Lord Campbell of Croy

War hero who became Edward Heath's Secretary of State for Scotland
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The Independent Online

Gordon Thomas Calthrop Campbell, soldier and politician: born Quetta, India 8 June 1921; MC 1944, bar 1945; MP (Conservative) for Moray and Nairn 1959-74; Assistant Government Whip 1961-62; Lord Commissioner of the Treasury and Scottish Whip 1962-63; Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office 1963-64; Secretary of State for Scotland 1970-74; PC 1970; created 1974 Baron Campbell of Croy; Acting Chairman, Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea 1980-82, Chairman 1987-89; President, Anglo-Austrian Society 1991-2003; married 1949 Nicola Madan (two sons, one daughter); died London 26 April 2005.

Gordon Campbell was one of the bravest and most uncomplaining of men it has ever been my privilege to know. In an action on the Elbe, three days before the war in Europe came to an end - an action where he was awarded a bar to the Military Cross that he had won in Normandy the year before - a German bullet ruptured his sciatic nerve and initiated a host of other medical problems. By sheer guts, Campbell carved out a remarkably constructive career.

As a parliamentary opponent and friend in the Commons for 12 years, and in Parliament for 43 years, I never heard him say anything that was cheap, nasty, or that he did not mean. My last memory of him is being given a lift in his disabled vehicle late on an autumn night after one of his regular attendances at the Foundation for Science and Technology meetings at the Royal Society in Carlton Gardens. This severely crippled man's interest in the outside world and the future lasted until he was 83 years of age.

Gordon Campbell was born the son of Major-General James Campbell, who had won the first of his two DSOs in France in 1916 and was later to command a brigade of the 15th Scottish Division between December 1939 and May 1941. His mother was the artist and writer Violet Calthrop Campbell, a descendant of the engineering Brunels. He had one brother reported missing, believed killed.

After a successful academic career at Wellington, and serious preparation for a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, he changed his mind and joined the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery at the age of 18. At the astonishingly young age of 20 he reached the rank of major. As a field battery commander he was involved in the desperate battles in Normandy around the Falaise Gap where the skills which he had developed at the School of Artillery in Larkhill as an instructor proved enormously valuable. The Elbe crossing was to prove a nightmare for him and he told me that, ever since his wound, he believed himself to be living on borrowed time. Campbell's attitude was that so many around him from Normandy to the Rhine crossing had been killed that there was no point in ever complaining about life.

After the Second World War it became clear that there was no future for him in his chosen military career. Albeit he had not been to university the Foreign Office selection boards of the time bent over backwards to accept those who had incurred wartime disabilities in the course of service to their country. On account of his war record, as he put it the "selectors' sympathy", and his own considerable intelligence and school academic achievement, he entered the Foreign Office. He was assigned in 1949, just before the Korean War, to the UK permanent mission at the United Nations, an experience that was well to equip him as an opposition spokesman on defence and foreign affairs. Perhaps the crucial appointment came in 1952, when he was plucked out of the Foreign Office by Sir Norman Brook, Winston Churchill's authoritative Secretary to the Cabinet, to be his private secretary. This gave Campbell an insight into the workings of the centre of government. He would often refer to Norman Brook as both a mentor and an example.

Campbell was a stickler for proper procedure and proper regard for the Civil Service and their duty of warning ministers of unpalatable truths. I used to hear the criticism that, even as a senior minister, he was too much under the thumb of civil servants. However, formidable former senior civil servants at the Scottish Office assure me that Campbell never allowed himself to be bullied by them. He was hugely regarded for his personal qualities in St Andrew's House.

After his three-year period in the Cabinet Office came to its natural end he returned to the Foreign Office and the British embassy in Vienna in 1956. It was the time of the Hungarian Uprising and the emergence of the International Atomic Energy Authority. Campbell told me that this was the beginning of his lifelong support for the civil nuclear power industry, in which he was to champion the power station at Hunterston and the advanced gas-cooled reactor at Torness in East Lothian.

A politician is seldom headhunted for a seat in the House of Commons. In Campbell's case he was found for the then safe Conservative parliamentary seat of Moray and Nairn. The man who wished to hand over his mantle was the astute and locally all-powerful James Stuart, first Viscount Stuart of Findhorn, Churchill's chief whip and about the only man credited with the authority to tell the Prime Minister what he should be doing and what he should not be doing. Stuart thought that his beloved constituency should be put in the hands of a very able wartime hero.

So it was that in 1957 Campbell left the Foreign Office and went into a family partnership running the Holme Rose farms and estate, at Cawdor. To no one's surprise, in his first parliament, in 1963, Campbell became Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. As MP for a farming constituency I had many occasions to go to him and found him ever courteous, ever helpful and a man of his word. He was also, in the Scottish Grand Committee, very disarming when faced with the wonderful invective of Willie Ross and other Scottish Labour MPs of the day. As Margaret Herbison, then MP for North Lanark and later Chairman of the Labour Party, put it to her colleagues, "If you are offensive to Gordon Campbell, it'll simply rebound on us."

As Ted Heath's Secretary of State for Scotland from 1970 to 1974 he was immersed in the problems of the North Sea oil industry and the creation of the rig-building yards on the Moray Firth and the West Coast. He ran into some criticism about being over-fussy about environmental considerations and allowing his passion for ornithology to cloud his judgement. I think this criticism is less than just. As a senior minister he was one of the first to show real concern for the problems of maintaining the beauty of much of our coastline. One of his strengths was to get money and approval for new trunk roads and bridges. When it was less than popular in the Treasury he won funding for the A9 road to the Scottish Highlands and in particular funding for the controversial crossings of the Cromarty and Beauly firths.

Perhaps it was because he had something of a lacuna when it came to presentation, and a certain reticence about trumpeting his achievements, that he unexpectedly lost his seat in 1974 to Mrs Winifred Ewing, the Scottish nationalist, at a time when a series of seats fell to the SNP. It was no personal catastrophe and he was given a seat in the House of Lords, where he became a valuable member on select committees and opposition spokesman on industry, energy and European Community affairs, over and above his responsibility for Scotland. As President of the Anglo-Austrian Society, I know how much Campbell, a previous incumbent, did for British-Austrian relations.

However his greatest contribution after he left the Commons was for the cause of the disabled; he earned huge respect from the Commons campaigner Jack Ashley, now Lord Ashley of Stoke, Lewis Carter-Jones, MP for Eccles, and Alf Morris, now Lord Morris of Manchester. The publication of his book Disablement: problems and prospects in the United Kingdom (1981) was a significant event in an era before the issue of the disabled reached centre-stage.

In this, as in all his work, he was supported by his wife Nicola, in an outstandingly happy partnership of 55 years. Obituaries often pay polite tribute to the role of the wife. In Gordon Campbell's case his lifetime of post-war service simply would not have been possible without his wife's devotion.

Tam Dalyell