Tributes to the late Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 4th April 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 2:37 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, during the Easter Recess, we lost one of the most remarkable Members of this House, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. I rise to pay tribute to him and I am deeply proud to do so. As well as being a former Prime Minister, he held the distinction of having held all four of the great offices of state; something that noble Lords will agree is unlikely to be repeated.

It is difficult to improve on the tributes paid to him last week by Prime Ministers past and present. Sir Edward Heath said:

"We have lost a major figure from our political landscape".

The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, described him as "a formidable opponent" and my noble friend the Prime Minister spoke of,

"a giant of the Labour movement ... he worked tirelessly to put into action the values of social justice, solidarity and opportunity for all which brought him into politics and the Labour Party".

However, Lord Callaghan was more than a political heavyweight. He was also a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a beloved husband and a cherished friend. As noble Lords will know, Lord Callaghan's wife of 67 years, Audrey, died just a few days before he did. We all remember his selfless devotion to her. Our thoughts are of course with the family at this difficult time and I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we are thinking in particular of their daughter, my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington.

Leonard James Callaghan was born in Portsmouth in 1912. The son of a Royal Naval Chief Petty Officer, his father died when James was just nine. He was educated at Portsmouth Northern Grammar School and in 1929 he joined the Civil Service as a clerk in an Inland Revenue office in Maidstone. It was around this time that he met Audrey and became a trade unionist, joining the Labour Party in 1931. Having become a full-time union official with the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, he volunteered with the Royal Navy during the Second World War, serving with the East Indies fleet and later being commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

After the war, Lord Callaghan's political career stepped up a pace. His 42-year association with the parliamentary seat of South Cardiff began when he was elected to Parliament in Labour's landslide election victory in 1945. By 1947, he had been promoted to the Front Bench as Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Transport. He subsequently served the Attlee government as Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and although Labour returned to opposition in 1951, his career continued to flourish as a Front-Bench spokesperson.

When Harold Wilson's government was formed in 1964 he was named Chancellor of the Exchequer. In that capacity, he introduced corporation and capital gains taxes, but he left the Exchequer in 1967 when he was forced to devalue the pound, moving to become Home Secretary in a straight swap with the late Lord Jenkins.

He was a well regarded Home Secretary, winning admirers on all sides. With the situation in Northern Ireland taking up much of his time, he was described by my noble friend Lord Healey as having dealt with the issue with,

"incomparable skill and understanding, both on the spot and in Westminster".

During his career at the Home Office he also introduced the Race Relations Act 1965, but defeat for Labour in the 1970 election meant another period in opposition.

In Harold Wilson's second government in 1974, Lord Callaghan became Foreign Secretary, working on such issues as world poverty and Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe—topics very familiar to this House today.

In 1975, he played a key role in the referendum on membership of the European Community and when Harold Wilson resigned in 1976, he was the favourite to succeed him. So it was, on 5 April, 1976 that James Callaghan became Prime Minister, apparently exclaiming at the time:

"Prime Minister, and I never went to university!".

His period at No. 10 was a challenging time. With the economy in trouble, his government had to secure the passage of unpopular cuts in government spending. His political skills were such that he was able to persuade a majority of his Cabinet to support his Chancellor, my noble friend Lord Healey, who later praised the,

"consummate skill with which he handled the Cabinet".

Lord Callaghan was popular with the people. His candid straight speaking appealed to them, and he oversaw a revival in Labour's fortunes. As we know, it was not enough and in March 1979 his government were brought down by a vote of no confidence. Lord Callaghan remained Labour leader in opposition for 18 months and in 1983 became Father of the House. He retired from the House of Commons in 1987, was appointed a Knight of the Garter in April and created a life Peer.

I know that we will all agree that this snapshot of Lord Callaghan's life cannot fully reflect a truly remarkable life. He was passionate about his politics, not least about the right to a decent education, but he was also a tough, practical, calm leader, vastly experienced and candid. With Lord Callaghan's passing this House has lost a great man—a man who served his country with distinction but who was also a family man. I do not think that we shall see his like again.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, House of Lords 2:45 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her just tribute to the late Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. People will remember Lord Callaghan above all as a decent, patriotic commonsensical man, ready to tell uncomfortable truths if needed and to face the consequences if he believed the cause was right.

The public instinctively liked and respected the man they knew as Jim. Millions in the Wales he loved and right across Britain heard of his death with great sadness. In the age of modern politics, focus groups, image and spin, his straightforward qualities seem to recall another era. Lord Callaghan was in Parliament for well nigh 60 years, 42 as a Member of Parliament for Cardiff South. As the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, he was the only person ever to hold the four great offices of state: Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister. That is a record unlikely ever to be equalled.

In all those offices he faced enormous challenges—in the 1960s a struggle for the pound that ended in devaluation against a background of relative economic decline, and in the 1970s renegotiation of our relationship with the EU. But in good times and bad he conducted himself with great political skill and integrity, never more perhaps than when he took a difficult decision to commit troops to Northern Ireland, or when, far ahead of most in the Labour movement, he saw that Britain could not spend its way out of problems and that wages could not run ahead of increases in national prosperity. That realisation and his typically blunt statement of it framed his term as Prime Minister.

When he eventually fell from government it was a sad end to a period in which he served this country with great distinction as Prime Minister, not least because he realised the limitations on that office and did not try to back-seat drive every part of government.

Lord Callaghan did not join us in this House until 1987, but we miss him and his wise interventions from his usual place in this House. Many on all sides of the House had good reason to be grateful for his kindness and the voice of his unparalleled experience, not least on the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in the late 1980s when he championed and was successful in getting the government to agree to an amendment to extend the copyright on Peter Pan to the benefit of the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

Lord Callaghan knew great poverty in childhood and great distinction in old age but it did not change him. He held by lifelong principles. He dealt as he found, meant what he said and said what he meant. He loved this country he served so faithfully in war and peace—the last Prime Minister, we must all hope, ever to serve in wartime. He loved the countryside, his beloved farm in Sussex, his family and the values that go with that, living to relish grandchildren and great grandchildren and supported by all his family, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, to whom the whole House will extend the sincerest sympathy.

That sympathy is the deeper because of the recent loss also of Lady Callaghan, to whom I add my own tribute. Together they shared some 67 years of married life and were separated in death by just 11 days. Lady Callaghan, too, had a deep well of goodness, decency, humanity and sincerity. In these qualities Lord and Lady Callaghan were two sides of the same coin. The metal of that coin was gold. This House and this country will long remember them.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition have very eloquently expressed memories of Lord Callaghan as a "statesman", as the House magazine heads him today. Looking around this House, I am well aware that we also mourn him today as a colleague and a friend.

I had the honour of working for Lord Callaghan as his political secretary for nine years. I never liked the term "political adviser"; I thought it was absurd, rather like saying that you were dancing adviser to Nijinsky, or golfing adviser to Jack Nicklaus. I prefer "political secretary". They were nine wonderful years of my life. I always remember that he had a massive fund of Hugh Dalton stories. I remember saying to him, "You realise that in 30 years' time I will have a whole fund of Jim Callaghan stories". "Oh no, Dalton was a giant", he said. But of course, as the Prime Minister so rightly said, so was Jim Callaghan.

Perhaps I can give a flavour not only of what an honour it was to work for him, but what good fun it was. In the early 1970s, we went together to Vietnam to meet President Thieu, then president of South Vietnam and something of a controversial figure both in his own country and back here in Britain. After the meeting, we had a press conference and Mr Callaghan, as he then was, was asked by the South Vietnamese press what he thought of President Thieu. He said, "He would make an excellent member of the National Executive of the Labour Party". That satisfied the South Vietnamese press, which did not probe him further about his opinion of the national executive of the Labour Party.

I also remember going with him during the renegotiations on Europe. The meeting started some time in the morning, and as those European meetings tend to do, it went long into the evening. At about 11 p.m. Mr Callaghan signalled that he wished to speak, and he was called by the chairman. He opened with an absolute eulogy of his Minister of State, Mr Hattersley—now the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. He praised Mr Hattersley's eloquence, his grasp of his brief, his shrewdness, his toughness and his ability. Then he concluded, "And that is why I have every confidence that I can now go to bed and leave it to him". I could go on; there are hundreds of stories, I assure you.

