Hugh Brown: Workhorse Scottish Office minister

Hugh Brown, MP for Glasgow Provan for more than 20 years, was a self-effacing but effective Under-Secretary at the Scottish Office, working dutifully and loyally for Harold Wilson's Secretary of State Willie Ross and Jim Callaghan's Secretary of State Bruce Millan.

He confined himself in Parliament mostly to Scottish affairs, but he did render considerable and skilful service to the UK government as one of the Fisheries ministers in the Scottish Office involved in the day-to-day delicate negotiations with Iceland – the so-called Cod War. Brown was far more tactful than the lead negotiator, Tony Crosland (who was also MP for Grimsby). The Icelanders had a huge respect for Brown and the fairness of his judgement.

Hugh Brown was a product of Clydeside in the 1930s. His father was an engineer and Brown claimed to inherit from him admiration for craft skills. He described his father as a man who would not put a handle on a chest of drawers without using a micrometer.

Both his father and mother were members of the ILP, the Independent Labour Party, and he told me that they regularly received a turkey at Christmas, for having sold the most prize tickets. "The first thing that interested me about politics," Brown said, "was when I was a telegraph messenger, going up and down through George Square in the 1930s, when there were demonstrations every other day. It was that and the Spanish Civil War which first involved me, after I had left school, at 14, and joined the Post Office."

In 1947 Brown married Mary Carmichael and into a highly political family. His father-in-law was Jimmy Carmichael, ILP Member of Parliament for Glasgow Bridgeton and his brother-in-law Neil Carmichael was to be the MP for Glasgow Woodside, elected at a by-election in 1963.

On leaving school, Brown had entered the civil service and rose to be a manager of the National Insurance Office, dealing with a whole range of welfare requirements. During the first Wilson government and subsequently during the years of opposition, Brown's contribution to the more technical debates on pensions policy and social security issues were invaluable and ever constructive, coming from a background of detailed knowledge. I do not know of any other manager of a National Insurance Office who has become an MP and Brown contributed significantly to the committee work of the House.

In 1962 when he was selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate, he was flung out of the civil service and had to eke out a living for two years waiting for the general election. Gaining 29,830 votes, he romped home in the 1964 general election in the Provan division of Glasgow, which was to be an un-impregnable base until he decided to retire in 1987. He was a parliamentary workhorse and no Scottish MP occupied more footage in the columns of Hansard during the time of the Labour government of 1974 to 1979.

As one of his colleagues, I know at first hand that he would go into meticulous detail about any of our constituency issues, for which he was the minister responsible in the Scottish Office. But, above all, his interests centred on improving the lot of those who lived in his own city of Glasgow.

His handling of the very delicate matter of the closure of Robroyston Hospital in August 1976 was an exemplary performance. His colleague Richard Buchanan, the predecessor of the Speaker Michael Martin as MP for Glasgow Springburn, had raised in an adjournment debate the strong feelings of people in Glasgow. Brown ended his reply:

Expansion is taking place in some areas of the country, there is a holding operation in others, and in some there may even be a contraction in services linked to a shrinking population. I am certain that the provision of services to patients in the areas which he and I represent will continue at a high level. The quality of staff makes the provision extremely good, and that will continue even though they have to be allocated positions in other hospitals.

It was typical of Brown that he did not let the matter rest there. He made a point of conducting on Friday evenings and Saturdays a whole series of meetings of various groups in different areas of Glasgow, in order to explain the Government's position. Thereby, as in many other actions, he enhanced the reputation of the job of Member of Parliament.

Tam Dalyell

Hugh Dunbar Brown, civil servant and politician: born Glasgow 18 May 1919; MP (Labour) for Glasgow Provan 1964-87; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office 1974-79; married 1947 Mary Carmichael (died 2000; one daughter); died Glasgow 10 March 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'