There is a golden thread that passed through the life of David Shutt who passed away on Friday 30 October 2020, aged 78, following a short illness. Golden because that was the colour in which he fought his many elections as a Liberal and then a Liberal Democrat and golden because of the bright and lasting effect he has had on the people and communities he served during his life of exceptional public service.
David was born in Farsley and attended Pudsey Grammar School before joining a firm of accountants in Leeds. After qualification as a chartered accountant he moved to the firm of Bousfield Waite in Halifax eventually becoming senior partner. He joined the Liberal Party whilst still in his teens and was active in Pudsey Young Liberals where he met his wife to be Margaret Pemberton who he married in 1965.
In 1970, he contested his first general election as Liberal candidate for the Sowerby division. He and his wife moved into the village of Sowood, part of the Elland Urban District which was subsumed into Calderdale MBC in 1974. They subsequently moved to their present home in Greetland. He fought the Sowerby seat in the two elections of 1974 and again in 1979 and then the successor seat of Calder Valley in 1983 and 1987. He was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Pudsey in 1992.
His local government career commenced with victory in the Greetland and Stainland ward in 1973 becoming a member of Calderdale MBC at its birth in April 1974, He served until 1990 and again from 1995 until 2003.
He was made an OBE in 1993 appointed a life peer in 2000 and became Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Northern Ireland and International Development. In 2005 in became Liberal Democrat chief whip in the House of Lords. In 2010, with the formation of the coalition government, David became government deputy chief whip in the Lords, a role that carried with it the title Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard. This role involved the wearing of a traditional uniform, something that was anything but habitual for David. He was fond of recounting the fact that the only way to descend a staircase whilst wearing spurs is to go sideways! David and his yeoman were regularly on duty when the Queen was hosting state banquets at either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.
Whilst a member of Calderdale Council, David was involved in many local projects that remain as testimony to his service. To name but two: he was a driving force behind the twinning of Elland with Riorges in France, and was one of the signatories of the twinning charter in 1978 and he was instrumental in obtaining the capital grant that enabled the Greetland Sporting and Community Centre to be built.
In 1982/83 he served as the first Liberal mayor of Calderdale with Margaret as his mayoress. As his charity, David created the Calderdale Community Foundation that continues to work to the benefit of the borough. He remained life vice president of this organisation. He was proud to be chair of Halifax Choral Society, he himself sang with the Parliamentary Choir. He was also president of Elland Silver Band. He was a Director of Pennine Heritage, a charity that as one of its projects converted the architecturally magnificent Birchcliffe Baptist Chapel in Hebden Bridge into a conference centre and community resource.
David’s charitable work was not confined to the local area. In 1975 he was appointed a trustee of the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust which subsequently became the Rowntree Reform Trust, a body of which he was chair for many years until his appointment to the government in 2010 required him to relinquish this and other similar posts. He was a trustee of Cober Hill Charitable Trust and a director of Cober Hill Ltd (residential courses, near Scarborough).
David had a long connection with and commitment to education. He was the Liberal spokesperson for education on Calderdale Council from his first election and was also for many years, chair of the governors of the Brooksbank School in Elland and the Percival Whitely College of Further Education in Halifax.
Despite the heavy burden of public and charitable service David always found time for, and was happiest when, his family were around him. He was blessed with three married children and six grandchildren: Christine and husband Stephen and their children Imogen and Alexander; Richard and his wife Jackie and their daughters Francesca and Hannah and his youngest son Andrew and his wife Hannah and daughters Esmae and Isabelle.
Outside politics, something in which he was immersed since his teenage years, he also had two other particular interests. Trains and trams on the one hand and islands on the other. He was on the last tram to run in Leeds and as he spent many childhood holidays with his parents on the Isle of Man he found there the ideal combination of his likes and therefore visited often in later life. He even had the honour of representing the British Parliament at a European conference there. This required him, together with Margaret, to host the King and Queen of Norway, or Harald and Sonja as David liked to refer to them.
When David and Margaret bought a small holiday cottage in Wales it was no surprise that there was a narrow gauge railway at the bottom of the garden! Long before the internet if you wanted to know how to get from Madrid to Munich by train, a phone call to David would pretty quickly produce a sheet of paper with times and connections in his characteristic hand, written of course in ink via a proper fountain pen.
When David took Margaret away for a special wedding anniversary holiday she was not surprised to find herself in the Azores, another tick on David’s bucket list of islands. He also had the opportunity a few years ago to visit St Helena when chosen to be part of a parliamentary investigation into its tourism potential, an island he had not expected to tick off. There are very few accessible islands around Britain on which David and Margaret have not set foot!
