Peter Hardy, teacher and politician: born Wath-upon-Dearne, Yorkshire 17 July 1931; Member of Parliament (Labour) for Rother Valley 1970-83, for Wentworth 1983-1997; PPS to the Secretary of State for the Environment 1974-76, to the Foreign Secretary 1976-79; created 1997 Baron Hardy of Wath; married 1954 Margaret Brookes (two sons); died Rotherham, South Yorkshire 16 December 2003.
Unquestionably most knowledgeable Labour MP in the last third of the 20th century about wildlife and animal behaviour, Peter Hardy was a champion of the environment before it became fashionable to be an environmentalist. He was an inspiration to his parliamentary colleagues and influential in getting the House of Commons to take wildlife and countryside issues seriously.
Peter Hardy was born in 1931 into a mining family in Wath-upon-Dearne, south Yorkshire, where his father, Lawrence, was a miner and underground official. Throughout his life, he was to have close relations with his father's trade union, the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, which sponsored him as an MP. Upon leaving Wath-upon-Dearne Grammar School, Hardy went to Westminster College, in London, where he gained a teacher's certificate in 1953; subsequently, he gained honours in Educational Theory in 1962 from the College of Preceptors, and from Sheffield University in Curricular Studies, 1965-66.
Hardy taught in south Yorkshire schools from 1953 until 1970, and from 1960 was head of the English department of Lexborough County Secondary School. This left an indelible impression and Hardy, throughout his time in Parliament, was a champion of the classroom teacher, persuading his parliamentary colleagues that he really knew what he was talking about.
In the 1964 general election, when he had become president of the Don and Dearne School Masters' Association, he was chosen to be the Labour standard-bearer in Scarborough and Whitby. The result was: Sir Alexander Spearman, Conservative, 22,632; R.S. Rowntree, Liberal, 14,725; and Peter Hardy 11,818. In my capacity as Dick Crossman's PPS, I knew Spearman very well, as he was Crossman's pair, and we stayed in his flat in Scarborough for the Labour Party conferences which took place there. Spearman told us that the young Labour candidate against him was a man of outstanding quality and extremely honest and fair into the bargain. I never heard Hardy, throughout his political life, make an unworthy remark about anyone. He was deeply serious, and understanding of those who did not agree with him.
Two years later, in the 1966 general election, Hardy was chosen as candidate for what was considered a possible Labour gain in Sheffield Hallam, but was defeated by John (now Sir John) Osbourn, a Sheffield steelmaster, by 21,593 votes to Hardy's 13,663, with a Liberal, D.T. Lloyd, winning 6,799. Hardy was deemed to have done so well in both elections that he was chosen for the Labour seat of Rother Valley in 1970, until then a fiefdom of the National Union of Mine Workers, where they weighed, rather than counted, the Labour majority.
It so happened that I shared an office with Hardy when he arrived and can vouchsafe the diligence with which he dealt with the many mining problems and miners' compensation claims in his constituency. Roy Mason, from neighbouring Barnsley, affirms what we all knew: that Hardy was deeply loved in South Yorkshire.
For the next quarter of a century, he was to campaign not only on education but on wildlife matters. In 1973, coming high up in the ballot for Private Members' Bills, he got his Badgers Act on to the statute book. Private Members' Bills can often fall by the parliamentary wayside, but every member of the House of Commons knew that the sponsor of the Bill was himself a man who night after night would watch badgers. When the Bill was on the statute book, Hardy found time to write A Lifetime of Badgers (1975), a moving and, indeed, pioneering account of the private lives of these remarkable animals.
In 1980-81 came the enormously long committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. The Labour team was led by Gerald Kaufman, the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, and in committee by Denis Howell; on the team were Andrew Bennett, Ted Graham (now Lord Graham of Edmonton), Hardy and myself. In order to get concessions out of the ministers, Tom King and Hector Monro, we had to use time as a bargaining device.
Instead of "parliamentary silly games", Hardy would give long discourses on the differences between black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits, which were differentiated in the appendices to the Bill, or on matters such as Halvergate Marshes, the important wetland in Norfolk. His first-hand knowledge was simply prodigious, but it was always used with the objective of winning concessions from ministers. All Hardy's colleagues would agree that he was a marvellous comrade late at night when tired ministers were forced into making concessions.
One of those who briefed the Opposition was the young Fiona Reynolds, who was then the parliamentary officer for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and is now the Director-General of the National Trust. She recalls:
Peter Hardy did many fine jobs for the conservation bodies, in particular in 1981, in the most talked-over, most fought-over Bill of its time. Peter displayed endless energy, an encyclopaedic knowledge of the habits of a vast range of birds and mammals. He helped to keep his fellow MPs up until 2am. As a result the schedules of protected species are in much better shape than they would otherwise have been.
Hardy followed his good work on badgers with the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Plants Act of 1975, and the Protection of Birds Amendment Act, 1976. Stuart Housden, speaking on behalf of the RSPB, says:
Lord Hardy was extremely helpful for 30 years to the RSPB, on whose council he served, in strategic and conservation issues. He also helped in practical projects such as the protection of Old Moor, a flood plain in South Yorkshire in the middle of a heavily industrialised area. He sold the idea to the council on the
basis that it would be a green lung. The result is that waterfowl, teals, widgeon, redshank and a myriad other creatures are welcome and protected in industrial South Yorkshire.
Caroline Kisko, Secretary of the Kennel Club, remembers Hardy as a "great supporter":
He kept greyhounds and Norfolk terriers. He had considerable expertise and was greatly helpful in many policy problems concerning dogs, such as the docking of tails.
Hardy also used his position from 1974 to 1976 as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Tony Crosland, to good purpose. When Crosland became James Callaghan's Foreign Secretary, Hardy went with him and, after Crosland's tragic death, continued to be PPS, to David Owen as Foreign Secretary, 1977-79. This gave Hardy a taste for foreign affairs and he became a member of the delegation to the Council of Europe and Western European Union, becoming the leader of the Labour delegation, 1983-96, and vice-chairman of the socialist group of the Council of Europe, 1983-96. He was the chairman of the Environmental Committee, 1986-90, and did much valuable work on matters such as the shooting of songbirds during the migrations from North Africa to spend their summers in Britain or the Arctic.
Leaving the Commons of his own volition in 1997, Hardy was created a life peer. Unlike some other ex-MPs, he was really the most effective kind of working peer, sponsoring in 1998 the Waste Minimisation Bill. He became very active in matters of defence, an interest which sprang from his service with the RAF, in 1949-51, and his reserves service. He would remind members of the Parliamentary Labour Party that they had an obligation to take very seriously the interests of servicemen, whatever their views might be on matters of peace and war, nuclear disarmament or general defence policy. He was a most active member of the UK Defence Forum, which sponsors many useful lectures and working dinners for MPs and members of the House of Lords.
Hardy spent his life campaigning to improve hedgerow protection, and for me, his monument will be the many hedgerows that one still sees around Britain. A patchwork of fields and hedges symbolises for many people what the British countryside is about. Until 20 years ago, it was still possible to get a grant for grubbing up medieval hedges - but for Hardy's determination it might still be possible to remove them without the chance of protection. His succession of amendments to every conceivable Bill which might have relevance to hedges, culminating in his own Private Members's Bill, gave hedges the protection that we now see they deserve.
Hedgerows, many of them ancient, going back to Saxon times, owe their continued existence, and that of the wildlife that depends on them, to Peter Hardy.