Tributes to the late Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

– in the House of Lords at 3:04 pm on 15th October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 3:04 pm, 15th October 2001

My Lords, perhaps I may now say a few words about Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. He was born in 1907 and educated at Eton, where an exceptional intellect was quickly recognised. He took a double first at Oxford and was immediately successful in obtaining the much-prized Fellowship of All Souls.

In 1932, he was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn. By that time, his father had been awarded an hereditary peerage and had served for three years as Lord Chancellor. By all accounts, Quintin Hogg received the news of his father's hereditary peerage with some dismay. Even at that early stage, he harboured ambitions of going into politics. In those days there was no way of disclaiming a peerage, so his father's acceptance of the honour condemned him to sitting on a red Bench rather than a green one--something that he deeply regretted at that stage.

However, as long as the unwelcome peerage was held by his father, he was eligible to stand for the House of Commons. In 1938, as is well known, he won the Oxford City by-election. So he began his political career.

Only a year later, war broke out. He joined the Army, was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade, served in the Middle East, was wounded and, in 1942, was invalided out. He went back to the Commons, where he formed, with others, the Tory Reform Committee. He was instrumental in urging the coalition government to accept the Beveridge report on social security--that very report which Lord Longford had worked so hard to produce. In 1945, he became joint Under-Secretary of State for Air.

He was obliged to leave the Commons in 1950, when his father died. He took silk in 1953, but even then I think it is fair to say that his heart was really with politics rather than with the law and he continued actively in Parliament. He became a Privy Counsellor in 1956 and in the same year was made First Lord of the Admiralty--five years after Frank Longford had held the same post. He had a succession of ministerial posts in the Macmillan administration and he was a distinguished Leader of this House from 1957 to 1963.

All that came to an end when Mr Macmillan fell ill in 1963. Viscount Hailsham became the first Conservative Peer to take advantage of the provision in the Life Peerages Act that allowed an hereditary Peer to disclaim his peerage. He did so and threw his hat into the ring with vim and vigour. He was a serious contender. He had captured the imagination and, more importantly, the affection of the public when he was Conservative Party chairman, campaigning in the 1959 election by tolling a handbell for the death of the Labour Party--an interesting if somewhat over-hopeful suggestion.

Such dramatic stunts were very much a part of the person in exactly the same way, perhaps coincidentally and bizarrely, as his extraordinarily powerful intellect. He was a humorous and mercurial man and in the end his party preferred another. That was a disappointment, but he was soon back in the House of Commons representing St Marylebone. He served loyally in a variety of ministerial roles until 1970, when he came back to this House, this time with a life peerage--so his collection was not as extensive as that recited by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in the case of Lord Longford, but it was still interesting. He came back here as Lord Chancellor.

It is in that role that he will be mainly remembered. He was fiercely proud and defensive of the independence of the judiciary. He saw through the implementation of the Beeching proposals for the reform of the criminal courts. However, even as Lord Chancellor, his main focus was politics rather than the law. As a member of Mr Heath's Cabinet and Mrs Thatcher's Cabinet he was forthright, respected and entertaining.

His skills as an orator were second to none. He could argue a case with eloquence and charm so that sometimes people actually changed their minds--a distinct shock to the nervous and political systems, as your Lordships well know. He was one of the outstanding characters of 20th century politics. He had a truly impish sense of humour. He could be impatient when those around him could not keep up with his intellectual pace. His sense of morality and public service seemed to belong to an older school, which, curiously, made his contribution in this House all the more necessary and all the more valuable. He was frailer in those later years and less often about this House. But we remember him as a man of energy, vigour and drive who served his country throughout his whole life with integrity and enjoyment. We shall miss him for many years to come.

I have of course written on behalf of us all to the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, who I am most pleased to see in her place. On all our behalf I send, through her, our condolences, our affection and our remembrance to his family.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 3:10 pm, 15th October 2001

My Lords, Lord Hailsham was one of the giants of British politics and the English legal system in the latter part of the 20th century. His succession of high offices in the service of both country and party, including leadership of this House, culminated in 12 years as a distinguished Lord Chancellor--a term of office unequalled in modern times.

As Lord Chancellor, he was a powerful defender of the independence of the legal system. He also sat relatively frequently in judgment, taking as active a part as the modern role of Lord Chancellor allows. But it was his wise political judgment that was respected by Prime Ministers as diverse as Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher. He was striking proof of the way that the office of Lord Chancellor can benefit politics, Parliament and the law alike.

His long career would mark him out as a remarkable figure in any age. So, too, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House reminded us, would his acute mind, marked by a Fellowship of All Souls and a range of notable publications over nearly 60 years in the fields of law, politics and the constitution. He also wrote about spiritual matters, for he was a man whose firm Christian faith and abiding integrity were lodestars of his career.

For those of us who were privileged to have known him and to have watched him at work, there was something far more than the records of a great life of public service that will be written for ever in the history books. It was the presence of a character as unique as any in modern politics--the twinkle in the eye, the flash of humour, followed invariably by that throaty chuckle that showed him unable to contain his delight in his own wit, and a commanding resonant oratory that now seems something of another era. A personal kindness and a moral and physical courage were two striking sides of his nature.

