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Tributes: Baroness D'Souza and Lord Laming

Volume 774: debated on Monday 5 September 2016

My Lords, your Lordships will have perhaps noticed something very different in the Chamber today, with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, taking his place on the Woolsack for the first time. As we welcome him to his new role, we have an opportunity to pay tribute to his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for her service to the House. With the noble Lord, Lord McFall, now also in place as our first Senior Deputy Speaker, it would be an appropriate time as well for us to thank the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for his service as Chairman of Committees.

Although she was only our second Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, made the role her own. Building on the strong foundations of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and infusing the position with her own distinctive grace and poise, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, served as a strong and distinguished voice for your Lordships’ House. She expanded the Peers in Schools programme, through which 100 Peers have visited more than 1,000 schools since 2011. She developed a new regional outreach programme, helping to educate people up and down the country on the extremely important work this House does. She has been a true champion of retirement since its inception, helping to build consensus to secure the legislation that allowed Peers to retire, offering the River Room for receptions for those retiring, and highlighting the success of the scheme within and outside the House. In each respect, she leaves a hugely valuable legacy. We can be particularly grateful for the way in which the noble Baroness served as our representative, whether in her outreach work, her efforts to build links with parliaments across the world or in welcoming world leaders to address Parliament.

No matter the setting, she discharged her responsibilities with great distinction and was a real ambassador for your Lordships’ House. Nowhere was that clearer than when she led tributes to Nelson Mandela in the days following his death. While I was not in the House, I know that she spoke movingly about his impact in a speech that was all the more profound because of its roots in the noble Baroness’s own experiences fighting apartheid in South Africa. The noble Baroness discharged her duties on and off the Woolsack with warmth and good humour. She leaves office with the respect and gratitude of the whole House, and I hope she will continue to bring her considerable wisdom to our work in the coming years.

We also owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Laming. As has been said many times, he stepped into the breach in extremely difficult circumstances. As a House, we were incredibly lucky that in our time of need we could call upon the perfect man for the job, an unflappable and collegiate man who is truly dedicated to public service. Each and every one of us—certainly in my case from personal experience—can attest to his warmth and courtesy, but as Chairman of Committees we saw his other qualities as well: his expert chairmanship; his rigorous attention to detail; and his ability to navigate a straightforward path through the most complex of areas, something that I myself will have to learn. No doubt I will call on his experience.

No matter the subject, the noble Lord was assiduous in building consensus, and always with the same statesmanlike manner that he displayed in his four distinguished years as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. What is more, he managed to combine the role of Chairman of Committees with the completion of his report In Care, Out of Trouble for the Prison Reform Trust. That he was able to discharge both responsibilities simultaneously showed off his seemingly endless reserves of energy, and I am delighted that we will continue to draw upon his expertise in his role as chairman of the Services Committee.

I conclude with congratulations and good wishes to the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord McFall, as they take on their new responsibilities. While their predecessors will be hard acts to follow, both noble Lords bring with them a wealth of experience of Parliament that will equip them well for their work in the coming years. I am looking forward to working with both of them, and I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I wish them the very best of luck and say that they carry with them the support and confidence of noble Lords on all sides of the House.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness has alluded to, today we pay tribute to two firsts in this House: the first Senior Deputy Speaker, my noble friend Lord McFall, and the first male Lord Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. Today is an opportunity to thank both the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for their services to the House.

As has been said, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, did not expect or seek the office of Chairman of Committees. If this is not telling tales, before the Summer Recess last year he shared with me that as his office as Convenor of the Cross Benches was coming to an end, he was looking to having more time for other activities in your Lordships’ House; indeed, we have heard about his work on the review for the Prison Reform Trust, In Care, Out of Trouble. He was not to have that, though, and instead he willingly took on what has been a demanding role. At all times he has brought his customary courtesy, his impeccable manners and his thoughtfulness to his work.

