My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, on 8 April. On behalf of the House, I extend our most sincere condolences to the noble Baroness’s family and friends.
My Lords, I rise to pay tribute to the late Baroness Thatcher. As I do so, I am conscious that here in our House there are many who helped Lady Thatcher to shape our political history and who stood alongside her shoulder to shoulder. There are those who took the other side of the argument. There are those who served politicians of all sides with great distinction and in the best traditions of our public service.
Whatever our views and whatever our backgrounds, I think that we would all agree that she made a huge difference to the country that she loved, that she helped to pick Britain up off its knees, that she changed our place in the world and that she transformed the very shape of our political debate. I think that we would also agree that she was a staunch defender of our parliamentary system and the part that it should play in our national life.
The personal journey that she made, particularly at that time, from the grocer’s shop in Grantham to the highest office in our land, was a truly remarkable one. The outlines of that journey are well known. Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham in 1925. Head girl of her grammar school, she went to Oxford during the war, graduating with a degree in chemistry. In 1951, she met and married Denis, the rock of her life for more than 50 years. In 1953, she gave birth to twins, Carol and Mark, to whom we extend our deepest condolences, along with the rest of her family and her many friends.
Having entered Parliament in 1959, she was in the Cabinet by 1970. Even today, 11 years from first election to the Cabinet would seem swift, but 50 years ago, for one of just a handful of female MPs, it was extraordinary. Even more remarkably, by 1975 this non-establishment figure had become leader of the establishment party, confounding the predictions of many. Those same people then foretold a quick exit. They foretold her never reaching the steps of No. 10. In fact, she herself said that she believed she would never see a woman Prime Minister in her lifetime. How she proved them and, indeed, herself wrong.
These bare bones of fact do not, of course, explain the reason for her success. They do not capture the strength of her personality, the beam of the spotlight and the force of her will that I remember vibrating through the government departments where I worked in the 1980s. Nor, I think, can we measure the extent of her achievements without first understanding the grim inheritance of the 1970s. Successive Governments had tried and failed to tackle our economic and political woes. We had become the sick man of Europe. People asked, not fancifully, whether Britain was indeed possible to govern. We were a divided country, and at times our very future seemed to hang in the balance. That is the background against which the sifting process of history will make its judgments. That is the background which helps to explain her approach and makes her achievements stand out so clearly. She did not take the easy way. She certainly did not take the consensual way. She led because of belief, she was guided by conviction and she was harnessed to the purpose of making Britain great again.
Tough economic policies were needed to turn the country around. She knew that the status quo was unsustainable and that some things had to change. Her programme of deregulation and denationalisation, and of reducing the power of trade unions, was painful, particularly in some parts of our country, but it made Britain a global competitor once again. The recapture of the Falkland Islands, her resistance to the IRA despite the high price paid by many of those closest to her, her friendship with President Reagan and her shared vision for a world free of the Cold War made Britain once again a world leader. The threat of nuclear war that seemed to hang over us in the early 1980s was lifted. It was indeed an iron lady who helped draw back the iron curtain from eastern Europe, extending freedom to millions. In those countries, too, she will always be remembered. These are mighty achievements. She was an extraordinary leader of her party, of this country and of the world during what were extraordinary times.
It is true that great leaders are not always easy people. I think that it is fair to say that patience was not a virtue that Mrs Thatcher had in abundance, and that she did not always instantly get the point. The great Ronnie Millar, who helped with her speeches for many years, told me the lovely story of an occasion when he was trying to reassure a rather nervous Margaret Thatcher with some soothing words just before she was due to speak at her first party conference as Prime Minister. “Piece of cake, Prime Minister”. “No, not now, thank you, dear”. Those who knew her best all testify to the warm side of her character: the countless personal kindnesses, the loyalty and the small, thoughtful acts.
For someone who so defined a decade, it was perhaps not such a surprise that a new decade ushered in change and that after 11 and a half years the longest serving 20th century Prime Minister resigned and, a little over 18 months later, joined your Lordships’ House. It was perhaps typical of Mrs T—now Lady T —that she began with a maiden speech on Europe—on Maastricht, in fact. Perhaps it was typical also that she began by reminding her new home of one or two home truths. She began:
“Mine is a somewhat delicate position. I calculate that I was responsible as Prime Minister for proposing the elevation to this House of 214 of its present Members. That must surely be considerably more than most of my predecessors—and my father did not know Lloyd George!”.—[Official Report, 2/7/92; col. 897.]
Sadly, that was to be one of few speeches to which we would be treated in the subsequent decades. The light that had burned so brightly began to dim as she suffered the loss of Denis, and ill health. However, although we may not have been blessed with her words, her presence was keenly felt and was sustained by her many friends here.
Perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s greatest strength as Prime Minister was her refusal to accept Britain’s decline. In taking that stance, the obstacles she faced were monumental, but her belief in the ability of the British people to better themselves, and of our country to better itself, was paramount. She was a once-in-a-lifetime Prime Minister and one of the most remarkable leaders this country has seen.
My Lords, we are here today in rare circumstances: a recall of both Houses of Parliament for the specific purpose of paying tribute to not just a formidable former Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party but to a distinguished Member of your Lordships’ House, Baroness Thatcher. Before I proceed to my remarks, I want, from these Benches, to express our sympathy to Lady Thatcher’s family. Even when someone has been unwell for some time, as Lady Thatcher had been, to lose someone is still a grievous blow, made in some ways better, but in some ways worse, by the fact that the person in question was so prominent and so public a figure.
As the tributes to her which have flowed since the news of her death was announced have shown, there is no doubt that Margaret Thatcher was, and will remain, a polarising figure. For some, including many on the Benches opposite, Lady Thatcher inspired then, and inspires now, a devotion to a politician who they believe not only, as the Prime Minister said on Monday, “saved” this country but was the political ideal to which they aspired and, indeed, is the political model that they believe that they still need now. From that viewpoint, not only was she the dominant politician of her generation but was one of the most influential Prime Ministers this country has ever seen—someone who has claim, as David Cameron said in his tribute to her, to be Britain’s greatest ever peacetime Prime Minister. Not all those on the Benches opposite share that view. Some, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lords, Lord Lawson of Blaby and Lord Heseltine, and many other noble Lords, are part of her story but in very different ways. Not all of them were always and at all times in full agreement with her. For some, including on my Benches and in my part of the political spectrum, Mrs Thatcher, as she was then, was a divisive figure and someone to whom they were, and remain, fundamentally opposed; someone whose very name, even now, almost 30 years since she became Britain’s Prime Minister in 1979, can raise heights of emotion, of passion, of anger, of despair and more; and someone who they believe can never be forgiven for what she did to individuals, to communities, to industries and to the country. That is a legitimate position of disagreement to hold, but to hold parties to celebrate the death of someone is wrong, in bad taste and something that I deplore.
However, as the tributes have shown, disagreements with Mrs Thatcher, her vision, her ideals, her politics and her policies have not prevented even her political opponents from being able to assess fully the enormity of her impact as the United Kingdom’s longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century and as this country’s first, and so far only, woman Prime Minister.
I pay particular tribute to Baroness Thatcher in that role. She was unquestionably a truly remarkable woman, and although I did not agree with many of her policies, I recognise that it was extraordinary for a woman—a grocer’s daughter, wife and mother—to be a successful research chemist before becoming a barrister and then going on to become an MP, a Minister and to lead the Conservative Party and become the first female Prime Minister, especially at the time when she did it. Baroness Thatcher was a model for many women, including many women in politics. She burst through the glass ceiling and proved that it could be done, but she did not hold out a helping hand for others to follow. I admire strong women—and she was certainly strong and wielded immense power over colleagues as well as the country. However, as with my late noble friend Lady Castle, for whom I worked in the first six years of Baroness Thatcher’s premiership, she also knew how to use her womanly wiles. Barbara said that her power over male colleagues derived from the fact that she had,
“a brain as good as most of theirs plus … the arts of femininity”.
However, in relation to the issue of women, personally I wish that Baroness Thatcher had used her strength in different ways. I know that she showed many kindnesses to female colleagues, both MPs and her staff. However, despite the many talented Conservative women in Parliament, they were never—apart from another former Member of your Lordships’ House, Lady Young—promoted to the Cabinet. Since 1929, when Margaret Bondfield joined the Cabinet, there have still only been 33 women Cabinet members. As the first ever female Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher could have done so much for female politicians, and for working mothers and women struggling to hold their families and communities together, but she chose not to do so.
However, there is some in what Baroness Thatcher was and did that I admire: her personal strength and courage, shown so bravely in her response to being bombed at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984, and her early support for Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom I had the good fortune to celebrate his 80th birthday here in this House two years ago, and for glasnost and perestroika in the former Soviet Union. All this was important in changing the dynamics of our continent and helping to bring the Cold War to an end, as was the part that she played in driving forward the single market.
Lady Thatcher’s determination and belief were the principal drivers in Britain regaining the Falklands, but they led also to misjudgments such as Section 28, now rightly repudiated by today’s Conservative Party, or gauging the ANC wrong in South Africa. Her legacy and impact in and about Europe is still absolutely with us today.
I know too, from my own personal experience, just how formidable a political opponent she was. In the 1980s I was proudly working for my noble friend, Lord Kinnock, then the leader of the Labour Party, and I saw first hand, to the cost of our own campaigns, just how effective a politician she was and how much parts of the country supported her at that time.
Lady Thatcher had a real appreciation of middle England’s hunger for aspiration, giving people a greater chance to own their own home. She recognised that our economy needed to change, but the painful changes that were made were not carried by the broadest shoulders and have left an unbalanced economy with which we are still grappling. History will form a judgment on the legacy of Baroness Thatcher as a political figure in Britain, and in the world. Agree or disagree with her, she was unquestionably a towering figure in this country and beyond our shores. I leave those judgments to others better qualified than me to make them.
I will conclude my remarks by saying something about Lady Thatcher as a Member of your Lordships’ House. She entered this House in 1992, more than 20 years ago, and was automatically and, rightly, immediately a senior figure in this place. When I first came to your Lordships’ House I was mesmerised by this frail but still powerful woman who through sheer determination had transformed our society, dividing opinion and dividing the country. Not for her the consensual notion of one nation that I passionately espouse. As increasingly frail as she became, as a result of that enormous impact, her appearances in the House at key moments and on key Divisions were electrifying.
In more recent years, of course, Lady Thatcher’s appearances were less frequent. I pay tribute to those who were of particular assistance to her, and especially mark the support—the real, caring support—given to her by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in her later years.
Lady Thatcher’s presence was never anything but controversial, and the debate on what she did and the legacy she left will continue. She was willing—indeed, keen—to take on the established orthodoxies, but seemed at times not to understand the devastating impact of her policies on too many communities. She was a polarising figure, but whether you agreed with her or not she was a giant in politics. Both regardless of her controversy, and precisely because of it, it is as such that she will, and should, be remembered.
My Lords, I begin by following on from what the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition have said in associating these Benches with condolences to Baroness Thatcher’s immediate family. I will also tie in something the Leader of the House said with a personal reminiscence. Due to some serendipity, for about five years at the State Opening of Parliament I found myself sitting on the Bench opposite next to Mrs Thatcher and spending time with her as we awaited the Queen’s arrival. The one thing I want to share with the House took place in the year her husband died, when she had already had a number of minor strokes and did not speak a great deal. She suddenly turned to me and said, “My husband died earlier this year”. I said, “Yes, Baroness Thatcher, I know”. She paused again and then said, “I miss him very much”. That tremendous partnership between Baroness Thatcher and her husband, which was so much a factor in her own political life, is remembered today.
There are times when, for all the grandeur of the surroundings of this House, we have to play second fiddle to activities down the Corridor. Today, however, although the tributes in the other place will no doubt be eloquent and apposite, it is in this Chamber, as the Leader of the House has reminded us, that we will hear the memories and judgments of those who experienced first hand the Thatcher phenomenon. If one considers the number of people whom she sacked, promoted, defeated or berated, they must make up a goodly number of those present in the House today. In short, the importance of the next couple of hours is that not only does this House know where the bodies are buried but some of the bodies are present here.
In January 1965, when paying tribute to the life of Sir Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson referred to,
“the sullen feet of marching men in Tonypandy”—
a reminder that Churchill, in a long life, had sometimes been at the heart of bitter social conflict, as well as showing great leadership in the times of national crisis. So it was with Margaret Thatcher, and that reality was reflected in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I quote again from Harold Wilson’s tribute to Churchill. He said that,
“the tempestuous years are over; the years of appraisal are yet to come”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/65; col. 672.]
I shall not attempt such an appraisal today. Instead, I shall rely on two perspectives given not at the time of her death but some years ago.
Seven years ago, the New Statesman invited its readers to nominate their “heroes of our time”. Somewhat to the surprise and embarrassment of the New Statesman, Baroness Thatcher was the highest-rated British politician. The paper explained this result as being due to the fact that no one was in any doubt about what Mrs Thatcher stood for and what she believed in, and it was those qualities of steadfastness and clarity of purpose which had been recognised by the New Statesman readers.
My second assessment comes from another surprising source. As a Member of the other place in 1982, I was present for two exchanges that took place between Enoch Powell and Mrs Thatcher. To appreciate fully the quotations that I am about to give, your Lordships will have to imagine that slightly nasal, Black Country twang in which Mr Powell spoke, but which I shall not try to imitate. The first is Enoch Powell addressing Mrs Thatcher after the Falkland Islands had been invaded. Speaking on 3 April in the House of Commons, he said:
“The Prime Minister, shortly after she came into office, received a soubriquet as the ‘Iron Lady’. It arose in the context of remarks which she made about defence against the Soviet Union and its allies; but there was no reason to suppose that the right hon. Lady did not welcome and, indeed, take pride in that description. In the next week or two this House, the nation and the right hon. Lady herself will learn of what metal she is made”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/82; col. 644.]
My second quotation is from some 10 weeks later— 17 June 1982—after the British victory in the Falklands war. Enoch Powell said:
“Is the right hon. Lady aware that the report has now been received from the public analyst on a certain substance recently subjected to analysis and that I have obtained a copy of the report? It shows that the substance under test consisted of ferrous matter of the highest quality, that it is of exceptional tensile strength, is highly resistant to wear and tear and to stress, and may be used with advantage for all national purposes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/6/82; col. 1082.]
That was the only time in my experience that Enoch Powell made a joke.
There is no need to airbrush out of history or to ignore the fact that most of us on these Benches spent a good deal of our political lives fiercely opposing many aspects of what became known as “Thatcherism”. However, that does not prevent us recognising the qualities that were highlighted both by the New Statesman and by Enoch Powell—qualities that have quite rightly brought us together today to pay due respect and proper tribute to Margaret Thatcher as a figure of enduring importance in our national life.
My Lords, I rise to pay tribute to Baroness Thatcher, sharing with noble Lords a string of strong memories of a remarkable woman, the first woman to occupy the office of Prime Minister.
As others have said, the change that she made to the face of Britain was complete. It opened up new avenues of possibility in all directions: share ownership, home ownership, liberalisation of the markets, entrepreneurial innovation, and so on. She strengthened Britain’s role in the world immeasurably with clear policies on defence, the Falklands, Northern Ireland, communism, Europe, South Africa and more. No one was in any doubt that there was a force in the land.
I spent the last years of the 1980s in County Durham, so I know some of the deep divisions that Lady Thatcher’s policies caused. “Billy Elliot” country was not an all-singing, all-dancing landscape. It is almost impossible to find moderate opinion for or against on her style of leadership, but the one thing that we can all acknowledge is that she was a leader of absolute integrity in terms of her own beliefs. She was an iconic conviction politician.
The Church of England had its moments with Lady Thatcher, of course. The suggestion that the date for the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury be moved so that it avoided a clash with the Budget of 1980 was one early instance. Happily, on that occasion, the lady was for turning. In the end, it was the Budget that was rescheduled.
As we know, the church traditionally has a role of critical solidarity with Governments of all persuasions, so the production of the influential report Faith in the City and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Falklands sermon, in which he remembered the bereaved on both sides of the conflict, both caused momentary mayhem in the press. That was to be expected when issues of principle were at stake. It did not dent her respect for the church, or our regard for her steely qualities. It was entirely fitting that the place where she particularly enjoyed the chance to walk securely and privately in her latter years was the grounds of Lambeth Palace, which successive archbishops placed at her disposal.
We should remember, too, her roots in Methodism and the influence that the Christian faith played in informing her beliefs about personal responsibility and the importance of religion in public life. Methodism was born in the pursuit of justice and hope among working people. It had, and still has, a radical edge, and it is from that edge that Margaret Thatcher drew much of her strength. You do not have to agree with every decision that she took to acknowledge the strength of her character and her determination and passion in all she did.
As we have said, history will continue to debate the legacy of Baroness Thatcher for years to come, but she clearly defined politics not just for her generation but for many generations. Some of us perhaps wish that, on a few more occasions, the lady had been for turning—for turning has a good pedigree in Christian theology—but we can still applaud her many achievements while regretting some of the excesses. We will most certainly not forget her. May she rest in peace.
My Lords, on behalf of the Cross Benches, I associate myself with the thoughtful tributes already made to the late Baroness Thatcher and add my deepest condolences to her family.
It is perhaps understandable that on an occasion such as this we draw on personal experiences, although I must say that I have nothing like the depth of experience of some of my colleagues who worked with Mrs Thatcher day by day. I first met Mrs Thatcher in the mid-1970s, when she was the after-dinner speaker at the annual conference of the directors of social services. The House will not be surprised to learn that she made a characteristically challenging speech, leaving the audience in no doubt that, given the opportunity, she had real ambition to change local government and, in particular, social care services.
At the end of the event, the president of the association told her that he had arranged for a good malt to be delivered to his room, and hoped that she and a few others would join him for a brief nightcap. I have no doubt that part of his motivation was, as it were, to put her right on a few things that she had said. However, he did not expect, in the early hours of the morning when they were all flagging, Mrs Thatcher to be driving on in full flow setting out the important issues that she intended to tackle. I feel sure that he—as it was a he—was not the first to regret even the hint of an attempt to patronise her; nor was he the last to experience her phenomenal energy, drive and conviction, or her steely determination.
Almost a decade later, as Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher commissioned Sir Roy Griffiths, the then deputy chairman and managing director of Sainsbury’s, to conduct a major review of the social care services for vulnerable adults. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and I greatly enjoyed working with Sir Roy and we were given the opportunity to be called his advisers. I was with Sir Roy on the day he met the Prime Minister to go through the main thrust of his report. He was a wise man and had learnt the importance of careful preparation in the face of what was likely to be a forensic scrutiny.
Sir Roy told me that all had gone well, primarily because he concentrated on the main thrust of his report. In a nutshell, this was simply that when a vulnerable person is dependent on a relative stranger to meet their personal needs, their primary concern is about the quality and sensitivity of the service delivered and not about the nature of the organisation that delivers it. I feel sure that this way of thinking hugely pleased Mrs Thatcher, not least because at that time local authorities operated an almost total monopoly of home care services, day centre services and residential homes for all people, whatever their disabilities or special needs. In addition, they also regulated the few independent providers operating in that area. That was the beginning of a fundamental transformation of those services, which are of such importance to the well-being of our fellow citizens.
I hardly need to remind the House that for very good reason we have very often had cause to praise the Children Act 1989. That bedrock legislation changed childcare practices in this country. Almost 25 years on, it has stood the test of time.
In short, during the years when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, the foundations were laid for huge changes in every aspect of the social care services in this country. Inevitably, many of these changes were and are contested but one thing that was never in doubt was the determination of the Prime Minister to see them through. The record of Baroness Thatcher as a woman in a male-dominated environment, as a tenacious politician and as a formidable Prime Minister is for all to see and certainly will endure. May she rest in peace.
My Lords, I speak as one of the dwindling band of those who appeared in the 1979 photograph of the Cabinet. I speak also as one of an even smaller band of members of her shadow Cabinet in prior years. Those of us who are left share with many more the sadness and affection that are felt at this time.
Much has been said over the past few days about Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, much of it has been said several times, but let me add two or three of my memories. I remember Margaret Thatcher above all as a particularly kind woman. I give one example. At the first Christmas for which she was Prime Minister, in 1979, she said to me, “Do you know of any of our people in the House of Commons who are going to be alone—through death, divorce or whatever—over this Christmas period? If you do, I would like to ask them to Chequers to come and stay over Christmas”. That, I thought at the time, was one of the most generous things from somebody with all the pressures on them of being Prime Minister.
There are some who say that she was a very bad listener. I would argue strongly with that. Maybe she was not a very good listener when some of her colleagues were embarking on what I call waffle. However, often I was at a meeting of Ministers when a Secretary of State had to come and propose a new policy. She would begin the discussion in her typically strident way, saying, “Well, Secretary of State, I am not very attracted to what you want to do, but let us hear it, if you must”. He would then explain what he wanted to do. Others would come in. Having listened, she would say, “Well, Secretary of State, if that is what you want to do, you’d better go on and do it. But if it all goes pear-shaped, don’t come back to me to bail you out”.
Of course, Margaret Thatcher loved, probably above all, an informed political debate. I have a memory of a very small lunch in Downing Street, when Pierre Trudeau come over from Canada to complain because we were not expediting as much as he would have liked the legislation to release British control over the Canadian constitution. At lunch, we quickly got that out of the way. Then Margaret Thatcher and Pierre Trudeau, who clearly disliked each other, embarked on a gloves-off confrontation of political philosophies. Francis Pym and I were the only outsiders present. It was a memorable experience to be a fly on the wall and listen to those two going hammer and tongs together.
The one word, I suppose, that many will think of with regard to Margaret Thatcher is “leadership”. Many people today who look back on Margaret Thatcher’s period with enmity were not alive when she was Prime Minister. A myth has grown which has led to the contentious attitude of some people today. They forget that, in 1979, Britain was on its knees. What needed doing had needed doing for decades. She set out to do those things. She changed Britain. She changed much of what went on in the world. She played a major part in bringing down what Ronald Reagan described as the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union.
Finally, I find the hostility that one hears from some people today hardly surprising. I do not believe that she would feel at all surprised by that hostility, bearing in mind what she had to do and the fundamental changes that she needed to bring about.
My Lords, I have hesitated to venture to add to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words which have been spoken and written about the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, these past three days but perhaps something should be said from the perspective of one who, as a civil servant and Secretary to the Cabinet, worked closely for and with her for eight of the 11 and a half years for which she was Prime Minister. Statistically speaking, the turnover of Prime Ministers has been higher than that of Cabinet Secretaries. Most Cabinet Secretaries have served more than one Prime Minister and sometimes three, such as my noble friend Lord Butler of Brockwell, or even four, as my predecessor Lord Hunt of Tanworth did. I am a relatively rare bird in that I served only one Prime Minister.
