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Tributes (Speaker Weatherill)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:37 pm on 10th May 2007.

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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.