The British Empire Library

David Waddington: Memoirs Dispatches From Margaret Thatcher's Last Home Secretary

by David Waddington

Courtesy of OSPA

Richard Luce (Kenya 1960-62; Gibraltar 1997-2000)
Lord Waddington has served the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association as our distinguished President for no less than 14 years, retiring in 2012. His memoirs are therefore of great interest to all of us. His book is very readable, gives a very frank and colourful description of his life and above all his important responsibilities. It is regularly interspersed with the most amusing anecdotes and experiences.

But what is it that has made David such a good leader for OSPA? For our purposes I think there are two areas of interest to us. Firstly, his very full public service as a politician and Minister. And secondly, his range of experience overseas and particularly in the former Empire, the Commonwealth and as Governor of Bermuda. I am struck by some common experiences between my life and his. I have witnessed in both the Commons and the Lords the strength of David Waddington as a parliamentarian and Minister who stood up in robust fashion for what he believed in. His experience as a barrister and QC gave his speeches an added sharpness and clarity. He faced the hazards of politics by holding on to Nelson and Colne constituency as a Conservative MP from 1968 to 1974 but in 1979 returned to Parliament in the safer Conservative seat of Clitheroe. He rose rapidly in the Thatcher Government from the Whips Office, junior Minister for the Department of Employment, Minister of State Home Office, Chief Whip, Home Secretary and finally, under John Major, he became Leader of the House of Lords. He was fiercely loyal to Margaret Thatcher until she finally resigned as Prime Minister.

His parliamentary skills have been most valuable to us when he raised issues with Ministers and initiated the occasional debate in the Lords. I recall supporting him in a debate on the perennial issue of the pension treatment of public service officers in the former Rhodesia when he persuaded the Minister, Lord Malloch Brown, of the merits of the arguments. Alas FCO officials quickly got at him!

His overseas experiences started with National Service. He served with the Royal Armoured Corps in the Malayan Emergency. On being introduced to the High Commissioner, Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, he asked him at what stage in the war he was wounded, to which the reply came, 'Wounded? I was getting the grand piano out of the mess at Naples ready for our move up to Rome when someone dropped it on my foot.'

Whilst at the Home Office he was regularly dealing with immigration issues and paid visits to Commonwealth countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia and Canada. Political pressures to control immigration were intense and he had to grapple with individual cases where many families were stretching or abusing the regulations in order to enter this country. This was indeed largely a consequence of the post-imperial stage in our history.

Of particular interest to OSPA will be his full description of his time as Governor of Bermuda, a job which he carried out in the 1990s and clearly enjoyed for five years. I had the pleasure of staying with him and his wife Gilly and could see many similar experiences in my later time as Governor of Gibraltar. The interesting thing here is that constituency experience as an MP is in itself a good grounding for being a Governor. David was consequently very interested in the 70,000 or so people of Bermuda and mixed with them in a relaxed fashion. He was sensitive to the mixed racial background on the Island and handled with care for example senior appointments in the police force. One issue that preoccupied him was the intense debate and proposal for a referendum on the independence of Bermuda. But at the end of the day he judged that the majority, in the 1990s at least, realised that independence could lead to a decline in standards and a withdrawal of many commercial investment services. However he did face some difficulties with the Legislative Council when, at one stage, they even threatened to reduce his salary!

Since those times David and I have shared a keen interest in our obligation to the remaining United Kingdom Overseas Territories for whom HMG has important responsibilities.

David has been, throughout his career, wonderfully supported by his wife Gilly who, when asked whether she was surprised he had been made Home Secretary, replied, "Not at all, if they made him Pope he would want to be God."

British Empire Book
David Waddington
Biteback Publishing
978 1 84954 319 4
David Waddington


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