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House of Lords Hansard
Death of a Former Member: Lord Waddington
27 February 2017
Volume 779


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My Lords, it is my sad duty to report to the House the death of my noble friend Lord Waddington. Lord Waddington was one of the leading political figures of his generation. He arrived in this House as its Leader in 1990. By then, he had already had a long and distinguished record of service both as an MP and, at the highest levels of government, as Chief Whip in the House of Commons and then as Mrs Thatcher’s last Home Secretary. After his time as Leader of this House, he continued to serve his country as Governor of Bermuda.

On this day last week, many noble Lords may have had occasion to think of Lord Waddington. His maiden speech as Leader of this House was the last occasion on which the Prime Minister—then Sir John Major—sat on the steps of the Throne. That fact only hints at the legacy left by a great parliamentarian—a man who never abandoned his Lancastrian roots, retaining always a directness of approach, clarity of thought and plainness of speech which enabled him to cut through political complexity with enviable success; many of us wish we had that skill. His service to this House following his period as leader continued to show him at his best: a man of principle and grit; a tenacious and committed servant to the British public who effected real change, leading the charge from the Back Benches on major legislation such as the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, to which he carried an amendment in 2008; a man who always thought of others before himself. It was typical of Lord Waddington that in 2015, he was one of the first Members to retire under the House of Lords Reform Act 2014.

At this sad time, we send the good wishes of the House and these Benches to his wife Gilly, to whom he was a devoted husband, and their children and grandchildren. We can only share in their sense of loss, but we can also take this moment to reflect on a career and a life of outstanding public service. Lord Waddington set a standard of dedication and integrity to which we can all aspire, and he will be missed by us all.

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My Lords as we have heard, Lord Waddington had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer, a politician, Governor of Bermuda and indeed Leader of this House and Lord Privy Seal. Many in your Lordships’ House today will know him well from his service in the other place as an elected MP and a government Minister, and will know that he was a man of strong conviction. I think he would have relished the description I read of him yesterday as being a no-nonsense politician.

Despite his very strong loyalty to Margaret Thatcher and his long and distinguished service as a Minister, he was surprised to find himself appointed Home Secretary, having himself recommended our Lord Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for the position. I was surprised to find that we had something quite unusual in common: as the noble Baroness said, in his case it was during his maiden speech in this House that the then Prime Minister, John Major, listened from the Throne steps.

Like many noble Lords, Lord Waddington’s dedication to and affection for his constituency, Ribble Valley, continued long after his elevation to your Lordships’ House. There is no doubt that he missed being its MP, given his deep commitment. In some ways he wrote his own obituary when, in an interview in The House magazine some years ago, he said with disarming self-deprecation—I think he was having a joke:

“I would like to be remembered as a decent local buffer who wasn’t all that clever, but in his own way tried to do his best”.

What more can any of us ask than that we try to do our best? On behalf of these Benches I offer sincere condolences to his wife Gilly, his family, his colleagues and his friends.

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My Lords, unlike many Members of your Lordships’ House I did not know David Waddington personally, although I recall a number of notable speeches that he made from the Benches opposite during my time in the House. It is fair to say he was not one of life’s natural Liberal Democrats, but my colleagues cheered when, as Home Secretary, he referred the case of the Birmingham Six to the Court of Appeal, where of course their convictions were eventually quashed.

The only thing I can really claim to have in common with Lord Waddington is that, like me, he was a proud northerner. He could not help being a Lancastrian but he certainly made the most of it and, as others have said, was plain-speaking and had the characteristics of straightforward behaviour that northerners like to think they share. It is typical of Lord Waddington that he is having his memorial service in Clitheroe rather than across the road; that says a lot about where his priorities lay, and those of his family. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I wish to pass on our good wishes and condolences to Lord Waddington’s wife and family.

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My Lords, in wishing to associate myself with all the remarks that have been made, I am conscious that, like them, I was not in the House when Lord Waddington was serving here as Leader, although I was here when he returned from Bermuda in 1997.

Time marches on. Only 20 of the current membership of the Cross Benches were actually in the House when he was Leader, reflecting the fact that there is quite a bit of distance between us and that time. My predecessor in the office of Convenor at the time was Baroness Hylton-Foster. The office that I hold now was very much in its infancy, so I do not think she had quite the same warm working relationship that I have with today’s Leader.

I have one advantage, however. I remember sitting below the Bar during a debate at which Lord Waddington was certainly present. It was a debate on the future of the legal profession—a matter in which I am sure that he, as a former lawyer, took a close interest. The Government’s policy was, it is fair to say, not universally welcomed by the profession. It is worth recalling that the Lord Chancellor, who was sitting on the Woolsack at that time, was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. That reminds us of two things: that the Lord Chancellor sat in this House, and that the Leader was not the only Member of this House to sit at the Cabinet table. Those are two things we have lost, and which I am sure Lord Waddington would have valued very much.

When I passed through Gray’s Inn this morning on my way to the House, the flag was flying at half mast, in a very fitting tribute to Lord Waddington, as he was a bencher of that inn. One of his sons, who followed his father to the Bar, is also a member of that inn. To him and to all the other members of the family I would like, on behalf of all those on these Benches, to extend our condolences on their sad loss.

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My Lords, I would like to be associated with the comments already made about the late Lord Waddington, and to add a few words of tribute on behalf of these Benches. Although I came to the House shortly after Lord Waddington retired, I know that his Christian faith was a source of great comfort and inspiration to him. The “Waddington amendment” that bears his name was prompted by his concern that those who sincerely hold traditional Bible-based views on relationships should be able to speak freely under the law. Hansard records that in 1998 Lord Waddington asked Ministers,

“that those responsible for the Church’s forms of worship should not lightly tinker with the language of prayers which millions have learnt in childhood and from which they still find comfort at times of distress and grief”.—[Official Report,12/3/98; col.302.]

I like to think that this morning’s choice of Psalm 46 for Prayers would therefore have been appreciated, not least as a line from this psalm,

“God is our refuge and courage”,

features in the late Lord Waddington’s own coat of arms. Future worshippers at St John the Evangelist, Read-in-Whalley, will benefit from a new stained glass window kindly donated by Lord Waddington, which will be a long-standing and fitting memorial to his care and concern for that community, and to his devotion to public service. I offer my condolences to his wife, children, family and friends. May he rest in peace.