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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 September, 2003, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
Lords loses smooth operator
Lord Williams of Mostyn
The life peer was known for his debating skills
The death of Lord Williams of Mostyn at the age of 62 has robbed the government of one of its smoother but lesser-known operators.

Having spent two years as leader of the Lords, he had gained a reputation as someone with a knack for pushing the right buttons in Lords debates.

One of his key roles was in piloting controversial legislation through the Lords.

BBC political correspondent James Landale said Lord Williams managed this because he possessed "lawyerly skills, humour and a light touch in bucket loads".

"He was a peer's peer. His performances were amazing. He grew up as a young Welsh lawyer honing his rhetorical skills and he used them to devastating effect in the House of Lords on a daily basis."

Lord Williams replaced Baroness Jay - a forthright figure regularly attacked in the press - after the 2001 election.

It was said by some that he had not wanted to move from the post of attorney general, which he had held since the summer of 1999.

But the government hoped that Lord Williams's combination of geniality and a rigorous legal mind would help minimise opposition to reform and unpopular bills.

Contrasting styles

He was a diplomatic figure who was credited with playing a key role in smoothing over the difficulties Lord Irvine experienced in and out of the chamber upon his appointment as lord chancellor.

Their styles could not have contrasted more, with Tony Blair's former master attracting condemnation from some for his stiff relations with peers and Lord Williams garnering praise for his smooth, charming, urbane nature and dry wit.

James Lansdale said he was able to defuse tense moments with a light joke, "bringing chuckles from the old boys and the old girls " and was perfectly attuned to the House of Lords.

Born Gareth Wyn Williams in a taxi in Prestatyn, north Wales, in 1941, the future peer was the son of a village schoolmaster.

He was educated at Rhyl Grammar School and Queens' College, Cambridge, before being called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1965, and appointed Queen's Counsel in 1978.

His academic honours included being a fellow of the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth and honorary professor of the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University College of North Wales in 1994.

Legal achievements

He was also pro-chancellor at the University of Wales since 1995, and president of the Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Lord Williams' legal achievements included becoming a Deputy High Court judge in 1986 and serving until 1997, and chairmanship of the Bar Council from 1992 to 1993.

He was created a life peer in 1992 and became an Opposition spokesman in the House of Lords on legal affairs from that year until 1997.

He also served as a spokesman on Northern Ireland between 1993 and 1997.

In government, he was a junior Home Office minister before being promoted and then later appointed attorney general.

Lord Williams was married and leaves three daughters and one son.


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