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Tributes: Lord Carter

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2006

My Lords, it is with a great deal of sadness that I rise to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Carter, who died last night. I know that the whole House—I include in that the staff of the House—shares in my sadness. My noble friend was an extremely popular Member of this House.

He had a distinguished career in farming and agriculture and brought his expertise into this House in 1987. He served in Opposition as a spokesperson on agriculture, social security and health, and was also Deputy Opposition Chief Whip. In 1997, he became Government Chief Whip and helped colleagues on the Labour Benches to make the transition from Opposition to Government—not always an easy task.

My noble friend was very special. I know of no other Member of this House who was so universally well liked. For many years, I served as a Government Whip and Denis was my boss. His personal warmth, humanity and support shone through. He always had time to talk, gave good and wise advice and focused on the positive contribution that everyone could make.

My noble friend devoted his time in this House to ensuring that the importance of this House and its work gained the recognition that they deserved. He defended the interests of this House with ministerial colleagues and promoted the interests of this House. For example, he chaired the Joint Committees on the draft Mental Incapacity Bill and the draft Disability Discrimination Bill. He was also a member of the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill. He was a member of the Committee on the Speakership of the House, the Constitution Committee and the Joint Committee on Conventions—all committees looking at the longer-term interests of this House. His views were always listened to because of his passionate belief in this House and commitment to it.

It is impossible to pay tribute to my noble friend without mentioning Lady Carter, because they were a devoted couple. It was rare to see one without the other. We all admired their courage, faith and tenacity in a life that was touched by tragedy and adversity. I know that their love helped them to stay strong. Any tribute to Denis must include Teresa.

Only very recently my noble friend was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists—a fitting recognition of his work in this field.

At the end of his life, my noble friend displayed the characteristics that we will all remember. I visited him yesterday. It was a very brief visit; he was weak and he was tired. But that morning, he had been working: he was filling in his tax return. He was worried about Teresa and he wanted everything to be in order. He remembered everyone here; he sent everyone his love. And he was still fighting.

That is how we will remember Denis: for his courage, for his tenacity, for his belief and for his love of this House and of Teresa and his family. I am sure that the whole House—again, I include in that the staff of this House, who will not be able to say anything—will wish to join me in sending condolences to Teresa and to Denis’s remaining family and friends.

My Lords, it was with the greatest possible sadness that I learnt the news this morning of the death of our great friend Lord Carter. It was the news that we had been dreading to hear for some months now. Denis Carter bore his illness with great fortitude, driven on by his love of life, his faith and his duty to this House and supported every single step of the way by his wife, Teresa, who has been such a powerful tower of strength and a tremendous example to us all. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to associate myself entirely with the words of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.

Lord Carter and I were shackled together as two pillars of the usual channels and, as a counter-party, Denis was everything you would want. It was a difficult time on both sides of the House to be Chief Whip in 1997 and 1998, when the House faced the expulsion of more than half its Members. Yet, as Chief Whip, Denis Carter led his group with great care and skill. He was a dedicated party man but he was equally devoted to the House, which he loved and always defended stoutly. He was a tough opponent—in many ways, none tougher—but he was also a kind and considerate friend. In fact, he was one of the very few Peers who genuinely had friendships in all parts of the House. He was a skilled negotiator but someone whose word, once he had given it, was as firm as a rock.

The respect that Denis Carter had in this House was universal. He was consummately professional, successful in what he did and knowledgeable in a House that was itself uniquely knowledgeable about his own profession. He was a courageous man, who knew sadness as well as happiness, but he always worked for the benefit of others. Few realised how keenly he served the causes that he cared most for—for disabled people and for children.

“Affection” is not always the first word you think of when you think of Chief Whips—the more natural epithet for some Chief Whips cannot be used in this Chamber—but is not Denis’s greatest epitaph that, when we think of him, all of us here will remember that straight, decent and loyal man with warmth, admiration and affection? Our hearts go out to Teresa at this sad time for her very great loss.

My Lords, the death of Denis Carter has taken away from your Lordships’ House a remarkable man. He was loved and respected by all of us. I associate myself and my party with the sentiments that have already been expressed. Only last week, I met Lady Carter and she told me that, despite his serious illness, his priority was to study his House of Lords papers, even on his sick bed. I remember him as a very kind person.

We all know his career as an Opposition spokesperson on many subjects, but many of us remember him as the first Chief Whip in the Lords when Labour came to power in 1997. He was an inclusive character, all the more so because, without a single party having an overall majority, he ensured that there was proper consultation. The usual channels were all the better for it.

My noble friend Lord Roper, at one time the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, wants me to mention that Lord Carter was equal among his colleagues despite his status, always ensuring that the business of the House ran smoothly. We know his background as a farmer, where he had much in common with my noble friend Lord Livsey, sharing the same interests. He was a compassionate family man and a religious man. Personal tragedies never pulled him down, and he was all the stronger for it.

There is a tradition in your Lordships’ House that we associate with our own colleagues, our noble friends. Denis Carter was a noble friend of us all. Our thoughts are with Lady Carter. We pray that she, her friends and family have the strength to bear this sad loss.

My Lords, it is always a sad occasion when we come together on the death of a long-serving Member of this House, but Denis Carter was very special, with a very special wife. He was indeed one of the best loved and most admired Members of this House. On behalf of all the Cross-Bench Members, I pay warm tribute to him.

He was one of the first Peers I met on entering the House. I was immediately struck by his evident affection and respect for the House and all its Members, whether in a political party or independent. In his period as Chief Whip, he had of course to ensure that the business of the House was done, and done effectively, but we all greatly appreciated how he achieved this. It was always good to know that the business of the House was in his hands.

Having spent part of my career in agriculture, I personally appreciated how Denis always kept his feeling for farming and the land, on which he was Opposition spokesman for 10 years. We all feel deeply the loss of a country man, a colleague and a true parliamentarian.

My Lords, on behalf of the Bishops, I associate our Benches will all the sentiments expressed about Lord Carter. As well as being a devout servant of this House, he was also a person of devout faith for whom the service of his Lord was one and the same with the service of the people. He was a man of the land, as we have heard, and a man of the earth. It was his mission to do the will of God on Earth as it is done in Heaven. We pay tribute to his contribution to the earthing of Heaven and add our prayers to the condolences already offered, especially to Lady Carter and all his family and friends.