I was summoned one morning in July 1979 to a meeting with the Prime Minister at No. 10, which I hoped—but did not know—would result in an appointment as Secretary to the Cabinet. I was taken upstairs to her room and shown in at the door of the study. As I went through the door, she looked up at me and said, “Robert, you’re looking very tired”. It was not the most promising opening to an interview in which I was hoping to be offered one of the most onerous jobs in the public service, so I stammered out something about having been up rather late the previous night. Then she said, “Robert, I have asked you to come in order that I can tell you that I want to appoint you as Cabinet Secretary to succeed John Hunt in October”. Of course, I was delighted and accepted the offer. I went downstairs and told the private secretary that the Prime Minister had offered me the job and that I had accepted it. But I said, “It was a little bit odd that she started by saying, ‘Robert, you look very tired’”. That private secretary said, “Oh, don’t worry about that—she’s saying that to everybody this morning”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, spoke about Lady Thatcher’s lack of aspiration to be a feminist, if I may sum it up in that way. That may have been fair but she was nothing if not feminine and many of her colleagues, and many of those who were her civil servants, will recognise that. My recollection goes back to the first visit that we had from President Mitterrand of France to Downing Street, in 1981. We were all dreading it because he had no English, or claimed not to, so that everything had to be interpreted—and, of course, he was French.
Lady Thatcher had greatly disliked his predecessor and Mitterrand was said to be a socialist, but the meetings went rather well. Despite the interpretation, they went smoothly and there were good speeches by both parties at a dinner. When the President finally came to leave the next afternoon, I went with the Prime Minister to see him off at the front door of No. 10 Downing Street. As we walked back, I said to the Prime Minister in what I suppose was a tone of some surprise, “That visit went rather well, didn’t it, Prime Minister?”. She said, “Yes, I suppose it did”. Then there was a pause and she said, “Of course he likes women, you know”.
Looking back, I recognised that the President had been—how shall I put it?—flattering her femininity throughout the meeting, and that she had recognised that and enjoyed every minute of it.
More than once during the time that I was with her, she told me that her role as Prime Minister was to be the guardian of the strategy. She had a clear vision of what that strategy should be and of the policies required to carry it out. She displayed great courage and determination in pursuing this strategy and in introducing and sustaining the policies which it required, and she could exercise great firmness and all the strength of her personality in making sure of the active support of her colleagues and her civil servants in putting the policies into effect.
She respected the Civil Service as an institution and valued the traditional virtues of integrity and impartiality. She liked and respected many but not all of the individual civil servants whom she had to deal with, and she went out of her way to be considerate and kind to those who worked in her office. But I think that she thought that civil servants in general were too set in their ways and had become too accustomed to the management of decline.
In discussing appointments with her, she never once asked, “Is he one of us?”. She wanted to know whether someone was a doer as well as a thinker, and whether he or she had what it took not just to advise cleverly on policy but to manage a department or division effectively.
As many have remarked, she expected her colleagues and those who worked with her to work very hard, and she set us all an example in that respect. She was a glutton for work and took an infinity of trouble to master the detail of every subject that she was called on to consider, often to the discomfiture of those with whom she was going to discuss it.
That was all made easier for her and more challenging for the rest of us by her capacity to manage on three or four hours of sleep a night, not just for a night or two but seemingly indefinitely. For her, the working day was two or three hours longer than it was for any of the rest of us weaker vessels. There was no cat-napping during the day. There were times when it seemed like a very unfair advantage. She kept up the pace throughout my time, although I believe that there were some slight signs of weakening towards the end of her time in office.
One of my duties was to advise her on issues about the organisation of the machinery of government. I do not think that she was ever much interested in those issues: she thought that they were of secondary importance. What mattered to her was having the right policy and having the right person in place to put the policies into effect. Tinkering with organisations diverted energy from what really mattered and was a waste of time, energy, and money.
As has been said, she was a conviction politician with skill and determination in expressing her convictions. But she was also, as I very often saw, a shrewd, cautious and pragmatic political operator in government and adept at adopting and presenting pragmatic outcomes in a framework of principled conviction.
In 1982, the Government committed themselves to a policy of “rolling devolution” in Northern Ireland. The policy made little progress and after the election of June 1983 the Prime Minister was persuaded to explore the possibility of an agreement with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, which might give that Government, as a surrogate for the minority community in Northern Ireland, the opportunity to have a say in aspects of the governance in Northern Ireland without compromising—and this was very important for Mrs Thatcher—the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Government in Northern Ireland.
After nearly two years of negotiation, closely supervised and monitored by the Prime Minister and her colleagues, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will remember, we achieved a draft agreement. The draft was never going to set the Thames on fire—or the Liffey for that matter—and it could not be expected to go down well with the unionist community in Northern Ireland. It cannot be claimed that Mrs Thatcher was enthusiastic about it even at the time, but she clearly preferred an outcome that she could proclaim as a success, and which would certainly be welcomed in Washington, to a breakdown of negotiations and a failure of the policy that it expressed and represented. So she signed the agreement and so long as she remained Prime Minister she unwaveringly defended and adhered to it. After her retirement she was apt to say that she wished it had not been made. I believe that she was mistaken in that. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, I think that the agreement, which has certainly been of lasting benefit to relations with the Irish Republic, was one of the foundations for the subsequent developments in Northern Ireland’s affairs brought about by Sir John Major and Mr Blair.
This is not the time or place for reminiscing about the good and not so good times during the years when I worked with Lady Thatcher. However, I am glad to have this opportunity to put on record not only my sadness at her passing and my condolences to her family, which we all share, but my gratitude for her unwavering confidence and support and for her many kindnesses during those years, my respect and admiration for her qualities and achievements as Prime Minister, and my lasting affection for her as a friend.
My Lords, in order to understand the true greatness of Margaret Thatcher it is necessary to remember the state of our country and our continent in 1979 when she became Prime Minister. Our country was in decline—a decline that many thought was permanent and some thought was terminal. I remember listening—I think it was in 1978—to one of the great gurus of the time. He saw no answer to our predicament. He said: “After the next election, we shall either have a Government that doesn’t try to do the things that are necessary, in which case failure and decline will inevitably continue, or we will have a Government that tries to do the things that are necessary, in which case it will become so unpopular that it will be bound to lose the election after next”. Margaret Thatcher proved him wrong and in doing so, as the Prime Minister said, saved our country.
It has been said many times, including this afternoon, that she was a divisive figure. She was. She had to be. There was no consensus on the right thing to do for our country. If she had waited for consensus, nothing would ever have happened. She saw what needed to be done and she did it with clarity, courage and conviction. It is also true that her divisiveness on occasion extended to members of her Administration. On one occasion, a Minister sent a paper to her that she rejected. He had the temerity to send it back with the words, “Prime Minister, this is government policy”. She replied: “It may be government policy but I don’t agree with a word of it”.
In 1979, as we all know, Europe was divided in two. The eastern half was subjugated to the yoke of communist tyranny. The part that Margaret Thatcher played, in partnership with Ronald Reagan, in freeing those countries, has been well documented. However, there is one aspect of the story that is less well known. In 1990, as her Employment Secretary, I went to Poland. My noble friend Lord Fowler, my predecessor, had set up something called the Know-How fund to help establish small businesses in the newly free countries. My opposite number was Jacek Kuron, who had been imprisoned for his opposition to communism. He took me to see Marshal Jaruzelski, the man whose regime had imprisoned him. Marshal Jaruzelski told me about the part Margaret Thatcher had played in the rise of Solidarity. He said: “She visited Poland during one of Solidarity’s strikes in the shipyards of Gdansk. She said to me: ‘You know, this isn’t an ordinary strike and you ought to talk to its leaders’. Until then, I had had no more intention of talking to them than I had of flying to the moon. But she persuaded me, so I began to talk to Lech Walesa—and you know what happened after that”.
All of us who have stood for elective office have hoped to make a difference. That has become rather a cliché but, like most clichés, it is true. There are very few people who have made a difference on the scale that Margaret Thatcher achieved. She saved our country; she helped bring freedom to half our continent. The light of her legacy will shine as a beacon down the generations.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend and I must say that I wholly agree with his conclusion. As the Leader said in opening, those of us whose paths crossed with hers all have our own personal anecdotes and remembrances about Margaret Thatcher. I have two. First, in a life that has, I suppose, had some small excitements, nothing that I have ever experienced so terrorised me as having to stand up as a young, inexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears leader of my party to question her in the House of Commons when she was at the full plenitude of her powers, with the inevitable result that I would be ritually handbagged twice a week in front of the microphones of the nation. Thank God there was no television in the Chamber then.
My second remembrance illustrates the point made by the Leader of the House about one of Lady Thatcher’s best qualities and most formidable weapons. My wife and I had been invited to one of those Downing Street events to mark the visit of some foreign leader; I honestly cannot remember exactly who it was. Afterwards, as we came down the stairs of No. 10, we met the Prime Minister coming up. My wife, who, I should explain, is much more rampantly left-wing than I am, hated her policies with a passion. The Prime Minister stopped and talked to us for a few moments. As she moved away, my wife hissed through gritted teeth, “She’s absolutely bloody charming, damn it”. So she was—to everyone, except of course those who happened to be in her Cabinet, as this row of wholly unextinct volcanoes sitting in front of me will no doubt attest.
This was only one of her many paradoxes. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, pointed out, she was not at all the straightforward, black and white, no-nonsense, unbending warrior leader that she latterly liked to portray. She knew, at least until the very end, when to compromise and did so, perhaps most significantly when, although relishing her anti-Europeanism, she nevertheless signed Britain up to the single European market.
In my view, three qualities set her apart as something different but each of them had its drawbacks. The first was a passionate commitment to freedom. As a Liberal, needless to say, I mostly welcomed that, although perhaps not as much as I should have at the time. Later, in Bosnia, when I tried to get a stagnant economy moving, I found myself putting into practice many of the very things that I had opposed when she introduced them: aggressive liberalisation of the markets, stripping down the barriers to business and lowering taxation. In these things she was right at the time, even if today we find that, taken to excess, some of these attributes have not led to greater prosperity for all but to near ruin and a disgusting climate of greed for the few. In this, I suspect that revolution she started has perhaps somewhat run its course. Our challenge today is to find a kinder, less destructive, more balanced way of shaping our economy, but that is today. At the time when she did those things, they needed to be done.
However, her belief in freedom was, one might say, strangely partial. She did much to enhance individual economic freedom, and our country was much the better for it, but she did far less to enhance the political freedoms of, for instance, the gay community or the people of Scotland, or perhaps most markedly and paradoxically—and this has been commented on, too—the standing of women in society. She was—and arguably, given the context at the time, this was one of her very greatest achievements—Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. However, her influence and power came not from the exercise of the female principles in politics but from the fact that she was far better than any man at the male ones.
Her second defining quality was her patriotism. David Cameron, the present Prime Minister, recently called her the “patriot Prime Minister”. It is a good phrase and an apposite one. However, her patriotism too, though so powerfully held and expressed, was more about the preservation and restoration of Britain’s past position than it was about preparing us for the challenges of what came next. She used her formidable talents to give our country a few more years of glory, and for that we should be eternally grateful. However, that legacy means that Britain today still finds itself uncomfortable and undecided about its true position in the world, not least in relation to Europe, where the infection that she planted still has the capacity to rip apart her party. There can be no doubt that she restored our country’s position in the world but in a way that perhaps today makes us even less able to answer Dean Acheson’s famous challenge that, having lost an empire, we have yet to find a role.
Her final triumphant quality was of course her courage. This, I think, is the pre-eminent quality of leadership and she had it in abundance. Yet this, too—her greatest asset—had its dangers. I used to have a principle in distant, more robust days that I would never take on operations anyone who was not at least as frightened as I was, but she was frightened of nothing. She could see the risks but she ignored them if she believed she was right, and paradoxically this, in the final analysis, was what ended her long term as Prime Minister. Is it not always hubris that gets us in the end?
She was complex, extraordinary, magnificent, fallible, flawed and infuriating. One thing, however, is certain and cannot be denied except by those so sunk in bitterness that they will not see: she won great victories for what she stood for at home and huge respect for our country abroad. If politics is defined—and I think it can be—by principles, the courage to hold to them and the ability to drive them through to success, then she was without a doubt the commanding politician and the greatest Prime Minister of our age.
My Lords, among the many tributes that Lady Thatcher received in her lifetime, she especially valued her election as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society, and I think that she would be very cross if that were not mentioned on this occasion.
Lady Thatcher was, of course, a science graduate from Oxford, studying under, and doing research with, the Nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin. At the Royal Society event celebrating her election, with uncharacteristic self-deprecation, she observed that this validated her career choice, because she doubted whether she would have been elected a fellow of the Royal Society for her research in chemistry.
Over the past two centuries, the Royal Society has elected very few Prime Ministers as honorary fellows, but Lady Thatcher richly deserved this recognition for the way she promoted and enlarged the voice of science, and science advice, in government. It is easy to forget the huge importance in the immediate aftermath of World War II of having good science and the voice of science influencing the Cabinet. The presence in the Cabinet Office of a first-rate scientist—distinguished and effective—as Chief Scientific Adviser had declined. In the 1970s, the office of Chief Scientific Adviser had declined to an informal one-or-two-day-a-week meeting with the policy unit in the Cabinet Office.
Lady Thatcher turned that around. She appointed a distinguished scientist and industrialist from Pilkington glass, Sir Robin Nicholson, and reversed that trend. She also valued, and indeed established, ACOST, the Advisory Council on Science and Technology, and frequently chaired it, which no subsequent Prime Minister has done.
In summary, we all know what a remarkable woman Lady Thatcher was, but we need more commonly to include and recognise her interest in and commitment to science as one of her remarkabilities, if I may coin a word. It certainly should be so recognised.
My Lords, I take my mind back to before I was elected to the House of Commons, when I spent a great deal of time abroad. Like so many of us at that time, I was constantly embarrassed at the sympathy that was offered to me by foreigners for the state into which Great Britain had descended. A few years later, I again spent a lot of time abroad, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The change could not have been greater in the admiration that was expressed for what had been done in this country. It was sometimes, I thought, slightly over the top. I could never quite get my mind around the remark made to me in Italy: “Oh, if only we had a Thatcher here!”. Can one imagine the concept of an Italian Margaret Thatcher?
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, would indeed have had some problems then, I fancy.
We should also come to some kind of consensus here today that there were two quite remarkable Prime Ministers of post-war Great Britain: two Prime Ministers who actually changed the country and did so in the way they wanted to change it. They did not sit as change happened round about them. They were Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. We have accommodated ourselves to many of the things which Clement Attlee did, although many of us would have opposed them at the time. Even some of those in his party, of course, opposed his policy on British membership of NATO and possession of nuclear weapons, for example; and we, on our side, for much of what he did in the social services area.
We should also recollect that Lady Thatcher came into office in 1979 somewhat against the odds that would have been offered a year or so earlier, because of the winter of discontent. The trades union generals had brought down Ted Heath’s Government. They brought down Jim Callaghan’s Government. They brought into office the Government of Lady Thatcher. They expected, particularly Master Scargill, to bring down her Government, too. What would have become of our democracy had they succeeded?
How many Prime Ministers could have defeated them and preserved our democracy? How many of those who saw her in her early days as Prime Minister would have dreamt that in partnership with Ronald Reagan she would have precipitated the end of the Cold War and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall? It was she, of course, who observed that Prague was not in eastern Europe but at the centre of Europe. That is a geographical fact. One of my regrets is that her successors did not sufficiently exploit what she had done, and that we have left those other Europeans—the Russians—still rather outside the European family and compact. There is still much to be done.
It is often said of her, and we have heard it again today, that she was divisive. However, there were two great influences in her life. One was her scientific training—and I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord May, mentioned that aspect of her life. The other, of course, was her religious belief. If I may observe to right reverend Prelates, there is a precedent for being divisive: there are sheep and there are goats. The noble Baroness was aware from both her scientific training and her religious beliefs that there are things that are right and things that are wrong, technically, scientifically and morally. She pursued that which she believed to be right. I must say that as her party chairman I found that my life was made much easier by my understanding of the certainties of her beliefs. She never asked me to commission a focus group. Had I been asked I would have resisted manfully, I hope. What is more, if I woke in the morning, turned on the radio and heard the BBC’s version of the news of the day I would know what her reaction would be to the news because of the certainty of the construct of her beliefs. It made life very much easier for me.
I should also like to say how grateful I will always be for the fact that she gave me the opportunity to serve in high office the country that she, I, and I believe all of us here, love. I am also grateful to her for that other side of her character, for the support that she gave to my wife and me after we were injured. No doubt somebody in this House will correct me, but I cannot think of a precedent for a Secretary of State remaining in office as Secretary of State although absent from the Cabinet for over three months. She allowed me to run my office from my hospital bed. Admittedly, I had the support of two splendid civil servants in particular who ran my private office, both of whom have appeared again in other roles: Mr Callum McCarthy, and another fellow who I believe has achieved high office somewhere more recently; he was the Secretary of State for Health not long ago. They were quality people, but it was she who backed me and allowed me to continue.
I did not always agree with her, because I have some rather strong convictions and views, too. I recollect one occasion when I left her office at No. 10, walked back to Victoria Street, got into my office and asked my Private Secretary if there had been any calls from No. 10. “No, Secretary of State”, he said, so I knew then that I was still the Secretary of State while I was walking back.
Of course, she was brought down in the end not by the electorate but by her colleagues. Not only is it quite remarkable that she won three elections running—someone else has done that since—what was remarkable was that she polled slightly more votes on the occasion of her third victory, when she had been in office for eight years, than on her first. I regard that as a triumph for her.
My regrets? Because of the commitments that I made to my own wife, I did not feel able either to continue in government after 1987 or to return to government when she later asked me to do so. I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends. That I do regret.
I wonder if I could intervene briefly. I was elected in May 1979. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, referred to the photograph of the first Thatcher Government. I can tell him that there was a group of about a dozen newly elected MPs—because that was all there was of us—deciding whether it would be better for our morale to be photographed as a group or individually. We decided that it was probably better to do it individually, although if I had had the wit I would have asked if we could have borrowed the Cabinet Room to do it in.
In a way one of Margaret Thatcher’s achievements was that she forced the Labour Party to reinvent itself. Following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I should say that it was also what Clement Attlee, later Lord Attlee, made the Tory party do after its reputation in the 1930s. Both those people had very different personalities but had a similarly dramatic effect on changes in the country. We need to remember that.
I also recall Jim Callaghan saying to me in May 1979 that the people he felt most sorry for were those of us who had just been elected, because, he said, “You will be in opposition for about 10 years”. Well, we were 18 years in opposition, which was when we forced ourselves to change. It is an important impact in British politics that our system forces political parties to change. If you do not listen to the electorate, the electorate ignore you, and you pay a very high price for that.
I want to say a few other things. Jim Callaghan also said to me at the time that he had hoped with North Sea oil that we would be able to make some changes to the economy that we needed to make. That was really where he was at. He felt that the economy needed to change, and that with the advantage of North Sea oil we could do it. Margaret Thatcher took a different view. She felt, as has been indicated a number of times, that you had to force change on people. This is where I part company, and it is a fundamental difference between the two parties. There were ways of bringing about the changes that were necessary then without some of the conflict that we experienced. You need only look at what Germany did, particularly with East Germany, to see how change of that type can be brought about differently. That is an important lesson. It is a powerful one.
Margaret Thatcher also had, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, knows, a strong suspicion if not dislike of trade unions. He and I debated that on one or two privatisations. I noted the good comments made by Matthew Parris in the Times yesterday about how she hated the closed shop, and hate was underlined by Margaret Thatcher. That is one of the ways in which she made some of the negative aspects of the trade unions change. I have never taken the view, and still do not take it, that trade unions are not a very important defence in a democracy; they are an important right for people. But I also acknowledge what we were blind to in the 1980s: that some of the practices within the trade union movement were not only doing us damage but were bad practices that needed to change. That is another message we should emphasise.
This may sound patronising but it is not intended to: when I questioned Margaret Thatcher in the House I sometimes felt that she was very much on the right track but was somehow missing the big opportunity. Council house sales are one such example. In my view, selling council houses would have been a brilliant policy if she had done what Hugh Rossi, I think, had suggested: reinvesting all the money from the sales of council houses into the building of new houses. Margaret Thatcher took the opposite view. If she had not, that would have been a truly brilliant policy. As it was, it was the right policy, but it was not followed through in the way I would have liked. Most people here have said that she followed through all her policies with determination. However, I should have liked her to have pushed over to the other side a bit on that policy so that we could have had the investment in housing that would have saved us a lot of the problems we have today.
I certainly did not like some of the language that was used. It has to be said that the language used about the trade unions was deeply damaging to the fabric of Britain, particularly in the north and the west. I was shadow Home Office Minister at the time and I looked at what the police were doing during the miners’ strike, the print union strikes and others. What troubled me was that when the phrase “the enemy within” was used, you had to know that the police officer facing the picket line was often a relative or close friend of the miner on the other side of the line, particularly in south Wales but also elsewhere in the UK. The phrase “the enemy within” began to fragment society in a deeply unsatisfactory way. In a way, her love of an argument and pushing it through with a passion and fury of her own made her enemies, which perhaps need not have happened.
I agree entirely with the comments made earlier about the Anglo-Irish agreement, although, as I think I have said in this House once before, we owe an awful lot to Jim Prior for that and for his strategic thinking on the Anglo-Irish agreement. That was absolutely right.
Fairly soon after I was elected, the Falklands issue came up. I have heard the quotes from Enoch Powell, and they were absolutely right. What interested me and taught me a lesson was that, as a result of defeating General Galtieri, the dictatorship in Argentina fell. It might be beneficial if the people of Argentina think about that. Although it might not have been the intention in the first instance, it was the outcome. It might be contentious to say this, but it also is my belief that that helped to bring about the end of the juntas in South America, which we all took for granted at that time. One after another they fell. One of the messages was that you need to stand up to dictators. Again I might regret some of the language that was used—not least in the Sun at the time, which played on the worst aspects of nationalism—but the reality was that standing up to a dictator like that had benefits for the Argentinian people as well as being the right thing to do.
In a way, what saddens me the most is the divisions between the north and south of Britain and with Wales. If the policies in Scotland had been different, the Tory party would still be significant in Scotland. I for one as a Labour politician often prayed for the Tory party to recover in Scotland. If it had not been destroyed, the SNP would not be where it is today: namely, a threat to the union, which Margaret Thatcher would have been appalled by. In part, it came about because of the assumption that Scotland could be taken for granted. It cannot, and the same applies to Wales and other parts of Britain, including the north of England.
I think that history will judge her well. She was a major political figure by any standards. She argued dramatically and with great passion, but in doing so at times she sowed the seeds of bitterness. She loved an argument, she loved a challenge and she loved change. In that way, she was a Tory radical, not a one nation Tory. It is an important lesson for us all that you can be a great leader in a democracy but that no great leader changes things without hurting people. I say this not as any criticism of Margaret Thatcher, but I think that we should be careful about going down the road of military involvement in funerals, because there is danger in linking that to political parties. That might cause us problems in future.