Who can forget his whispered asides from the Woolsack, his taking out his walking stick to batter a poster of Harold Wilson, or his arrival at No. 10 on a bicycle to accept office under Margaret Thatcher? He was a figure both lovable and loved.

The dramatic renunciation of his peerage and his failure to secure the leadership of the Conservative Party, which almost everyone believed was his for the taking, could have been the defining moment of his career. It could have led to bitterness and to the renunciation of public life, but in his case it did not. Unlike others, he readily took office under the leader who had defeated him. He was too big a man to do other than his public duty. He was a great parliamentarian as well as a great public servant. And he left us with a lasting phrase of warning--the "elective dictatorship" that we must bear in mind whenever the independence of Parliament is threatened by change.

Our heartfelt sympathy and good wishes go to his family at this time. They can be reassured by the memory of a great life, nobly lived, and by a member of a family steeped in public service over many generations which is still living out those ideals. They must know that so long as the Hailsham title lives, it will be associated indelibly with the memory of this extraordinary and gifted man.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:14 pm, 15th October 2001

My Lords, among the many talents showered upon Lord Hailsham--high intelligence, wit, ebullience and a tremendously energetic personality--there was a secret ingredient: like Winston Churchill, he had an American mother. There were also two talents which he did not possess--talents indispensable to political advancement. The first was caution and the second dullness. Lacking those two, it is perhaps not altogether surprising that a man of such abounding talents did not become Prime Minister, as he had long wished to do.

Lord Hailsham was, as we know, someone who embarked with enthusiasm on politics. He began by getting it wrong because he was, of course, the pro-Chamberlain candidate in the famous 1938 Oxford by-election. However, being a man of ebullience and also a man with a capacity for learning and learning quickly, he came back from that rather unfortunate experience. Indeed, he served with great distinction in Her Majesty's forces and, after the war, played a very large part in politics.

Perhaps I may underline two or three other characteristics of his political career. One was that, rather like Lord Longford, of whom we spoke previously, he had, to his credit, an astonishing achievement in the area of education. He was twice Secretary of State for Education. Many people forget that he was the great champion of the Robbins report, which enabled a much larger proportion of the British population to move on to higher education than had ever been the case previously. I believe that it is to Lord Hailsham that we all owe one of the planks of our democracy--the widening of opportunities to a larger and larger range of our fellow citizens.

The second point about Lord Hailsham that I want to mention is his long and distinguished career as Lord Chancellor. As the previous tributes have indicated, in that role he was a powerful champion of the independence of the judiciary and, indeed, also a strong champion of the rights of individuals, marked time and again by his complete opposition to any attempt to water those down.

People may forget that in 1973, when the IRA made its attack on the Old Bailey, Lord Hailsham decided, as Lord Chancellor, that it was his duty to visit the ruined courts of law. However, he decided that it would be inappropriate to take his official car because it would disturb the work of the police. So he got on that famous and capricious vehicle known as a bicycle and cycled down to the Old Bailey wearing, as ever, his bowler and his pinstriped trousers in order to give comfort and assistance to his fellow members of the Bar and to other members of his profession.

I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said. In his long and remarkable history of writing thoughtful books, including a very distinguished one on the laws of England, Lord Hailsham warned time and again of the dangers inherent in modern democracies and, in particular, the dangers of unrestrained executive power. In that, I believe that he showed considerable foresight because we are all conscious that the executive has more power under all governments today than it did in the past.

I conclude what I have to say about Lord Hailsham by quoting his own remarks when he was asked why he chose to bicycle to the Old Bailey. He said--I am sure that some Members of this House will see the pertinence of my quotation:

"It does no damage for a Lord Chancellor to appear a little ridiculous from time to time as long as it is not all the time".

Nothing could quench the ebullient wit of Lord Hailsham. Time and again it broke through what might be considered to be the wiser course because he simply could not bear not to give vent to his spirit. We all remember the occasion when he invited the tabloid press to watch him walk into the sea at the Conservative Party conference--incidentally, a very cold sea--wearing unbelievably old-fashioned swimming trunks. At one and the same time they told us what a brave man he was but also how, in some ways, he was rather out of touch with fashion.

Finally, as with Lord Longford, perhaps I may mention the two great pillars in the life of Lord Hailsham. One, as the Leader of the House said, was his profound religious faith. I believe that sometimes he held a kind of dialogue with the Almighty in which it was not clear whether or not they were speaking as equals. In the case of Lord Longford, the approach was perhaps rather more humble.

But both men were also borne up by extraordinary and astonishing marriages. As the right reverend Prelate said, they were long marriages with women of great character, strength and courage. As we all know, after a long marriage Lord Hailsham was devastated by the death of his second wife in a tragic riding accident. But, fortunately, he found happiness in his last years with his third wife, the late Lady Hailsham.

