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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Obituary: Lord Weatherill
Bernard Weatherill
Bernard Weatherill: tailor, soldier, politician and Speaker
Lord Weatherill became the 154th Speaker of the House of Commons, against the wishes of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, at the start of her second term of office in 1983.

He was the backbenchers' choice for the job, and remained a staunch champion of their rights. He became a very popular figure in the House.

He had a brisk manner, which owed much to his military background.

Bernard Weatherill - often known as Jack - was the son of the Bernard Weatherill who founded the family tailoring firm. After war service with the Indian Army he rejoined the firm, and worked as a tailor himself. Later he became managing director.

Authority questioned

He got involved in politics while living in Guildford, where he was chairman of the local Conservatives. He was elected Conservative MP for Croydon North East in 1964, and became a spokesman for small businesses.

But in 1967 he was made an opposition whip and - after the Tory victory of 1970 - a government whip. He was the party's deputy chief whip throughout the next Labour government, but was appointed Deputy Speaker when the Conservatives returned to power in 1979.

When George Thomas retired at the 1983 dissolution, a number of names were canvassed for his successor.

Despite Bernard Weatherill's general popularity there were doubts about his authority over the House - critics recalled a debate on Welsh constituency boundaries which got completely out of hand while he was in the chair.

And Mrs Thatcher had her own ideas about who should have the post. But the will of the whips and back-benchers prevailed, and Bernard Weatherill was duly elected.

Lord Weatherill presiding over the House of Commons
Lord Weatherill was Speaker during an unruly period
He was chosen because he was trusted by all, and partly because he had never been a minister, unlike some of the other candidates.

Everyone liked him because of his charm, courtesy and modesty. In his acceptance speech he told how - on his first day at the Commons, he had been in the lavatory and had overheard one MP say to another, "I don't know what this place is coming to, Tom, they've got my tailor in here now."

Lord Weatherill said he aimed to emulate Arthur Onslow, Speaker for 33 years in the 18th Century, whom he saw as having established the impartiality of the chair.

His first year was difficult - he was criticised for not clamping down quickly enough on the rowdies, particularly during prime minister's questions.

Unruly time

Lord Weatherill wasn't over-critical of the behaviour of MPs, saying that many earlier parliaments had been far worse. And he thought the best MPs were sometimes the most unreasonable - it was their job to question things.

He endeared himself to back-benchers by allowing more private notice questions, so compelling ministers to come to the despatch box to explain decisions.

He had to handle the Commons at a time when there were some highly contentious issues about, including the miners' strike of 1984-5 and the Westland affair of 1986.

He was occasionally indiscreet: in a speech to the parliamentary press gallery a year after taking office he spoke of it being the "Frustration Parliament", and referred to some Conservatives who, he said, had got in by mistake and lost their previous jobs and pensions.

The following day he apologised to the House for his light-hearted remarks.

Lord Weatherill once expelled a Labour MP for referring to Britain's tame judges. A few months later he ruled that when Neil Kinnock said he did not believe Mrs Thatcher, it was not the same as calling her a liar.

Last to wear wig

Lord Weatherill favoured televising the Commons - he thought radio distorted what went on and that television would let people see the true picture. By becoming the first Speaker after cameras were first allowed into the House, he became a well-known public figure.

He was the last Speaker to wear a wig. He once said he liked it because it enabled him to pretend he didn't hear certain things.

Lord Weatherill always carried in his pocket a thimble given to him by his mother when he was first elected to Parliament. It was to remind him of his humble beginnings.

One of the legacies of his wartime service in India was his vegetarianism, which he took up after seeing the Bengal famine of 1942.

Another was his ability to speak Urdu, which helped in dealing with ethnic minorities in his Croydon constituency.

Lord Weatherill, who had a twin sister, was married, and had two sons and a daughter.




SEE ALSO
Ex-Speaker Lord Weatherill dies
07 May 07 |  UK Politics

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