Margaret Thatcher was an extraordinary performer as Prime Minister and very influential. That taught me a lot, but it is important that we recognise that there is a balance. People who are doing what are to my mind foolish things, such as having parties in the street, are totally wrong, but we need to recognise that in a democracy minorities have to be heard. No Prime Minister can govern entirely compassionately—Prime Ministers have to take tough decisions and hurt people—but in doing that they need to try to get some balance in the community. That requires compassion as well as conflict.
My Lords, I know that we have some marvellous speeches yet to come, and we will benefit from them all. I think the mood of the House is that my noble friend Lord Wakeham has been waiting for a while. I am certainly keen to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, after that, and I hope that others are, too.
My Lords, I sense the mood of the House and shall be as brief as I can. I do not intend to say anything about the great issues surrounding Margaret Thatcher, but I was her Chief Whip for the whole of her second term in office, and I want to say one or two little things about what I would call the human and personal side.
Frequently, late at night, I would have a long talk with her about the events of the day. I am afraid that the things that she said on those occasions will go with me to the grave, but anybody who had the slightest doubt about her sense of humour had only to be there on one of those evenings. She had a very agreeable sense of humour, even if, on some public occasions, she managed to conceal it.
Secondly, I have to say to my noble friend Lord Tebbit how much I appreciated what he said about the kindnesses that we received after Brighton. The kindnesses and support that we got were way beyond the call of duty, to the point where I held my wedding reception at No. 10: the first time, I think, that anybody had been married in No. 10 since Lloyd George’s daughter when he was Prime Minister. It was very special that we were allowed that.
My last point has a degree of topicality. I remember when the chairman of the Procedure Committee in the Commons came to see Margaret Thatcher to say that he had a wonderful idea for improving Prime Minister’s Questions. He had the bright idea that instead of Questions being on Tuesday and Thursday, they should be on Wednesday for half an hour. She looked him steely in the face and said, “What do you think the House of Commons would like?”. That was the end of it. Things stayed as they were.
She had more madness—not madness, more reason—than she admitted. Of course she knew that every Tuesday and every Thursday, she had to be, as she put it, match fit for Prime Minister’s Questions. That was a great advantage. However, there was a second great advantage in that her whole Government knew that on Tuesdays and Thursdays the boss was in the House of Commons defending the Government. If any department had not sent a note as to what issues were coming up, I used to get the message and would very tactfully ring some fellow who was towards the end of his political career, although he did not know it at the time.
We have heard great things from all noble Lords, but all I would say about her is that she was an extremely human person to work for and that to do so was of course the greatest privilege.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I had a very long association with Mrs Thatcher and begin by associating myself with the regrets and the very considerable concern we all have for her family. In that context, I include her grandchildren as well as her son and daughter.
Mrs Thatcher and I followed one another at Somerville College, Oxford. She became the first woman president, I think, of the Oxford University Conservative Association, and I came, nearly five years later, to be the first woman leader of the Oxford University Labour Club. Somerville was the cradle for Prime Ministers, including Mrs Gandhi, and it very much embodied and understood Mrs Thatcher, who, above all—this is the first serious point I want to make—had the most incredible single-mindedness, determination, dedication and self-discipline. I do not think in my entire political life that I have ever met anybody who combined those four qualities in the way that she did. From the very beginning, she knew what she wanted to be and what she wanted to do, and managed to overcome virtually every obstacle one can think of.
So far in the speeches that we have heard, including the very moving one from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, we have not heard quite enough about the extraordinary patriarchal nature of British politics in the 1960s and 1970s. It was not easy to put yourself forward as leader of the party or, later, as a Prime Minister in those days. Our society was still a deeply masculine one, where any woman who stood up opened herself to patronage, to the assumption that she was of a second level of intellect and to all the rest that went with that. It is important to say—hopefully with respect but with some memory of what things were really like —that, for example, the then Prime Minister, Mr Heath, was clearly not too happy to have that particular woman in his Cabinet and rather cleverly seated her five seats away from him, so that she could not be seen if she got up and tried to speak. We remember that she had an extraordinary capacity to overcome—and even not notice in some ways—the objections that were raised to her as a woman. The assumption when Airey Neave took over her campaign for the leadership was that she would be most unlikely, on those grounds, ever to succeed.
In that context it is perhaps worth my telling one anecdote. According to Sir Denis Thatcher, at one stage he was sitting at home in Flood Street while Mrs Thatcher was ironing his shirts, which she was very keen on doing, and getting breakfast. She said, in a sort of rather casual way, “Denis, I am thinking of running for the leadership”. To which he responded, “Leadership of what, Margaret?”. That somehow sums up the wonderful balanced detachment and humour of Sir Denis. I cannot underline too strongly the extent to which I think Mrs Thatcher began to lose her life when he passed away. He was absolutely central and key to her whole personality and her ability to become what she was.
The second, very important, thing that I want to stress is something mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ashdown, which is her astonishing courage. Many people, including not least of course the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will recall the courage that she showed, and then sustained on their behalf, throughout the whole of the Brighton episode. Let us pause for a minute and notice the courage and daring that it took to take on the Falklands, 8,000 miles away, with the likelihood that we were going to be badly beaten. She knew that she had, in a sense, nothing to lose and everything to gain but it was still an extraordinary decision to make for a woman who was leading, to some extent at that point, a divided Cabinet.
I want to say one other thing. There is a great danger that we will sanctify Mrs Thatcher. She would not want that at all. She was always a great warrior. When she and I were in opposite positions—we were both Secretaries of State for Education, and sometimes opponents—she did not try to pretend that there was no difference between us. She loved it. She relished argument. She relished confrontation. She would not relish it now if this House failed to refer to that as an aspect of her personality and being.
There was another side to it, and I share the views of those who have expressed that. Her policies were terribly hard on the industrial north and Midlands. Her policies did not completely reflect the common ground that we were beginning to develop as a multicultural and multiracial nation. To me, that is an important part of what we are today.
It was interesting, however, that she was essentially a deeply pragmatic politician, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out. I will make two points on that. She never, ever, took on those things which were essentially, fundamentally accepted by the British people. She never attempted to roll back comprehensive education; she approved more comprehensive schools than I ever did. She never attempted to take on the National Health Service and turn it into a privatised service, because she knew where the British people stood and never forgot the reality of politics.
In conclusion, she was unquestionably one of the most remarkable Prime Ministers of her century, and in the world at that time. She also found it hard to get her mind around globalisation. Do not forget that she opposed, for example, the unification of Germany, which was key to the creation of a truly democratic Europe, west and east, in the period after the Cold War. We should not go too far in saying that she and Ronald Reagan brought that about; they made a major contribution, but there was of course somebody called Mikhail Gorbachev who showed astonishing courage in attempting to change the nature of the Soviet Union.
I do not want to take any more time up. There are many great speeches to be heard, and we have heard already some outstanding speeches. However, for courage, for single-mindedness and determination, there are few who matched Mrs Thatcher. History will certainly see her representation change in some ways—that always happens in history—but I do not think that she will ever be forgotten.
My Lords, listening to the radio and watching television in the Isle of Wight, I was struck by the number of Conservatives at Westminster who said that Margaret Thatcher had brought them into politics. Some even suggested that they had been Thatcherites long before she even came to power.
Although I served with her in opposition and in government for 15 years in succession, I make neither claim. Mine was rather a different journey. In the leadership election of 1975 I voted for Ted Heath, and then followed that by voting for my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. It is fair to say that that was rather an exclusive campaign. We had 25 definite promises and pledges and we ended up with 19 votes, that being entirely par for the course in House of Commons elections. We had some good quality, however, in my noble friend Lord Brittan and my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke. As we chewed over the result in a small room upstairs, none of us was convinced that the party had made the right choice. It was then, to my total amazement, that Margaret Thatcher put me into her first shadow Cabinet; it is fair to say that that amazement was widely shared. I had never done a Front-Bench job before. I was put in charge of health and social security against Barbara Castle; I think that is known as a baptism of fire.
However, that proved a point about Lady Thatcher. Margaret was sometimes seen as surrounding herself with known supporters and yes-men. She had the confidence and the self-belief not to do that. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, you did not have to be “one of us” to be in her Cabinet. All three of us at the time were doubters, but all three of us became members of her Cabinet, and our very good candidate—who sadly got only 19 votes—became her excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom she owed so much.
The second point is that she was personally kind and generous, and much concerned that her Ministers should not lose out in any way. I learnt about that in a roundabout way. After about 18 months I was moved from health and social security to transport. It was not the move that I was looking for. “What? Transport?”, I said to Margaret indignantly. She said, “Norman, I did transport. You can do transport”. That is exactly what happened. It proved to be a lucky move, for when the new Government were formed I went into the Cabinet, never having been even a junior Minister. Margaret Thatcher had a lengthy apology to make. She said, “I’m afraid we can pay in full only 22 Cabinet Ministers and you are the 23rd, so we will have to pay you at the rate of the Chief Whip”—my noble friend Lord Jopling, who is somewhere around. She said, “I am really very sorry about that”. I thought it best not to say that I would probably have done it for nothing had she asked, and we moved on.
I was fascinated by what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said about the visit of President Mitterrand to Downing Street. The noble Lord was lucky to face a socialist. My opposite number was a communist, M. Fiterman. The great thing was that after all these great events, you need a communiqué. It was a very genial meeting but there was nothing much we could agree on. The one thing we could agree on, at least in principle, was the need for a Channel Tunnel. The communiqué became about the Channel Tunnel. It ceased to be just an aspiration of the Department of Transport and from that moment became a proposal of No. 10 and went onwards.
My third point, on looking back on those momentous years, is that there were undoubted tragedies such as the Grand Hotel bomb. I remember as Health Secretary going back to Brighton the next morning—I had been there the night before—to visit some of the wounded. If I may say so, I remember the courage of many people, not least my two noble friends here today. There were other undoubted crises, such as the Falklands. That was the only time I remember Margaret Thatcher going round the whole Cabinet table and asking each Minister, one by one, whether they were in favour of sending a task force. Virtually everyone agreed; there was only one exception. However, I am bound to say that I at least agreed with my fingers metaphorically crossed because I joined the Army for my national service in 1956, at the time of Suez. That was not our greatest time. It seemed to me that if we could not get our forces efficiently from Cyprus to Egypt, it would be very difficult to get them to the other end of the world in the way that we did. The success of the Falklands was a tribute to our totally professional Armed Forces and to the consistency, determination and courage of Margaret Thatcher. My lesson from that was that the MPs who had voted for her as leader in 1975 had been proved absolutely right.
Above all, serving with Margaret Thatcher was always exciting. It was sometimes also great fun. Some say that she stamped all over her Ministers. It is true that if you were prepared to be handbagged she would oblige. She did not respect Ministers who came in with a proposal that they immediately withdrew when they heard the initial response from the Prime Minister. I learnt very early on that she really did enjoy an argument. Sometimes you actually won that argument as well.
She was an activist, she was a radical and she was, above all, a leader. Her death is obviously a terribly sad occasion and we all send our sympathies to Carol, Mark and the family. But above all, these days should be a recognition and a celebration of a great woman.
My Lords, I know that there is something of an enthusiasm for making contributions, which we all welcome, but having had a few sotto voce conversations, going round the groups, it now looks as though my noble friend Lord Waddington might go next, given his service to the Government. We will then hear from the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, on the Cross Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, who has been patiently waiting for some time. My noble friend Lord King, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, again for the Cross Benches, and then my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern will go next before we return to other Benches. I am most grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for giving me advance notice of some of those on her own Benches who yet hope to speak.
I shall try to be brief, my Lords. I will not add to the catalogue of Lady Thatcher’s great achievements: I merely wish to indulge in one or two rather personal reminiscences, which throws some light on her character.
Margaret Thatcher came out to help me in the Clitheroe by-election in February 1974. It was a very cold day and after an hour or two we repaired to a place to have lunch. I sat the constituency chairman on her left. He was so intimidated by the occasion that he could not think of anything to say for five minutes. He then burst into song and said, “Leader of the Opposition. Don’t you think it’s time we went for PR?”. I thought that the Leader of the Opposition would explode. She choked on her prawn cocktail, gave a great gulp and then said, “Well, of course, if you never want the Tory Party to win another election that is a very good idea”. The constituency chairman slumped into his seat and never said another word.
Margaret did not suffer fools gladly but she could be immensely kind—somehow very tolerant of ordinary human failings. The other day I read a book written by Carol Thatcher. I, like others, wish to give my condolences to the family. In that book about her father, Carol said that she asked him one day what was his idea of the perfect afternoon. He said, “It is sitting in a deck chair on a hot afternoon with a bottle of bubbly by my side reading a good book, and Margaret in a reasonably calm frame of mind”.
You have to say that Margaret was not always absolutely calm when you were working with her. She was always challenging, always relishing a good argument. Sometimes, when you had endured the flame and the fire, you came out of it thinking you might have won but you were never quite sure. She was a towering figure, but I saw signs of human frailty. I was with her behind the stage in the conference hall in Brighton in 1984. She was waiting to go in front and make her great speech. She was slumped on a sofa and I think it was Gordon Reece sitting on the arm of the sofa. Margaret was saying, “I don't think that I can go through with this”. He said, “Of course you can, of course you can. When you get out there, the whole world will be cheering for you”, and so it was. She went out in front of that audience and gave one of the most marvellous speeches of her whole life.
Margaret was absolutely free of side and self-importance. Once, I had an argument with her as to whether the BBC licence fee had been discussed in various committee meetings that we had had on the Broadcasting Bill. I said that I was absolutely sure that the licence fee had never been mentioned; she said that she was sure that it had. The minutes were called for; a man came into the room with a great bundle of documents. She seized the documents, threw them on the floor and flung herself on the floor to read them, bidding me to join her. After three or four minutes of fruitless search, someone knocked on the door and came in. Seeing that extraordinary sight, they might have been quite embarrassed. Margaret was not at all embarrassed. She got to her feet full of bad temper, not embarrassment. She flounced out of the room saying that the discussion would soon be resumed and that she would soon prove how pathetic was my memory.
She was a great person, a great person to work with, and I am immensely proud to have had the opportunity of serving under her.
My Lords, I have been invited by the Convener of the Cross-Benches to join all the tributes to Lady Thatcher, as I worked closely with her for some years. My memories of those years are vivid—not surprisingly, as Margaret Thatcher was never in the half light but always in the full light of events. My admiration for her is as strong as ever.
There are many noble Lords whose political responsibilities and political careers were very closely associated with Margaret Thatcher, and their tributes are weightier than mine. My tribute is from the point of view of a civil servant who briefed her and accompanied her to many summits and high-level meetings in the often tense and frequently contentious area of European affairs. It was both a pleasure and a challenge to work with her. It was a pleasure because, contrary to the popular impression, she always listened carefully to briefing and did not make up her mind until she had heard the facts and arguments. It was only after that stage that she became the Iron Lady. It was a challenge because she, rightly, judged the issues on the overriding criterion, “Is it in the British interest?”, and so did I, not on other factors such as pressure from other EU states or other institutions.
Among the issues, arguments and, indeed, rows during my time with Margaret Thatcher was the battle to obtain, and the process of obtaining, the budget rebate, which I believe has so far brought home about £70 billion to the United Kingdom taxpayer. In the light of later events, which are not relevant to our Sitting today, you cannot imagine how strongly she argued for two objectives—not one but two—which were, first, money and, secondly, the requirement of unanimity, so that the UK had a veto if there were any later attempts by others to take away or reduce the rebate. Both those objectives she obtained.
In the course of that, I learnt a lot about disagreements. It is therefore also a pleasure to me that, although all my papers are lost deep in the archives, I still have somewhere a piece of torn green blotting paper on which, after a discussion between Margaret Thatcher and me, in the margins of a European Council, she wrote: “I agree. Margaret Thatcher”, and then, again, “I agree. Margaret Thatcher”. In the field of European affairs, that may not be unique, but it is certainly rare.
If I may draw your Lordships’ attention to an entirely different aspect of the life and character of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, it to mention her origins as a good Methodist. This has already been mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. Lady Thatcher was born in Grantham in the county of Lincolnshire, and of course John Wesley was himself born in that same county, at Epworth. She was born into a very devout Methodist home, and the pieties and religious practices of that home, as well as the values and principles, were early learnt. I believe she had them processed into her very being, and I shared my views about that with her later on in her life.
I want to register where she comes from in terms of the primordial energies that shaped her character. She came down to London to pursue her career, although while at Oxford, as well as pursuing her scientific career, she was part of a preaching team that went around the villages near Oxford to take the Gospel and pronounce good news. Some of those who were in the team with her are still alive and will tell you their own tales. If only we could get the Appointments Commission to bring them into your Lordships’ House they would regale us with many a tale.
I believe therefore not just that I should introduce an element that is artificially drawn in, granted the grand themes that have already been adumbrated in previous speeches, but that I should describe something that was essentially her. She and Denis were married at Wesley’s chapel, where I have the privilege to be the minister, and Carol and Mark were baptised there a little later. She had an enduring fondness for the chapel and came back regularly. I say to many visitors who come our way that if they look at the handsome communion rail that was given to us by Margaret Thatcher, it is the kind of evidence that everybody needs that, despite all those who say the opposite, she did actually help some people to their feet. It is worth noticing that as a vice-president of the Friends of Wesley’s Chapel she was a faithful friend, although, of course, as many Methodists do, she was translated into the other place, namely the Church of England, and made that her spiritual dwelling place on a regular basis.
I would have loved to have shared with her my feelings about her quotation of a sermon by John Wesley when she was in Edinburgh. It was a sermon on money, and of course, she was well known to have her own views about that. I think that she wanted to draw John Wesley very much into her own thinking and to make him suit her purpose. She quoted two points of Wesley’s sermon: that it was the responsibility of all Christians to earn all they can—that is all right—and to save all they can, although I can personally attest that with a 0.5% interest rate there is not much point in doing that these days. However, she omitted the third point of John Wesley’s argument—that having earned, and having saved, good Christian people should be altruists, spending and giving all they can for the common good.
As I say, she was a great friend. It is interesting that as well as being the minister of the church where her marriage service took place, I happen to be an honorary canon of the cathedral where her funeral service will take place. I shall be there next Wednesday in that capacity.
There are many points upon which I disagreed fundamentally with her. When she came, for example, to open one of the two museums that we have on our site—it was in 1981 and things were not going well for her at that time—many of us who championed the cause of the poor and were very radical young Methodists were out there, shouting the odds and sounding a different music from what was inside the building she was opening. She was as well briefed for a humble visit to the Methodist chapel as she ever was on matters of policy in the ways that have been alluded to in previous speeches. She knew the answers even though we who were there all the time often did not. It is strange that God, or whatever noble and secular Lords want to substitute for God, has put a sense of humour at the heart of things. This young Turk who was asking for this chapel to be pulled down and for the money raised to be given to the poor is now the minister of the very chapel that he wanted to be destroyed and disposed of.
However, she was a friend to the end. She wanted to come to church the week after their 50th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke in the course of a short holiday that she was then taking in Madeira and was not able to come. I count it a great privilege to have known her just a little. She exchanged some opinions with me—for example, about South Africa at a crucial stage in its life. She said “The chief’s the man”, meaning of course Chief Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party—and she could not have been more wrong, could she? At the same time, she did things which I suspect we on our Benches would be glad of because they were things that we would have liked to have done but perhaps did not have the right positioning to do.
Hers was a very complex character. History will tell, but she was larger than life. The inhabitants of the county of Lincolnshire are known popularly as yellowbellies. She was not one of those.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, with his most interesting and personal recollections of a very remarkable person, whom I had the honour to serve for a considerable number of years in her time as leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister. In the discussions already, I noticed that the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred to Britain being on its knees. I have brought with me my prop, which I used in successive elections in 1983 and 1987. Some noble Lords may be familiar with it. It is Sir Nicholas Henderson’s “valedictory dispatch” from Paris, which he sent under the impression that he was retiring from the Foreign Office on 31 March 1979. He did not actually retire because no sooner had he got back to this country than the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who was the new Foreign Secretary, invited him to go to Washington. He was a very successful ambassador for us there and very important during the Falklands War.
Perhaps I may read just a few extracts from what Sir Nicholas then said. It is entitled Britain’s Decline; Its Causes and Consequences. Incidentally, it was written to the right honourable David Owen MP—I am sorry that the noble Lord is not now in his place—who was Foreign Secretary at that time before the 1979 election. He wrote:
“SIR—since Mr Ernest Bevin made his plea a generation ago for more coal to give weight to his foreign policy our economic decline has been such as to sap the foundations of our diplomacy”.
He went on to say that,
“in the mid-1950s we were still the strongest European power military and economically … It is our decline since then in relation to our European partners that has been so marked, so that today we are not only no longer a world power, but we are not in the first rank even as a European one … We are scarcely in the same economic league as the Germans or French. We talk of ourselves without shame as being one of the less prosperous countries of Europe”.
Sir Nicholas went on to say that,
“anyone who has followed American policy towards Europe closely over the past few years will know how much our role as Washington’s European partner has declined in relation to that of Germany or France”.
He ended with this statement:
“Viewed from the continent”—
he was our ambassador in Paris at the time but would be retiring —
“our standing at the present time is low. But this is not for the first time in our history, and we can recover if the facts are known and faced and if the British people can be fired with a sense of national will”.
Is that not what we are discussing here today, and is that situation not now remarkably transformed?
If I have one criticism of a great Prime Minister, it would be that in showing the leadership for that national will she worked far too hard. The one thing that I remember at Cabinet meetings—and one or two of my colleagues may recall this—was the occasional stifled yawn because it was such an extraordinary time. I remember walking out of a reception at No. 10 that she gave one evening. She was saying goodbye to various guests and just ahead of me was a BBC producer from the World Service. She said, “I do like the World Service. I listen to Radio 4 at 11 pm and midnight, and then I switch to the World Service and listen to that at one o’clock, two o’clock and three o’clock”. Anyone who worked with her will know that she displayed commitment and knowledge, whatever subject came up. The amount of background work that she had done was clear, as the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Armstrong, will remember better than me.
Bearing in mind all the pressure that was on her, we have heard a number of tributes today to her personal approach to people and to her kindness. I recall a wonderful incident which, as noble Lords will understand, made a great impression. I came into the Cabinet at the very beginning of January 1983. My mother died two weeks later. I think that the first Cabinet meeting we had was when Parliament came back. She took me to one side and asked, “Did your mother know, before she died, that you had come into the Cabinet?”. I said that she did and she replied, “I’m very pleased”. It was that sort of personal interest in people that made such an impact on us all.
