with new anti-ship missiles and practice attacks on barges, demonstrate an ability to disrupt sea traffic in that vital international waterway. Can the Minister confirm that we have sufficient Royal Navy ships in the area to protect our right of free passage?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I understand that the Iranian navy has traditionally been the smallest element of its armed forces, but with a significant headquarters in the Strait of Hormuz and smaller bases in the Caspian Sea and the northern Gulf. It plainly has an ability to exercise considerable influence over waterways in that area, and could have the ability to disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. There are grounds for thinking that our forces and forces of other members of the international community could dissuade it from doing so, but that would depend to some extent on whether it showed good sense and international community spirit in how it operated.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, it is clear that Iran is playing a negative role, not only in the area mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, but in other areas—such as encouraging Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet the old Soviet Union played such a negative role in the past, and in response we decided to contain and engage with all the instruments of soft power available to us. Are there not serious lessons to be learnt now regarding Iran from that experience, and is it not quite wrong that the US—contrary to our interests and general western interests—refuses to parlay with Iran in areas of important interest worldwide?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, this Government have decided that they wish to keep channels of communication open and fruitful, and they are engaged with others, particularly on the Iranian nuclear portfolio. That has all been broadly helpful, and there is a good deal of co-operation among a number of nations, including the United States,

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around UN Security Council Resolution 1737. I take the view that diplomatic discussions and the attempts to persuade Iran to take a different route remain absolutely fundamental to our efforts. I comment only on our own efforts in that regard; they are the right way to go.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, could the noble Lord confirm that it remains government policy to support the recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton report that Iran, along with Iraq’s other neighbours, needs to be firmly engaged in an effort to stabilise Iraq? What are the Government doing about getting that support?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, we continue to work to engage with Iran, as I said in my opening comments. We have, alongside that, made clear our objections to the interference that has taken place in Iraq, but that does not alter the general trajectory of diplomatic approach as a key implement in this matter. We are trying to ensure that all those who engage in the international community take that view.

Lord Garden: My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s answers, what discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with Iran in the past 12 months about mutual security interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and the international seaways?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, discussions have taken place on a number of occasions. Through the Foreign Secretary, we have sought to have discussions through normal diplomatic routes. In all those cases, we are trying to get normalisation and stability in arrangements around the international seaways.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm what is stated in a letter in the Times today—namely, that Iran contributed to the defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan? What sort of value and assessment have the Government made of that contribution regarding the future in Afghanistan?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I think there is some evidence—admittedly it has not been shared widely because a good deal of it has come through confidential and intelligence sources—about a contribution in that area. There may well need to be an assessment of what has been said in the Times before a more detailed report can be given. I am sure that the House will accept that some areas of this will never—at least, not in my lifetime—be susceptible to detailed analysis.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the Minister speaks of keeping channels open. Will the Government renew their support for groups inside Iran that are pressing peacefully for democratic change? Will they reconsider the freezing of their assets in the way that is objectionable in the light of a court of the European Union in Luxembourg?

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