Brian Parkyn

'White heat' Labour MP


Brian Stewart Parkyn, chemical engineer and politician: born Stanford-le-Hope, Essex 28 April 1923; MP (Labour) for Bedford 1966-70; Principal, Glacier Institute of Management 1976-80; general manager, Training Services, British Caledonian Airways 1981-88; married 1951 Janet Stormer (one son, one daughter); died Coventry 22 March 2006.

The most spectacular high-profile result of the general election in 1966, when the Wilson government confirmed its authority with a majority of 100, was in the Bedford constituency. Brian Parkyn with 22,257 votes defeated the Conservative heavyweight, and Winston Churchill's favoured son-in-law, Christopher Soames with 21,879 votes, the Liberal, John Burrell gaining 5,080.

The wafer-thin majority of 378 brought to an end the distinguished parliamentary career of Soames, who had been Secretary of State for War, 1958-60, and Minister of Agriculture, 1960-64, but who had been at the very centre of government when he was his father-in-law's Parliamentary Private Secretary from 1953 to 1955, during a period of Churchill's indisposition through illness. Soames, most generous of politicians, told me, when he had become European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, how highly he had always regarded Parkyn as an opponent, not least when he had beaten Parkyn in October 1964 by 21,404 votes to Parkyn's 18,256 with 7,712 going to the Liberals.

Soames's widow, Mary, remembers:

Brian Parkyn was local and we weren't and by 1964 an MP having roots in the constituency had begun to matter. We were on very good terms with him.

I know at first hand from friends in the numerous and concentrated Italian community in Bedford what an excellent MP Parkyn proved to be in raising local issues and getting results. Ever courteous as he was himself, Parkyn's work received considerable appreciation from Sir Trevor Skeet, who, as Conservative candidate in the Ted Heath victory, vanquished Parkyn.

Sometimes, it is a platitude to say that a defeated candidate was a loss to the House of Commons. In Parkyn's case, as his close colleague on the Select Committee on Science and Technology I mean it when I say that Parkyn was a loss. Apart from anything else, he was one of the very few engineers or chemical engineers who had both achieved industrial expertise and had experience of running a company. He was an ideal member at the time of the "white heat of the technological revolution".

Brian Parkyn was born in 1923, the son of a nurseryman in rural Essex, and went to stay with an uncle when his parents split up. After school and a rigorous education at King Edward VI School in Chelmsford, and technical colleges, Parkyn decided in 1941 to become a conscientious objector, as his father had been in the First World War. Many years later when we both opposed the Vietnam War, Parkyn told me that he regretted not having volunteered to fight in the Second World War, as by then he had a different perspective on Nazi aggression.

Joining his uncle, who was building up the firm of Scott Bader, Parkyn developed considerable expertise in the use of glass fibres and reinforced plastics. Enormously energetic, he travelled as an exporter with impeccable personal knowledge of carbon fibres to North and South America, Africa, Australia, India, Japan, the Soviet Union and China. In his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 11 July 1966 he said, presciently of pre-Cultural Revolution China:

What is apparent for all to see is the speed, enthusiasm and single-minded dynamism of the people as they transform their nation from a medieval feudal economy to a modern sophisticated, industrial super-state.

Within a year of being elected Parkyn was an obvious choice for the government whips for the first Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by the electrical engineer Arthur Palmer. The sitting Labour members were David Ginsberg (former research officer of the Labour Party), Professor Nicholas Davies (physicist at Manchester University), Dr David Owen and myself; the Liberals were represented by Eric Lubbock, now Lord Avebury, and the Conservatives by Sir Harry Legge-Bourke, Sir David Price and Airey Neave.

Sitting next to Parkyn at endless meetings, particularly on our exhaustive inquiry into nuclear power, I can vouch for the value of his contribution, and the personal nature of his questions, most of which were his own, as he was not content to be spoon-fed by the excellent committee clerks. Price remembers him as "most conscientious and effective - with the advantage that he spoke from 30 years' experience in the chemical industry".

It was absolutely sensible after the committee heard evidence from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough about the importance of carbon fibres that Parkyn should be chosen as the chairman of our sub-committee in 1969. He produced a succinct and pertinent report, typically urging solutions rather than simply stating the problem.

After leaving Parliament Parkyn led a hugely useful life, becoming Principal of the Glacier Institute of Management and pursuing his interests at senior level in the British Plastics Federation and the Rubber and Plastics Institute. For a quarter of a century he was on the court of the Institute of Technology which became Cranfield University. He became a recognised authority on polyester resins and reinforced plastics.

On a personal note, in 1968 I got into huge trouble with the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons in what turned out to be a cause célèbre as a result of the Select Committee's visit to Porton Down and subsequent disclosures on the front page of the Observer newspaper. I was very nearly ejected from the House of Commons. Parkyn as a member of the Select Committee thought I had been reckless but stuck out his neck in arguing on my behalf with the whips and House authorities.

He had no need to do so, because it was not to his advantage. He did it because he was deeply a politician of principle and a human being who fretted about what was right and what was wrong.

Tam Dalyell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee