Tributes to the late Lord Belstead

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 5th December 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) 2:30 pm, 5th December 2005

My Lords, I rise to pay tribute to Lord Belstead, who died on Saturday 3 December, aged 73. Lord Belstead was known to all as a mild-mannered and gentle man whose courteous ways were sometimes mistaken for shyness. He was hard working, sincere and of great integrity. It is right that we should pay tribute to him today.

The noble Lord came from political stock. His father was a long-serving Conservative MP for Ipswich. However, the young Lord Belstead showed little interest in politics. After an education at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, he worked as a prep school master and later established himself as a Suffolk farmer. These experiences shaped the ideas which he was to bring to the House after the death of his father in 1958. In his maiden speech in 1964, on the Newsom report on education, he drew on his own teaching experience. He argued for extending the school leaving age to 16, for better pay for teachers in problem areas, and for cutting classroom sizes.

Lord Belstead maintained a lifelong interest in education. He chaired the Association of Governing Bodies of Public Schools between 1974 and 1979, and the Independent Schools Joint Committee between 1977 and 1979. He gained the respect of his colleagues and, in 1970, he was appointed a junior Minister in the Department of Education and Science. There, he found himself working closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education. A series of other jobs followed: in the Northern Ireland Office, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Environment. The range of these posts demonstrates his intellect and versatility.

In 1987, Lord Whitelaw resigned the leadership of this House following a stroke, and Lord Belstead was announced as his successor. Pundits at the time wrongly suggested that he would be a short-term appointment until someone else, a political heavyweight, was found. Lord Belstead was described as solid and hard working, safe rather than exciting. But this description underplayed his many strengths. The noble Lord was popular and respected in the House. He had built up a reputation for common sense and, above all, he was respected for his reasoned and painstaking efforts to defuse argument and to reply in detail to points made during debates. He was trusted by his colleagues in government and steered difficult legislation through this House. The former Secretary of State for Energy, the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Worcester, insisted that Lord Belstead should take gas privatisation through this House.

So the pundits got it wrong, and Lord Belstead was Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal from 1987 to 1990. Under John Major's Prime Ministership, Lord Belstead was moved to the Northern Ireland Office as deputy to the Secretary of State, a post which he held in tandem with the role of Paymaster General. This was his last ministerial post. He then served as chairman of the Parole Board from 1992 to 1997.

Lord Belstead was very attached to his home county, Suffolk. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1962, and in 1994 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, a role he performed until 2002. Towards the end of his tenure, he had the pleasure of greeting and accompanying Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their Golden Jubilee tour of Ipswich, Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds.

Throughout his life, Lord Belstead was a keen sports enthusiast with a particular passion for tennis. He served as chairman of Suffolk Playing Fields Association, president of Felixstowe Lawn Tennis Club and president of the Suffolk Lawn Tennis Association. He played tennis for the county, and was a member of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club and the MCC.

I am sure the House will wish to join me in expressing our sympathy to Lord Belstead's sister, the Honourable Jill Ganzoni, and to all his friends.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, House of Lords

My Lords, I begin by thanking the Leader of the House for her tribute to Lord Belstead, which will have been appreciated by Peers right across the House. She has rightly reminded us of his long public service as a Minister, spanning some 22 years, 17 of them as a Minister in six major departments. It is a remarkable record, even if one were not to take into account his distinguished service as Leader in this House, which is closest to all our hearts.

It says a lot about John Belstead that, for all that great public career, he remained largely unknown to the public, and indeed to most media commentators. Even now, in this House, many Peers will not remember him. He was decidedly not a figure of the "new politics" or of the age of spin, but somehow I do not think that would have bothered him at all. He was a modest man—none more so—but he did what he thought was right in a quiet, unfailingly polite but resolute fashion. He was a character that this House instinctively liked: understated, courteous, loyal and a listener.

With all the difficulties associated with succeeding Willie Whitelaw, he rang the changes by leading in a very different style. Not for him chairing great meetings on policy—no, you always knew where to find John Belstead: sitting on the Front Bench for hours, listening to our debates. I have to admit that it was not always comfortable for the Front Bench Minister to find the Leader sitting next to him.

The House also liked his way on policy, which was to seek consensus, to build from the facts and understand the other point of view. He was a genuinely gentle man; a compassionate conservative, long before that phrase was first heard. He was an enlightened Home Office Minister with a deep concern for those in prisons, which saw him agree to serve as chairman of the Parole Board after stepping down from the Government. He had a lifelong and informed interest in education. The great trust placed on him by that shrewdest of judges of men, the late Viscount Whitelaw, says much about the respect he merited.

As the noble Baroness reminded us, he was Leader of the House at a sometimes abrasive time; a time of sharp public conflict on some areas of policy that lapped over into this House. He would have preferred, I am sure, not to have wielded some of the strong whips he agreed to wield. But in this, too, he did his duty, but never in a way that weakened his deep sense of loyalty to the whole House and to our shared values. We will all miss him, and we are much the better for having seen his example.

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, in the other place the greatest accolade a Member can have is that he is a good House of Commons man. Lord Belstead, by the same token, was a good House of Lords man. He had what we like to think are the House of Lords attributes: what the Times obituary described as "civilised, courteous and patient". He had, as we have heard, a long and distinguished ministerial career under three Prime Ministers and three Conservative Party leaders—an achievement that was harder to achieve in his day than recently.

