London : Bernard 'Jack' Weatherill, who was speaker of the House of Commons for almost a decade and was known as a friend of India, has died at the age of 86.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "Jack Weatherill was … someone of immense courtesy and kindness who was an outstanding speaker and will be missed by all parties."
According to Ashok Kumar, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and chair of the Indo-British Parliamentary Group, Weatherill was a "great man and a friend of India", whose contribution to debates and activities of the group would be sorely missed.
Kumar said: "As speaker, he always made extra efforts to welcome newly elected members to parliament and, when I was first elected in a by-election in 1991, he asked me about my religious background.
"When I told him that I am from a mixed Hindu and Sikh background, he kindly invited me to join his multi-faith group in parliament. After losing my parliamentary seat in 1992, I wasn't able to continue the great conversations I had with him until I was re-elected in 1997.
"We would talk candidly and passionately, sometimes in Urdu or Hindi, about his many experiences of India and the profound affinity he felt towards the country.
"Jack Weatherill was a passionate member and vice-president of the Indo-British all-party parliamentary group and he regularly attended meetings, always making positive contributions to our discussions.
"His absence at our AGM this week brought home the loss to all those present. One of our members commented that Jack Weatherill was perhaps the most revered British politician in India and, from my own experience, I think this assessment was accurate.
"We shared a silence in his memory and parliamentarians from all parties paid tribute to a great man and a dear friend of India who will be sorely missed in both houses of parliament.
"We will all miss his wise counsel and his warmth and on a personal note, I will forever cherish the happy discussions I had with him about India".