The noble Lord and I have served on many committees together, and I have greatly welcomed the consideration and integrity that he has brought to at times complex issues and his willingness to seek consensus wherever possible. I have also enjoyed his style of chairing committees; I can think of no occasion where a committee member has not considered that they have had a full opportunity to contribute, and we have still finished on time.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, as only the second Peer to hold the position of Lord Speaker, has approached her term in office with enthusiasm, dedication and great personality. She has reached out to the wider public about the work of our House, which has taken her across the length and breadth of our country, debating and promoting the role and purpose of the second Chamber. I hope there is a record of all the meetings and events that she has addressed during her time in office. It should be recognised that, perhaps uniquely among parliamentarians, she was rewarded with a standing ovation at the Women’s Institute.

She has brought her passionate and lifelong commitment to international aid and human rights to her international role as Lord Speaker. As her role has taken her across the world, she has championed the importance of women’s representation in public life and national parliaments. As well as the many formal parliamentary functions she has hosted and addressed, it is of great credit to her and to this House that both Bill Gates and President Jimmy Carter accepted invitations to speak here. Those were both fascinating and inspiring evenings.

Like other colleagues, I have taken advantage of her encouragement to use the River Room to promote and support charities, which love the opportunity to showcase their work or thank their supporters in such fantastic surroundings. However, despite the formality of her role, many of us have recognised her sense of fun. I am sure I am not the only one who has caught her eye as she has sat on the Woolsack and seen her amusement at some witty speech or comment—whether intended or otherwise.

With such commitment to her role, I am sure she leaves the Woolsack with mixed feelings but few regrets. It is a responsible, important, distinguished, and honourable office to hold. She has done so with great commitment and credit and she leaves an impressive legacy.

In paying this tribute to both the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, we also pass on our thanks and gratitude to them, look forward to their work in future and wish their successors the same kind of success. They have our full support.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches, and to give our thanks to her for the dignity with which she discharged her duties as Lord Speaker. It is, of course, a comparatively new post and, building on the foundations laid by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has developed and shaped the office during her time in that role.

The noble Baroness performed her ceremonial roles with considerable dignity. I always thought that she found exactly the right words whenever welcoming and thanking visiting dignitaries. The fact that both the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, talked about her outreach work, shows the stamp she put on the office. She ensured that the office of Lord Speaker did not focus inward on your Lordships’ Chamber but was outward facing. She developed an extensive outreach programme with the public. She spoke with many civil society and educational groups, attended countless public meetings across the country to describe the work of the House, and continued and expanded the innovative Peers in Schools programme, reaching out to schools far and wide.

She also sought to bring the outside world into Parliament. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, reminded us of the visit of President Jimmy Carter. For me, it was a most memorable event. Her decision to invite him was significant because he was willing to accept. I do not know whether it was cunning or inadvertence on her part, but the initial invitation to us was just to a lecture by President Carter. It was only on the day that I realised that the subject was to be the eradication of Guinea worm disease. I must confess that I did not expect to be quite so fascinated by a parasitic infection. This lecture, given as part of the Lord Speaker’s global lecture series, demonstrated again the commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, to strengthening links between Parliament and the wider community outside. This has been complemented by her work in strengthening the relationships of this House with many Parliaments overseas.

She had the challenge, if I may put it like that, of chairing the House Committee. I wonder how many former members of the committee share my view that her initiative in the last six months of her term in hosting the meetings in her rooms, accompanied by refreshment, boosted their productivity and seemed to shorten them.

Throughout her tenure as Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, fiercely sought to safeguard the reputation of this House at a time of increased scrutiny. At our regular meetings we often discussed our shared interest in upholding the good standing of this House and working through a number of difficult issues to find the best solutions for the House and all its Members. It is with much affection that, on behalf of these Benches, I wish her very well as she stands down from the role.

I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for stepping into the role of Chairman of Committees at what was, we recall, a difficult time for your Lordships’ House. As they say, a volunteer is worth 10 pressed men or women. The noble Lord was always assiduous in his role, seeking to work in a most consensual way for the benefit of the House. His courtesy, respect for colleagues, attention to detail and steady guidance have been of considerable benefit, and he has always taken care to fully understand the issues. Again, I extend our warmest and heartfelt thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and wish him well in his chairmanship of the new Services Committee, to which he brings considerable experience.