We have heard that he came from exotic stock, his father being called Francis Ganzoni, but he exuded an Eton and Christ Church polish, and something that suggested an aristocracy of a longer lineage. I loved the story in the obituary in the Times. As a Foreign Office Minister visiting Istanbul, he said how happy he was to be in Constantinople.

As we have heard, Lord Belstead became Leader of the House during turbulent times and had the almost impossible task of following Lord Willie Whitelaw. When he became Leader, I understand that Mrs Thatcher's instruction was "Be robust". After one of her defeats in the Lords, she asked Lord Belstead, "What are all the Tory Peers whom I have created doing?" According to her biographer, the answer was that many of them were sacked Cabinet Ministers who owed her no favours while the rest were captains of industry who were happy to accept their titles but never went near the House. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, is relieved that things have changed.

I said that Lord Belstead was a House of Lords man, but he also held one important non-parliamentary public office at an important time. He was chairman of the Parole Board from 1992–97. I never had the pleasure of working directly with Lord Belstead, but my noble friend Lord Dholakia was a council member of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders during this period. This morning I asked him for his assessment and he told me:

"It was Lord Belstead who implemented the reforms in our Parole System initiated by Lord Hurd and drawn up by Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. He did so with great distinction. At a time when the debate too often centred around 'hang them and flog them', it was people like Lord Belstead who worked to make our criminal justice system more effective and civilised".

"Effective" and "civilised"—not bad epithets from a political opponent. I have no hesitation in using them today, not only about Lord Belstead's term at the Parole Board but about his contribution to public life. I pay tribute to those qualities from these Benches and send our sympathy to his sister and friends.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

My Lords, on the behalf of the Cross Bench Peers, I should like to join in the tributes to the late Lord Belstead. The Cross Bench Peers have always appreciated the role of the Leader of the House, which transcends a political role and represents also a voice for the House as a whole. Lord Belstead fulfilled this role with distinction, both as Deputy Leader for four years and as Leader of the House and Lord Privy Seal for a further period between 1987 and 1990.

I was a senior official in the Cabinet Office for part of this time and I know the esteem with which Lord Belstead was regarded by his political colleagues and, if it is a compliment, by senior officials. In addition to his role in the House of Lords which we remember today, I pay tribute to him for his capacity, during a long political career in high office, to master difficult issues and briefs at the Department of Education and Science, the Northern Ireland Office, the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That pretty well covers the whole of public life and he covered all those issues with distinction.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may be a somewhat unloved department, although not by me because I am an old boy of that ministry. I worked there when I was young and I stress how difficult some of the problems were. I remember personally and salute Lord Belstead's work there. But, first and foremost in the House today, I pay tribute from all the Cross-Benchers to a former Leader of the House who will be greatly missed.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, I am very happy on behalf of these Benches to be associated with the remarks already made about the late Lord Belstead. His quiet and courteous character clearly won him respect across the political divides and throughout this House. Indeed, our political life and the practice of government have been enriched by his quiet and self-effacing service. I hope that the House will forgive someone from Essex saying on behalf of the wider community of the east of England how much his leadership and service to the people of Suffolk, both in the farming community and as its Lord Lieutenant, have been appreciated. He will be missed by many in that county, in this House and in the wider community. We send our sympathy to his sister and friends. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, I am sure that the House will forgive me for saying a few words, because I succeeded Lord Belstead as Leader of the House. The announcement that I was coming here from the House of Commons to take his place must have come to him as an unpleasant surprise, for he had served loyally and well and had no reason to think that he would be replaced on the change of Prime Minister; but such is politics and John not only took the change in his fortunes with good grace, he agreed to continue to serve in the Government in what obviously had to be a more junior role, and he gave me all the support that he possibly could. He chose to leave the Government when I left in 1992.

I shall always be grateful to John for his loyalty and his friendship, and I count myself lucky to have known such a fine man and such a dedicated public servant.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, it may be apposite to follow my noble friend Lord Waddington. As a result of the disability which eventually took John Belstead to his death, I scarcely saw him during my four years or so in this House, but the reminiscences concerning my late noble kinsman and my late noble relative were so affectionate and vivid that I vicariously felt that I was, in fact, more often in the House with him.

However, I wish to make a brief reference to the one occasion when he and I overlapped in a government department. When my noble friend Lord Waddington became Leader of your Lordships' House, John Belstead came to Northern Ireland, where he took over the vacancy left by my noble friend Lord Cope, who was removed in what I still call a shuffle, rather than a reshuffle. Lord Belstead became my understudy in the place of my noble friend Lord Cope. I do not think that he had ever been a soldier, but the office of being the understudy in Northern Ireland means that you become the security Minister in the Province, and I pay the loudest possible tribute to the fortitude and integrity with which he discharged that role without having had a military background. I also pay tribute to the manner in which he ran the Province during the general election in 1992, when, by definition, the other Ministers were fighting the election.

I close on another personal note. He was a member of "Nobody's Friends"—a body which dines in Lambeth Palace, half of whom are lay people and half of whom are ecclesiastical. I will not explain why what I am about to say happens, but the group is called "Nobody's Friends" because people who are elected to it have to make a seven-minute speech to explain why they are nobody's friend. It will not surprise your Lordships' House that John Belstead did that particularly well.