WEBB, Sir Thomas Clifton
A new biography of Webb, Thomas Clifton appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Clifton Webb was born at Te Kopuru, North Auckland, on 8 March 1889, the son of Thomas Webb and grandson of Thomas Stirrup Webb, a pioneer settler who had been associated with John Bright, the English Liberal reformer. He was educated at Te Kopuru (where he won a junior national scholarship) and Auckland Grammar School and at Auckland University College. Admitted as a barrister in 1911, he established the firm of Webb, Ross, and Griffiths in Dargaville. From 1917 to 1919 he served in the First NZEF going overseas as a sergeant in 1918. After the war he returned to practise in Dargaville, but transferred to Auckland City in 1927. Sir Clifton began his public service as a member of the Dargaville Borough Council between 1921 and 1923. In 1943, on the death of the Right Hon. Gordon Coates, he was elected as an Independent Nationalist for the Kaipara electorate. The label he bore was more a tribute to his predecessor than a description of his beliefs, as from the first he became the party whip. After the redistribution of 1946 he transferred to the Rodney seat, winning it with large majorities in 1946, 1949, and 1951.
When the National Party became the Government in 1949 he was made Minister of Justice and Attorney-General in the Holland Cabinet. Two years later he added the portfolios of External Affairs and Island Territories, holding the four until his resignation. In Parliament Sir Clifton was a forthright advocate of his beliefs. As a Minister he was a painstaking and thoughtful administrator and, in addition to his portfolios, he had the duty of overseeing new legislation and reporting it to the party caucus. He sponsored through Parliament Acts which modernised the New Zealand prison and penal system. After the 1951 waterfront strike he introduced the Police Offences Bill, which, after being considerably amended, remained in force until repealed by the Nash Labour Government. Though himself an abstainer, Sir Clifton guided through the House Bills providing minor reforms in the licensing laws and for a poll in the King Country, which, eventually permitted liquor to be sold in the area.
He represented New Zealand at the meetings of the ANZUS Council (1952), the United Nations General Assembly (1952 and 1953), the Geneva Far Eastern Conference of Korea and Indo-China (1954), and the SEATO Conference at Manila (1954).
In 1954, on the death of Sir Frederick Doidge, he was appointed New Zealand High Commissioner in London, remaining there until March 1958. He attended three Prime Ministers' conferences, two with Sir Sidney Holland and one with the Hon. T. L. Macdonald when the Prime Minister was unable to be present. He was also present at the Suez Canal Conference of August 1956, while later in the same year he led the New Zealand delegation to the Canal Users' Conference. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1954 and in the New Year's Honours of 1956 was created K.C.M.G.
Sir Clifton returned to New Zealand in 1958 and lived in Wellington until his death on 7 February 1962. He married Lucy Amelia Nairn in 1915. There were two daughters by the marriage.
As a university student he was a prominent rugby player, being halfback for his province. In later life he continued his interest in the game as a referee and was at various times president of the Northern Wairoa Rugby Union and the North Auckland Referees' Association, as well as vice-president of the Auckland Rugby Union.
by James Oakley Wilson, D.S.C., M.COM., A.L.A., Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.
The Times (London), 7 Feb 1962.