Skip to main content

Tributes: Lord Richard

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2018

My Lords, it is my sad duty to lead the tributes to one of my predecessors as Leader of the House, Lord Richard, who died on Sunday.

Lord Richard was a significant figure in the political life of this country, holding a variety of high-profile public roles over several decades. He always argued with a fearsome combination of intellect and passion, directed by strong political convictions. He joined this House in 1990, becoming Leader of the Opposition two years later during a time of great change for the Labour Party before being appointed as Leader of the House after the 1997 general election. As Leader, he played a central role in the early cross-party discussions about the future of this House, which were to culminate in the House of Lords Act 1999. By then he had already had a long and distinguished record of service, both as an MP and at the highest levels of international relations, and after his time as Leader of the House he continued to make important contributions to our work and through our Select Committees.

In 1974, Harold Wilson appointed Lord Richard as the UK Permanent Representative to the UN, where he served for over five years. During this time he played a key role in bringing together the different sides in the Middle East and Rhodesia conflicts. Following the change of Government in 1979, Lord Richard was appointed as one of the UK’s European commissioners, replacing Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. He spent four years in Brussels, where he oversaw employment, social policy, education and training. My noble friend Lady Chalker tells me that Lord Richard’s unfailing willingness to listen and seek the advice of others helped him to resolve a wide variety of challenges and ultimately achieve better outcomes during his time in these international posts.

His service to this House since his period as Leader saw him making a number of invaluable contributions to the European debate as well as on major constitutional issues, including reform of this House. He was appointed as Chairman of Committees on the Constitutional Reform Bill, the Barnett formula and most recently of the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. In each of these roles he demonstrated all the negotiating skills gleaned from his international postings in achieving cross-party consensus on serious and difficult issues. As well as chairing committees, he also served until very recently on a number of EU sub-committees.

Together with the death of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I am sorry that the House has had to bid farewell to two distinguished Welsh political figures in the same week. Lord Richard was a man who never abandoned his Carmarthenshire roots; he was invited to chair a commission on the future powers of the National Assembly for Wales, which reported in 2004. While its recommendations were not initially accepted by the Government at the time, the important body of work eventually resulted in the devolution of further powers to Cardiff.

At this sad time, all sides of your Lordships’ House will want to send their good wishes to his wife Janet, to whom he was a devoted husband, and to his children. We share in what must be their sense of profound loss. But it is almost impossible not to be struck at the breadth of what he achieved at high level in so many different fields He put his experience and wisdom willingly at the disposal of this House throughout his membership, and he will be greatly missed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments; we are grateful for the tributes she has paid. As well as Lord Crickhowell, she will understand that we are also mourning our colleague Brenda Dean who died very recently.

In 1997 Lord Richard—Ivor—led the Labour Party in the Lords into government for the first time in 18 years. He had taken over the leadership in 1992, just after we had been defeated in an election that we went into with such high hopes. Noble Lords will understand that it was not an easy time: despite the convincing nature of Labour’s victory in 1997 the future had looked far from certain five years earlier.

Ivor was a man of great intellect and experience—a “wise owl” if ever there was one. He had strong political convictions and as someone said to me earlier, he was a true character. His time in Parliament spanned almost 54 years. He was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1964 for Barons Court in west London and served for 10 years in the other place, returning to Westminster on the red Benches in 1990. Between his times at Westminster he served in not one but two high-profile international postings; first, as Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations and then as a European commissioner. In the former role, Ivor was at the centre of two of the key issues of the day: the Middle East conflict that still troubles us and the growing movement for independence in what is now Zimbabwe. An early advocate of Britain’s membership of the then Common Market, Ivor found himself briefly dislodged from the Labour Front Bench for defying the Whip on the historic vote to join in 1971: some things change.

We will miss Ivor’s wisdom, expertise and statesmanship as the seemingly never-ending Brexit process moves forward over the coming months and years. In 1997, his tenure as a Cabinet Minister and Leader of your Lordships’ House was inevitably dominated by the new Government’s heavy legislative programme, particularly the proposals for reform of this House. Lords reform remained a passion and an issue close to his heart, so he was the obvious choice to chair the Joint Committee considering the draft Bill at the last major attempt to reform your Lordships’ House, under the coalition Government.

