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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.