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Tributes (Speaker Weatherill)

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:09 pm on 10th May 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 12:09 pm, 10th May 2007

As I said earlier, I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me and many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House the opportunity to express our condolences to Lady Weatherill and to pay tribute to the memory of Jack Weatherill, as so many of us knew him.

The most important and fundamental role of the House is to hold the Executive to account. The Speaker, above all, is here to protect and enhance the duty of all Members to fulfil that important role and to defend the rights and privileges of individual Members representing their constituents. From the moment that Jack Weatherill took the Speaker's Chair in 1983, he never forgot the duties of the House or the importance of his position in sustaining the democratic process.

Many of the tributes to and obituaries of Jack Weatherill have highlighted his kindness. He was indeed a kind man, as you and I, Mr. Speaker—we came into the House just four years before he assumed the august office of Speaker—have good reason to remember. Other obituaries have highlighted his professionalism and quick wit. Both were absolutely the case. He was always on top of procedure and Standing Orders—and sometimes, when necessary, individual Members. Many of us who were around at the time will remember receiving the sharp end of his tongue.

Of all Jack Weatherill's qualities, the one that I wish to emphasise is his courage. In the early and mid-1980s, politics in this country was raw and the divisions between the political parties were bitter. Without television, as all of us who were here at the time will recall, this place could be like a bear pit. The external divisions of British politics ran very deep inside the House. Jack Weatherill had to control the House. He also had to resist the ire of Ministers—I am not making a party point because you also know, Mr. Speaker, that that is a function of all good Speakers—to ensure that the fundamental role of holding the Government to account could be fulfilled and so that Members on both sides of the House could give vent to their anger.

Jack Weatherill was a traditionalist. He was the last Speaker to wear the full-bottomed wig and while he sometimes used to complain about it, he continued with the tradition. However, he was also very alive to the need to modernise this place. He embraced the idea of television and was the Speaker in the Chair when television was first introduced. Through that, he became the first Speaker to become not just a national but an international figure. He thus enhanced the reputation of the House throughout the world. Although the notices that we receive for our performances in the House probably mark us down compared with our predecessors, the House is still regarded as one of the most vibrant democratic Chambers in the world. For that, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of Jack Weatherill, who ensured that the introduction of television meant that Members were better behaved and properly reflected the dignity of the House.

There is much else that I could say about Jack Weatherill, such as his contribution to his party in which he had a distinguished career before he took the Speaker's Chair. In the other place, after he left the Chair, he pursued many great and small causes. I will mention just one such cause, which goes back to what I said about his courage. He had a profound commitment to the sub-continent of India. He had great affection for the place and he was ready to speak up for constituents and those who had made this place their home at a time when doing so was far less popular than it is today.

We send our condolences to Lady Weatherill and her family. We salute a great Speaker and mourn his loss.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 12:14 pm, 10th May 2007

I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to Lord Weatherill.

As many have already said, Jack Weatherill was not just an esteemed parliamentarian but a true gentleman. He served his country throughout his life. As a soldier during the war, he served in the Dragoon Guards and in the Indian army with the 19th King George V's Own Lancers. It was during his time in India that he learned to speak Urdu. During the 1942 famine, he became a lifelong vegetarian. Later, as we know, he served the constituents of Croydon, North-East from 1964 until 1992, after which he continued to serve his country in the other place. Between his service in the Army and Parliament, he worked as a tailor in the family business that his father established.

Jack Weatherill was, in many senses, the embodiment of the changes to the world, politics and Parliament that took place in the last century. As the Leader of the House mentioned, he was the last Speaker to wear the traditional wig and the first Speaker to see television cameras in the Chamber. At a time when we all talk a great deal about connecting Parliament with the public, we would do well to remember Jack Weatherill, who was determined that Parliament should be as relevant to the real world as possible. He said that it was his absolute intention to ensure that everything that went on in our nation was exposed in our House. That is not a bad motto for us all to remember today.