I do not blame her for landing me with some of what I think were the nastiest jobs in government. That would not be quite fair. I was Secretary of State for Employment through the miners’ strike and I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Tebbit said. Afterwards—I think this applies also to the comments about the Falklands—it may have looked as though the decisions that were taken were easy. However, both events were close run. They could easily have gone wrong and, if they had, it would have been the end of the Conservative Government and the end of her as Prime Minister. They were close-run things and very tough, and I say that having been closely involved not only with the Falklands but with the miners’ strike, together with my noble friend Lord Tebbit, with whom I sat on the emergency committee throughout. However, they came right, and there is no question that her determination was the crucial factor with regard to both the Falklands and the miners’ strike.
Then, for a quiet life, I went to Northern Ireland, where I had the pleasure of inheriting the plan that had been laid by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. It did not meet with universal approval from the Unionist party and we had some interesting times. I recall one moment when both Margaret Thatcher and I looked suitably nonplussed. We had the signing ceremony in the large drawing room in Hillsborough in front of all the television cameras and then she made a suitable speech, saying how she hoped that this would be the beginning of a good relationship, and that it would establish more security and confidence in Northern Ireland and a better relationship with the Government of the Republic. She then turned to Garret FitzGerald and invited him to speak. He started off in Gaelic. Margaret looked at me as though I would know what he was saying. I had been Secretary of State for only two months and had not learnt Gaelic in that time. Neither of us had any idea about what he was saying and a bit of a shiver went through the room until we got back to the English language, which was a relief.
Her courage showed throughout that time. At the very beginning, I happened to have a flat on the same landing as Airey Neave. The bomb was placed in his car outside our block of flats and the tilt switch did its deadly work when he came out of the House of Commons car park. This was when Margaret was just embarking on a terrifically demanding election campaign. I do not think that any of us will forget the speech that she made as a new Prime Minister two weeks later at St Martin-in-the-Fields in memory of her great friend, who had had so much to do with her success as leader of our party and had been her spokesman on Northern Ireland.
Then of course we had the Grand Hotel and, sadly, Ian Gow. I remember that through all the difficulties—I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong—and whatever comments and reservations come out now or later, she certainly backed me to the hilt all the way through as we sought to ensure that the Anglo-Irish agreement would bring benefits to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
I will refer to an event that noble Lords may remember: the bomb outrage at the Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen. The event shocked everybody in Northern Ireland, right across the communities. It was a really difficult time when the confidence that one needed to maintain was slightly wobbly. I said, “The British Legion aren’t going to allow their Remembrance Day service to be destroyed. We’re going to have another service in two weeks’ time”. I talked to the noble Lord, Lord Powell, who was then her Private Secretary, and asked, “What is she doing on Sunday week?”. He said, “Oh, she’s got a meeting with President Mitterrand in Paris”. I said, “What time is that meeting?”. He said, “It’s in the afternoon”. So I said, “Look, if we organise it, do you think she’d come to Enniskillen to give the lead, reassurance and comfort that is so important?”. Without hesitation, and in spite of the fact that she was a prime target for the terrorists all through her time, she came. It was wonderful cover. The press said, “What’s she doing on Sunday, with this big parade in Enniskillen?”. We said, “She’s got a meeting with Mitterrand”. With the help of the RAF, she came in the morning and we had a great service. She got lashed and drenched with Fermanagh rain in the square of Enniskillen, but she did not let that put her off, and it was hugely appreciated.
Then of course I moved to defence for a quiet life and was able to see for myself the extraordinary respect in which she was held in eastern Europe. I think I was the first NATO Defence Minister to go to a Warsaw Pact country. I went to Hungary. I knew already of the extraordinary respect in Poland for what she had done, which has already been referred to. In Hungary they gave me a piece of rusty old barbed wire. It was part of the 200 miles of the iron curtain that had stood for almost 50 years on the border of Hungary to keep back people who wanted to move away for a better life. The image throughout eastern Europe at the time was that she above all was the person to whom they felt enormous gratitude.
Then we had the Gulf War. I sympathise in one way with Saddam Hussein. He was not to know that on the day that he invaded Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher would be in Aspen, Colorado, to receive the Medal of Freedom at the Aspen Institute, and that President George Bush was flying down the next morning to present her with the medal. That was Saddam Hussein’s bad luck. As I travelled round the Gulf after the first Gulf War, there was no question of the belief of the leaders of the Gulf countries that they owed a debt to Margaret Thatcher for the speed of response of the United States at that critical moment. Contrary to Nicholas Henderson’s valedictory report, such was her standing that George Bush invited her to attend a Cabinet meeting in Washington. Undoubtedly, her determination assured the speed of response that we got.
That determination and respect led to some problems in government. It was almost impossible for anyone to get elected in any country in the world without including in their election address a picture of them shaking hands with Margaret Thatcher. I remember that on one occasion the Cabinet meeting had been brought forward. She said to me, “I’m sorry this is happening a bit earlier, I’m going to the Derby”. Somebody said, “You’re going to the Derby?”. She said, “No, I’ve got to meet Mugabe”. That was an indication of the extraordinary range of people who wanted to be seen to be associated with her.
I suppose this is the ultimate endorsement. Some may remember the interview that she did in the United States with Walter Cronkite, which showed that the standing of Britain under Margaret Thatcher had changed completely. At the end, Walter Cronkite turned to her and said, “Mrs Thatcher, will you accept a nomination for the presidency of the United States?”.
That leadership and will transformed our country. Her courage, humanity, good will and friendliness to anyone who went with her are things that we will never forget. It is a great privilege for anyone to have the opportunity to pay tribute to a very remarkable person.
My Lords, over a long career in broadcasting, I had many encounters with Mrs Thatcher, as she then was. Some were surprisingly endearing, even tender, and some were extremely challenging, as noble Lords might expect, especially when I was at the BBC. I see the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, is with us today. When Mrs Thatcher left No. 10, the staff in her private office clubbed together to give her as a parting gift a shortwave radio. The noble Lord said, “Prime Minister”, as she was for another day or so, “this is so you can be angry with the BBC all over the world”.
I first encountered Mrs Thatcher almost 40 years ago when, as a young television producer at ITV, my colleagues and I, several of whom I see here with us today in the Chamber, chronicled the deepening crisis in the UK in that grimmest of decades to which many of your Lordships have already referred—the 1970s. It was a decade of stagnating state-run industry, of accelerating inflation touching almost 30%, of three-day weeks, of the Times unpublished for a year, of widespread industrial strife and thrombosis. It was a decade in which the UK had to turn to the IMF for a standby credit.
On “Weekend World”, where I worked at the time, we canvassed proposed solutions to our dire circumstances on both left and right. We took a particular interest in the ideas of Keith Joseph, not mentioned yet today, and his then protégé Margaret Thatcher. She did not emerge as Leader of the Opposition fully formed. I recall her as a tentative and nervous interviewee under Peter Jay’s intense and rigorous cross-examination. Her fiery conviction would come later.
When Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, the country was anxious for all that to end—but the resistance that she had to overcome was still enormous, including, as others have said, from within her own party. But as we know, her conviction intensified, her determination grew and her courage proved formidable. Mrs Thatcher set out single-mindedly to address her toxic inheritance, and in due course she did indeed eliminate inflation. She introduced discipline to our public finances, she privatised the nationalised industries and she brought the trade unions under a new system of law. All that reform was unavoidable, but it also, as others have suggested, came at a high social cost.
In other ways, her premiership was not clear cut. Mrs Thatcher was an economic but not a social liberal. She was viscerally uneasy about Europe yet embraced the single market. She hated communism, but she championed détente. As we all do, she left behind unfinished business—in her case an under-resourced, underperforming public sector. While she liberated markets and inspired a new spirit of enterprise in the UK, we would in due course learn that without strong and effective regulation we would suffer gravely from untrammelled market excess.
However, if Churchill saved us from Nazi domination and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has already mentioned, Attlee was the architect of a benevolent social state in the UK, it was Baroness Thatcher who reversed our post-war economic decline and restored Britain’s confidence and standing, and who offered her successors a chance to build a new Jerusalem.
In an interview for the series on her premiership that she recorded for the BBC after she left office, Lady Thatcher declared,
“the Prime Minister should be intimidating. There’s not much point being a weak, floppy thing in the chair”.
She was never that—she was a very great Prime Minister indeed and truly the right person at the right time. The nation is deeply grateful to her.
My Lords, reference has already been made to Margaret Thatcher as a scientist and to her strong religious beliefs. However, there is yet another aspect to her experience that we should have in mind. She was a member of the Bar, having been a pupil to Lord Brightman, who many of your Lordships will remember from when he served here as a Member of this House and did tremendous work in committees of the House in various ways and in various subjects. She was a trained barrister.
My first personal contact with Margaret Thatcher was when she phoned me in Edinburgh on the Monday after the election in 1979, inviting me to become the Lord Advocate. A period of intense legal activity followed. At that time, the Lord Advocate was a member of the UK Government, but now, of course, he no longer is. He is a member of the Scottish Government, and the office of the Lord Advocate is to a great extent replicated in the office held by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. I was invited by Michael Havers, the Attorney-General, to co-operate with him in advising the Government on a lot of different matters. The ones that stick particularly in my mind are the European matters, because it was a time of great struggle in Europe in relation to the contribution that the United Kingdom had to make, which many thought was excessive. There were suggestions that we could refuse to make our contribution, and a lot of advice was sought about that.
The thing I remember particularly about Margaret Thatcher was that she was most careful on no account to do anything that was contrary to the legal advice she had received. From time to time, of course, she probed the soundness of that advice but, assuming the probing had been unsuccessful in dislodging it, she never went beyond it. Although that work was, in a sense, just legal work, it had an effect on the way in which she was able to negotiate, without the need to stop paying, the reduction in our contribution that she achieved. Many people thought that it was with the handbag; I believe that it was with really strong arguments that had been developed in the months before she went.
By 1987 I had become a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. I was sitting in this House listening to a debate about extradition when I received a call to come over to see the Prime Minister on Monday afternoon at about 5 pm. To my intense surprise, the Prime Minister told me that Michael Havers had resigned earlier that day for the reason of ill health, and she invited me to become the Lord Chancellor. She said that she was very anxious to have it on the news at 7 pm, so the time for decision-making was not ample, but that is what happened. Her decision in that respect must be regarded as very courageous.
Her courage in other fields has been spoken of, and it was beyond any question, but her courage in this field was pretty remarkable because a very highly placed legal authority said that if he had been asked to take on the controlling of the Scottish legal system, he would have liked to have known something about it before he did it. I think your Lordships will know what was intended by that.
In those days, the position of Lord Chancellor to which I was appointed had a certain priority and protocol. Shortly after my appointment, my wife and I were invited to a state function at Buckingham Palace. At that time, the protocol was—it may still be, for all I know—that the first couple to greet the Queen and the royal guests from the other country was the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife. The second couple to go in was the Lord Chancellor and his wife, and the Prime Minister followed. My wife could hardly contain herself at the idea of going in front of Margaret Thatcher into the royal presence. Mrs Thatcher just said to her, “This is what you have to do. On you go”. My wife had to do what she was told. Her character did not allow for much debate on that kind of thing.
While I held office, I was completely free from any interference whatever in the work of the Lord Chancellor’s Department from Margaret Thatcher. She never interfered. As your Lordships will remember, in those days the nominations for senior judicial appointments were made to the Queen by the Prime Minister on the advice of the Lord Chancellor. It has changed now, but that was the rule then. In no case did Mrs Thatcher ever interfere with any recommendation that I made for a judicial appointment. That was a sign of extraordinary confidence, which I very much cherish.
In those days, protocol gave the Lord Chancellor a status that sadly has been somewhat affected by recent changes. By the time Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister, it fell to me as a senior member of the Cabinet to express on behalf of her Cabinet our tribute to her. I have to say that I was greatly assisted in the preparation of that tribute by Sir Robin Butler, as he then was, because we did not have a lot of time in which to prepare this document, which we thought had some importance. She began to respond but, as those of your Lordships who were there will remember, she had some difficulty in controlling her emotions. Someone suggested that I should read her response, which of course she had written out. I said, “No, not at all”, which was enough to encourage her to carry on, because she got immediate control of her emotions and finished what she had to say. Your Lordships will also remember that later that day in the House of Commons, she made possibly one of the best parliamentary speeches of her life. I am glad to think that she was prepared by the earlier experience.
As I have said, my wife and I are very conscious of the tremendous support and kindness we received. I have just illustrated our experience at Buckingham Palace, but that is just one from a great number. I know that many people here and outside have experienced extraordinary kindness and thoughtfulness from a woman who was extremely great.
Since we are almost at the half-way stage of the list of those who wish to speak, it might be helpful if I give an indication of where I think we are from now on and the number of speakers who remain. I should ask noble Lords who have indicated to me that they wish to speak please not to despair if they do not hear their name. It is just that they will be in the group after this. My noble friend Lady Trumpington may wish to speak next. Then we will return to the opposition Benches, to the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, who is ready to speak. Back on the Conservative Benches, my noble friends Lord Lamont, Lord Forsyth and Lord Waldegrave will speak. Returning to the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who has been waiting for some time, will speak. Then from the opposition Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, will speak, followed by, from the Conservative Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Young of Graffham, Lord Deben and Lord Saatchi. Then from the opposition Benches, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, will speak. Then from the Conservative Benches, the chairman of our Back-Bench committee, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, will speak, followed by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom. Returning to the opposition Privy Council Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will speak, followed by my noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Spicer. After that, I presently have about another eight names, including, of course, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, and others who are very much considered.
My Lords, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the staff who have turned up in the middle of their holidays. The food was warm and this place is as warm as it ever gets. Everything ran smoothly, as though it were a perfectly ordinary weekday event in the middle of the Session. We owe the staff a big debt of gratitude.
I had to speak today because I owe Margaret Thatcher everything. In 1980 she delivered her first Honours List. There were six men and me—rather like today.
I was so lucky to come here and to have worked for her and with her, and fought with her. The fighting was part of the process. She liked to have something to fight against. It gave her ideas and helped her make up her mind later. I remember a poor man who sat between us at a dinner. I said, “The Daily Mirror is quite right about the mentally handicapped”. She said, “The Daily Mirror is never right”. That started us off. I think the poor man thought we were going to hit each other, and probably him, in the middle of the dinner. That was the way it was.
The alternative was the incredible kindness on one occasion when in terror I had to attend a full Cabinet meeting simply because my boss was unable to get there. I only had one remark, which was, “Professor So-and-So should get the job. The Department for Education agrees”. In terror I said it three times. I also had not had the opportunity to see how the Cabinet worked. It was quite a revelation. When the meeting was over and she was leaving, she came up to me, patted me on the shoulder and said: “I’ll see that your professor gets the job”. That was the way in which we operated. It was either death to the end or eternal friendship—and I know which I would choose. I send my very warmest sympathy to her family and say what a great loss it is to me personally and to all her friends and admirers, wherever they are.
I will say one more thing. It is curious that all the speakers today, apart from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, have been men, and none has commented on her beauty.
I beg her pardon. None commented on her beauty. She was a beautiful woman. It took a French President to appreciate that, even if his remark had a twist—but that is typically French.
My Lords, the tributes paid to Baroness Thatcher demonstrate the huge impact she had on our national life—and rightly so. No matter what our political views today, so many of us are Thatcher’s children. I will be very brief and simply share my memories of witnessing first hand Baroness Thatcher’s famous drive, conviction and determination as she worked to save and revive Britain’s industries.
Margaret Thatcher was that rare creature, a scientist-politician, as many noble Lords have just mentioned. She liked to get the facts and most definitely did not like waffle. Those of us who worked with her witnessed some memorable hand-baggings, conducted with a very British, forensic politeness. Sadly, there was much to be forensic about when Baroness Thatcher became Prime Minister. Manufacturing dominated the economic landscape but in both government and private hands, our industries were underinvested, uncompetitive and unsustainable, which made them dependent on life support from government. Our manufacturers were industrial basket cases, yet it seemed a political necessity to protect the jobs that they represented. Our shop floors, such as Longbridge, had become global symbols of industrial anarchy.
Baroness Thatcher knew that this was not merely the fault of the workforce. British managers were poor. They had no understanding of global competitiveness, product development or design. They spent their time not managing companies, but managing their unions. By the 1980s, Japanese technologies and products starkly demonstrated the fundamental uncompetitiveness of British industry. As Britain’s first professor of manufacturing, I had the honour of having my advice sought as the Government searched for solutions to this crisis. It was pretty bleak at times. I remember when it was first proposed to privatise Longbridge, nobody even wanted to buy it. However, there was a solution: hard work for British pride. British businesses had to start working with foreign companies. Some resisted that, but not Baroness Thatcher. She always understood the importance of working better, working smarter and then working harder.
Baroness Thatcher was never anti-worker, as people think she was. She certainly hated restrictive practices, barriers and compulsion, but she truly wanted to give workers a chance to achieve and improve their lives. That is why she came to encourage us to connect with industry, support advanced technology and give industrial workers new skills and opportunities, which we did.
What is Baroness Thatcher’s legacy to British manufacturers? Through some very tough times, and despite much criticism, she built a framework for prosperity by giving British businesses the freedoms they needed to manage, invest and trade. The removing of the shackles made a huge difference. What we did not do, after she left, was capitalise on this. From Birmingham to Sunderland, British and foreign companies which invested in the future demonstrated what could be done. For example, as a result of Baroness Thatcher’s reforms, we now have a thriving automotive industry. Yet too rarely have we seized the chance of industrial success that Baroness Thatcher’s reforms gave us. For Governments and business alike, the lure of easy, unearned money was perhaps too great, and that happened for two generations. It is perhaps ironic that the freedom that Baroness Thatcher so cherished meant that we suffered from the financial speculation that she personally regarded with distaste. She preferred older, purer values: hard work, getting on and earning your place in the world.
The whole world heard those values. Everywhere I travel, from China to India to Singapore and to this very Chamber, I hear echoes of Baroness Thatcher. The voice is familiar and firm. I suspect that the noble Baroness would know exactly what to say to those responsible for our industries and leave them in no doubt what they needed to do to get Britain growing. We talk about rebalancing the economy; she would have done this 20 years ago. That polite, insistent, forensic voice will be long missed by all who heard it.
My Lords, I will follow directly on from what the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, has just said about manufacturing. However, before I do so, what a wonderful treasure trove this session had been. It is going to be of great value to historians and people who write about Margaret Thatcher, because so much material has been produced in the period that we have been here.
I will not go over the economic points. I agree with the things that have been said about how she saved our country and how her name is synonymous with courage. I, as a huge admirer of her, of course accept that there was bound to be argument after her death. However, I have been somewhat shocked and saddened by some of the comments made outside the House. I was so pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was so direct in her condemnation of those today.
I do, however, understand some of the anger that was felt in some communities that were impacted by our industrial policy. I want to comment on that because I was in the Department of Trade and Industry under the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. I was in charge of all the state-owned, loss-making industries. When Mrs Thatcher appointed me, she said, “Your job is to work yourself out of a job”—that is, I was to try, with Norman Tebbit, to make them profitable and then privatise them. There was, as the noble Lord said, a real problem of competitiveness and the cost to the taxpayer of sustaining those industries at a time when we were desperately trying to reduce borrowing. There was the fact that the jobs in so many of those state-owned, loss-making industries were not real jobs—they were supported only by the taxpayer.
I always remember discussions with Ian MacGregor, the chairman of the British Steel Corporation. In one instance, he told us that it was necessary to make tens of thousands of people redundant in order that other people could keep their jobs later on. He said that all the jobs would go if we did not grasp the nettle and take the firm, painful decisions that were necessary. It was indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, said, because of inadequate management that people such as Ian MacGregor, Graham Day and Michael Edwardes were asked to take charge of industries to try to improve their productivity and move them towards profitability.
The problem of the one-industry or one-firm town was always in Margaret Thatcher’s mind. Special measures were devised but, of course, when an industry goes, it goes quickly; it takes much longer to get new investment in. Sometimes it happens, as with Corby, but it is a difficult process. Some people said that Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph were going too fast and that we should go slower, but to her and to her Ministers it appeared that those who said, “Go slower”, did not really want to make the changes at all.
It will be for historians to judge, but I think that when they look back, they will be struck by the fact that so many other European countries saw a similar decline in manufacturing to us during that period and that things that were blamed on her were really an inevitable progression of European economies.
One thing that Margaret always did when there were factory closures in a constituency was to agree to see the local MP. I know that she had innumerable meetings with Labour MPs representing some constituencies because there were frequent closures. Some very improbable and unlikely friendships were struck up between Margaret and people who opposed her and her policies on the Floor of the House.
Much has been said, and I support it, about how she was really a person of compassion and concern. The stationer Smythson once told me that Margaret Thatcher was the biggest purchaser it ever had of little notelets, because she was always writing personal notes to people when they had hard luck or bereavement or illness in the family. I have a little collection of notelets that I received. She was extremely loyal to people. I always remember when one of her PPSs, Fergus Montgomery, was accused of shoplifting. It was all over the Evening Standard that the Prime Minister’s aide was accused of shoplifting. What was the first thing she did? She took him into the tea room and went around the House of Commons with him, showing that she thoroughly supported him. Of course, the charges were all subsequently dropped.
I remember hearing of a meeting at which Ferdy Mount in the policy unit was present, an important Cabinet sub-committee. He had a terrible cold and kept coughing. Margaret said to him, “You’ve got to do something about that cough. What you need is this”. She named a particular medicine. He said, “No, no, no, no”. She said, “Just a minute”, and disappeared out of that important meeting, went upstairs for about 10 minutes and came back with a whole packet of capsules which she then insisted that he took there and then. Of course, colleagues were thoroughly annoyed that that very important meeting had been disrupted, but she was so informal in that way.
I remember once helping her to host a party in Downing Street. I do not remember quite what it was for but after it was all over she invited the waiters who had been pouring the wine to sit down with her on the sofas and chairs. She poured them all a glass of wine and carried on chatting to them, discussing the party.
It was sometimes said that she was compassionate and concerned about drivers, secretaries and doorkeepers but not at all about Ministers. That is not true, although on one occasion I protested to Keith Joseph about how she had handled a particular colleague during a meeting. He looked at me in utter astonishment and said, “Oh really? You know her method. She deals in destructive dialogue”. Then he said, “She gives me the lash. They send a stretcher for me”.