I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, to the post of Senior Deputy Speaker. We go back many years to our time together in the House of Commons, and I know that that post is in secure hands. I also welcome our new Lord Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, reminded us, he is the first man to hold the post. The noble Lord’s election demonstrated that he has the overwhelming confidence of this House and I wish him very well indeed in his new role.

My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to add a few words from these Benches, as both of those to whom we are paying tribute this afternoon were previously Convenors of the Cross-Bench group and it is to this group that they have both now returned.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, came to the Cross Benches when she was made a Member of this House in July 2004. Her warm and generous personality made an immediate impact, and it came as no surprise when she was elected Convenor only three years later, in 2007, in succession to Lord Williamson of Horton. She held that position for nearly four years until her election as Lord Speaker in 2011. Then it was the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who was elected by the Cross Benchers to take her place as their Convenor. When he retired after serving his full term of four years, he must have thought—as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, suggested—that the time had come for him to take a back seat and lead a quieter life. But, of course, those who were wondering who was best suited to take over as Chairman of Committees at a critical time had other ideas. We were so very fortunate that the noble Lord was willing to be persuaded to fill the gap. No one was better suited to do this than he was.

I well remember the day when the noble Baroness contributed her own words as Convenor to the farewell to the Law Lords when the appellate jurisdiction of this House came to an end in July 2009. We the Law Lords were all sitting that day on the Cross Benches as members of her group for the last time before we were disqualified on our move to the Supreme Court. We appreciated her kind words very much. For me, four years of disqualification followed. So I was unavoidably absent for the rest of her convenorship, for the first two years of her time as Lord Speaker, and for the first two years of the noble Lord’s time as Convenor. However, when I came back in the summer of 2013 I was able to see them both in action.

It struck me at that time, and has been borne in on me even more now, that we expect an awful lot of our Lord Speaker. It seemed to me that her position on the Woolsack, although always dignified, was a rather lonely one. As others have said, her real contribution to the House has been in the work she has done outside the Chamber. For many of your Lordships much of what she did there was not obvious, but it has been my privilege during the past year to see quite a lot of her. I had regular meetings with her when she was Convenor, attended functions over which she presided and saw her work as chairman of the House Committee and as a member of the Procedure Committee and the Committee for Privileges. On each of these occasions she played an important and valuable role, always putting the needs of the House before all other considerations.

As for the functions, I remember the great ones, which included the addresses in the Royal Gallery by the President of China and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, over which she and the Speaker presided, as well as the more intimate ones on her own in the Reading Room, particularly the one that both the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, mentioned, when Jimmy Carter came to talk to us about his work to eradicate the Guinea worm disease. My recollection of that event is that she took the risk at the end of the lecture of asking whether anyone had any questions on what he had been talking about. Anyone who has chaired a lecture knows how risky that can be. I still remember the look on her face when a wholly irrelevant and really rather naughty question was asked by a journalist: “Trump or Clinton, who will it be?”. That was six months ago, long before we knew who the final candidates would be, and I remember the look of sheer relief on her face when Jimmy Carter dealt with the cheeky question head on, generously and at length, instead of refusing to answer it—although, of course, skilled politician that he is, he did not really answer the question.

The noble Baroness did us proud on these occasions, charming our visitors with her grace and the warmth of her welcome. There were hard times for her, too, as the holder of any great public office must experience from time to time. Whatever she felt inside, she bore them with remarkable courage and fortitude. We have much to be grateful for. All of us on the Cross Benches wish the noble Baroness well on her retirement from the many responsibilities that she has borne so well. We look forward very much indeed to welcoming her back to these Benches, where she still has so much to contribute.

We welcome, too, the return to these Benches of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Let us be clear that it is certainly not because of what he has done that the role of Chairman of Committees has been reformed. He brought to that office a charming mixture of kind, self-deprecating humour and quiet efficiency. Committee meetings under his chairmanship, for which he always prepared very carefully, were always a pleasure and he struck exactly the right tone when presenting his committee’s reports to the House. We have much to be grateful for and I know that I have the support of all of those who are with me on the Cross Benches when I say how much we appreciate what he has done in that role. As has already been said, we are very fortunate indeed that he has agreed to serve from these Benches as the first chairman of the Services Committee as it settles into its new responsibilities. So, as I am sure he knows only too well, the work that he is doing for the House is not yet over.