I am sure that many hon. Members are familiar with the story that shortly after Jack Weatherill was elected, he overheard an elderly grandee complain, "My God, what is this place coming to? They've got my tailor in here." However, he was very proud of his background. As you said in your tribute on Tuesday, Mr. Speaker, he used to carry a thimble with him to keep him humble, to use his words. That was a mark of the man.

Jack Weatherill was indeed a fine parliamentarian. As Speaker, he was a resolute defender of the rights of Back Benchers, which was not always easy in the face of his own party in government. However, in all that he did, he won respect and high regard from Members on both sides of the House. He was a devoted churchman and a loyal family man. I am sure that the whole House will want to send condolences to his wife, Lyn, and his three children and seven grandchildren. We will all remember Lord Weatherill as a great parliamentarian, a fine Speaker and a gentleman who spent his life serving his country.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams Labour, Swansea West 12:17 pm, 10th May 2007

I speak not only on my own behalf but, I hope, on behalf of many of Jack's ex-colleagues who would wish they could be here today to express their sympathies to the family. Like them, I remember him as an outstanding Speaker and, above all, as a delightful man.

Jack and I came into the House together in 1964, although we were each unaware of the other for a long time. Although I discovered this only the other day, we both ascended—if that is the appropriate term—to the Front Bench in 1967. I was a little green Under-Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, while he was a junior Whip. It is often the case that people can be together in the House for years and know each other to say hello without their paths crossing politically for long time. That was the case with Jack and me.

Our paths coincided, rather than collided, on an occasion that I will never forget, although I will come to that in a moment. I used to do the mischief job of trying to mobilise what the Leader of the House called the rather rowdy element on the Opposition Benches. Our job was to try to claim prime time. It was a matter not of being rowdy but of trying to use the procedures of the House of Commons to secure the time straight after questions when everyone was still in the Gallery. We used points of order and got people to table private notice questions that were backed up with requests under Standing Order No. 24. We were using the procedures of the House to try to seize the time when we still had a press audience. At the time, he was the Speaker and I was doing a massively less reputable job in the House, but I will never forget the time when our paths coincided.

Those of us who were here at the time will remember that Mrs. Thatcher did not often come to the House to take part in debates, although she took part in Prime Minister's questions. On one very big occasion—it was a debate on the Wright affair, which was a great scandal that had run for a long time in the press—the Chamber was absolutely packed. It was so packed that when I came in, slightly late, I could not even get on to the Front Bench; I had to sit on the steps between the Front Bench and the Bench behind it. During Mrs. Thatcher's presentation, various requests for information were made, and she insisted that she could not answer because there was a case under way in Australia and the matter was therefore sub judice. I was puzzled, because that did not quite fit in with my understanding of the rule, but I was not sure about the matter. Even Roy Jenkins, who was speaking from the third row below the gangway, did not challenge her, so I thought that I had better check.

I left through the Door of the Chamber and came down to the Table, where the ever-helpful Clerks confirmed my suspicion. I came back, muscled my way on to the Front Bench and got up and made a point of order, in which I asked Jack, as Speaker, to rule on whether the sub judice rule applied to a case in the Australian courts, or whether it applied only in this country. He confirmed that the rule was that it applied only in this country. The Prime Minister made no secret of the fact that she rather disagreed with him and she set about him, to some extent, so I jumped up on another point of order and said, "Isn't it normal to apologise when you've misled the House?"

Some time later, I met Jack in connection with another issue—in fact, it related to the decision to move the time when points of order could be raised from straight after questions to after statements. In our conversation, I apologised for the grief that I had caused him on that day, and a broad grin broke out on his face. He said, "Don't worry, I used to do the same job when I was in the Whips Office." He used to mobilise the Maxwell-Hyslops of the House—not many of us will remember him—and other Conservative Members who were discontented with the then Labour Government. Jack said, "In fact, when I did that job, I had a nickname." He told me the nickname, but unfortunately the proprieties of the House will not allow me to repeat it, and if I tried to, you would stop me, Mr. Speaker. If anyone wants to know it, the obituary in the online edition of The Independent carries it.