She could sometimes be very unpredictable in meetings. I remember one occasion when she had been on a plane coming back from the United States. She sat next to the head of MGM—“More Gutsy Movies”—a man called Lew Wasserman, who was the chief executive. Somehow on that journey he persuaded her that her crowning glory as Prime Minister would be the state financing of film studios in Rainham Marshes in Essex. I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time and this was revealed to me. I expressed some bewilderment and astonishment at this proposal and said to her, “But I thought we believed in controlling expenditure”. I received a glare. I said, “I thought we believed in low taxes. I thought we didn’t believe in subsidies to inefficient industries”. I got more and more desperate and said, “Prime Minister, there’s no unemployment in Essex. We would have to build the roads in order to get to Rainham Marshes”. I remember her glowering at me very fiercely and in desperation I said, “You do know, Prime Minister, that we’ll have all the environmentalists against us because there’s a very rare bird”—I knew about these things—“called the Brent goose that breeds there”. She looked at me and said, “You are utterly hopeless. All you ever say is ‘No, no, no’. You do not have a constructive idea in your head. If you had been in my Government since 1979, I would have achieved nothing”. I said, “Well, Prime Minister, you’re always right about everything but there’s one thing you’re wrong about. I’ve been in your Government”—[Laughter.] I went back to the department and said, “The Prime Minister’s made a very strange decision but we must get on with it”. A few hours later, a call came through saying that she did not wish to pursue the matter. I saw her the next day, beaming. She congratulated me on something but there was no reference whatever to that matter.
Dealing with Margaret Thatcher was always unpredictable. She used to say, “Thatcher’s law is that the unexpected always happens”, and she made sure that that was the case. She was a wonderful person —someone whose name will, as I said, always be synonymous with courage. She was a person who always did things for the right reasons. It was a huge privilege to have known her and an even greater privilege to have been in her Government. I send my condolences to all her family.
My Lords, I join those who have paid respects to the Thatcher family. It is a terrible thing to lose one’s mother but to do so in the glare of international publicity and commentary must be particularly hard to bear. I think that we owe Carol, Mark and the family a great debt for having shared their mother with us for so long. We will all be thinking about them today.
The shadow Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was kind enough to point out that from time to time I helped Lady Thatcher as she attended the House of Lords. However, it was becoming something of a burden. I found that trying to keep going with my job and being here to look after Margaret was quite difficult, so I thought that I would tackle this problem. I said, “You know, Margaret, you’ve been Prime Minister and you’ve done a great service to our country. You don’t need to come here as often as you do”. She turned to me and said, “Michael, when we accept appointment to this place, it is our duty to attend here. How many times have you been here in the past two months?”. That illustrated her love for Parliament and her devotion to it. Someone said earlier that she was scared of nothing. She was quite scared of the House of Commons. I remember seeing her knees knocking when she was making speeches. That was because she respected the House of Commons. When you were discussing policy she would often say, “What do we do about telling Parliament?”. This was always central to her, and she had great respect for our constitution.
I first met her through Keith Joseph, as a young man in my early 20s, at the Centre for Policy Studies, now so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Saatchi, where they were trying to build the building blocks to turn around our country. As a young man I was told that Britain had no future—that it was best to emigrate. Somebody wrote an editorial in the Times saying that it would be impossible to govern without the support of the trade unions. I thought, “I’m going to have to get involved here”. I never wanted to be a politician, but I ended up becoming one because of Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph and the battle of ideas. Ideas fascinated her. Whenever you had an issue or a policy discussion, she would always start by saying, “What are the facts?”, and then you would work out how you were going to sell this particularly difficult policy.
She was quite forgiving of mistakes, and I made a few. As a young man I was involved in her leadership campaign as chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students. We produced literature to encourage people to vote for her, which was aimed at young people. I made the mistake of sticking one of the stickers on the party chairman’s door in central office, and there was the most almighty row, because the slogan was, “Put a woman on top for a change”. I thought, “She will never speak to me again”, but typically, she pretended not to understand the double entendre.
It is said that you can judge people by their opponents, and that has been used in the context of the disgraceful minority of Trots and socialist workers who have behaved so badly in recent days. I will mention one thing about Gordon Brown. As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown invited Margaret to No. 10 on several occasions but on one occasion she was invited for the unveiling of a portrait—a portrait of Margaret that had been commissioned and paid for privately. In his tribute to her, Gordon Brown said that there were only three other oil portraits of Prime Ministers in No. 10 Downing Street. One is of Walpole and was the first portrait of a Prime Minister to hang in the Cabinet Room; another was of Wellington, who saved us from Napoleon; and the third is of Winston Churchill, who saved Britain and Europe from the Nazis. He went on to say, “And I think it is entirely appropriate, Lady Thatcher, given what you have done for our country, that the fourth should be of you”. I was astonished by that, and then I thought, “Well, actually, it is possible in politics to recognise brilliance and achievements while still disagreeing”. Gordon Brown deserves considerable credit for recognising that.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, mentioned Margaret’s Methodism. Her religion was very important to her. However, she could be pragmatic about it. In her latter years a number of us tried to get her involved in social occasions. It is often said that she was not interested in the arts and music and so on, but that is nonsense. She was just so busy sorting out the country that she did not have time for it. I invited her to Ascot, and she said, “Well, I was brought up as a Methodist and we’re not really keen on this gambling, but I understand there are six races”. She opened her handbag and said, “I’ve got £5 for each race. Is that all right?”. The first race was run and she lost, and she looked extremely glum. I had seated her next to someone who was a racing expert, and I said, “What’s happened?”. She said, “We’ve lost”. I said to this chap, who was called Dominic Burke, “Dominic, if you lose the next race you’ll go the way of Michael Heseltine”. She said, “That’s quite right”. She won every single subsequent race. She had all this money and said, “I’m not sure the Methodists were right about this gambling”, and was so pleased that she stood on the balcony and joined in the singing of “Roll out the Barrel”. I thought, if only people could see the real Margaret Thatcher, and not the Margaret Thatcher that has been painted as an image.
A number of people have pointed to her having a feel and affection for, and an easy way with, ordinary folk. My noble friend Lord Lamont talked about this. When I worked for Flemings investment bank, we had a fantastic collection of pictures. She asked to see the pictures, so I arranged a dinner and a number of prominent people from the City came to it. They all sat down while we finished looking at the pictures. I was taking her up and everybody was waiting for her. Then the lift door opened and a cleaning lady came face to face with Margaret Thatcher and said, “Oh, Mrs Thatcher, I like you”. Margaret said, “My dear, what are you doing here at this time of night?”. She said, “I’m just finishing my shift, but I’m such an admirer of yours”. They got chatting and Margaret said, “Do you do the whole place yourself”. The cleaner said, “No, I’ve got all my friends downstairs but they won’t believe that I’ve met you”. Margaret said, “We’ll go and meet them”. I said, “But Margaret, we’ve got a dinner going”, but she went down and talked to all the cleaning ladies while everybody else had to wait. That was very typical of the way in which she operated.
Since 1990, she has been supported by a magnificent team of people. Of course, Denis was her main support until his sad death but Mark Worthington, her political secretary, really did work seven days a week and 24 hours a day. He did a brilliant job and sometimes dealt with very difficult issues which came up from time to time. I would particularly like to mention Cynthia Crawford, who was with her from the start. Crawfie organised her wardrobe and I can tell your Lordships that she was very careful about how she used her clothes and how they could be recycled. However, Margaret always turned out absolutely immaculately, down to the last day that she was here, for a lunch just before Christmas.
I went to the last lunch that she held in No. 10 before she left as Prime Minister, when Keith Joseph paid a handsome tribute to her. He had been the architect of so many of the ideas that she, with her pragmatism and clarity of mind, had gone on to implement. He said that she was a beautiful giant who had achieved more than any of us ever dreamt would be possible. I cannot add to how he put it. He is, sadly, not with us here today but made such a tremendous contribution quietly to the Conservative Party and its philosophy.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Forsyth. I think that the House has already paid tribute to his own role in support of Lady Thatcher in later years; it is one that should indeed be on the record.
I was her last appointment to the Cabinet. In the run-up to the first Gulf War, I was going across two or three times every day as Minister of State at the Foreign Office until she said, “Come in, William, I want a word with you. You are to be Secretary of State for Health”. This was unexpected news to me, as it was to the rest of the country and certainly to the health service. She looked at me and said, “I think you need a large whisky. I will have one too. Now, Kenneth has stirred them all up”—that was my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke—“and I want you to quieten them all down”.
She was extremely pragmatic, in the best sense, about the health service. She made it perfectly clear to me that if I thought that the reforms which had just been launched were not well based, it was up to me to stop them. As a matter of fact, I came to believe that they were the right thing to do and tried to follow them through. However, that showed that although she was often described as an ideologue—this is a point that has been made today—she was not. She did not fall into the mistake of thinking that there were grand theories to explain everything. She stuck to common, decent morality and then looked at the facts.
I want to make two small points in relation to that. It has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord May, above all, and by others that her science training was crucial to her. I think that it was; she was the first and only woman to be Prime Minister and the first and only scientist to be Prime Minister. I hope that there will be more of both. As the noble Lord, Lord May, said, she played an extremely important part in a number of crucial scientific issues, of which perhaps the most famous was the work to take action to stop the production of CFCs—chlorofluorocarbons—which were damaging the ozone layer. It did no harm, of course, that some of the crucial science which led to the proof of the damage to the ozone layer had been done by British scientists, by the British Antarctic Survey, so it was respectable science. She acted.
It was not always so successful. As a Minister in the Department of the Environment, I tried to persuade her to impose flue gas desulphurisation on the power stations to stop acid rain. She did not want to do it, partly because she did not want to put the price of coal up and damage the coal industry even more, although this may sound paradoxical to some. I plotted with Horst Teltschik, who ran Chancellor Kohl’s office, and said to him ahead of a bilateral summit in Bonn, “Will you get your man to really put some pressure on over this, because I think she might move”. She obviously saw me coming a long way in advance. We arrived in Bonn in helicopters and got out. There was a local inversion—a local hot day—and therefore smog. “Now Helmut”, she said to the cowering Chancellor—he was always a little nervous of her, as were others—“I will tell you what you have here. You have got an inversion and a smog. If you had proper clean air laws, like we do in England, that would have put paid to all that. I will explain the chemistry to you if you like”. He did not want to know the chemistry and no more was heard over that weekend of my plot. She was not an ideologue, she was somebody who looked at the evidence.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said of course that we must not forget the towering contribution of Gorbachev to the reformation of Europe. But who was it who first spotted that Gorbachev was the person with whom we were going to be able to “do business”? As a footnote here, we should pay tribute to a brave man, Oleg Gordievsky, who briefed her that Gorbachev was going to be a man you could do business with, but then she sold Gorbachev to Reagan, and the rest was history.
As another example, where she is often misinterpreted, she understood that FW de Klerk was something different and that all the clamour about sanctions was irrelevant. She preserved Britain’s position, so that when things began to move in South Africa, well briefed by a formidable ambassador in the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, we had leverage and she could say to de Klerk, “We will help you do this”. That is what Mr Mandela himself recognised. He paid tribute to her role in the final transition days from apartheid in South Africa. It is a crude and completely ignorant caricature to say that she was on the wrong side in South Africa—when it came to it, she played a crucial part.
The House deserves one apology from someone like me, who is a member of the University of Oxford, which she loved. I was present once when she was at a dinner at Somerville, my mother’s college, and spoke so movingly about what Somerville had meant to her, a grammar school girl coming into the world, and how passionately she supported the equality of opportunity that those colleges provided. It was a disgraceful example of the perennial ineptitude of the collectivity of the University of Oxford, which has nearly always managed to get these issues wrong—it got it wrong over Asquith and it got it wrong over her. It remains a disgrace and I only wish that there were some way of putting that right posthumously, but there is not.
In 1973, my then boss, Lord Rothschild, made a speech—or at least he gave a lecture which was then leaked—saying that in the year 2000 Britain would be half as rich per capita as France, which caused displeasure to the then Government of Mr Heath. It did not happen and instead we just overtook France. What had happened in between? Lady Thatcher had happened.
My Lords, I had the pleasure and drama of being the chairman of Margaret Thatcher's favourite think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, referred to so warmly by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, a minute or two ago, for all her time in power. It was a great privilege and great fun.
When she asked me to undertake this, I said, “But Prime Minister I do not know about economics”. She said, “Economics doesn’t matter: history matters and you know history”. I think she believed that. She thought that the historical background to events was more important than anything else. For example, when she went to the Soviet Union for the first time, she arranged a meeting of historians of the Soviet Union of great distinction such as Leonard Shapiro, Hugh Seton-Watson, Isaiah Berlin, George Urban and others to discuss the historical legacy of Russia and how far Russia could be said to be influenced by its own history even in Soviet days. The same thing was true about Argentina. She was interested in the history of the countries to which she went.
Once I summoned up my courage and wrote an analysis of the different dynasties of China, which I hoped would help her when she went to Peking for the first time. I gave it to her and I saw the surprised eyebrows of that great Sinologue Sir Percy Cradock rising in laughter. Incidentally, Sir Percy was one of the many people in the Civil Service whom she greatly prized and appreciated.
It is worth mentioning something that has not been mentioned hitherto—her historic position in foreign policy. It was remarkable that by the late 1980s, she was on the closest possible terms with Mr Gorbachev, the secretary general of the Soviet Union and at the same time a great personal friend and ally of President Reagan. To have been great friends with the Soviet Union and the United States was a remarkable and unique achievement. I do not think that we ever had that, even in the days of Sir Winston Churchill, when the doubts about Stalin were always present and lurking behind.
I happened to go to a dinner in Downing Street the night that the Argentines surrendered. The historian present, Sir Michael Howard, pointed out that the victory that we had had over the Argentines had not really had an equivalent since the Battle of Agincourt in terms of number of people killed on our side as opposed to those killed on the enemy side. “Not since Agincourt”, said Margaret Thatcher, who appreciated the allusion vigorously.
Margaret Thatcher was always concerned with things other than economics and it was a pleasure to work with her for such a long time and to have had such an interesting and moving time working at her disposal as I did for 10 years.
My Lords, I join others in expressing my condolences to the family of Lady Thatcher. She was very much a matriarch, not just in the Cabinet but in the family, and this must be a very tough time for them.
Some three years ago, I was looking after Baroness Thatcher at the annual ball for the British Forces Foundation, where she was the patron and I serve as a trustee. I said in casual conversation, which was actually very difficult with Baroness Thatcher, “I saw Carol on television the other night”. She said, “Oh yes. Carol was on. She speaks too much sometimes”. I said, “I wonder where she got that from?”, and she said, “From her father of course”.
I was a foreign affairs spokesman on the opposition Front Bench for 11 years—probably a world record for anybody in that position. I saw 29 Foreign Office Ministers come and go but only two Prime Ministers. I had that specialised vision of seeing her go from the Euro-enthusiasm of her speech at Bruges, which still reads well as an epistle to Britain’s strong position in Europe, to the famous day in the House of Commons when she quoted Jacques Delors and said, “No, no, no”. My memory was not of the “No, no, no”, emphatically delivered, but of watching the face of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the Deputy Prime Minister, as she said the words. It was as if he had been slapped across the face with a dead fish. Clearly it had a major impact, and perhaps that was the beginning of the end of the Thatcher era.
On the day I was appointed Secretary-General of NATO in 1999, I received hand-written letters from both Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher congratulating me on the job that I was about to take and offering me their best wishes for what I was about to do. It was a remarkable thing to get two such letters on the same day. I had a lot of experience in foreign affairs to take with me to NATO. A lot of what I had to do in opposition was to agree with the Government over the Falklands, Hong Kong and the rest of it. I also had to attend a series of functions held by the Government. I used to think that Lancaster House was my works canteen. I went to one lunch in Downing Street with Russell Johnston, representing the opposition parties, in honour of the King of Tonga. He was a very large gentleman with a very small voice. Russell Johnston and I were very keen to get back to the House of Commons for Question Time at 2.30 pm but recognised that we could not leave before the principal guest. We waited until the last second when Mrs Thatcher walked out of the room with the King of Tonga to escort him to the lift. Russell Johnston and I shot down the stairs but were overtaken by the Prime Minister. She said, “The king is in the lift”. Clearly, if the King of Tonga was in the lift, nobody else could get in. I said, “Yes, he’s quite a sizeable guy, but very difficult to hear at the back”. She said, “Oh, wasn’t it fascinating what he said?”. Her eyes were glowing. “He said he’s probably the first Prime Minister in history to go on to become king”. Russell Johnston and I had the same thought at the same time, but neither of us had the courage to say it.
She was a remarkable person. As I travelled both as Defence Secretary and Secretary-General of NATO, I realised that she was a very significant figure outside the country. As her popularity declined in this country and indeed in her own party, there was absolutely no doubt that the pioneering instinct that she had had, especially in central and eastern Europe, was well registered and recorded, and will be there for a long time to come. I have had a lot to do with Russia. I was the first chairman of the NATO-Russia Council. I recognise that the Russians saw in her somebody who was strong in her beliefs and in what she stood for. They respect strength. The collapse of the Soviet Union that occurred—I remind the House—30 months after its exit from Afghanistan was a seminal moment in world politics. However much we disagree with her in other areas, we cannot underestimate the role that she played in that tectonic shift.
During my time in the House of Commons as MP for Hamilton, I had a different view. Hamilton, the county town of Lanarkshire, overlooks the River Clyde. Beyond it are the towering industrial cathedrals of Ravescraig, Gartcosh and Dalziel, the great steelworks of the west of Scotland. They do not exist any more. Maybe they were going to go anyway. Heavy steel, engineering and the coal industry are perhaps in decline all across the western world, but it was, as some of her former Ministers have said, the way in which it was done which left the lasting impression and which will cloud the memory of somebody who made such an impact on British life.
That is something that we have to register and remember. She was a mixed blessing. Of that there is no doubt. I have a feeling that some of these distasteful and disgraceful demonstrations that have taken place in the streets might well have pleased her. She was not somebody who expected acclaim and unanimity, whether it was in the European Council or in the country as a whole. I remember the night that my friend the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, organised a special dinner after 9/11 in memory of the employees of JPMorgan Chase who had died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. Margaret Thatcher was there with Denis at the table. She made some comments about me speaking at the dinner; anyway, she was quite cordial. At the end there was a toast, the loyal toast to Her Majesty the Queen, followed by a toast to the President of the United States of America. I leant in across and said, “What if there was a toast to the President of the European Commission?”. She looked at me and said, “The words will never pass my lips”.
She was a great lady. There will be mixed feelings about her, but there is no doubt about the impact that she had on this country.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be able to pay tribute to the memory of Baroness Thatcher. I was her creation. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, put me in the Manpower Services Commission; she invited me into Cabinet. For five years, I had the privilege of working closely with her. I do not want to talk about those. Much has been said about the trials and tribulations of what happened over that decade. However, taking the words of Premier Chou En-Lai, when asked whether the French Revolution had been a success—“It is too soon to say”—I believe that the perspective on Margaret Thatcher will change as the decades go by and that her reputation will grow.
However, there is one aspect that has not really been covered which I would like to mention. It has been covered partially. I refer to her compassion and her greatness as a human being. Much has been said about the Falklands, but a little known fact about the Falklands is that every night during the six weeks of the campaign she would have a list of the casualties and every night, before going to bed, she would write a long, hand-written letter to the parents or partner, explaining how they lost their lives and in what a good cause it really was.
I was to experience this myself two or three years later. My young brother, Stuart, who was chairman of the BBC, died. On the day he died, by the time I got home, there was a three-page letter from Margaret, condoling me and talking about Stuart. An hour later, I got a phone call from Shirley, his widow. She had just received a similar letter, entirely different in content. Later on that day, my mother rang me. She had also received a letter from Margaret. How many serving Prime Ministers would take the trouble actually to do that?
One other little story shows that side of her character. After she had left office, my wife and I took her and Denis out for dinner. We were sitting at the Savoy when a waiter spilt something over my wife’s dress. Margaret grabbed my wife’s arm and said, “Don’t say a word. If you complain, he’ll lose his job”. How many people would actually think that way? With all the talk about the Iron Lady, I pay tribute to a very human lady who accomplished so much for us all.
My Lords, I was chairman of the Conservative Party on that terrible night in Brighton and I was with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and Margaret Thatcher at that very time. It was very late. We were writing the speech. Those occasions went on for ever. I thought I had the final bit. I knew I had not, of course, because there used sometimes to be speeches where I would be in the cellar writing on the autocue as it was moving and as she was speaking a bit that she decided she did not like. However, on this occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was finishing some work with her and I had just walked across the corridor to get the final speech photographed when there was a terrible bang. Automatically, the girls working in the office running off the speech and I all got to the floor. There was a second bang because the roof lifted off and then dropped again. It sounded like another explosion. The dust began to fall.
On my knees, I moved towards the door, opened it and put my head around it. On the other side of the corridor, the door to Mrs Thatcher’s room opened and she was on her knees looking around the door. Tragic comedy are the only words that I can say to describe what was happening. It was a mixture of, “What has happened? What should we do? Don’t we both look silly?” She got up, brushed herself down and said, “Right, we had better get on with something”. But what should we get on with, because we had no idea? She knew that things had to go on. She never said, “The party conference will continue”. Everyone assumed that it would because we knew—that was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—exactly how she would react and precisely what we would be expected to do. So we went off and organised the continuance of the conference. No one asked the question, except for the local chief of police. We soon told him that he had better not ask her that or he might be in even worse trouble than he clearly was going to be. The conference continued, although it was a harrowing and difficult time.
I was lucky enough to help write a lot of Mrs Thatcher’s speeches. She kidnapped me after a speech I had made at a wedding. I was not in Parliament at the time. She said, “Would you come and help me write speeches?”. I was surprised because I did not come from the same part of the party and I would not automatically have been thought of as a natural writer. But once she knew that you were loyal and that you cared about her, the relationship was absolutely one of trust, confidence and support. Occasionally, she would say, “Don’t listen to this John, I am going to say something nasty about Europe.”. She would say it and then she would say, “You can listen again now”, and we would move on.
I could not understand why I was seated next to her on the day we went with the Queen to open the Channel Tunnel. I was the Secretary of State for the Environment. We were both sitting there and I could not understand why. Then I realised that I was the foil. As we moved out of the station, she said, “This has got nothing to do with the Germans, you know. It is entirely the French. But I do not see why we import all that food from France. Why should we buy French cheese? We have perfectly good cheese of our own.”. I realised that she wanted an argument; so an argument we had. The argument went terribly well and we were half way through before either of us recognised that we had gone into the tunnel. It was absolutely a typical part of what she loved, which was to discover where she wanted to be by saying something to which she demanded a response. Her only demand was that you were rigorous in your argument. I have watched her destroy people, although never her unequals. She never set people down if they were in a humble position. However, she destroyed people who pretended that they knew the facts but came ill prepared. You never went ill prepared to a meeting with Margaret Thatcher.
I support the comments that have been made about her amazing kindness. You grew to have a very deep affection for her, even though you often disagreed. That was a very unusual ability on her part, and it was, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, down to her kindness to us all. If you had not had anything to eat, there were late-night meals in her flat. The first thing she would ask if you were late was, “Have you had something to eat?”. I have eaten more coronation chicken produced by Margaret Thatcher than I have at any other place or at any other time. I think that she did know how to cook other things but that was the staple diet. She also always knew about your family. She always asked about them and was interested in them. She knew their names and never forgot any of those things. When you think of the number of people she had to deal with, that was remarkable.