Throughout his life David was a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) as was his mum before him. When David was mayor, his unique civic service took the form of a Quaker meeting, laid out in traditional form in the hall of the Brooksbank School.
The short and brutal illness that took David from us so quickly came only a couple of days after he made his last contribution to debate in the House of Lords. On Thursday 8 October David moved an amendment to a government bill on parliamentary constituencies. He had, over the previous weeks and months, chaired a House of Lords committee on this subject.
On his last day in parliament he moved an amendment to the government motion, the intention of which was to improve the quality of the electoral registers we all rely on, in particular to help increase the number of young people (attainers) who move onto the register when reaching the age of majority. This is what he said:
“My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 16 as an important enhancement of the Bill, which would improve the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers for future reviews.
The amendment has at its core the work of the Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act, which I chaired and which reported in July. We learned, in our extensive deliberations, that though electoral registers are primarily prepared for use at elections for voting purposes, they have other uses, such as enabling juries to be enlisted and providing proof of residence by credit agencies. Importantly, they are also used as a series of building blocks for constituencies and their boundaries.
Sadly, registers are far from perfect, but it must be right to get them as accurate and complete as possible. The committee made a series of proposals for improvement. The most glaring omission from registers is that 75% of young people known as attainers—people aged 16 or 17 who may be added to the register so that they are able to vote when they attain the age of 18—are not registered. They are very relevant to this Bill—hence the reason for this amendment. I am delighted that four Members subscribing to the amendment are former members of the Select Committee and cover the four corners of the House of Lords.
There is, too, precedence for this action, in that it follows on from the work of the House three years ago in its consideration of the Higher Education and Research Bill in 2017. The House approved an amendment, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to enable higher education students to be easily registered, through collaboration between the Office for Students and electoral registration officers. A Department for Education guidance leaflet on facilitating registration shows that in one university, De Montfort in Leicester, of those students qualified to register, 98.5% provided details for registration. The amendment seeks to put all young people in the position of the De Montfort students, so that the present 25% registration rate comes more into line with that of their elders. The Electoral Commission paper, Completeness in Great Britain, indicates that the highest rate for completeness is for the over 65s, at 94%, whereas the lowest level is that of attainers—the 16 to 17 year-olds—which has declined from 45% in 2015 to 25% in 2019.
The amendment seeks to prescribe the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament proposals for improving the completeness of electoral registers for the purpose of boundary reviews. It would bring with it the bonus that a substantial number of young people who are entitled to vote would have the right to vote. Further, it suggests that this requirement could be met by the Department for Work and Pensions providing registration officers the details of individuals in their district to whom it had issued a national insurance number ahead of those individuals’ 16th birthday so that they could be added to the register. Alternatively, the Department for Work and Pensions would notify individuals of the criteria for voting and the process for making an application when they were issued with a new national insurance number. The former would lead the way in lifting registration for young people; the latter would help but is less certain to be effective.
As we have heard, the Minister is desperate for near precision in prescribing all boundaries to be within 5% of the average size, but the baseline and building blocks are in danger of being wildly imprecise if the bulk of young people are omitted from the registers.
I thank the many noble Lords who supported the amendment in Grand Committee, but the attempt to embrace the totality of the Select Committee’s recommendations was too much to find favour with the responding Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook. However, I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, while having reservations about automatic registration in general, was clear that he supported assistance or automatic registration for attainers. This is the opportunity to make that change. This is important: young people should be part of the building blocks for constituency boundaries.
Earlier today, reference was made to unfairness to voters. The Bill, unamended, is unfair to young people, and I intend to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.”
This was followed by a debate which was then summed up by David as follows:
“My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who spoke in favour of this amendment, which is everybody bar the Minister. It is important that this is an all-party affair and that registration is seen as beyond party. I am very disappointed in the Minister’s response, but not surprised. I do not understand how registration is a voluntary act, yet you can be fined if you do not register. That is a very strange form of volunteering.
The Minister has said a great deal about what the Government are doing. We heard about it in Committee and it is all commendable stuff. However, she has not said, for example, how it can be that in 2015 45% of attainers were on the registers and it is now down to 25%. That seems to me failure; it is not success.
I do not think this is good enough. It is not good enough for our young people, so I would like to test the opinion of the House.”
David was successful in his amendment, which was passed 293 votes to 215. As a result, as has been the case all through his life, people will benefit from his actions.