Jack was proud of the role that he played on behalf of the Opposition. In a way—I have said this on previous occasions, and not in a joking way—it would be a good thing if every Member could serve in opposition as soon as they came into the House, because it is in opposition that Members learn what accountability is about and why Ministers need to be brought to book. Today, I remember a fair, kind and humorous man, but also a very firm Speaker. My sympathies and thoughts, and those of so many of his ex-colleagues, are with his family today.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 12:23 pm, 10th May 2007

Like Mrs. May, and indeed the majority of Members of the House, I am afraid that I did not have the privilege of serving in this House while Lord Weatherill was Speaker, but I had the great privilege of meeting him, in rather odd circumstances, soon after I was elected. We were both at Farleigh Hungerford castle in my constituency on a cold December evening to celebrate the life of Sir Thomas Hungerford, the first recorded Speaker of the House. I suspect that he was a very good Speaker of a very bad Parliament. Indeed, it was dubbed "the bad Parliament" because it introduced cash for favours and the poll tax, so it was very bad indeed.

When I met Lord Weatherill on that bitterly cold night in Farleigh Hungerford castle's chapel, which had not been heated since the 14th century, and which was therefore not the most congenial of surroundings, what struck me first was his stoicism under the circumstances. He also gave the impression of being a kind, courteous man. He was interested in me as a new Member in a way that he had no need to be. He also struck me as a punctilious parliamentarian. He did not have to be in Somerset on a cold December evening, but he was there because, as a former Speaker of the House, he wanted to pay tribute to the first Speaker of the House, and he was there as a parliamentarian. The tributes that have been paid to Lord Weatherill all mention his fairness and assiduity in the post of Speaker and his preparedness to ensure that the people who make life difficult for Speakers, for Governments and for the Opposition were properly heard. That is the sort of testament that any Speaker would wish to hear. We Liberal Democrats send our condolences to Lady Weatherill, and we mourn the loss of a great parliamentarian.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich 12:26 pm, 10th May 2007

The office of Speaker of the House is never easy to fulfil, and over the centuries people have interpreted the role in entirely different ways. The tributes to Jack Weatherill have rather hidden one aspect of him that was of enormous importance, and that was his intelligence. He was an enormously warm and witty man and he was fun to know. When he left us for the House of Lords, he took with him his strong commitment to the essential qualities of a Parliament, which include the need always to represent the views of the whole community. Sometimes we underestimate the strains and the pressures that we put on the Speaker.

I was honoured and delighted to know Jack Weatherill and to have the chance to work with him, not least because he interpreted the multicultural and multi-political views of our society in a very civilised way. His civility was very important. He was so cultured and so interested in everything that we did; he was a delight. He took enormous pleasure in his family—in his marvellous wife, who made it possible for him to be such a good Speaker, and in his grandchildren and children. I remember him talking, in his last Christmas in the Commons, of the debate that the family had had about whether they should remain in the palace for that Christmas holiday. His final decision was that it had been such a pleasure and a delight to be Speaker that he wanted the opportunity to have the family with him in the palace for his last Christmas in office.

What Jack Weatherill did in the other place was representative of him. He took on the role of keeping the independent Members of the House of Lords involved in the work of the House and able to express their views. To me that was a demonstration of the man. He was a remarkable man; occasionally he masqueraded as a very ordinary man, although only idiots would have been taken in. His role in both Houses of Parliament, and among the population as a whole, was to do that very British thing of moving us forward while appearing to remain stationary, and only Jack could have done it. He will be very much missed, and I have the greatest admiration for what Jack Weatherill accomplished.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 12:29 pm, 10th May 2007

I am delighted to follow Mrs. Dunwoody in what she has said. To me, Jack Weatherill was, above all, a friend. Mr. Speaker, as you said in your tribute earlier this week, he was an excellent Speaker. He got to the Speaker's Chair not because he was the chosen representative of his party but because he was the person chosen by the House. I think that that indicates just how favourably Members from all parts of the House regarded Jack Weatherill. He was, as many of us know, deputy Chief Whip. He was, as you were, too, Sir, the Chairman of Ways and Means before achieving the highest office available to the House—that of Speaker.