Of course, she could make terrible mistakes. She came to my constituency during the campaign for the 1979 election, which she won. She did so as a favour, because I was fighting a seat which the Conservatives had always won, but she made time to come. We decided that it would be very good if she went to a farm. She arrived and there was a rather ill calf, which she was not supposed to touch. We had a nice fluffy lamb for touching. However, she walked up to the calf, put her arms round it and picked it up. It was very heavy. For the photographers, it was fantastic—wonderful. Holding up the calf, she said, “I’m going to call it Victory”. However, the calf was ill and we got every vet in Suffolk to attend to it. We hid the calf from public eye and kept it alive until after the election. We were terrified that this blooming calf would die on us.
I want to say two very serious things. First, I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, and my very much loved friend, Lady Trumpington. Margaret Thatcher was a very beautiful woman. She had beautiful hands and lovely ankles, and she knew precisely how to use both. Any woman who is stupid enough to think that there is something unsuitable about using the gifts that God has given her should be ashamed of herself. She knew perfectly well that she used them not because she was not as good as men but because she was better than men, and she also wanted to have a bit of an advantage. It was a pleasure to see how she turned herself out and how she never forgot that she was a woman.
Secondly, I think that history will remember a rather special thing about her. She was a very cautious woman. She did not take on things lightly and she took them on one at a time. She recognised that you could not have a whole plethora of interventions, initiatives, new ideas and headline-grabbing ideas. She knew that you won things only by taking them one and one, fighting them through and succeeding with them one at a time. Caution is something that does not normally go with a charismatic leader, but one reason that she stayed for so long and was so successful was that she did not go ahead with the abolition of the dock labour scheme until she had dealt with the problems of the mining industry. She did not move to privatise water until she had made sure that people recognised that it was the only way to pay the bills. She had a quality of caution, which is something that very few people of her strength have ever evinced.
It was a privilege, a pleasure and enormous fun to work for her. Things were always unexpected and changed utterly all the time. You never knew what she was going to say or how she was going to receive a carefully crafted few paragraphs, but you did know that you were in the company of greatness. She was a star, and stars rarely come. When they do, we should recognise them without rancour and certainly not say, “It is not quite as bright as we would like it to be”, or that it fell in a different way than we might have liked. We should just say, “Thank goodness that our lives have been enlivened by that star”.
My Lords, the words party loyalty and love of party are often derided. They can lead to tribal politics, too much adversarial behaviour, tit for tat, Punch and Judy, and so on. But those words in the hands of Margaret Thatcher had a magnificence which only she could have achieved. I will explain how I know that.
After she was deposed, the view arose in our party that it would be a good thing, as there was much tension in the party at the time, obviously, if the former Prime Minister was invited to our party conference. It would be cathartic. She would not speak—that would be too dangerous—but she would go on to the stage to receive the applause of the party and that would be a cathartic moment. That was the idea.
I was with her in the green room in Blackpool and, in the course of making the kind of conversation that one does in the green room at party conferences, she said, “What did you do last night, Maurice?”. I said, “I had a lovely dinner with Professor Anthony King”, whom she knew. She said, “Where did you go?”. I said, “We went to a lovely restaurant, but a funny thing happened”. She asked what. I explained that we were upstairs; the downstairs was absolutely packed, as all restaurants in Blackpool are during party conference week. I explained that, upstairs, there was only our table for two and the rest of the room was empty. A long table was laid out for dinner for about 16 people. Professor King and I had the room to ourselves, as I explained. I also explained to her that when it came to pay the bill, I asked the woman who owned the restaurant: “What happened to those people?”. It was a shocking moment and I remember it vividly. I have never described it before, but I am doing so now. She said, “You did this. Your party did this. Don’t you realise that my husband and I can’t keep this place running. Party conference week is the most important week of our lives. Without the money from party conference week, this restaurant would close”. I said that I was very sorry; I paid the bill and we left. It was very upsetting. She was in tears.
I explained all that to Margaret and then—this is exactly what happened—she said, “Maurice, pass me my handbag”. I did not know what she was talking about. I passed her handbag to her and she started to rummage inside and took out her pen. She continued to rummage inside and took out a cheque book. She said, “Maurice, what was the name of the restaurant you went to last night?”. I said, “I think it was the Blackpool Brasserie”. She wrote the words Blackpool Brasserie on the cheque and said, “How much do you think they lost as a result of those people not coming?”. I said, “I don’t know, £300 or £350”. She made out the cheque; she signed it “Margaret Thatcher”. She tore it out of her cheque book, gave it to me and said, “I want you, Maurice, to take this cheque to the restaurant, give it to the man or the woman who owns it and tell them, ‘Conservatives don’t behave like that’”. What a woman.
My Lords, Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, was a truly remarkable woman. She was elected in 1975 as leader of the Conservative Party. We need to take into account the fact it was not just the fact that she was elected the first woman leader of the Conservative Party, and what she had to overcome, but her very humble background and beginnings. I can remember quite clearly the impact that had on women in Britain. Whatever your political views at that time, we realised that she had made a huge achievement in a party that we had always regarded as male-dominated: the old boys, public school and all the rest of it. From the side came this woman who succeeded in being elected as leader of the Conservative Party. At the time, one of my heroines, Barbara Castle, wrote—and I paraphrase—“Having listened to the lass, she deserves to be elected. She is head and shoulders above any of her opponents, but I don’t think they know what they’re getting”. How true that was.
However, 1975 also held another important landmark. It was the year that the United Nations declared International Women’s Year. It was also the year that Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act became effective. Many of the women in Britain, of all political parties and none, felt that this was a turning point for us: this really was good news and women would start to make their mark more than they had been able to in the past. It would be down to ability rather than a whole host of other criteria.
It is regrettable that the legacy of this quite remarkable woman, who was the dominant politician in the 1980s, did not much encourage the growth of women coming forward and taking positions of authority. I have heard today many warm stories that I have never heard before from Conservative Peers in this Chamber which, it seems to me, are stories of the family of conservatism. However, we must also remember that the public perception was not that. It was one of a Prime Minister who, whatever political party a Prime Minister comes from, has a responsibility to try to generate within the nation a feeling of one nation, consensus and being able to move forward together. Yet that public persona of conviction and confrontation held back much of what might otherwise have been achieved.
We have heard today about the trades unions. It has become a mantra, one of her huge achievements. It is just as dangerous to sweep all trades unions into one pocket of description, as it is to do so to any political party or group. There are trades unionists who recognise that change needed to take place. There are some sat on these Benches today, and I like to think that I was one of them; certainly, my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood was another, and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. We were trying to make changes. Unfortunately, that statement about “the enemy within” was probably one of the most polarising statements against any change that we would have been able to achieve, and made consensus difficult. Had Mrs Thatcher, as Prime Minister, taken the same view with a number of the trades unions in Britain as she had with the President of Poland, in suggesting that he should talk to Lech Walesa and his fellow workers, maybe the outcome would have been different.
The trades unions achievement of Lady Thatcher is something with which history will deal. It will also be for history to judge her, but I think that we can all agree today that none of us would either support or condone, whatever our political views, the small number—we need to keep it in perspective—of demonstrations against Mrs Thatcher, bizarrely celebrating her passing. That is not something with which any of us indentify or would condone.
One of the other strong memories I have of Mrs Thatcher was that many on the Conservative Benches in the Commons did not want her elected. She won. She deserved to win. Yet her last day in office as Prime Minister was marked by the brutality with which people in her own party treated her, somehow forgetting all that she had achieved for them. That was a disgraceful day, in my view, and did not recognise her achievements for the party. To hear all the support, warmth and memories that are being given today, there are some members of her party who have perhaps forgotten the role that they played in that very brutal downfall. It is something that my own party have never done to a leader in the past and I hope will never do in the future.
History will judge Mrs Thatcher—Lady Thatcher. In concluding, I join with those other Members in sending sincere condolences to her son and her daughter, and the other members of the family. It is a very sad time for them and our sincere wishes go to them.
Since we are now beyond the two-thirds mark of contributions from the Back Benches around the House, it might be helpful at this stage if I give an indication of where we are as regards the remaining speeches, of which there are about 14. Naturally, others may yet indicate that they are to speak, while one or two have decided that they will hold back for the moment. I expect my noble friend Lord MacGregor—who of course was a Cabinet Minister with my late noble friend Lady Thatcher—to speak next. Then I expect to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom; then, from the opposition Privy Council Bench, from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert; then, back to the Conservative Benches, from my noble friends Lord Naseby, Lord Spicer and Lord Selkirk; then to the Cross Benches, from the noble Lord, Lord Butler; and then back to the Conservative Benches, from my noble friends Lord Freeman, Lord Palumbo, Lord Marlesford, Lord Caithness, Lady O’Cathain, Lord Flight and, finally, from my noble friend Lady Buscombe.
My Lords, there is so much with which I agree in all the many tributes paid to Lady Thatcher today. However, at this stage, I will add only a few examples of my own about her qualities. Bearing in mind the point made by my noble friend Lord Lamont, I believe that this session is providing for future historians examples, hitherto not revealed in public, of the many aspects of this remarkable lady and countering the sometimes false images of her. In so doing, I draw attention to a book that has just recently been published by my noble friend Lady Shephard of Northwold—an admirable and timely book—entitled The Real Iron Lady. The book conveys Baroness Thatcher’s character, characteristics and values through the personal anecdotes and recollections of those who, at various times and in various capacities, worked closely with her or were in contact with her. It is a very useful supplement to some of the illustrations that we have had today.
There are a few of my own anecdotes in the book, which I will not repeat today. However, I will briefly recall this afternoon three others, among many memories, each demonstrating a facet of her strengths. Shortly after I was elected to the House of Commons in 1974, I became a member of the Committee on the Finance Bill, which in those days went on interminably and at great length for many days, through the night in the upper corridors of the House of Commons, going line by line through the various proposals in the Finance Bill itself. Baroness Thatcher was at that point our opposition Front-Bench spokesman on economic affairs, so led on the Finance Bill in the Committee stages. On the day of her election as leader, we were meeting in Committee that afternoon and evening. As some others will recollect, none of us on the Committee expected her to be with us at all that evening, given the many interviews that she had to give and the many celebration drinks and so on with all of her supporters. Robert Carr, later Lord Carr, who was then her Front-Bench deputy on economic affairs, took the lead in Committee. I happened to be on my feet, dealing with a very abstruse and technical point on some aspect of the Finance Bill, in full flow at about half past ten, when to my astonishment the door opened and in walked Margaret Thatcher. She proceeded to sit on the Front Bench for the whole of the rest of our session, through the night, leading from the Front Bench. I was so astonished at her arrival, and so obsessed with my technical details, that I am afraid I mumbled a rather inadequate congratulation on her victory. However, we were all absolutely amazed that she stayed to see the session through. That demonstrated in a remarkable way her dedication and very strong sense of public duty, and her commitment to her duty in the House of Commons.
Secondly, as Minister for Agriculture, I was very much involved in the first full-blown reform of the common agricultural policy. We had many sessions in Brussels on that front. We had got to a point in the middle of the night where we were near to reaching agreement, but it went beyond the negotiating brief agreed for me by the Cabinet. I had to refer back to the Prime Minister for her agreement and authority to go ahead in the way that I wanted to. If I remember correctly, this was at about three o’clock in the morning, so I agonised long and hard about when I should ring her to get her approval. I rang at about 6 am, got straight through and heard her response in a very clear voice. Clearly she had been up for some time, working on her briefs—I very much take the point made on this by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. I got her agreement and we were able to go ahead. That demonstrated her indefatigable energy, her immense capacity for work and her decisiveness when convinced.
I will add two separate points. On one occasion in Brussels, I collapsed with a burst ulcer in the middle of the night and had to be carted away briefly to hospital. I was astonished the next morning to receive a very large bowl of flowers and a warm sympathy note from Baroness Thatcher herself. It was another example—we have heard many today—of her kindnesses in so many ways. I was greatly touched.
I very much support—because I had experience of this myself—the points made by my noble friend Lord Fowler and others in relation to the way in which she absolutely tore into you if you were not a master of your brief and in full command not only of the facts but of the arguments. This was a bit disconcerting at first. You thought that she was basically disagreeing and that you would get nowhere, but if you persisted and knew the facts of your brief, she would agree. It took me some time to realise that this was her style, because I recognised that it was what I did to civil servants who put forward briefs to me. I always looked overnight for the points that I was not happy about or did not agree with, and started off with those before in the end agreeing with the conclusions that the paper had made. That was a great feature of all the negotiations that we as individuals had with Baroness Thatcher.
My last example is her final speech in the House of Commons on her resignation. As Leader of the House, I was sitting next to her during the speech. It was obviously an immensely difficult occasion and I was very nervous for her. I need not have worried. She defended her record and achievements with great clarity, power and eloquence. Half way through she was questioned by some opposition Back-Benchers—in particular, if I remember correctly, Dennis Skinner—to whom she responded with great gusto, drawing a huge response from her own Back-Benchers. At the end of the put-down she said something like, “Now, where was I? You know, I’m enjoying this”. It was absolutely typical of the way in which she approached these speeches. It was a remarkable speech, and a performance that displayed the qualities of great courage and conviction that have been referred to frequently today and by which I will always remember her.
My Lords, I joined my noble friend Lord Jopling’s Whips’ Office in 1982. The highlight of our year was when the Prime Minister came to have dinner with us, which normally ended with a question and answer session when her praetorian guards of Whips were treated rather like backsliding leftists. However, it was always a very invigorating occasion. It was a great honour for us when she then suggested that she might return the favour and that we might come with our wives to have lunch at Chequers. Unfortunately, that never happened because the Brighton bomb came in between, so instead dinner was laid on in Downing Street for both the Lords and the Commons Whips.
That meal ended in the same way, with the Prime Minister saying, “Right, does anybody have any problems or concerns they would like to raise?”. I remember that my noble friend Lady Trumpington asked the first question, about pensions. She got slapped down pretty swiftly, and then John Major, who was the Treasury Whip, piped up and said, “Prime Minister, there is deep concern in the country on the following issues”. She went for him such as I have never seen. A row erupted of such seriousness that it ended on a very sour note. At one stage, we thought that John Major might even walk out of the room, and we were very concerned that he may have completely destroyed his political career. As we walked from the dining room to the drawing room in Downing Street, Denis Thatcher came up to him and said, “Don’t worry, dear boy, she gets like this sometimes”. The next day, she reconciled the position with John Major, and three months later he was a junior Minister in her Government. That story is becoming better known and is very significant, because it indicates the sort of woman that she was. She loved the row but never had any feelings of bitterness. She respected people who stood up to her and never held it against anybody at all.
I came to get to know her much better in 1987, when I was made her PPS. If I am brutally frank, I was not terribly good at the job. I did very badly when Alan Clark came to see her as Minister of Trade, and I totally failed to tell the Prime Minister something. I do not think she was aware that Alan Clark always rather prided himself on having two attributes of Adolf Hitler, namely that he was a vegetarian and hated foxhunting. His pitch to the Prime Minister was that he considered it a very good idea if labels were to be put on furs saying, “The fur being sold here has been caught in an extremely inhumane trap”. It would have been rather like having a health warning on cigarettes. The Prime Minister was absolutely appalled by this and said, “Alan, what on earth makes you so concerned to do this?”. He said, “Prime Minister, didn’t you know that I’m a vegetarian?”. She looked at him and said, “But Alan, you are wearing leather shoes”. He drawled, “I do not think you expect your Ministers to wear plastic shoes, Prime Minister”. Needless to say, the pleas got nowhere because the calculation that Alan Clark had not made was that because the Prime Minister was MP for Finchley, many of her Jewish constituents were furriers and the last thing she was going to do was ruin their business.
She was very interesting. She never read the daily papers. I remember taking that up with her at one stage and asking why she did not. Every morning in Downing Street, we used to get the most wonderful summary of absolutely everything that was in the daily papers from Bernard Ingham’s press department. I would give my eye teeth to get hold of that today; it was a brilliant piece of work. However, she used to say, “I never read the daily papers because they write such harmful and personal abuse about me and my family that I could never get the job done that I have to do”. Later, when John Major was Prime Minister and having his problems with the media, I raised this with him. I said that she had never actually read the daily papers, and he looked at me as if I had gone slightly weak in the head. Certainly, part of her thing in life was that you have to do the job you are faced with and that it really was not good enough to be reading the papers every day, or you just could not get on with what needed to be done.
I always remember a meeting, held at Downing Street at five o’clock in the evening, to discuss a policy paper. I thought that it would all go quite calmly; I knew that the Cabinet Minister who was presenting the paper was a friend and somebody she supported. He had no opportunity to present his paper as such. She launched into him and said, “It strikes me that the problems with this are the following”, and so forth, and another furious argument took place, leaving us all looking at our feet and wondering, “Goodness, where is all this going to go?”. She always kept to the timescale, which was half an hour for the meeting. We were coming to the end, and she summed up by saying, “Of course, I agree with absolutely everything you are trying to do here. I just thought I’d play devil’s advocate and make sure that you’d thought out all the arguments”. That is just one of the reasons why she was a very great Prime Minister.
As the leader of the Conservatives she was always terribly bored that the socialists had something called “Socialist International”. She thought that this gave a lot of respectability to left-wing parties, and she could not quite understand why the Conservatives should not have the same thing. She was, therefore, very much party to setting up something called the European Democrat Union, which later moved on to be the International Democrat Union. Although she never took me, as her PPS, on foreign trips, this was a party political occasion, because the IDU meeting was being chaired by Chancellor Kohl. We sat in the most enormous room in the Reichstag building—this was, of course, before the wall came down—and Chancellor Kohl gave a speech to welcome everybody that I strongly suspect was written by somebody else. She just made a few short notes, and when it came to her opportunity to speak she pointed through the window and said, “People tell me that the building that we can see over the Berlin Wall, out through this window, is the headquarters of the East German intelligence service. People also say to me that they are probably listening to every word we are saying here today, in which case I would like them to know—”, and she then went into a great tirade about how freedom was what we were all fighting for, and that freedom would conquer in the end. How right she was; the wall came down not very much later.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford alluded to the fact that she was brought up as a Methodist, but she was always very much an adopted member of the Church of England. When I was sitting with her in the House of Commons, waiting to vote late in the evening, she was going on about the worrying question of women priests. She said that she did not think that there should be women priests in the Church of England because she thought it would split the Church of England. I took issue with her and said, “I don’t think, Prime Minister, that as a woman Prime Minister you can really take objection to women becoming priests. Anyway, I don’t know what you’re so worried about; I think women are capable of greater spirituality than men, and they are also less prone to sexual temptation”. “Oh, I don’t know about that!” she said. As always with Margaret Thatcher, she never agreed that you had won the argument, but some weeks later Bernard Ingham would put out a very small press release, saying, “Thatcher backs women priests”, and so forth. So she came round in the end.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, referred to the fact that she could survive on three or four hours’ sleep. I had to spend quite a bit of my time travelling in an armour-plated Daimler, whose roof was of course lowered to make it more bomb-proof. It had a very inadequate air-conditioning system, and we usually had very large policemen and drivers sitting in front. The heat used to accumulate massively, and I have to say that both she and I used to nod off quite regularly. It became rather embarrassing when my wife went around saying, “Archie spends much of his time sleeping with the Prime Minister in the back of her car”.
Margaret Thatcher first came to stay with me in the country shortly after she stood down, in January 1991. It was interesting. We were sitting there in the evening and the telephone rang. It was John Major ringing her up to say that the hostilities were about to begin in the Gulf. Needless to say, she stayed up the whole night listening to the wireless to hear what was going on. I was Minister for the Armed Forces but went to bed and listened to the news the next morning. That might be one of the reasons why she was Prime Minister and I never was. It was an indication of her extraordinary determination to be involved, and, of course, it was a war that she had been very much involved with in the beginning.
The Thatchers came to stay with us quite regularly from that moment. We even had them to stay twice for Christmas. Shortly after Denis died, she came to stay with us down in Devon. At that stage, she still thought that Denis was alive. There was a period of her life, which was quite short, I think, when she was not really reconciled to the fact that he had died. It is regrettable that so much of that film, “The Iron Lady”, should have been on the period in her life when she thought that her husband was still with us. She was never really the same again after he died. It knocked her very hard. He was a great companion to her and life was extremely difficult for her from that moment on.
She was a very great lady. She was an evangelist. She was not like most modern politicians. She had a mission. But everything that she stood for will survive her. From my point of view, it has been a very great privilege to have served with her and to have served in her Government.
My Lords, I would like to begin, if it is not an impertinence to speak from this side of the House on this subject, by associating myself as vigorously as I can with the remarks of the leader of my party in this House, my noble friend Lady Royall, and my noble friend Lady Dean in condemning some of the things that are happening in other parts of the country today. I was brought up, like many of your Lordships, under the rubric and golden rule “De mortuis nil nisi bonum”. I dissociate myself from what is going on. It has no part of my party’s support.
Secondly, I want to say how deeply I feel for noble Lords opposite who served closely with Mrs Thatcher in her Cabinet and at No. 10. I know what it is to lose a friend and a leader, even when they have left the leadership. I remember very vividly how desperate I felt when Harold Wilson died. I understand that colleagues opposite must feel terrible emotions at this time and I want them to know that they are understood on this side of House.
I am now, not unnaturally, going to talk about something a little unfashionable about the late Baroness—her luck. She was a very lucky Prime Minister and a very lucky politician. There is nothing wrong with that. I am sure that I will be corrected by the historians among us, but I am told that whenever a name was put to Napoleon Bonaparte for promotion to general, his first question was, “Is he lucky?”. It is a very good question indeed. Baroness Thatcher was very lucky. To say that is in no way to diminish her achievements and accomplishments. I want everyone in the House to understand that.
But look what happened at the beginning. It was only because not a single man was prepared to stand against Mr Heath, whether on the grounds of reticence, gentlemanliness, loyalty or timidity, that she was the only one. That was luck. She could not have arranged that in advance, so what brilliant luck. I remember when it happened. I was in the same committee as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, when the news came through. I remember rejoicing with my noble friend Lord Barnett, who was leading for the Government. He was Chief Secretary and I was Financial Secretary to the Treasury on that occasion. We rejoiced and said, “That’s marvellous. The Tories will never win a seat north of Watford from now on”. It just shows how wrong and stupid one can be.
Then we get to the 1979 election. Who could have lost the 1979 election against a Government where the dead were going unburied, the garbage was piling up in the street and the country was in a state of utter shambles? She could not have lost. Anybody leading the Tory party would have won the 1979 general election. We created Margaret Thatcher, in that sense.