A proud Welshman, he also played a key role in the development of the powers of the National Assembly for Wales, paving the way for the 2011 referendum on the Assembly’s lawmaking powers. Ivor served on more committees of this House than we have time to mention here, most recently on the Select Committee that this House set up to consider some of the most contentious aspects of the Trade Union Bill. I well recall the Monday morning when Ivor arrived at my office in your Lordships’ House, having just been appointed the previous week, with a huge pile of papers under his arm, all marked up, all flagged: he had spent the whole weekend examining in detail the issues before that committee. His contribution to Parliament and to the Lords over many years was huge. He was the last former MP to become Leader of your Lordships’ House—so far.

So today we pay tribute to Ivor, our friend and colleague whom we shall miss enormously. Our thoughts are with his family, particularly his wife, Janet. I hope that our thoughts as we remember him today will be of some comfort to them.

My Lords, Ivor Richard, as we have heard, had an exceptionally varied and successful career in both domestic and international politics. As MP for Barons Court, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, pointed out, he gained the battle honours of being sacked from his Front Bench for supporting the Bill taking the UK into the European Community in 1971. After leaving the Commons, he was a forthright UK Permanent Representative at the UN and then a successful commissioner when he succeeded Roy Jenkins at the Commission in Brussels.

On these Benches, he is especially remembered, particularly by my Welsh colleagues, as architect of the Richard commission report, which was commissioned in the early days of the National Assembly for Wales by the coalition Government, of which the Lib Dems were then part. The report looked at the powers and the size of the Assembly, and, somewhat remarkably, proposed changed the voting system to STV—which particularly commended it to my friends. He was a committed devolutionist and a committed Welshman. He helped push the boundaries of thinking on full powers for the National Assembly, which eventually, many years later, have come to fruition.

But the thing which always impressed me most was his presence and his voice. He had a solidity, an authority and a manner of speaking which commanded attention and made me, at least, want to listen very carefully to everything he said. This, in my experience, is a very rare ability and made him a most effective leader of your Lordships’ House. I will certainly miss that voice.

My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues on the Cross Benches, I too wish to be associated with the warm and very well-deserved tributes that have been paid to Lord Richard. As we have heard, he had a distinguished career before he became a Member of this House. Under the name Ivor Richard, he became very well known to the public, first as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and then as an EEC commissioner. Perhaps less well known is the fact that he had practised at the Bar for nearly 20 years before accepting these appointments. His clarity of thought, his skill as a communicator and the air of quiet authority which in later years were to become his hallmark when he spoke in the House must surely have owed much to his legal background.

As we have heard, he spent much more time on the Front Bench as Leader of the Opposition than he did when he was appointed Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House after the 1997 general election. It was not until after he had left that office that the House of Lords Act 1999, which was the first measure to reform the House that was passed during the then Labour Government, received its Royal Assent. So he had the difficult task of being Leader when the party in government were very much in the minority in this House because of the presence of the hereditary Peers. I was serving as a Law Lord during that time, so I did not see how he handled that, as I was usually sitting upstairs with the Appellate Committee during Questions and on other occasions when his skills would have been put to the test.

His contribution as Leader was by no means the only contribution he made to the work of the House. I saw him in action when he chaired the committee that has already been mentioned, before which I gave evidence, which was appointed to scrutinise the Bill that became the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. That Act is certainly steeped in my memory because it resulted in the departure of the Law Lords and the creation of the UK Supreme Court. Then he was invited to chair the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill which sat from 2011 to 2012. The careful and measured way in which he fulfilled these responsibilities and the many others that came his way was an example to us all.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred to Lord Richard’s presence. We on these Benches had the advantage and pleasure—denied to those on the Opposition Benches because of layout of the Chamber—of seeing and watching the noble Lord every day when he was in his place on the Back Benches. He was one of those remarkable men who could communicate his views by the look on his face or maybe the movement of his shoulders almost as well as he could when he spoke. There was much entertainment to be had when he was in that mood. We shall miss him very much, and to his wife and all the members of his family, we on these Benches wish to extend our condolences on their loss.