Jack Weatherill was primarily a friend. He invited me to become a member of the Chairmen's Panel—a job that I have done ever since 1986, and which is a huge privilege as it enables people to serve the House and the institution of Parliament. He was a very personable man. I remember speaking in a debate on textiles. He was in the Chair, and during the debate, he arranged for a note to be passed to me. It just said:

"Nicholas, well spoken. You spoke from the heart and I agreed with you. I am pleased I was in the Chair when you spoke."

I think that that shows the personable nature of his relationship with Members from all parties in the House of Commons. He shared another common interest with me. He was very senior to me, and served for longer, but we were both members of a cavalry regiment. He greatly enjoyed his time in the Army, particularly, as has already been mentioned, his period in the Indian army. It is not wrong to say that he was indeed in every way an officer and a gentleman.

When Lord Weatherill left the House, he did me a great favour. He was involved with three City livery companies. I invited him to be my guest of honour at a major livery dinner of the Worshipful Company of Weavers of which, between 1997 and 1998, I was upper bailiff. He attended that occasion, and it indicates Jack Weatherill's loyalty to those organisations with which he was involved. He was a man who was greatly liked. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, he had a wonderful wife, Lyn. She was a wonderful tennis player, and I remember many games on the tennis courts of Westminster school in Vincent square. Jack himself did not come and play, but Lyn was a wonderful tennis player and a huge supporter of Jack during his time as Speaker.

I hope, Sir, that I am permitted to say that Jack Weatherill was hugely kind to my wife, our elder boy and myself. The reception after the christening of our first grandchild was held in the Palace of Westminster in Mr. Speaker's State Apartments. Perhaps I should not have said that, as it may open the door to many approaches to you, Mr. Speaker, and I do not seek to do that. It shows the fact—it has not really been said so far in the tributes—that Jack was a real family man. Perhaps above all, to Jack Weatherill, whom we mourn—we send our condolences to Lyn, his wife and to his two sons and daughter—the House of Commons was his family; latterly the same was true of Parliament. He stood up for it. He was a great Speaker, and he will long be remembered.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton 12:34 pm, 10th May 2007

I was fortunate in sharing some characteristics with Jack Weatherill. I shared with him the honour of having had conferred on me by the President of Pakistan the Hilal-e-Pakistan. Jack Weatherill was extremely proud of the place that he held in Pakistan and in the Indian sub-continent. He was held in the highest esteem in Pakistan, and he will be much mourned there.

Another shared quality, if it can be called that, is the fact that my father was a tailor, just as Jack was. Jack, however, was a master tailor—a cut above my father, who worked in a factory. Mrs. May recalled the statement made by a senior Tory when Jack entered the House of Commons:"My God, what is this place coming to? They've got my tailor in here." That, of course, was in the far-off days when the Tory party was led by old Etonian toffs. What was interesting about that, as has been said, was the fact that Jack Weatherill was always very proud indeed of having been a tailor. He always dressed immaculately. Indeed, if he was sitting in the Chair today, Mr. Speaker, he might well ask whether hon. Members have a tailor any more. He was a very generous man. Sir Nicholas Winterton pointed out that he would be kind enough to send letters or notes to Members across the House when he appreciated something that they had done. Like the hon. Gentleman, I received one of those notes. He was very good, too, at protecting Members of Parliament when they were in difficulty.