I was also struck by the fact that, among those from not only the Labour side but all sides of the House, he was part of that generation who had been scarred by the 1930s and then by the horrors of the Second World War, and who came back to win the peace, saying, "Never again". Those experiences very much formed his political life. He was a politician. Sometimes people find that "politician" is a rather pejorative term. He was a politician in every sense; he knew how to take knocks and to give them. He did not find smoke-filled rooms overly oppressive; he knew how to work the machine and he saw nothing wrong with that because for him politics was for a purpose. In trying to pick out things in that career as I knew it, the IMF negotiations were referred to. When the papers are published it will be a case study of what good Cabinet government should be. He immensely strengthened Cabinet government and its process during his time in office.

My final comment about him also involves Lord Whitelaw. During the first election of 1974, I was travelling the country and the marginals with Jim Callaghan in a rather large limousine that the Co-op funeral service had provided. We stopped somewhere in the East Midlands for a cup of tea at a hotel, and about two or three minutes later in came Willy Whitelaw with a protection officer and someone else—we all travelled with smaller entourages in those days. Jim got up, walked across to him, came back to me and said, "I hope you don't mind, but Willy and I are going to have a pot of tea together". I have often thought when people think of the rivalry of politics that in the midst of a rather bitter and divisive election those two great statesmen were sat in the corner of an English hotel having a pot of tea and talking together before they went off to their respective campaigns.

In a way, Willy also ends this tribute. I have many memories of him, one of which dates from just after I came into the House in 1996 and the Conservatives were in trouble over the Broadcasting Act. Lord Whitelaw did not come often to the House in those days but he did attend for a crucial debate and vote. He made an impassioned speech from those Benches up there in support of the government position. He sat down to general approval, and Lord Callaghan stood up and pursed his lips. He looked round for quite some time, and said, "Well, we always know when they're in trouble, don't we?". He had the House with him. Reading all the tributes, strangely enough it was his old nemesis, Mrs Thatcher, who got it right. He was a patriot and he was a parliamentarian. He is somebody I will miss very much.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross-Bench Peers I join in the warm tributes to the late Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. His was indeed a remarkable achievement: he was not only Prime Minister at a very difficult period in the nation's affairs but, during a long life at the heart of national government, he held the major offices of state as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. It demonstrates his capacity to command the support of not only the British public but his political colleagues, who held a wide range of different views, within a system of Cabinet government—not an easy task.

I sometimes think that we do not have much foresight in public life, but recently I think that we may have not too much hindsight. We should recall that during much of his life in the highest offices of state Lord Callaghan faced serious difficulties, in particular those resulting from the weakness of the economy, which could not be turned round quickly. His achievements must be seen in that context. What decisions could have been more difficult in the circumstances of that time than the value of the currency, the defence of the prices and incomes policy, serious problems of security in Northern Ireland and the protection of the interests of the communities there, the timing of the decisions on immigration from east Africa, or the timing of the renegotiation referendum on Europe? They were indeed difficult decisions for which he took important responsibilities.

I was in the British public service during much of the time that Lord Callaghan held power, and he was a firm believer in the integrity and independence of the Civil Service both in practice and later in powerful speeches in this House. I believed strongly then, as I do now, in Lord Callaghan's commitment to public service and the national interest. As Cross-Benchers who are independent of politics and do not even have a vote in the general election, and in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, we honour that commitment today.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwell The Bishop of Southwell Bishop

My Lords, I associate the Bishops' Bench with the tributes that have been paid by all sides of the House today.

We have heard and read a little in recent days of the substantial and controversial matters of state with which Lord Callaghan engaged in his long and distinguished career. On these Benches, we recall a matter of state and controversy of our own, in Lord Callaghan's robust defence of his right as Prime Minister to choose diocesan Bishops. He did so in the face of the resolution of the General Synod of the Church of England that the Church should have the decisive voice. The then Prime Minister told the other place that, as Archbishops and Bishops sit in this Chamber, our nomination remained a matter for the Prime Minister's concern. However, he proceeded to work with the late Lord Coggan, then Archbishop of Canterbury, and the late Sir Norman Anderson to negotiate a compromise. The 1976 concordat agreement between Church and state survives in large part to this day as one example of a relationship that is both enduring and evolving.

