Tributes to the Late Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

– in the House of Lords at 2:56 pm on 26th February 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 2:56 pm, 26th February 2001

My Lords, last Thursday, we faced the less unexpected but nonetheless extremely sad news of Cledwyn's death. Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, to give him his proper title, was a true political leader, and he was a friend and mentor to so many. His life of public service and his commitment to Wales and to the Labour Party spanned several generations. He was, in the best sense of the word, a tribal politician and, personally, I feel that I have known Cledwyn, in his many wide-ranging roles, for the whole of my adult life. It came as no surprise to me to hear from my father this weekend that he first met Cledwyn in 1949 at the home of Glenys Kinnock's parents.

As Cledwyn Hughes, it is exactly 50 years ago that he was elected as MP for his home seat of Anglesey, winning a famous election against Lady Megan Lloyd George. When Labour came to power in 1964, he was appointed Minister for Commonwealth Relations. From that role grew a love as well as a deep knowledge of Africa and the African nations, and over two decades Prime Ministers used him to undertake important missions to African states. But it was in 1966 that Cledwyn took up the post he cared most about, as Secretary of State for Wales. Cledwyn's passionate championship of, and love for, all things Welsh were both legendary and obvious to everyone. It was while he was Secretary of State that the Aberfan disaster occurred. As Secretary of State he had to visit and minister to the needs of the bereaved. Those of us who have personally experienced Cledwyn's sympathy will have no doubt that no one could have done that better. But he used to say that this period was the darkest in his ministerial life, and he was personally deeply affected for many years.

In the 1970s, Cledwyn played an essential role in the Parliamentary Labour Party and became a most distinguished chairman of the PLP in 1974. His skills of organisation and conciliation were crucial to the complicated dynamics of the minority Labour government. In 1979, he came to your Lordships' House and served as Leader of the Opposition for 10 years. He forged a great partnership with, first, Tom Ponsonby as his Chief Whip and later with Ted Graham. Together, they energised the Labour Benches to create an effective opposition, where many of us who are now in government served our apprenticeship on the Front Bench. I know that we all value and remember his kindness and support, his encouraging words in the corridor and his unfailing personal warmth.

In later years, Cledwyn's devotion to Wales was as strong as ever. His concern was for all aspects of Welsh life, its political and economic advancement and the progress of the university, of which he was deeply proud to be pro-chancellor. He was deeply respected and loved throughout the Principality, culminating in the honour of the freedom of the capital city, Cardiff, last December, just before he became ill.

I hope your Lordships will allow me, but it was through my father, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, that I first knew Cledwyn as a family friend, and he has asked me to add his own tribute this afternoon. He said:

"I am very sorry not to be present in the Chamber when tribute is paid to Cledwyn's life and work. He was always proud that he had served the state and his fellow countrymen throughout his public life, and in whatever he did he won their trust, respect and even affection. To me, he was a close friend as well as a political ally and for 50 years I had the benefit of his insight, his human sympathy, his negotiating skill and his ever-present humour. At the end of the day, we can truly say he lived a life well spent".

At this very sad time, our thoughts are with Jean Cledwyn, as well as Anne and Harry. We send them our deepest sympathy.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, was the Leader of the Opposition when I joined this House in 1986. Much to my surprise, it was not long before he came over to speak to me and to welcome me to this House. I was astonished, but I should not have been, because friendliness and caring for others were two of his greatest strengths.

Lord Cledwyn held a distinguished record of service in another place, representing for 28 years the constituency of Anglesey. He also played a substantial role in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Wales and then as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Latterly, he served on many voluntary bodies and served on the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, one of our most important bodies. Naturally, as time went by, he became older and a little frailer, but it would have been foolish to assume that he lacked vigour. He had great intelligence and a capacity for hard work and was admired by the whole House. He was of course delighted with the victory of the Labour Party in the general election of 1997, because he was always an intensely loyal Labour man. Nothing I say should suggest otherwise. However, one could not help feeling that some of the Labour Party's repackaging had slightly passed him by.

When I became Leader of the Opposition, one of the first things I did was to talk to him. His approach was wise, sensible and pragmatic. I told him how much I had admired his leadership in opposition and, although I think that he was a little surprised at the compliment, he sat down and offered me all kinds of advice. I remember in particular, when I was a young and inexperienced Minister in the early 1990s, how Lord Cledwyn played a great role at Question Time in this House. I shall never forget that terrifying feeling, watching him lumber to his feet to offer a penetrating inquiry which would point out the sheer inadequacy of the ministerial answer. But in doing so, he always kept his humour and perspective.