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I also pay tribute to Lord Richard and associate myself with the comments already made. Lord Richard’s life was clearly one devoted to public service: MP, ambassador to the United Nations, where he worked hard on both the Middle East and then Rhodesia, and EU Commissioner before coming to this House, where he first became Leader of the Opposition and ultimately Leader of the House. Most of us aspire to making an impression in one area alone: he clearly excelled in many.

Although there is no one now on these Benches who had the privilege of serving under his leadership of this House, the last Bishop of Leicester had the pleasure of serving under his chairmanship of the committee looking at the coalition Government’s plans for Lords reform—an experience made all the better for his impressive command of the brief. Any Member who is given—or, indeed, accepts—the unenviable task of navigating their way through that contentious swamp has to be possessed of a formidable intellect and firm resolve, and command the trust and respect of all sides. These were qualities that Lord Richard held in abundance and which he applied to his service to the public good in so many different ways over the years. He will be much missed.

My Lords, as noble Lords have pointed out, Ivor Richard served for four years as a Commissioner in Brussels. He and I were colleagues at that time. I pay tribute first to the broader horizons that he brought to bear when he arrived: he came from being ambassador to the United Nations and this added a dimension to the Commission’s understanding of the world, which was very useful and important at that time.

Of course, he was Labour and I was Conservative and he was in charge of employment and social affairs, and I was in charge of the budget, so that in many aspects we were not natural allies. The way in which he always played his hand in those very difficult negotiations—conducted against the background of the British budget problem of the late 1970s and early 1980s—was a great tribute to his integrity and acumen. He never gave way on matters that were of particular interest to his portfolio or his beliefs, but he was always able to appreciate the wider interest, both in terms of Britain and the European Union and in terms of the Commission formulating a policy. In addition to that, he was a very convivial character, and in a multi-national body such as the Commission, where people come from different political parties and different national backgrounds, his convivial characteristics played a very useful role in cementing the group and helping to make it operate as one, rather than as a whole lot of different individuals. He was a good colleague and a good companion, and I have very happy memories of serving together with him.

Just before I sit down, I hope that the House will understand if I also say how very much I shall miss my very good friend and long-standing colleague, Lord Crickhowell.

My Lords, Ivor was one of my oldest friends. We served together as Ministers in the Ministry of Defence in the 1960s. It seems a long time ago. I looked after equipment and he looked after the Army. After his distinguished diplomatic career, he returned to the Bar and again distinguished himself as a very impressive advocate. We both turned up from time to time and appeared at the Old Bailey—professionally of course. My last recollection of him was his comment a few weeks ago that he went to the same elementary school in Carmarthenshire as Jim Griffiths, formerly deputy leader of my party and the first Welsh Secretary. Ivor was a proud Welshman who rendered very great service, particularly to future constitutional development. He will be missed.

My Lords, I should like to join in with a short tribute to Lord Richard. I was the Government Chief Whip from 1994 to 1997 when both he and Lord Graham ran a most effective and expert Opposition, which made our lives extremely difficult. Looking back over 20 years, one might have assumed that the transition from Opposition to Government under the Blairite wave of good will that swept the country would have been an easy task for a new Leader in the House of Lords. Far from it, but if his political skills, which were real indeed, were tested in that period then he never showed it, because he demonstrated with his intelligence, his Welshness and his profound belief in the Labour Party that everything could be achieved—and so it was, with him as Leader. I am glad that he came to this House regularly in the succeeding years and even until quite recently. He and I would occasionally stop and talk about those days. He will be much missed and, like everyone else, I send our condolences to his wife and his family.

My Lords, I shall add my own tribute to Lord Richard. He was the first person who I voted to be Leader of the Labour Party in this House; I had arrived in 1991 and the election was held soon after. I must mention that his devotion to reform of your Lordships’ House, and to trying to make it an elected Chamber, was profound and he worked very hard for it. At the end of the day that did not work out, but we all live in hope. I am sure that on the day when the House becomes an elected Chamber, we shall all remember Lord Richard’s contribution. It was said that he had been sacked from the Front Bench during his career for defying the whip. I have the distinction of having been sacked by him twice, but I still liked him very much.