As for the next two general elections of 1983 and 1987, I have to be rather careful. I know that it is said that you make your own luck in this world. I do not know whether Margaret Thatcher had a big part in the choice by the Labour Party as to who was to lead them into the 1983 and 1987 general elections, but she could hardly have done a better job, in my view. If I say any more, I will probably get the Whip removed from me, so I must be very careful.
She really did not have it that difficult in those two general elections. As for some of the other people whom she was up against—Arthur Scargill; I ask you. Would you not love to have Arthur Scargill as your opponent in any debate going, a man who is frightened to go to his own members to get them to vote for a strike that he called? I cannot find parliamentary language to use to describe Arthur Scargill. Mrs Thatcher did not create Arthur Scargill; the National Union of Mineworkers, or certain branches of it, did, although not in my part of the world, I am glad to say, not in the West or East Midlands.
After Arthur Scargill, she was up against a bunch of fascists from a tinpot banana republic in South America. It was a gift. I am told that it was a very close run thing: that we might not have won in the Falklands. I do not share that view, although I know that that is an unorthodox view. I know that certain things happened down there that should not have happened and that there was a certain amount of military bungling, which was our fault—not Mrs Thatcher’s fault. As far as world opinion was concerned, to be up against a bunch of tinpot fascists was absolutely brilliant. She was lucky. She did not decide that the Argentines were going to invade the Falklands. She did not decide what a bunch of so-and-so’s they were to have running their country. That was all her good luck. Good luck to her, but do not let us forget that she had an enormous amount of luck right through her career from beginning to end.
I assure noble Lords that that is in no way intended to diminish her achievements, because the important thing in this world is that if you get your luck, you use it and take advantage of it, and she did, ferociously, without any quarter given. I admire her greatly for that.
I have said enough this evening. I feel honoured to have served in both Houses when Margaret Thatcher was a Member.
I have just remembered a little story. I will let your Lordships into a secret that no one in this Chamber will know until I describe it, not even the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I was once present at a conversation between Mrs Thatcher and Ted Heath. I was the only other person present: beat that. She had only recently become leader of the Conservative Party. It was an extraordinary event that brought that to pass.
I had gone to a memorial service for Hubert Humphrey. It was held on a day when the Cabinet was meeting. The Cabinet was going to come, but had not showed up because the meeting had overrun. The first three rows on the left-hand side of the aisle were left empty, and I parked myself in the middle of the fourth row. I had not been sitting there long before a figure came up and sat down next to me on my left. It was Margaret Thatcher. She was looking sparkling and effervescent. Needless to say—do I regret it? No, I do not—I tried flirting with her. I thought I was doing rather well, actually. Of course, I would, would I not? I complimented her on how her dress suited her, the colour of her eyes and all that sort of thing. We were getting on famously.
The rest of the pew was empty until, all of a sudden, a shadow appeared at the other end of the pew, escorted by the ushers, and was sat down next to me on the other side. It was Ted Heath. There then ensued a conversation between Margaret Thatcher, me and Ted Heath, which was a very unusual conversation in that nobody said a thing to anybody from start to finish. Considering the personalities involved, I think that is probably unique. That is enough of that story.
We have lived in the shadow of greatness. We shall never see her like again.
My Lords, in paying my tribute to Margaret Thatcher, I can now share with the House a little piece of history. I was Airey Neave’s unofficial PPS in 1975, and chief bag carrier. My job was to help him organise the future leader of the Conservative Party. In the initial stages, we met in Room J3 in the House of Commons; it was my job to book it, et cetera. The first person that the Neave team supported was not Margaret Thatcher; it was Edward du Cann. That campaign produced 80 or 85 supporters; it was around those sorts of numbers. However, Edward came to that group and made it clear that he did not wish to stand as the future leader, because he had recently married and he and his wife had discussed the situation and he was withdrawing his candidature.
We had an immediate meeting of the group and went through the others forecast to be running, and the consensus was that we should ask Margaret to join us. At that point, the information was that Margaret had precisely two supporters. I was asked to make contact, which I did, and Margaret came to address our meeting in Room J3. It was clear from the way that she addressed that meeting that this was a woman of considerable potential. Several Members this afternoon have mentioned “strategy”; she had a very clear strategy at that meeting, and had sensed what the party wanted in a new leader. Airey turned to me when Margaret had finished and said, “We’ll have no questions now. Would you be kind enough, Michael, to take Margaret to the room next door and come back?”, which I did. We had a fairly lengthy discussion. The unanimous view of the people present, except for three, was that we should support Margaret Thatcher. Most of the rest is history, other than that I was in charge of trying to persuade the 1974 intake to support Margaret.
The second example I give of Margaret and her ability and understanding of people and countries was after we took over in 1979 and I was on the Back Benches as a PPS in Northern Ireland. Even then, I had an interest in Sri Lanka. Judith Hart had commissioned something called the Victoria Dam in Sri Lanka. I knew about the dam—it would cost about £100 million—and I asked to see the Prime Minister to suggest to her that the project should go ahead. I had an audience with her, and with the then Overseas Development Secretary of State, and Margaret said, “Michael, there are two points I make to you: first, that if we as a country have an agreement with another country”—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said earlier today—“we stick to it. So the agreement is that the project will go ahead. Not only will it go ahead but, secondly, I wish to be there at the opening”.
Some years later I was pleased to be there with Margaret and Denis, and we had a garden party before the formal opening at the dam. The big thing in Sri Lanka in those days was the President’s elephant named Raja. Denis was asked whether he wished to give bananas to the elephant, and of course accepted. Unfortunately for Denis, he was not too good on the anatomy of an elephant. Denis decided that elephants took bananas through their trunks. Just as Margaret was about to tell him, “No, don’t put it in his trunk”, it was too late. Denis put half a dozen bananas in the trunk of the elephant, which then did a typical elephant snort and the rest of us were covered by bananas. Margaret said, “I thought I told you early on, ‘Put it in his mouth, not in his trunk’. Did you not hear me?”.
Those are my two personal memories. As some of you know, I take a great interest in history. If Cromwell was the catalyst of parliamentary democracy, then in my judgment Margaret Thatcher will go down as the person who was the catalyst to change our country into the country it is today.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tebbit said that his top two PMs—using the terminology of today’s Sun—were Margaret Thatcher and Clem Attlee. Word has it that Clem Attlee was a very skilled sacker of Ministers. The norm when sacking a Minister would be something along the lines of, “Thank you very much for coming to see me, Michael. With your sophistication you will know that I’ve got to make room in my Government. You are a bit long in the tooth now, we’ve got younger men to look after and we would very much enjoy it if you would become Governor-General of the Bahamas and, with your wife, enjoy the rest of your life”. It is said that Clem Attlee would say, “Look, I’ve got to get rid of you by the time of the one o’clock news. Do you know why you’ve got to go?”. “No, sir”. “Because you’re no bloody good, that’s why”. The fact is that he, like Margaret Thatcher, was a strong Prime Minister.
I intend to intervene for a very short time, but I feel bound to do so. I was her PPS, although not for as long as my noble friend Lord Hamilton, and I was Deputy Chairman of the party at the time of the Brighton bomb, when my noble friend Lord Deben—he probably does not remember this—rang me from the police station where he and the Prime Minister had gone after the bomb exploded and said, “She’s got two things she wants you to do. One is to get the show on the road and the other is to open the shop at nine o’clock for the conference”. Those are my two credentials for joining the debate.
One memory I will share with the House goes back almost to her last day in government. I was Minister for Housing and she summoned me to the Cabinet Room. It was a one-to-one meeting—I was on my own with her—and she said the words that will always be in my mind. We had had our meeting and I was packing up my papers when she said, “Michael, you know we’ve failed to destroy the dependency culture”. That stuck with me. A lot has been said today about her caution, and I will say a word about it myself. What has not been said is that she did in some cases regret that caution. That is something that has not fully come over. It was not just the dependency culture, although she did regret that she had not done anything to make sure that the welfare state was focused on those who really needed support. In the modern idiom, she would have “done her nut” had she realised that it would be a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government who would be the first to do something about it.
On privatisation, there were all sorts of things that she would have liked. She did not privatise coal, the railways, the nuclear industry or the Post Office. With the really difficult one, electricity—as it happened I was the Minister who took the Bill through the Commons—I believe that it was very much the powers of persuasion of my noble friend Lord Parkinson against the advice of Walter Marshall, her great friend and mentor in many ways, that created the Bill that we eventually put through Parliament. It was very much touch and go as to whether we went ahead with that privatisation, because of her caution.
I stress her caution only because others have emphasised her sense of direction and the wonderful things that she achieved. Her caution stretched beyond privatisation to Europe, which has been mentioned already today. She did, I think, regret the Single European Act and how far she pushed the Maastricht treaty before it came into being.
All that is something of an antidote to some of the more critical things that have been said about her extremism and her desire to do things in a hurry. Far from it—I think that sometimes she felt that she had not done things in enough of a hurry. I want to put that to the House because I think her impetuosity has been much misinterpreted, and that has come across in several speeches today. She was a very cautious and very wise person, and that is why she was so effective. It was a great honour to serve with her in that context.
My Lords, I express sympathy to Mark and Carol Thatcher, and I endorse the view of several noble Lords that Margaret Thatcher was prepared to go the extra mile on small, non-political, non-party matters last thing at night when she returned to her office in Downing Street. I remember being told that by the late Ian Gow, who took me into her office and showed me the kinds of letters that were sent to her, as well as bottles of whisky for charity fetes and the like. Just like an old trooper, she would settle down and sign the lot.
If I may say so, being a Minister in her Government was challenging, interesting and never dull. In Scotland, home ownership went up from about 30% to about 60% under her premiership, which was a massive change. Lady Thatcher believed very strongly in expanding home ownership, and one episode is extremely vivid in my memory. The Prime Minister was in Uphall, West Lothian, for the first rent-to-mortgage sale in Scotland to former public sector tenants. As we stood in their sitting room in that small house, a girl who was the editor of the local school magazine asked Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, what her favourite sport was. The Prime Minister immediately made the surprising revelation that it was skiing. She then went on to say that neither she nor any of her Ministers would be doing any skiing at all, as none of them could afford the time off if they broke a leg. As it happened, I looked across at Michael Forsyth—now the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—who was Secretary of State for Scotland and was standing just beside her. I knew for a fact that both he and I had just completed our arrangements to go skiing within days, if not hours. We gave each other a smile but said not a word.
After the ceremonial transfer of ownership, I was invited to go with her in the Prime Minister’s car and, as we left, a protestor hurled an egg straight at us. The driver accelerated and the egg landed harmlessly in the road. The Prime Minister looked as though absolutely nothing had happened, and it was then that I realised that she was not called the Iron Lady for nothing.
She may not have made a farewell address to this House but she certainly summed up what she believed in in two sentences in her book on statecraft, showing all her continuing zeal and cutting edge. She wrote:
“The demand that power be limited and accountable, the determination that force shall not override justice, the conviction that individual human beings have an absolute moral worth which government must respect—such things are uniquely embedded in the political culture of the English speaking people ... They are our enduring legacy to the world”.
She was very much at home in the House of Commons. She was a standard-bearer for parliamentary democracy, and that is something of which her own family can be very proud, as can we as parliamentarians.
My Lords, I have listened to all the wonderful tributes paid this afternoon and this evening, and I have asked myself whether there is anything which I can add. There are just one or two aspects which I should like to add. I was not going to speak about the Brighton bomb because her resolution and courage on that occasion has been widely dealt with. However, since the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who I am glad to see in his place, referred to it and to the tragicomic aspect of it, I should supplement the picture that he gave of his crawling to the door, opening it and meeting Margaret Thatcher’s face on the other side. As he may remember, she was gorgeously attired in the blue evening dress that she had been wearing for the blue ball, which added to the absurdity of that tragic situation.
I am very pleased that reference has been made to the kindness shown to Lady Thatcher by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I believe that another person should be added. He is a colleague of mine on the Cross Benches and was a colleague at No 10; namely, my noble friend Lord Powell of Bayswater. He and his wife have been splendid to Lady Thatcher in her latter days. Indeed, I think that on Sunday evening, he was the last person, outside her family, to visit her. About a month ago, my noble friend said that he had been with her on a Sunday afternoon. I asked him what he talked to her about because, of course, in her latter months, she found conversation difficult. He said, “We didn’t talk. We turned on the television and we watched ‘Songs of Praise’ and we sung the hymns together”. I think that that is a lovely picture of those two doing that.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has spoken splendidly about the support which Margaret Thatcher gave him as Cabinet Secretary, and her support for the Civil Service and the esteem in which she held it. I do not want to add to that, except to endorse everything that he said as being the case during my experience in the post which he occupied before me.
I should like to take up what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said about her role as a lawyer. I am very glad he referred to that. I had a word with him outside the Chamber. Another aspect that needs to be emphasised was the way in which she upheld the rule of law, which was a very important principle in her life. I was travelling in a car with the Prime Minister when we saw on a newspaper hoarding that the High Court had found against the Government in the judicial review about the Government’s banning of unions at GCHQ. She was going to the House of Commons that afternoon and it was clear that, quite understandably, the Labour Party would make a lot of this and would be jubilant about it because it had supported the trade unions in opposing the Government’s action. She said, “Well, we must appeal but if the court rules against us, we must of course accept its judgment. We cannot ask the miners to accept the rule of law if we, the Government, are not prepared to accept it ourselves”. That is just one illustration of the principle that she held.
When judicial review was gaining force and I was head of the Civil Service, I suggested to Margaret Thatcher that we might arrange a seminar between senior civil servants and some of the judges so that the judges would know more about the way in which decisions were taken in government. “Absolutely not”, she said. “I am not going to have any appearance of the Executive appearing to interfere with the independence of the judges. We must keep them strictly separate”. That is an aspect of her principles and her Administration that I do not think has been much mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, spoke of his experience working with her as Cabinet Secretary. Although the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, was here earlier, nobody has spoken about the experience of working with her as a Private Secretary. Like the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, I was her Principal Private Secretary, in my case between 1982 and 1985. Inside No.10, having the privilege of seeing her in that intimate setting, we of course saw a very different person from the one that the public saw outside. The public saw the bravura performances and the confidence. She has been charged with being overconfident, even arrogant, but you saw a very different picture, before the great public appearances, inside No. 10—somebody whose motivation and force was not built on overconfidence but was in fact built on lack of self-confidence. I say that because I heard her say it herself publicly, after she left office. She said it was something that the media never really realised about her. I believe that that was the driving force behind her perfectionism in her appearance, in her dress, in her speeches and in her grip on her briefing. All those things had to be perfect before she would appear in public. There was a reference earlier to the conference speech after the Brighton bomb and her sitting in the green room, saying, “I am not sure I can go through with this”. Gordon Reece said, “Of course you can go through with it”. I am absolutely certain that she was always going to go through with it. Many times, I saw her say beforehand that she was not sure she could do something and then go out and give a bravura performance.
When I was Principal Private Secretary, in briefing her for Prime Minister’s Questions, I did not brief her on the facts—other people did that—but regarded my job as being to calm her down, usually by reassuring her that her case was good in answer to a Question and, just occasionally, if she was sleepy after lunch, to work her up a bit and say, “Prime Minister, I think you have to worry about this Question, this is quite difficult”. It was about getting the horse to the starting gate with exactly the right amount of perspiration on the flanks, and then she would perform superbly in the House of Commons.
I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said earlier that criticisms that she never listened were quite misplaced. She did listen, but talked at the same time—she could listen while she talked. It is true that she regarded attack as the best form of defence but she was also always willing to learn. Finally, I just offer an anecdote to the House which I think illustrates these three characteristics. It relates to a time after she had ceased to be Prime Minister and after I had ceased to be Cabinet Secretary. She very kindly came to my college at Oxford to talk. In the course of her remarks to the students, she said that one of the things that she worried about in modern life, and the life facing their generation, was the number of children born illegitimate. When it came round to questions, one of the students said to her, “Lady Thatcher, don’t you think it is a little unfair to use the word ‘illegitimate’ of a child throughout its life when it has had no influence over the circumstances of its own birth?”. Her eyes flashed and she said, “Well, what would you call them? I can think of another word but I think it would be even more unkind”. I thought, “Goodness, what’s going to happen?”, but the moment passed. She came to dinner and chapel, and in the lighter part of the evening we were having a drink in the Master’s Lodgings before she and Denis went back to London. We were talking about other things completely when she suddenly said, “You know, Robin, that young man who asked me this afternoon about the word ‘illegitimate’ had a point didn’t he?”. That was quite characteristic. I will wager that she never used the word illegitimate again. She was always prepared to learn, even from a student. She hit back immediately but then she thought about it and took the point.
Those are just three reminiscences I have out of a treasure house of memories. I never had any doubt while I was working with her as Private Secretary and Cabinet Secretary that I was a witness to greatness as well as to great events. Those are memories that I will treasure all my life.
My Lords, after that very powerful and moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, I want to talk very briefly about the late Baroness Thatcher’s relationship with Parliament and the Conservative Party in the country.
I have two reflections and two comments to make, the first as the present chairman of the Carlton Club, preceded by my noble friend Lord Wakeham a few years ago. Baroness Thatcher was elected an honorary member in 1975, at a time when women were not members to the club. Incidentally, the Carlton Club, in 1922, broke the coalition, although I am in no way indicating that history is going to repeat itself. The Carlton Club has as members 65 Members of your Lordships’ House and the other place, and has long revered and treasured Baroness Thatcher’s involvement with the club. I am quite certain that her quiet determination and conversations with many ultimately led to the club opening its doors to women members. She did not argue the case, she just quietly and consistently encouraged it, and I think that all members of the club are in her debt. In 1990, some colleagues will remember that our club was bombed by the IRA, and we lost one Member of Parliament and several other members. She came almost immediately to the club and spoke to those who were injured and to the families of those who were killed. That was very much appreciated.
The second aspect is the wider party in the country, and I speak with modest experience as someone who had responsibility for the selection of candidates to my party. Baroness Thatcher made a tremendous effort to tour the country and encourage candidates. She always took the trouble to write to the candidate afterwards. I think that many of those who were subsequently elected to the other place still keep those letters. They were not just two or three lines; they were complimentary and encouraging words, which I think made a tremendous difference.
I will finish with a very brief anecdote. In 1986, which seems a long time ago, I was summoned to Downing Street to become a junior Minister. I said to the Prime Minister, “Thank you very much. This is a great day. My wife has just had a baby daughter”. She said, “What’s the hospital? What’s the telephone number?”. Fortunately, I could remember it. She dialled the hospital, and the receptionist answered. The Prime Minister said, “This is the Prime Minister speaking”. I could hear the lady at the other end say, “Pull the other leg”. The Prime Minister said, “I don’t think I will, my dear. Just put me through”. That really was appreciated by my wife, who talks about it constantly.
I extend my condolences to the family. She was a great lady, and will be greatly missed.
My Lords, I rise briefly to explain that we have been able to gain just two more speakers. We have just had the 35th Back-Bench speaker and we will conclude, I believe, with the 44th. Next will be my noble friend Lord Palumbo. We then turn to the Cross Benches for the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and back to the Conservative Benches for my noble friends Lord Marlesford, Lord Caithness and Lady O’Cathain, back to the Cross Benches for the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and, finally, back to the Conservative Benches for my noble friends Lord Flight, Lord Bridgeman and Lady Buscombe.
My Lords, I have three very short, random stories. On one occasion, my wife asked Margaret what she thought of Tony Blair. “My dear”, she said, “I do not think of him”. That was all.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord King, about Margaret’s support for Desert Storm, the first war in Iraq. We have heard that it was to some extent due to her that there was the backbone to go to war. I asked her some years later what she would have done if the second Iraq war had come on her watch. She said, “It is not sufficiently or fully realised that I was a scientist before I became a politician. As a scientist what we need are facts, evidence and proof. If we have the facts, and we have the evidence and we have the proof, we can check and recheck, and check as many times as is necessary before coming to a considered view. The answer to your question is that we had very few facts. We had no evidence and we certainly had no proof, so I would not have committed one single member of the armed services to a war from which they may not have returned. What I would have done was to give George Bush the sort of assistance that Ronnie Reagan gave me in the Falklands; that is to say, logistical support and intelligence support, but nothing more. And I would have told Bush so to his face”. She was very definite about that.
When she offered me, some years before, the chairmanship of the Arts Council, she said to me, “Mr Palumbo, I want you to understand one thing very clearly, and you must not forget it. The Government have no money. You are being asked to supervise the distribution of a great deal of money, and you must spend it wisely and carefully because it is taxpayers’ money, not government money”. That is advice that I shall obviously never forget, no more than I shall forget a wonderfully kind and utterly magnificent lady.
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I owe Baroness Thatcher a huge debt of gratitude. Towards the end of 1979, on the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, I was appointed as chief economic adviser to the Treasury, a position that I held throughout the rest of Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister. During that 10-year period, I had the privilege of attending many meetings with her. I had enormous opportunities to watch the particular style of debate and the method that she used when challenged, something that I had never seen before.
Apart from late-night speechwriting sessions which I occasionally got involved in, most of my experiences were of accompanying the Chancellors of the day, initially the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and then of course the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. By their very nature, we were dealing with the major issues of economic policy and, even more so by their nature, they were usually very controversial. We normally had these sessions because there were some difficult issues to sort out. They were very tense and very often there were tricky issues to resolve. At times one did not expect to reach resolution. On more than one occasion when I left she said to me, “I just want you to look as you go out at what it says on that door”, to remind me that it said First Lord of the Treasury. She was trying to indicate that, in the final analysis, it was going to be her word.
Of course, those people who did not work with Mrs Thatcher assume that by her very nature she began and ended with an entrenched position and refused to listen. The main point that I want to make today, like many noble Lords who have spoken, is that that is not at all how the process took place. Part of her enormous talent was her ability to question, challenge and press you on issues as a way of trying to find whether the views that she held herself could stand that stress-testing. I always felt that she was trying to test her own ideas and your ideas to see how they stood up to this process of questioning.
Like all very great leaders, she had a strong set of principles and values and a clear sense of what she wanted to achieve. But thinking back through some of the episodes and having spoken, sometimes at length, to people who have been writing biographies of Mrs Thatcher, the issues that we dealt with were looked at in enormous depth. The notion that these ideas were pulled off in a casual way and immediately pursued could not be further from the truth. They were issues that we went through time and time again, very often at meeting after meeting until all the aspects of the problem had been identified and she was satisfied that we had covered the issues. I often think that it was as a result of the extent of that process and the argument and debate that she gained strength in the end to make decisions and stick to them in the way that is well known.
As many people have pointed out, she was not always right. She often changed her position on issues. But whatever view you take of individual parts of it, I join with many others in thinking that her contribution in terms of the transformation of the British economy was enormous. I have little doubt that it came about by this combination of a very clear strategic mind and the ability to concentrate and look at issues in depth, stress-test them and go through them at great length before finally coming to a conclusion.
