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Tributes To The Late Viscount Dilhorne

Volume 413: debated on Monday 6 October 1980

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My Lords, it is with great sadness that I rise, as Leader of your Lordships' House, to pay tribute to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, whose death during the Recess will, I know, have come as a personal shock to many of your Lordships from all parts of the House. His death is a particularly sad occasion because he only retired as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary at the end of the summer term. At his last appearance on the Appelate Committee of your Lordships' House counsel paid fulsome tribute to his service to the legal profession and they expressed the hope that he would enjoy a long and well deserved retirement, and in view of his remarkable contribution to the work of this House we would all have liked to wish him the same.

Lord Dilhorne had indeed an outstanding record of service to this country, to this House and to his party. He was elected a Member of Parliament in 1943. He served the Government throughout the long period during which his party was in office, first as Solicitor General in 1951, and then in 1954 as Attorney General. In this position, the senior law officer to the Crown, Reginald Manningham-Buller served for eight consecutive years. He came to this House in 1962 and held posts of responsibility almost continuously until July of this year, first as Lord Chancellor from 1962 to 1964, then as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and from 1969, in what was in some ways an entirely new and separate career, as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. His obvious and widely acclaimed ability to span the difficult gap between politician and judge is in itself perhaps the greatest tribute which we in this House can pay him.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has already, at a judicial sitting of the House last week, paid tribute to Lord Dilhorne's long and varied contribution to the legal world and to the profession of which he was so proud. I should like just to recall those qualities which we in this House will remember.

He was a vigorous and robust parliamentarian with an immense capacity for work. His political and legal acumen was formidable. He lived life to the full. His integrity and the strength of his convictions were beyond question. Behind the bluff and perhaps sometimes forbidding exterior there lay a deep sensitivity and a strong sense of humour. He was indeed an institution of this House, and even as a Law Lord, when of necessity he took but a small part in the proceedings of this Chamber, he still took a profound interest in the business and procedures of this House and more generally in the independent role of our parliamentary institutions. We shall remember him with admiration and affection, and I am sure that all noble Lords present today will wish to join me in expressing our sense of loss and our sympathy to his wife and family, who were such a constant source of help and encouragement to him.

My Lords, I rise to join in the warm tribute which the Leader of the House has paid to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and to express our sorrow at his sudden passing. His record of service in Parliament, in Government, in the life of the law and in his profession was indeed outstanding. Those of us who served with him in another place will remember always his tough robustness in the face of stormy parliamentary onslaughts, his immense industry and his full commitment to whatever political or legal task he undertook. I did not often agree with him politically, but this never affected our longstanding friendship which extended over a span of 40 years. Few men were kinder in personal relationships than he was.

As the Leader has said, he was a law officer for 13 years, and for eight of those years he was Attorney General, which in itself, if I may say so, is a triumph of endurance. After a briefer term as Lord Chancellor he continued to serve with distinction the House on its judicial side and the law. Those who sat with him will confirm the tribute paid to him last Thursday by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his valued contribution as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, for his thoroughness, his clarity and his integrity. My Lords, in all he undertook he was sustained by his wife and family, and we extend our sympathy to them in their great loss.

2.42 p.m.

My Lords, may we on these Benches also associate ourselves with the eloquent tributes paid to the late Viscount Dilhorne. As a lawyer his judgment was always deeply respected by every member of the Bar. Outside the narrow confines of the law—and I think perhaps of some of his speeches in your Lordships' House on the standards of conduct in public life and on various constitutional issues that were raised—he displayed a shrewd, vigorous common sense that carried vast influence in every corner of your Lordships' House.

Perhaps I may make but one personal observation. When I first came to your Lordships' House as someone immeasurably junior to the noble and learned Viscount in a vast variety of ways, his welcome was one of encouragement, kindness and assistance. I know that I was not the only Member of the House who had the privilege of being treated in that way. It is perhaps for that reason that not only will he be recalled with the greatest of esteem, but held as well in the warmest of affection.

My Lords, from these Benches on which Viscount Dilhorne sat for a period of over 10 years, it is surely right that full concurrence and association should be expressed with the warm and merited tributes which have been paid. He made very many notable contributions from this place to the business of this House, and I know that many noble Lords who sit in this part of the House would wish me to express on their behalf their gratitude for the very ready help and encouragement that he was always willing to give, very often with a twinkle in his eye, on matters of parliamentary procedure, tactics and legislation.

For those of us who sit here in a judicial capacity there are special feelings to be expressed. We have a very special appreciation of his work as our colleague—work to which tribute has already been paid on other occasions—and we have, in addition, a very personal sense of loss.

2.45 p.m.

My Lords, I should be grateful if the House would allow me to add a few words to the tributes which have so rightly been paid to the late noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. We were at Magdalen College Oxford, and we were called to the Bar within two years of one another by the Inner Temple and for years we lunched together every day at the same table in the Hall of that Inn. We differed on political matters. I was not much concerned with that, but he was obviously destined for political life to which I did not aspire. But the conversation at the table was certainly inspiring and many who sat at that table have since achieved eminence in various ways.

At a later stage we were two of four members of the Bar Council who visited the Benches of the four Inns of Court to try to persuade them to adopt a rather less hostile attitude to the Bar Council, although I do not know that it was very successful. But, in the years during which I was chairman of the Bar Council, as Attorney General, he was a member ex-officio. I was privileged to succeed him as Lord Chancellor when he was Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and inevitably we differed on measures both political and of law reform which I was bringing forward. However, what I think was not always clear to those who knew him only in public life was that in private life he was essentially a very kindly, amiable and friendly man with a great sense of humour, and one who never allowed party political differences to affect his friendships. It was later a pleasure for me to be able to recommend his appointment as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, a position to which I considered his merits clearly entitled him.

As recently as 29th July I attended a small party given by the Law Lords on his retirement and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon. He was in his usual robust form and as amusing as ever and appeared to be in excellent health. It was as ereat a shock to me as I am sure to anybody, after very long personal association with him, to learn of his sudden and tragic death. I too would like to extend my deepest sympathy to his widow and family.