DEFENCE SELECT COMMITTEE

1 March 2000

[Members present: Mr Bruce George, in the Chair; Mr Julian Brazier, Mr Harry Cohen, Mr Mike Gapes, Mr Mike Hancock, Mr Jimmy Hood, Dr Julian Lewis, Laura Moffatt, Mr Peter Viggers.]

MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE: EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES

[MR BRIAN HAWTIN, Director General, International Security Policy, MR PAUL SCHULTE, Director of Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, COLONEL JOHN ELIOT, Assistant Director of Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, Ministry of Defence; and MR OWEN JENKINS, Former Head of CFE Section, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.]  

Chairman (Bruce George MP): Mr Hawtin, gentlemen, this is the first meeting that this Committee has held since the sad death of Michael Colvin and his wife. I think it is only appropriate for us collectively to express our sadness, and sadness I think is a word that does not remotely reflect what we all feel. He was an exceptional person, an excellent Chairman, a delightful guy. We may not have agreed politically on some issues, but we never allowed that to interfere with the good relations within this Committee, and we must now ask our Clerk to write to Nichola's and Michael's children expressing our enormous sympathy with them, and when the date comes for a funeral, if there will be a funeral service, or a memorial service, I will inform the whole Committee so that we can send a wreath and certainly I, and I am sure a number of others, will be there as a matter of course.

Peter Viggers MP: May I just add to that, Chairman. Michael was of course a member of the Committee for a number of years and all his qualities came into play when he became Chairman of the Committee for more than a year. He chaired the Committee with a sure hand and I draw out one thing only, and that is that he had a very easy charm which made it very easy for him to fit in when we visited troops. He was notable as being someone who developed a rapport and I think that was very valuable. He was a great friend to all members of the Committee.

Mike Hancock MP: On behalf of myself and Menzies Campbell, who was formerly on this Committee, we have already expressed publicly our sympathy to the Colvin family for the sad tragedy of Michael's and Nichola's deaths. As a member of this Committee I have sat next to him now for just over a year, and the room was always going to be empty without him. That was clear from the first moment we knew he was going. His generosity and his great willingness to co­operate and work with other members from all political sides was much appreciated, and so was his friendship to this Committee. As someone who knew him for nearly 30 years, I will always be grateful for his help and advice and most of all for his friendship and companionship. Like you, Chairman, I have enjoyed many good times in some pretty rough spots with Michael Colvin and there will be good memories of him.

Jimmy Hood MP: When I first came to Parliament in 1987, I knew of Michael as a formidable politician and debater, but I only got to know him better when I joined the Defence Committee in 1997. I remember when we were doing a report on the Strategic Review that Michael sent in four or five pages from Gibraltar and when we issued our report he sent four or five pages of amendments from Gibraltar, and that said more about the man than anything else – that when he was out in Gibraltar he was still thinking about doing his little bit. He was an exceptional politician. I think the best way of describing Michael Colvin is that he was a gentleman's gentleman, always polite. He could be forceful in debate but he was always a polite and kind man. My sympathies go out to his family. It is a terrible thing.

Julian Brazier MP: If I can add my pennyworth on that, in mourning him it is perhaps worth reflecting that it is the end of an era because he was the last member of the Committee to have seen active service, although not quite the last Member of the House of Commons to do so, and something he was very modest about. Although he was a man with so many advantages in life, he was an extraordinarily modest and, as Jimmy has just said, gentlemanly man. He was an extremely kind colleague and those of us on the Conservative Benches who took an interest in defence looked on him as somebody we could look up to. He is a tremendous loss.

Dr Julian Lewis MP: I was a new parliamentary prospective candidate inheriting four-fifths of Michael's constituents when my seat was created in 1996. Within 48 hours of my being selected Michael was on the phone offering his help and support, and that never varied over four years. It was typical of his generosity that, in that last great speech that he made on the first day of our two-day defence debate, he was joking about having passed on part of his constituency seat to me and now giving up his entire seat on this Committee to me. One will never fill the shoes of somebody like that, but one remembers the tremendous kindness of Michael. He has often been described as a grandee, but the great thing about Nichola and Michael was that they had this fantastically common touch and the ability to make you – as a novice – feel completely at ease in their presence.

Chairman (Bruce George MP): Whenever he appeared with the Committee he was always incredibly elegant, be it in a tent, down a trench, tripping through landmines, fearing getting shot by a terrorist. He was always impeccably dressed. I never had an argument with him. The Committee remained consensual and he was certainly far more elegant and charming than the current incumbent – certainly far less authoritarian. I really do hope that our Clerk can find, from the range of pictures that we have, a picture to display. I think it would be the one appropriate place where we can honour him for a long time.