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Remembrance

Posted by Helen Tuesday, April 19, 2005

For some years, if anyone asked me what was so admirable about the House of Lords (if anyone dared to ask me that) I would say Lord Bruce of Donington, whose obituary, alas, appeared in the Daily Telegraph today.

Actually, I would probably also say Baroness Strange, who died some weeks ago to general mourning, or Lord Stoddart of Swindon, or Lord Pearson of Rannoch, or the Countess of Mar or Lord Willoughby de Broke or Lord Monson or Lord Moran or many more, all of whom are thankfully still with us.

All of these people (and, as I said, many others) have repeatedly demonstrated their independence and refusal to knuckle under to bullying by the government and its minions. In most cases they also refuse to be bamboozled by the flood of misinformation emanating from Brussels or its various outposts in Whitehall and around the country.

By the time I knew Lord Bruce he had shed something of his old left-wing fervour (some would say he had shed most of it when he became an extremely successful businessman) and concentrated the fire of his still formidable oratory on subjects to do with the European Union and its many shortcomings.

It was Lord Bruce who kept a very beady eye on the EU budget, forcing ministers to reply to some very uncomfortable questions.

It was Lord Bruce who first uncovered the existence of an EU diplomatic service, that was not listed in any of the budget lines and forced the British government to campaign for a modicum of transparency on the subject.

Lord Bruce’s favourite modus operandi was to wait for the discussion to proceed for a few minutes, then lumber slowly to his feet and announce ponderously:

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have the documents his (or her)officials do not seem to be able to locate?”

He would then follow up that devastating opening by asking a complicated question on the subject under discussion that showed his complete grasp of it and the minister’s equally complete lack of grasp.

The most terrifying sight of all the sights I have watched from one of the galleries of the House was that of Lord Bruce exploding like a volcano after a former EU Commissioner had suggested that Lord Bruce did not understand the European Union. I do not suppose that former Commissioner has ever been the same since.

In the last few years Lord Bruce had become physically weaker, moving at first with a stick (though rather rapidly) then in a wheel chair. He has not really been seen for some time in the House, a sad sign of mortality.

His death, one might think therefore, will not make that much difference. But reading his obituary and remembering his exhilarating performance in the House, I cannot help thinking that an age in parliamentary history is coming to and end.