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Tribute to Lord Williams of Mostyn - House of Lords

Monday 6th October 2003

The Archbishop of Canterbury led the tributes from the bishop's bench to the former Leader of the House of Lords, Gareth Williams, who passed away on 20 September 2003.

The Archbishop of Canterbury:

My Lords, one of the marks of a good lawyer is surely that he or she should confer dignity upon those situations and those persons with whom they have to deal. It may well be that this House needs no such conferrals of dignity, but what has already been said this afternoon has indicated that sense of seriousness, that sense of enjoyment and that sense of broad vision which are always inseparable from dignity.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' House of the late Lord Williams's involvement, over many years, with the legal work of the Commonwealth and of his sympathy and involvement with Commonwealth lawyers, as well as his sustained involvement with issues surrounding prisoners' rights. In both of those respects, he showed himself to be as we entirely expected: a lawyer in the sense that I have already outlined. He was someone concerned with the conferral of dignity: the dignity that is shared by the partnership of the Commonwealth and the dignity that alas we are often reluctant to confer on those at the wrong end of the legal system.

To speak of dignity may sound somewhat pompous. All that has been said so far has indicated a point of which none needs to be reminded: the late Lord Williams was in no sense a pompous person, but one who, confident in his own dignity, was able to recognise it in and confer it upon all those around him.

On behalf of the Lords Spiritual, it is a great privilege for me to be able to pay tribute. All on these Benches found him to be a loyal and faithful friend, although not an uncritical one. He enabled us to play our part in this Chamber to the full. He provided help, support and welcome for all of us. To nervous newcomers in your Lordships' House, he was a great source of strength. I am personally particularly grieved that I had such a very short time in which to learn from him and to work with him but, before I first took my seat in your Lordships' House, I was already conscious of his work, his witness and his friendship.

It will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that we shared one or two things in common that had perhaps a little to do with the water of early childhood already described and an involvement—not restricted to the two of us in this House, I am happy to say—with Swansea. To be welcomed to this House by someone with whom I felt instantly at home was a great bonus and a great benefit.

Reference has been made to the passionate concern of Lord Williams for involvement in the affairs of his native land. Some have spoken of the way in which the Welsh political tradition has been shaped by ideals of corporate and co-operative work to such an extent that Welsh people make naturally good lawyers. Those critical voices that ascribe the legal enthusiasms of the Welsh to less salutary and salubrious motivations should be silent perhaps at this point and allow the benefit of the doubt to those of us who share that lineage.

One who heard it described a speech by Lord Williams, in which he referred to his ancestry and his lineage, as the most moving moment he had ever encountered in the House. Although I belong to a different branch of the ubiquitous Williams clan in Wales, I should like to quote from those words with some sense of identification and some sense of the powerful contribution that they make to our common sense, in every sense, in the House. The remarks were made during a debate on the future of this Chamber. He referred to pride in family, history and ancestry. Quoting Yeats, he said of his ancestors, "they are no petty people". He spoke of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather; of those who suffered in difficult times in Wales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and he spoke of those who live unremarked, though not unremarkable, lives of duty and service. He continued:

"There are millions like them in our country today. All I would say is this: 'they are no petty people'".—[Official Report, 15/10/98; col. 1165.]

Lord Williams was no petty person. It is with a great sense of corporate love and pride that we can pay tribute to that absolute lack of pettiness; that instinctive and unfussy dignity; that wit and that sense of service which we miss so sorely—although not as sorely, we know, as his family. He was no petty person.

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