At Prime Minister's Questions, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my hon. Friend Joan Ruddock put a question to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, which began with the words, "If the Prime Minister had been in jail for 27 years". I was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, and I muttered to a colleague that she should have been. That was picked up by the microphones in the House; it was heard by the whole House and it caused huge uproar. He beckoned to me when the event had taken place and said, "Gerald, I think it would help you with the House if you apologised for what you said." I said, "Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate that, but I don't think it would help me with the Labour party if I were to apologise in that way." He laughed, because he was a House of Commons man and he fully understood the quirks of the House. Like you, Mr. Speaker, and like his predecessor, Jack Weatherill never held high office, and I think that that is a very high qualification for being the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee 12:37 pm, 10th May 2007

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Gerald Kaufman. I hope that he will not dismiss me as an old Etonian toff.

I want to add a brief footnote to the generous tributes that have been paid to Jack Weatherill. Before he was Deputy Speaker and then Speaker, he was a Whip. In fact, he was a Whip for longer than he was Speaker. He was the Opposition's deputy Chief Whip from 1974 to 1979 in a Parliament that ended with an Opposition Whip's dream—the defeat of the Government by one vote. Whips get a bad press, but Jack never used the rougher tactics that are often attributed to members of the Whips Office. He was unfailingly courteous, good-humoured and totally disarming. If anyone threatened to rebel, he was not angry—he was disappointed. One would be invited to his office, and he would explain that the Government were on their last legs: they were losing by-election after by-election and they would not last the year so it was not the time to rock the boat. That argument lost a bit of credibility when the Parliament entered its fifth year, but it was very effective. He had a rapport with the many senior members of the party who had a good war.

Jack Weatherill was very kind, too, to those who entered Parliament in 1974, including my hon. Friend Peter Viggers, Leon Brittan, Douglas Hurd, Nigel Lawson and the rest of that intake. He was kind and paternal to us. He was totally discreet, loyal and a shrewd judge of character, and he was very supportive of colleagues who went through a difficult time. He was a stickler for punctuality. It was not a good idea to be late for the 2.30 Whips meeting, which began with the order from Jack, "Stand by your beds." One colleague was late, but before Jack could rebuke him, he said he was late because his tailor, a colleague of Jack's, had been late for the appointment and had held him up.

Jack Weatherill had a difficult relationship with the leader of our party. There was a free vote in the 1974 Parliament—on whether we should have proportional representation for the Scottish Parliament, I think. Those who voted for PR found as they came out of the Lobby Margaret Thatcher taking the names of those who had voted that way. When we won in 1979, Jack Weatherill was the only member of the Front-Bench team who was not appointed to the Government. As we know, he then began an alternative career as Deputy Speaker and Speaker. He was totally fair, standing up for the rights of Back Benchers, and standing up to the gentle intimidation he received from members of his former party.

Jack was a generous entertainer in Speaker's House. He unearthed an old Victorian song about the MP who could not catch the Speaker's eye, which we all had to sing, with Toby Jessel on the keyboard. Jack was supported by Lyn. He had one of the happiest of political marriages. He was decent, honest, without pretension, without malice, one of the straightest men I have come across. He was not totally infallible. Just after the 1974 Parliament, he sidled up to a newly elected colleague sitting on the Back Benches and said, "I've been reading all about you. You're exactly the person we need to sit on the Council of Europe." My colleague was delighted that his talents had been recognised so early in the Parliament. Five minutes later Jack came back. "I'm frightfully sorry," he said. "Just remind me of your name."

Jack was a good friend. He was a popular MP for Croydon. He was a great Speaker. Our thoughts are with Lyn and his children and grandchildren as we mourn his passing.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 12:41 pm, 10th May 2007

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 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.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP, South Antrim 12:45 pm, 10th May 2007

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 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.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party 12:47 pm, 10th May 2007

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.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport 12:49 pm, 10th May 2007

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 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.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 12:50 pm, 10th May 2007

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.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 12:52 pm, 10th May 2007

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 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.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 12:54 pm, 10th May 2007

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.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 12:55 pm, 10th May 2007

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 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.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 12:56 pm, 10th May 2007

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.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup 1:00 pm, 10th May 2007

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 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.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence) 1:03 pm, 10th May 2007

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.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

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