Andrew Rowe: Europhile MP who served as aide to Edward Heath
Monday 09 March 2009
Andrew Rowe was an intelligent and independent-minded Conservative who represented Mid Kent in Parliament from 1983 to 1987 and then fought and won the newly created and much more marginal seat of Faversham and Mid Kent despite the Labour landslide in 1997. He belonged to One Nation, The Tory Reform Group and Conservative Mainstream and found himself even more out of tune with William Hague’s Conservative Party than he had been with Margaret Thatcher’s. The nearest he came to office was his period as a PPS, first to Richard Needham from 1992-94, and then to Earl Ferrers (1994-95). A staunch Europhile, he had earlier acted as Edward Heath’s parliamentary aide (1984-87).
Rowe was a committed Christian, deeply concerned about vulnerable children, the disabled, and homosexuals, and an enthusiast for voluntary action. He had been recruited to Conservative Central Office in 1975 as Director of Community Affairs, but left after falling out with the Party Chairman, Lord Thorneycroft, in 1979.
He had doubled up as the first Director of the Conservative Small Business Bureau from 1976, later serving as its Vice Chairman, and edited Small Business from 1979 until 1990. His pamphlet Somewhere to Start was a wellargued case for relaxing some of the planning restrictions where small business was concerned.
He was popular in his constituency for the lengthy but ultimately unsuccessful campaign he waged against British Rail’s “shoddy and ill-planned”
Channel Tunnel link, but he was never against the concept, simply the choice of route and the reluctance to put much of it into a tunnel. He was a strong advocate of providing a heavyfreight capacity on the link. What he was able to achieve was a change of mind on from the Government about what constituted planning blight.
His campaign, launched in 1991, for severely disabled but mentally competent people to organise their own care had more success. He introduced a bill for direct payments in 1993 but withdrew it on assurances from Virginia Bottomley that she would act. The rules were changed in November 1994.
Rowe’s interest in international development led him to accept, along with three fellow MPs, finance from the controversial businessman Michael Ashcroft for a trip to the Caribbean in 1994. Criticised in the press, he found the story given fresh legs when Ashcroft sued The Times in 1999. Those who knew Rowe were certain he was guilty of no impropriety.
Rowe was an active Parliamentarian, serving on the Employment Select Committee (1983-89), the Health Select Committee (1991-92), the PublicAccounts Committee (1995-97), and the International Development Select Committee (1997-2001). He contributed to debates on a wide range of issues and was deeply concerned at the way in which the executive had come to dominate the House.
Rowe was possessed of a searing wit, and in a deeply serious but satirical speech moved a bill to abolish the House of Commons in its present form in July 1995. In more constructive vein, he had earlier argued for MPs to be consulted in advance of legislation. His Conservative colleagues elected him successively as Secretary, Vice Chairmanand Chairman of their backbench Employment Committee, and he served also as Chairman of the all-party panel on Personal Social Services (1986-92).
For all his respect for Parliament, he favoured much deeper British involvement in the European Community, although hewould have preferred it to be restructured, with a more accountable Council of Ministers. He was a member of the Conservative Positive Europe Group, an advocate of British membership of the European Economic and Monetary Union and a staunch supporter of the Maastricht Treaty. In fact, he would have gone further since he was less sceptical of the social chapter than his leader and favoured European citizenship.
Not surprisingly he was named more than once as a possible defector from the Conservative ranks, but as he well recognised, his spiritual home was there. At heart, he was, as Gyles Brandreth shrewdly noted, “fundamentally sound and a gent”, a Major loyalist and a staunch supporter of Ken Clarke, whom he backed for the leadership in 1997.
While he was thought of as a leftwinger within the party, he saw himself as a centrist, and his staunch support for small business, his opposition to devolution, his support for County Councils and his opposition to regionalism were part of a mindset that made him much more of a mainstream Conservative than many in the press recognised.
Rowe had served on the Swann committee (1979-84) and was a member of the Speaker’s Commission on Active Citizenship. Both his Trusteeship of Community Service Volunteers and his chairmanship of the Steering Committee for a Youth Parliament (1998-2001) fitted well with his desire to seemuch more interaction between citizens and their government; and he was an early advocate of an elected second Chamber. He had the imaginative idea that a national youth parliament might sit in Parliamentary recesses, and the local bodies that now exist are a tribute to his insight.