On behalf of these Benches I also extend a very warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, as our new Lord Speaker and to the noble Lord, Lord McFall, in his new role looking after the committee system, which has been so carefully reformed. We look forward very much indeed to working with them both in the future.

My Lords, on behalf of the Lords spiritual I join in the tributes to the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and to the noble Lord, Lord Laming. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has been a great friend to the Lords spiritual, who normally arrive with even more trepidation and less familiarity with the processes of a House such as this than anyone else coming here. She has been assiduous in seeing new bishops and advising them, and then advising them later when they did not quite make it—something that I appreciated on more than one occasion. She always did it with the greatest tact and courtesy and I think that we would all say that she was an encourager of great aptitude.

I associate these Benches with the tributes to her for her work in publicising the work of the House in schools and further afield, and for her work in bringing forward the place of faith in public life. I remember well her hosting the visit of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in her state rooms in 2015. It was a challenging and difficult meeting which, as always, she handled with extraordinary skill. She was also continually prodding us to make sure that the presence of women on these Benches became both a possibility and then, through the women bishops Bill, which she supported, a reality.

The noble Baroness has been a regular attender at parliamentary events at Lambeth, for which we are very grateful. One of the things that she seems to have brought to the role—from which we on these Benches have much to learn—is not so much the exercise of direct power as the effective use of influence and her capacity to be a unifying figurehead. Perhaps I could learn something from that.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has also quite rightly had the strongest tributes paid to him. That is as it should be and I will not take up the House’s time in repeating them but will merely associate myself with them. However, I will add one thing to what has been said about his unfailing courtesy, fairness, assiduous communication and determination to make the House work smoothly, which he continues to demonstrate in the Services Committee. That is his pastoral skills: the way in which he draws alongside people who may have been struggling to support and encourage them personally and quietly—for which many of us in this House are profoundly grateful. It is wonderful that both the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will continue to serve the House from the Cross Benches.

I would also like to associate these Benches with the words of welcome to the new Lord Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, with whom we look forward to working very much indeed, and to the senior Deputy Speaker, the not-actually-bishop, the noble Lord, Lord McFall. He finds himself in a slightly unfamiliar seat normally occupied by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. I had the pleasure of working with the noble Lord on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and know the qualities that he will bring to this House, together with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which can only increase our capacity in this place.

My Lords, I will add a very brief last word. I would like to thank all those who have spoken for their good wishes to myself and to the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I must admit to a certain trepidation in breaking the 10-year female monopoly on the Woolsack. I also know perfectly well that when I make my first major mistake, the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition will shake their heads and say in perfect unity, “What do you expect if you hand it over to a man?”. For me, the truth is that everyone will remember the example of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the very high standards that she set in this House and outside, such as in her work with schools. But more than that, she spoke at numerous meetings up and down the country explaining the work of this House. As the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said, she spoke to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes to rapturous applause, which is not always the response that all politicians receive. When she spoke of the future, it was with sincerity and common sense. Dare I say that it is not exactly controversial to say that this House is somewhat on the crowded side? We look forward to her continuing campaigns now that she has returned to the Cross Benches.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has also made a tremendous contribution to this House as Chairman of Committees. I remember the days when he was director of social services in Hertfordshire back in the 1980s. Those were the golden years of social services in this country. Modesty almost prevents me recalling that for six of those 10 years I was in charge as Secretary of State for Social Security. As many will understand, I use the words “in charge” very loosely indeed. But what was certain was that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, was a giant in that field. On his role in this House the best thing I can say is that I have never heard a critical word said about him. He is renowned for his patience, his hard work and, above all, his effectiveness in getting things done. The House is exceptionally fortunate that he will continue his work as the new chairman of the Services Committee. I ask noble Lords to note that any complaints about the food should be directed to him and not to me.

In brief, we sincerely thank two exceptional servants of this House.