He will be remembered with affection by this House. Furthermore, Wales has lost a favoured ambassador, a great son and a champion. Woe betide a Minister who had not done his homework on the effects of legislation in Wales. Lord Cledwyn was a fighter and, while his decline has been sad to witness, he kept on coming here out of a duty to Parliament after a lifetime of service to the Labour Party. On behalf of the Opposition I, too, offer my sincerest condolences to Lady Cledwyn and the rest of the family at this very sad time.

Photo of Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, perhaps I may again associate these Benches with the views which have already been expressed about Cledwyn Hughes. I first met him in 1955 on a trip to Austria. He was extremely kindly and solicitous towards a much younger man. In my experience, that generosity of spirit continued all through the vicissitudes of the intervening years. I certainly always found him good company here. I listened to his advice, took it and indeed asked for it from time to time.

Lord Cledwyn did not always have an easy political life. He was a mainstream figure, but I remember that in the early 1970s, when he was a very consistent European at a point when his party held to a far less steady course, he did find himself in a minority and, I believe, suffered for that when no place was made available for him in the 1974 government. Despite that, he was never bitter. He had a shrewd sense of politics and a mischievous sense of humour. I do not believe that there is anyone of his generation who was--equally and at the same time--so devoted to Wales and to parliamentary life at Westminster. We shall all remember a long and distinguished life of public service.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches we wish to join in the condolences to a family which always meant more to Cledwyn Hughes than anything else.

Cledwyn Hughes and I became junior Ministers on the same day in 1964. We entered the Cabinet together two years later. We were both subsequently fired by the same Prime Minister. In my view, Cledwyn Hughes was massively underestimated, both as a Minister and as an extremely effective and, when the need arose, tough parliamentarian and politician.

Soon after his appointment as Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations, the government were faced with the first of many problems in the Commonwealth at that time; namely, the break-up of the Malaysian Federation, with the possibility of an extremely dangerous confrontation between the Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdul Rahman, and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Cledwyn's boss was one Arthur Bottomley, who will be remembered by some, although we grow fewer in number. Arthur Bottomley was an obsessive globetrotter. As always he was, when this particular problem arose, out of the country. With the tact and timing that was always a feature of Cledwyn, although not often recognised, he realised that this left the door wide open for him to act on the Minister's behalf.

His success was such that when the Rhodesian crisis erupted, he had already developed a role which made him a significant player in the behind-the-scenes negotiations, as well as opening a direct line to the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

I witnessed an extraordinary example of how close was that relationship on the night of the Aberfan disaster. For those of us who were there, it was an horrendous experience. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 118 children and 28 adults. I was the Minister responsible for the coal industry and Cledwyn was the Secretary of State for Wales. The Prime Minister arrived late in the evening and immediately called a meeting of the officers in charge of the various organisations: the police, the mining authorities and the Army, among others. The Prime Minister opened the meeting with a statement which he had clearly thought out in advance. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I quote from Harold Wilson's biography since, in my view, this statement has no precedent:

"I told the Secretary of State to take complete control of the situation. If anything further could be done, he was to authorise it and to overrule all objections. He was specifically authorised by me to break the law if necessary. We would seek retrospective legislation to deal with it".

I know of no precedent for any Prime Minister to give that kind of authority to a single Minister and, furthermore, not to suffer dangerously as a result.

Sadly, however, close relations with Prime Ministers frequently end in tears. Cledwyn was finally removed from office for voting against the government on an issue on which I think he was completely wrong, but in which he believed totally. Typically, he moved on immediately to fulfil a highly successful role as a skilled politician and parliamentarian.

In common with most of us, I suspect that Cledwyn will not figure prominently in the history books. But in this House we know that, when the fashionable gladiators have had their moment of glory, this stable and successful Parliament--in the future as it has in the past--depends on the contribution of quite a small group of special parliamentarians, of which Cledwyn Hughes was undoubtedly one.

Photo of The Bishop of Lichfield The Bishop of Lichfield Bishop

My Lords, from these Benches I must add my own tribute to Lord Cledwyn. It so happens that I also have Welsh blood in my veins. I always warmed deeply to the clarity and detail with which Lord Cledwyn spoke on behalf of his native heath. When I heard him speak, I remember that he had a wonderful stillness and a clear way of disentangling heated argument. Perhaps it was his maturity and experience which enabled him to stand up and disentangle fruitless antagonisms and to find a way through.

Lord Cledwyn and Lord Mackay had in common a deep loyalty to the pit from which they were dug and to the rock from which they were hewn. I add my sincere condolences to their families.