Therefore, we may say that the two institutions--religion and marriage--were crucial parts of the greatness of these two men and that they brought to them an astonishing degree of persistence and determination. Let us again thank God that we have had the experience of having such distinguished people in our current House.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench

My Lords, it is a privilege on this occasion to express our condolences to the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, and members of Lord Hailsham's family. I shall not repeat the long catalogue of his formidable achievements, which were fully and eloquently expressed by others. My memories of him are more personal.

Lord Hailsham was Lord Chancellor when I was first chosen as Speaker in 1983. Thereafter, we travelled together to numerous Commonwealth and European Speakers' conferences. At the time he was a widower, and my wife became his unofficial minder and sought to ensure that he was on time and dressed in the correct garb. It was a formidable task but also great fun.

I shall never forget the after-dinner speech that Lord Hailsham made in Athens at a European Speakers' Conference. No one who was present will ever forget it. He delivered his speech in Greek. Unfortunately, he did so in Ancient Greek and nobody understood a word, but his speech deservedly achieved a standing ovation.

Lord Hailsham was indeed a legend in his lifetime, and his service was very distinguished both in war and peace. He served under seven Prime Ministers in a number of distinguished ministerial offices and, as has already been mentioned, he was the longest-serving Lord Chancellor.

Just before the Recess, I ran into his son, Douglas, who is a Member of the other place, and said, "How is your father?", to which he replied, "Gone, I am afraid". I fear that Quintin's last days were not happy ones for him or for his family. As I said, our hearts go out to them today. He is gone, certainly, but he will always be remembered by those who were privileged to know him with great affection and esteem.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop

My Lords, I add the tribute of these Benches to what has already been very eloquently said about the life and career of Lord Hailsham and I offer our own condolences to the noble Baroness.

Lord Hailsham was a person who gave enormous service to London, as had many members of his family. I remember also his enormous contributions to many institutions within London. He once said that every politician worth his salt, no matter how devoted--we have heard of his extraordinary parliamentary service and loyalty to the traditions of Parliament--must have interests outside politics. He continued, "For the more intelligent of my friends, it is religion; for the less intelligent, it tends to be hunting".

As we recall the memory of Lord Longford, we also remember Lord Hailsham's conversion, as a very strenuous intellectual, to Christianity and his life as a reader in the Church of England. We acknowledge and are grateful for his insistence as a great parliamentarian that wherever the Church of England might be, it is a Church of apostolic foundation and certainly not merely a creature of Parliament. It was good to have the great parliamentarian underlining that fact.

That is not to suggest that Lord Hailsham was never critical of bishops. I remember him saying, "The trouble with bishops is that they tend to blow in, blow off and blow out". Nevertheless, despite that occasional asperity, we, like other noble Lords, remember a parliamentarian of dignity, magnanimity and greatness of soul. I have no doubt that the trumpets--in his case, probably the bells as well--are ringing for him on the other side.

Photo of Baroness Hogg Baroness Hogg Conservative

My Lords, I hesitate to delay the House. But even as a mere adjunct of the Hogg family, may I express appreciation of what has been said this afternoon and convey the regret that my husband Douglas could not take his place at the Bar of the House to hear what noble Lords said? He was detained not by business in another place but by something that I know his father would consider equally important: representing his clients' interests in court. I am very happy that so many of Lord Hailsham's family who looked after him so devotedly in his declining years were in the Gallery to hear what noble Lords had to say.

With the indulgence of the House, I should like to end with a brief quotation from his last great book, A Sparrow's Flight, which I feel may be tremendously appropriate in view of the dangerous and difficult times in which we currently live. He wrote:

"Despite all the destruction and malevolence of the world, I do not believe in a malevolent deity or an irrational universe. I believe in goodness, truthfulness, loving kindness, beauty, generosity and loyalty. They all exist and are qualities which demand just as much explanation as malevolence, mendaciousness, cruelty, ugliness, meanness and treachery".

As the considered judgment of a brilliant but not over-optimistic man, we can perhaps take some comfort from that.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I strongly associate myself with all that has been said. As noble Lords know, I had the great honour of succeeding Lord Hailsham as Lord Chancellor after the sadly short period in which Lord Havers served in that position.

I pay public testimony, since I have the opportunity to do so, to the warm and affectionate support he gave to my wife and myself during my term of office. He did not always agree with what I was doing. As some noble Lords may remember, he had views about where some ideas were coming from--from which part of one's anatomy. Notwithstanding that, he was a firm and affectionate friend; that warm communication of affection continued until very near the end of his life. We had the privilege of having him with us in Edinburgh in our home on one occasion. Our children have never experienced such an erudite conversation at breakfast!

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, as we speak of these two great men I hope that I may pay tribute to the continuing work of Lord Longford. Many years ago he established the New Horizons youth centre in King's Cross. That continues today to provide help for homeless people in that area, including young prostitutes working in King's Cross and young men coming out of prison. All of the sorts of people whom he used to help continue to be helped thanks to his foundation of the centre.