Of more human interest, we have learned a little of that great strength of partnership between Jim and Audrey Callaghan, which began when they met as Sunday school teachers all those years ago. We are also aware of the unwavering devotion with which he cared for Audrey as she slipped away into the shadows of her illness—a devotion that is both an inspiration and, I believe, an example to us all. From this Bench, I offer my prayers and condolences to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to Julia and to Michael, who have lost not only one but both parents in such a short period of time; and to the rest of the wider family.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour 3:00 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I would like to speak rather briefly about one facet of Jim Callaghan's life. He was always interested in things maritime, as one might expect from somebody who was born in Portsmouth. After his service in the Royal Navy, he formed the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea in 1952. He remained interested in ACOPS until days before his death, when he recommended his son Michael to be a member of its executive committee. That was utterly remarkable.

I was very proud to serve as a Minister in his government. I thought that he was a great Prime Minister, and chairman and later president of ACOPS itself. Our thoughts go out to all his family, particularly to the former leader of the government party in this House, Margaret—the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.

I liked Jim. He had faults, of course. He even thought that my playing of golf was reprehensible, as he indicated to my wife on the telephone. One thing that I remember most about him was that, every three or four months, junior Ministers—Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries—convened in a meeting that he chaired, and you could talk about anything except your own department.

All in all, I thought that he was a wonderful human being. We in this House will certainly miss him. I convey my belief that his partnership in marriage was perfect; he always thought about Audrey. Margaret, we think of you at this moment.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, although so much has already been said about Lord Callaghan, I wonder whether I might add a few words, because he and I were elected to the other House in 1945. We were elected to different parties but—I cannot remember how it happened—we became friends at an early stage. I thought that he was a very likeable man, and he turned out to be very open-minded. I was a political opponent, but he always wanted to know what views one had and one's friends had. Over the years, his mind broadened by taking in as much information as he could from not only his parliamentary friends, but his political opponents.

One thing brought us rather close together when we had been in Parliament only a few years—our common interest in transport. I held a humble position as secretary to the Conservative transport committee when he became Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Transport. Far from that turning us into controversial political opponents, it brought us closer together. Privately he would very often ask my opinion about one thing or another to do with transport.

Over many years, I grew in greater admiration for him, because the great variety of responsibilities placed on him in his various parliamentary offices meant that he had to open his mind still further and adapt it as was required. He never failed in any of the important posts for which he was given responsibility. He was greatly admired right across the House of Commons at that time and, I have no doubt, in your Lordships' House.

I take the liberty of paying my tribute because, when he departed, he and I were the longest-serving Members of both Houses. We had both been here for nearly 60 years. Mind you, two hereditary Peers have served in Parliament even longer. One is my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who I am glad to say has his 87th birthday today—nice young fellow—and then there is the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.

For those of us who knew Jim Callaghan from the start of his parliamentary life, it has been a great joy to have his daughter here. One does not always agree with her, but one is glad that she is here and admires her efforts.

In my long life, I have found that Jim Callaghan was not only one of the most interesting and friendly men I have known, but one of those conscientious men who wanted to obtain other people's opinions to a very great extent. I was delighted when we became close enough friends for him and Lady Callaghan to attend two charitable concerts that I had organised.

In Parliament, over the many years that many of us have been here, there has been a lot of talent. People have varied enormously. But of all those that we have known, few have reached the distinctions of one kind or another that he did, and fulfilled them so much in the national interest.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour

My Lords, the last proper conversation that I had with Lord Callaghan was at the Long Table. During lunch, he said, "You know, when you reach my age, all that really matters are the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren". I thought how wonderful it must be to be really grown up.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, I should briefly like to say a few words, because I had the privilege of writing Lord Callaghan's autobiography—

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, I should have said, biography. It occupied some eight years of my life, and it was the most interesting thing that I have ever done. It was a biography, not an autobiography. He was a strong man to talk to and a tough man. If someone has written their autobiography, which is, no doubt, what I had in my mind, you have to jolt or unsettle them in some way and that could be quite exciting. I recall immigration and devolution as two topics that produced a certain amount of excitement.