In recent days, I have heard it suggested that somehow the recent financial crisis has its origins in her approach to economic policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who worked with Mrs Thatcher know that she disliked financial excess whether in the private or the public sector. In the early 1980s, when we were struggling with rapid growth of the money supply, she frequently asked why there could not be some limits to the leverage ratios of banks, even in a deregulated system. She was only very reluctantly put off this approach, which has now become much more fashionable after the events of recent years.
A surprised journalist said to me yesterday that after the events of recent years he had been looking at some of the things that Mrs Thatcher had said about the single currency and had been astonished to discover that most of the things that had occurred in the past few years were part of the debate that took place then and why she came to the view that the UK should not be part of the single currency.
Along with many others, I regard myself as enormously fortunate to have played a small part in those momentous years. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, there was a real greatness about Mrs Thatcher and I feel very privileged to have watched that. I would like to hope that I learnt a great deal from those sessions and that extraordinary process of discussion, challenge and debate and really testing the ideas of the people you worked with.
My Lords, I suppose that one thing that one thinks most about Margaret Thatcher is that she was the most courageous challenger. One reason why I think she will have an increasing part in the history books is that she presided over and contributed to the ending of one of the great political struggles in this country: the struggle between capitalism and socialism as economic systems.
Margaret Thatcher could always see the real point. For three and a half years, I was in Whitehall as an adviser and worked a certain amount with a think tank. I remember well that, on one occasion, the presentation made at Chequers by the think tank was to show where the Government were going, even if they did not want to go there. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was demonstrating the way in which inflation would reach unthinkable double digits. There was a silence, broken by Margaret Thatcher thumping on her blotter at the Cabinet table in Chequers, saying, “If that chart is true, we have lost the next election”. Then Tony Barber, who was the Chancellor at the time, waded in to say that it was not true—but of course it was.
I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who said what a pity it was that Margaret Thatcher had not tried to talk more to the union leaders, that no one could have tried harder to talk to the union leaders than Ted Heath. Indeed, we had something called tripartite government, which was government, industry and unions. A fat lot of good that did.
After the 1974 election, I used, as a fonctionnaire, to attend meetings of the shadow Cabinet. They were very difficult meetings because Mr Heath did not accept that he had made mistakes and that things had to change. He and Sir Keith Joseph used to spar. I remember, on one occasion, Ted Heath saying to Keith Joseph, “I suppose that you’d let British Leyland go to the wall”. Keith Joseph said, “Of course I would, if it could not put its house in order”. Ted replied, “In that case, you would have blood on the streets”. It was all awkward and difficult. As the shadow Cabinet left the room, I was following behind, when Margaret Thatcher came up to me and said, “Mark, you know, Keith has nearly had enough, and the day he goes, I go”. It was basically from that moment that she realised the need to make a challenge that had never previously been made.
I was struck by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, about the unions. Of course there was huge variation. Some union leaders were people of great patriotism who did a wonderful job, but there were others, often in powerful positions, who used their position not in the interests of their members but to lead them over the economic cliff, often into economic suicide and unemployment. In British Leyland, Red Robbo was leading the union. It was a hopeless system. Now, as a result of restructuring, we once again have a great automobile industry in this country. We could never have done that if that challenge had not been made.
I would describe one of Margaret Thatcher’s great contributions as being to what I call liberation politics. She liberated a lot of people who had had no prospects because they were in the proletariat herd. She hugely enlarged the middle class—the bourgeoisie—of this country. As a result of the structural changes that she introduced, we are a much more equal society than we were then. Far more people—tens or hundreds of thousands of people—now have the opportunity to run their own lives in a way that they did not have before she was around and was Prime Minister.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating afternoon and early evening of paying tribute to an extraordinary lady. I am sure that history will be more accurate as a result. She has been shown to be not only an iron lady but a caring and sensitive woman.
She changed the lives of many of us. I remember sitting in the Lords’ Gallery in another place in 1979 at the vote of no confidence, watching some left-wing Labour MPs singing the “Red Flag” and thinking, “Who is going to be able to change this?”. Mrs Thatcher stopped the rot of what politicians had been doing for so long and what they started to go back to once she had been unceremoniously removed from power. They used to agree to take firm action but, by the time they had got back to their desks, their resolve had started to wane and the condition of the country, as so many have said, deteriorated. She gave not just herself but all of us a belief and a confidence that things could change. It required a woman to give us men and other women that backbone and inspiration and the belief that a country could be changed if you had the commitment.
She changed my life through the kind offices of our great Chief Whip at the time, my noble friend Lord Denham. I was asked to become a member of her Government in 1984. My noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford referred to her small, thoughtful actions. I had never met my Prime Minister when I was invited to a reception in Downing Street. I was taken by my kinsman by marriage, the late Earl of Swinton. I said, “David, will you introduce me?”. He did. There was a receiving line with many more important people behind me. Mrs Thatcher stopped, took me out of the line and spent five minutes showing me the pictures and other important things in Downing Street. For any chief executive to take time out with the newest employee of the company is extraordinary. We have heard other, similar tributes. How did that lady manage to find the time every day to make other people feel that they were important?
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, mentioned that she was a glutton for hard work and detail. After six months in the Home Office studying prisons day in and day out, I was summoned to a meeting with her and found that she knew far more about prisons than I did at the time. I came out of the meeting thoroughly chastened and realised that unless I learnt more and more I would be one of the next to be sacked from her Government—and rightly, because she was the chief executive. How did she know more about the one little section of the Home Office of which I was in charge, when she had a whole country to run? I thought that that was an amazing example of briefing and retentive memory, as well as of the experience by that stage of having been Prime Minister for a number of years.
There is one aspect that noble Lords have not mentioned. We have talked about how she changed her mind but not about how loyal she was when she had changed her mind. I remember this from my time as a junior Minister. Most of the speeches today have been from former Secretaries of State in another place. I am one of the diminishing band of people who have been elected to this House rather than appointed to it by a Prime Minister and have been part of the Government. When I was at the Department of the Environment, I had a discussion with her and she agreed to change a policy. It was a long and tough discussion that involved various other departments. When she grasped that the policy needed changing, she was the one who led from the front, leaving one carrying the standard behind her. I had never experienced a chief executive like that in all the jobs that I had done in the private sector. I had never experienced that sort of leadership. It was tremendous support for a junior Minister—not just for tea ladies and staff, or Secretaries of State, but for all levels of government. With a Government of 100 people, and given the number of times they change, it is a remarkable lady to whom we pay tribute today.
It is always an honour to be asked to serve your country as a member of a Government. To me it was a particular privilege to be the loyal lieutenant of an amazing lady who changed the way our country operates.
My Lords, this has been a remarkable day—one that none of us who has sat through it will ever forget. Of course, it is also a very sad day. It is a day of finality—a day when we know that we will never have Margaret Thatcher in our midst again.
Having said that, we of course send our condolences to the family. As I do that, I am convinced that once the raw effects of bereavement—and they can be pretty raw—lessen, they will realise just how blessed they have been to have had such a woman as a mother and grandmother. I think that in a few years’ time those grandchildren will read something and say, “Gosh, that was my grandmother. She was one of the most historic women of the second part of the 20th century”.
I am speaking because, of 49 speakers, only six are women. That is okay; it does not really matter and we should not feel that we have to speak. However, I want to speak especially for those who do not belong to the political Westminster village. I felt very honoured to come here. It was never on my radar. In fact, when I was asked to come to the House of Lords, I thought that I was being asked to have dinner here. What I mean is that I feel I should not be here, but I hope that I have contributed something.
I will not use the glass ceiling analogy but when Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister, there was a frisson among every woman in my peer group who, with qualifications, had been struggling to get up the ladder a bit, to do a bit more development study and to work that bit harder. We asked ourselves, “Will we ever get there?”. Suddenly we saw this lady who was perfect in every way. No human being is perfect but she seemed to be perfect in every way and she was a role model for many of us. I am now going back to the 1970s, when quite an interesting thing happened. Suddenly—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, also experienced this—there was a burgeoning of women’s networks. I am referring not necessarily to networks in which it was said, “You know somebody in that company. Do you think I can get a job?”, but to networks in which women tried to see how they could, in turn, take their rightful place in this country.
I was president of the Women in Banking and Finance network for about four years. In fact, I took over from another Member of this House—my noble friend Lady Platt. She is the wonderful woman who, ever since the 1940s, always had a screwdriver in her bag. She was an aeronautical engineer and a role model for me—not that I could do engineering, physics or chemistry. She set up the Women in Banking and Finance network, whose members are remarkable people. A lot of them have senior positions in accountancy and consultancy firms, and they have done very well. How do they do it? They do it by meeting frequently, networking, going on development courses and playing golf together. It is not equivalent to a men’s club—it is nothing like that—nor is it a sorority, as they have in the States. There are groups in all sorts of industries. The retail sector has them, and there are professional groups such as lawyers. Just because the word “Women” is in the title, men say, “Oh, you’re off doing this”, but men have been doing it for years. We have a lot of catching up to do.
I have been listening avidly for the past four or five hours—I am not sure how long we have been speaking; time passes quickly when you are interested—and it has been a marvellous history lesson. I know that history is becoming more and more fashionable. In fact, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is trying to highlight history as part of the curriculum, and that is very important. This is a zany idea but in about four or five weeks’ time, or perhaps in the new term in September, why can we not have a copy of today’s Hansard placed in every school so that they can learn from it? I have taken that idea from one put forward by Michael Gove—that of putting the King James Bible in every school. As I am a Bible follower, I do not want to suggest that there is an equivalence between the Bible and today’s Hansard and that your Lordships are all evangelists or prophets, but I think that it is an idea to bear in mind. We have history here today which is alive. It is compelling and I think that people out there of any age would be prepared to listen to it.
I am speaking in this debate from my personal experience outside the Westminster village. I believe that, following the election of Margaret Thatcher, women suddenly got more spring in their step. We have a lot more to do, and we have had several debates in this House about women on boards, women in industry and women in the political sector. All I am saying is that we will miss her. We should benefit from her. We are all so grateful to have known her.
My Lords, I did explain a little earlier that there were two additions. I hesitate to call the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, an addition, but we now turn to the Cross Benches before we go to my noble friend.
My Lords, I add my own tributes to the wealth of tributes which we have heard today—not, of course, at a political level, but as an official who served the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, for three years, from 1987 to 1990, as head of her domestic and economic secretariat under the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and then under the noble Lord, Lord Butler. It was period of extraordinary and rapid change in so many areas: local government, with the community charge—I still cannot call it the poll tax; we were trained not to—the National Health Service; privatisation; education, with the introduction of the curriculum; the inner cities; and so on. The list felt endless.
Mrs Thatcher depended very heavily on briefing. She would use it once she came to the conclusion that she could rely upon you, and she did so very intensively so you had to get it right. There were occasions when she would disagree with one of her colleagues in a meeting. She would challenge them as to whether they were right or not on the strength of a brief. I can tell you, you learn things about the human body—your pores open in moments of stress—which I will not forget.
The other side of the coin was that she worked enormously hard; this, I am sure, is well known. We delivered lots of briefs to her in the evenings, and by the morning she would have mastered and be ready to use them to challenge with enormous skill. I remember saying to her on one occasion, “You must have worked very late to get all this into your mind”. She said, “Well, I find midnight is the worst. By 12.30 I get a second wind”. That, for me, captures it.
She was also very generous in the way in which she treated people who worked for her. She attributed to you qualities which you certainly did not have. I remember sitting down next to her at one meeting. She was deep in thought, and turned to me and said, “Now, can you explain to me what a put option is?”. That is quite a difficult question cold, when a lot of other Ministers are coming in. On another occasion, when Ministers were discussing the national curriculum, she was passionate about the importance of schoolchildren learning poetry by heart. She launched unexpectedly into some Robert Browning, which she quoted at some length. Then she could not remember what came next, and turned to me as the secretary and said, “Now what happens?”. Of course, I had not the faintest notion what happens next. It was very generous of her to think that one might know, but of course I did not.
She was also very kind, sometimes in a rather clumsy way. I was summoned on a Saturday to Chequers to explain to her a very complicated submission which I had put to her on the Friday night about how we might make the poll tax work or avoid some of the more difficult consequences which it seemed likely to have. It was really, really technically difficult. I was shown in to see her and she gave me a cup of tea. I had that in one hand and in the other she put an enormous cream bun, so covered in icing sugar that when we spoke there were clouds of it. We then had this very difficult and serious discussion while I held these two objects in my hands. It was a good meeting but it was slightly unusual.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, about her caution. There were all sorts of sides to that quality. I used to be astonished by the certainty with which she felt that she knew and understood what the British people were feeling and thinking, and where they stood, whatever everyone else among her colleagues were saying or thinking.
One example which comes to mind was that a decision had been taken that the National Dock Labour scheme should be abolished. That was being planned in great secrecy and we had reached the point where Ministers were in a position to give the go-ahead. There was fear of a strike, and so on. When we met the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher said, “I can see that all the plans are ready but I should say that we are not going to go ahead with this decision today. We are not going to make the announcement. It is January and it is cold and foggy. The public are depressed and have had enough bad news. This is not the right time. We will wait until the spring, when the sun and the daffodils are out, and it will be all right”. I found myself thinking, “How do we record this?”, but we recorded it and lo and behold, the Government waited until the spring and the decision went exactly as she said. It was fine, but there was a sense in which she was certain about the timing. It was all going on in her head and it was very impressive.
The other side of Mrs Thatcher, which I hope does not get overlooked, was her interest in science. I remember No. 10 organising groups of PhD or post-doctoral researchers to come and meet her. She would grill them for an afternoon and they would emerge looking exhausted, while she would look hugely refreshed by the experience of having cross-examined them on their science.
I think it was in the autumn of 1988 that, having read over the summer about climate change, she decided that it was a really big problem which people had underestimated. I am not sure that the world remembers it but she made a speech to the Royal Society—way ahead of international opinion, or opinion in this country—in which she very clearly set the problem out in scientific terms. She drew attention to the threats that it had for future generations and the moral imperative that she thought that Governments had to act on it. That was a very important landmark in people realising that it was a problem. It illustrates the limitations of the power of even a great Prime Minister such as Mrs Thatcher that very little happened immediately because of it, but it is interesting that her scientific background led her into that insight.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will not mind my remembering that when she had finally surrendered her office to Her Majesty the Queen, he gave a small impromptu party to enable some of us who had worked for her to say farewell. I remember two things about that occasion. One was that she was going round saying very intense things. I am not even sure that she entirely knew what she was saying to everyone. I remember her coming up and saying to me, “What I always feel about problems in government is that the important thing is to work out what is the right thing to do. You may not be able to achieve it, or not immediately, but that has to be your starting point. That has to be your goal”. For me, that is what marks her out as an outstanding and extraordinary leader, perhaps above all.
The other thing I remember is the noble Lord, Lord Butler, himself saying in his speech to her, “Prime Minister, when we are old and retired the only really interesting thing about us will be that we worked for you”. That was a lovely compliment and today we are all proving that compliment to be right. I certainly feel hugely privileged for having worked for her. Those are three years that I would not have missed for all the world.
My Lords, I pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who I believe was easily the greatest Briton of my adult lifetime. I will refer to six particular points, some of which have been touched upon by others. First, something which has struck me strongly has been the enormous loyalty, devotion and affection felt towards Lady Thatcher by all those who have worked for her, including the police who were responsible for her safety, and which she very much reciprocated. She was in many ways such a warm person, quite the opposite of her public image.
The second point, which is related to that, as many noble Lords pointed out earlier, is that she was a person of great kindness, compassion and modesty. Ahead of every general election she would pack her bags at No. 10 because she by no means took it for granted that she would win an election, even if she was ahead in the polls.
For millions of British people from all walks of life, men and women, she was their heroine. So many people who met her have said to me, “That was the highlight of my life”. They realised greatness when they were in its presence.
Fourthly, and again, this is a point that was made by others but which comes out so strongly, she was someone of great integrity, honesty and principle, and she had a strong sense of duty both in national politics and in her own private life. She was also the key champion of personal aspiration and of equality of opportunity, and this was not only about enabling people to own their own houses, but about enabling them to start their own businesses and buy shares. She was the person who very much got rid of damaging old-fashioned class loyalties and turned a majority of this country into the broad, non-offensive label of middle class. What she achieved has led to that.
She was also the architect not just of our turning round the British economy after the problems of the 1970s but of a business revolution. I will give some brief quotes from leading businessmen, by no means all members of the Conservative Party. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, formerly of BP, said that she,
“breathed life into free enterprise”.
The noble Lord, Lord Sugar, said that she created the,
“opportunity for anyone to succeed in the UK”.
Sir Richard Branson said that she,
“understood what was needed to make business thrive and to turn the country into a country of entrepreneurs”.
Many people forget that before her time even the terms venture capital and entrepreneur hardly existed in the English language, and certainly there was very little of it in practice. So much of what has been a success story in this country since then has been the growth of small businesses and new businesses, employing more than 13 million people. I cite, although it is perhaps a little specialist, the Cambridge cluster that has come up: 629 businesses with a turnover of more than £11 billion, employing 53,000 people, and in the key new areas of IT and technology, life science and physical sciences. Lady Thatcher would have been proud of that, and she would have seen that it promised a promising economic future for this country. Certainly, in the first 20 years of my own life, we never even thought about the ability to be entrepreneurs and to get new businesses up and running.
I was privileged to have got to know Lady Thatcher a little after she became Prime Minister, and the more I knew her the more I admired her. I echo the comments of others, even in the latter parts of her life, as regards her beauty, and those amazing eyes. I often think warmly of when I put her into her car after events which I had attended. If she had had a good conversation, particularly with young people, she showed even then how much she had enjoyed her evening.
I end by also conveying my condolences to her family. The loss of a mother, no matter who she is or at what age, is always harrowing and I think of the country as a whole which has lost, I repeat, its greatest figure in my lifetime.
My Lords, I too extend my condolences to the family of Lady Thatcher. I hope the message that will come from this debate to them will be simply of the sheer greatness of their mother and grandmother. Shortly after Margaret Thatcher retired as Prime Minister, there was a meeting of the ACP to decide how her retirement would be marked. There was considerable navel gazing but in the end Lord Boyd-Carpenter was deputed to organise a dinner for her and Denis at the Cavalry and Guards Club. I had only recently arrived in your Lordships’ House. We were mixed up career-wise and age-wise, and it was a very jolly event. At the end of the dinner, Humphrey Colnbrook, the then chairman of the ACP, said, “Margaret, this evening is not a time for speeches. I shall say just one thing: you took over the leadership of our party at a time when this country was sinking giggling beneath the waves. Your abiding achievement as Prime Minister is that you restored its self-respect”.
This was a fraught time for Margaret and even a weepy time, as many of her colleagues at that time who have spoken today will testify. We need not have worried. It turned out to be a wholly absorbing overview, a tour de force of her achievements as Prime Minister month by month, week by week and sometimes even hour by hour. She finished with the following sentence: “My Lords, may I leave you with one final thought? The destiny of this country is inextricably bound up with that of the United States of America”.
My Lords, this has been a most amazing debate but I felt absolutely compelled to say a few words as one who speaks of being, in a sense, of the next generation. I was not lucky enough, as many who have spoken today were, to have worked with her but I knew her a little. She had a profound effect on me and my generation, both men and women. For a few moments, perhaps I may share with noble Lords a little bit of a more distant perspective.
In 1979, I was in my mid-20s, a young barrister having fun and so on with friends, but we felt that the country was broke. The outlook was bleak. There was mass inflation, unemployment and terrible apathy as rubbish piled up around us and the strikes continued. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was that my father was mugged in broad daylight in St James’s Park. His head and legs were smashed. No one came for hours. When someone finally came, he was taken to Westminster Hospital where they refused even to look at him because they were on strike. He was then taken to the Chelsea hospital where they looked at him in a cursory way and then let him go home. He could not go back to work because his legs would not work. He was also embarrassed because his teeth had been smashed. He called the dentist who took one look at him and saw that his whole head had been completely smashed. No one had noticed because they were on strike.
Soon after that, thank God, the Conservatives won the election but my husband and I, as newlyweds, left for better climes to work in New York. It was amazing to have the perspective from New York. From 3,000 miles away, we saw her turn this country around. Her reputation grew exponentially in such a short time; it was extraordinary. We slightly felt that we were missing something by working in New York. The Falklands was extraordinary. The Americans were envious of us having this courageous woman as our leader. They would say, “God you're lucky having that person”, and, “What leadership”.
As others said today, and as my noble friend Lord Flight mentioned, what a difference she made in the business world. I have just returned from a parliamentary Commonwealth delegation to India. I still had business men and women and politicians there coming up to say how brilliant she was.
I have just a few brief memories as someone who was lucky enough to come into your Lordships’ House. First, she emboldened me to stand for Parliament—although, sadly, I did not win. I returned from America. I was jetlagged and in my car. I should probably not even have been driving. Prime Minister’s Question Time came on the radio, with her just having flown overnight from Japan. She was amazing and I thought, “If she can do it, so can I”. All this about her not helping other women is nonsense: she was the ultimate role model. She would have said to all of us, as indeed she said to me, “Women can achieve. Women can get there”. However, of course, she wanted us to achieve on merit.
I remember when I first came into your Lordships’ House I went to her for advice. I said, “Margaret I don’t understand this. What is the point of making a maiden speech unless you can say something that is worth saying? I do not understand all this business about not being controversial”. She said, “Peta, you mustn’t be controversial, but what you must do is stand up for what you believe”. The other thing she said to me, which I think I have heard this evening, is never to start anything unless you are prepared to see it through.
A few years on, one evening in your Lordships’ House I divided the House seven times on the Licensing Bill. I was determined and won seven times. Others were nudging me slightly, saying, “Peta, when is this going to end? Margaret Thatcher has a party. She is here and she’s missing her own party”. I went up to her and said, “I’m so sorry Margaret but I’m so glad you’re here supporting my amendments”. She said, “My dear, it’s marvellous. I’m really enjoying myself. This is just like old times”. This was her priority. It was her country and her belief in this nation.
Those were just a few thoughts that I wanted to share with your Lordships. Just being here today and taking part in these tributes to Margaret Thatcher is an enormous privilege. She was a truly extraordinary and remarkable lady and she will in many ways remain with us always.
My Lords, we have heard many powerful and moving tributes this afternoon from all sides of the House. We have heard many examples of how Margaret Thatcher touched the lives of so many in your Lordships’ House, both in public and private life. Noble Lords have added a lot to our understanding of this remarkable woman and there has been a lot of new material for historians to mine.
We are all fortunate to have been here as it has been a great parliamentary occasion for a great parliamentarian. But above all, I hope that Lady Thatcher’s family will have the chance to read the tributes that have been made this afternoon about their mother and grandmother and all that she did, and feel very proud of what she achieved.
House adjourned at 8.04 pm.