Andrew John Bernard Rowe was educated at Hollis Hill and Eton. After national service in the Royal Navy from 1954-56, during which he was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant RNVR, he went up to Merton College, Oxford, and in 1959 became an Assistant Master at his old school. In 1962 he was recruited to the Scottish Office as a Principal dealing with social services, and left five years later to become aLecturer in Social Administration at the University of Edinburgh.
In 1974 he became a Consultant to the Voluntary Services Unit at the Home Office and in the following year he joined the Conservative Central Office. There his responsibility extended to the Young Conservatives, the FCS, the trade unions and ethnic affairs. He recruited the party’s staff to the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, which he had joined and took over its Westminster branch. The bridgehead the party re-established in the trade union movement almost certainly contributed to the sizeable union vote for the party in 1979. But he also attracted criticism from the right. Stephen Eyres of the Selsdon Group was vociferous on the subject of a “burgeoning bureaucracy of clockwork socialists obsessed with race and youth”.
He was selected for the new Mid Kent seat in 1983 and won it with a majority of 12,543. He increased that to 14,768 in 1987 and 19,649 in 1992, but with further remodelling of the Kent seats he had first to defeat Sir Roger Moate in the selection process for Faversham and Mid Kent and then to retain what was widely thought to be a vulnerable marginal.
Rowe suffered from prostate cancer in the early 1990s, but appeared to have beaten the disease. It returned in 1999, provoking him to ask Parliamentary questions about the way the NHS handled prostate cancer. He was always scrupulous in indicating a personal interest. He stood down from Parliament in 2001. Throughout his political career Rowe wrote a good deal; among his publications were Democracy Renewed: the community council in practice (1975) and Chancing Change (1987). He also acted as a parliamentary Consultant to a number of businesses and served as a director of Milgate Publishing.
Essentially a man of ideas, he was once said to “mix short-trousered enthusiasm with genial humour” and it is true he remained somewhat boyish in pursuit of his many causes, but neither his benevolence nor his ability to contribute constructively to policymaking were ever in doubt. In an earlier version of the Conservative party he would have risen much farther.
In 1999, Sir John Stanley, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and chairman of the British Nepal group, led the first inter-parliamentary union delegation for a number of years to Nepal, writes Tam Dalyell. As deputy chairman, I and four parliamentary colleagues made up the delegation. In Kathmandu, we found that we were one of the few delegations from abroad which would be given a personal audience by King Dihendra. The reason for this special favour was to become obvious.
Stanley, as leader, shook hands with His Majesty, and I followed. The next in line was Andrew Rowe. It wasn’t a shaking of hands. It was a mighty huge warm hug of greeting with a delighted, “my old tutor, how wonderful it is to see you in Nepal!”
Personal conversation between the King and Rowe followed, as if it were two old friends catching up. Finally the King explained to us that Rowe had not only been his teacher at Eton but had been a valued mentor who had been extremely kind to him when he had come among strange English public schoolboys. Our special treatment was due to the esteem in which Rowe was held by the king.
While in London, Rowe stayed at 1A Carey Mansions in Rotherford Street.
I stayed at 6A, and after late-night votes we would often walk home together, political opponents but personal friends. I therefore knew not only of his continuing interest in Nepal but his sense of overwhelming shock and riveting sadness at the gruesome murder of his pupil.
Andrew John Bernard Rowe, politician: born 11 September 1935; Principal, Scottish Office 1962-67; Lecturer, Edinburgh University 1967-74; Director, Community Affairs, Conservative Central Office 1975-79; MP (Conservative) Mid Kent 1983-97, Faversham and Mid Kent 1997- 2001; PPS to Minister for Trade 1992-95; Chairman, Parliamentary Panel for Personal Social Services 1986-92; married 1960 Alison Boyd (marriage dissolved; one son), 1983 Sheila L Finkle (two stepdaughters); died 21 November 2008.
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