Lord Callaghan was also very human and very aware of his own experiences, which gave him a great depth of sympathy with the sufferings of others, including, perhaps I may say, myself and my children when I was writing the book. He was very aware of someone who had lost his parents at a young age.

He was a complex man with a great range of interests and experiences—one of them being rugby football. He played in the second row for Streatham. He was proud of that, and I am happy to say that when he talked about rugby football and spoke about "we", he meant the Welsh—not the English—rugby team. He was a man with roots. He was rooted in Portsmouth. He was rooted in noncomformity, the Navy, the trade unions, the Labour Party and in this country. He was interested in British history, and he liked talking about it—in particular, the history of the Navy. He was interested in the fact that one of my antecedents fought at Trafalgar, which is a matter of some current concern.

He was a man whose ideas could evolve and grow with events. That was true of his views on Europe, on Northern Ireland and many other topics. In many ways, he was a conservative and cautious man, but one who could also take extraordinary and dramatic leaps in executive action. So I think of him as being a big man. The bigger the person that I spoke to, the bigger the respect that they had for Lord Callaghan.

I discovered a quote from Robert Blatchford, a famous socialist editor, about William Morris. It states:

"Strike at him where you would, he rang true".

Jim Callaghan always rang true, and I mourn his memory.

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington Labour

My Lords, this has been a very proud afternoon for me, and I am profoundly grateful to your Lordships for the warm tributes and wonderful memories that have been expressed from every part of the House. Noble Lords have rightly reflected the extraordinarily full and, indeed, fulfilled life that my parents shared and enjoyed over such a long period.

As you can imagine, over the past week, all of my family have received some extraordinary letters from all over the country and from all over the world. They range from letters and greetings from international statesmen to the Ukrainian parents of a young student who studied engineering at Swansea University—a "child of Chernobyl", as he was called—who my father quietly supported there. As my noble friend Lord Carter reminded me, I must not forget the condolences from the organisers of the Sussex County Ploughing Championships, because, as the noble Lord rightly reminded me, my father's greatest prize among many was often the fact that he won the local wheat-growing championship.

Of course, it was in this Chamber and in another place that his political life was centred, as noble Lords have recalled. For 60 years the Palace of Westminster was a second home. So, it is as a parliamentarian that he would have particularly valued and been pleased to have heard the wonderful things that noble Lords have said. As noble Lords know and have referred to, it was concern for my mother that kept him from his familiar place on this Bench over the past few years of this Parliament. Nevertheless, you were never far from his thoughts. He read the Government Whip every week, studied Hansard assiduously and often cross-questioned me about the individual speakers. It would be fair to say that, as time went on, his judgments of performance became slightly more mellow.

He was immensely touched when, last February, the House noted that he had become the longest-living former Prime Minister. His interest in international affairs, especially in Africa, has been referred to and was always active and involved. In the very last batch of letters that he and I chatted about on the day before he died was a report from the parliamentary Zambia Society Trust, which had sent to him a newsletter recalling a visit that he had made to the Central African Federation in 1957 and about which he had written to the trust. My noble friend Lady Amos will be pleased to hear that even in 1957 he was urging the improved education of women in Zambia.

As many noble Lords will know, my father never lived in the past. In the last few weeks, he was already talking about how he would come on the opening day of the next Parliament to take the Oath. He was looking forward to a good crop of raspberries in his Sussex garden in July.

Tomorrow, as noble Lords have said, will be 5 April. It may be the beginning of a new general election campaign. It will mark the 29th anniversary of the day that he became Prime Minister. I hope that tomorrow and in the future we will all remember one of his most often quoted remarks:

"You may never reach the promised land, but you can certainly march towards it".

My Lords, thank you very much.