Lord Hayhoe: Tory minister who became a critic of Mrs Thatcher

 

Although Barney Hayhoe was a passionate Europhile and a compassionate Conservative, it would be wrong to see him as an unreconstructed Heathite. He was more a disciple of Iain Macleod. Appointed deputy spokesman on Employment in June 1974, he remained on the front bench after Margaret Thatcher became leader, and served as a successful middle ranking minister in her governments from 1979-86. Although he never expected to reach the Cabinet there was nevertheless a sense that his career had stalled, and he was clearly never "one of us".

As Minister for Health he resisted pressure from the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and Institute of Health Services management for a two per cent increase in funding each year, arguing that while growth in the service was inevitable, there was still "fat to cut" and more productivity to be found. But he was privately resentful of the pressures brought to bear by the Treasury, and, once retired to the back benches with the consolation prize of a knighthood, he waited only a few months before suggesting to the Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, that he should forgo a tax cut and give the money to the NHS.

"This would be a popular measure in all parties", he said, and he attacked the underfunding of pay awards to nurses and other health staff, adding, "The insufficiency of the pay award funding has come very largely out of the cost improvement programme. I do not think that is the right way to motivate the staff." He also opposed charging for eye and dental tests.

While still Minister of State in the Treasury he had shared Lawson's scepticism about the poll tax and he backed unsuccessful efforts to band it and voted against its introduction on both the second and third readings of the Bill. By April 1980 he was tagged as the "fifth wettest" MP by the Adam Smith Institute and later that year it was rumoured that he might run against Thatcher for the leadership. It was no surprise to find him a strong supporter of Michael Heseltine's bid for the leadership in the following year.

Hayhoe had taken up a number of business appointments and although he continued to be a powerful member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Defence Select Committee, it was no real surprise when he decided not to contest the 1992 General Election. John Major made him a life peer and he was asked to chair the Guys and St Thomas's NHS Trust (1993-95).

He was the son of a schoolteacher, Frank Hayhoe; his mother was a Catholic from Northern Ireland, and his first ministerial appointment would have been there had his wife not persuaded him otherwise. Educated at Stanley Technical School in South Norwood and at the Borough Polytechnic, from 1941-44 he was a tool room apprentice, then joined the armaments design division of the Ministry of Supply, qualifying as a chartered engineer and Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. He served in the Inspectorate of Armaments until 1965, leaving to join the Conservative Research Department and to pursue political ambitions.

He had been part of the British delegation to the World Federation of Youth in 1944 and after the war joined the Young Conservatives, becoming national vice chairman in 1951. He chaired the British Youth Council in 1956 and the British Committee of European Youth in 1957. In 1958 he served as Treasurer of the World Assembly of Youth. Staunchly ant-Communist and a strong supporter of Nato, he helped found the pro-US Ariel Foundation. Having stood unsuccessfully at Lewisham South in the 1964 election he was at the Conservative Research Department until 1970, taking control of the section dealing with the GLC until the Conservatives took control in 1967, and he spent a year co-ordinating the groups working on policy then worked on the manifesto.

Throughout he was in search of a seat, but although frequently a runner-up, it looked as if he might miss out in 1970. The prosecution of Reader Harris for fraud offered the chance to fight Heston and Isleworth; although Harris was acquitted and contested his nomination, the constituency backed Hayhoe and he won by 4,599 votes.

He was elected secretary of the Conservative backbench committee on employment and the Conservative Group for Europe. He made his maiden speech on industrial relations and was a staunch supporter of the Heath government's attempt at union reform, although notably cautious about the arbitrary imprisonment of trade unionists. He also backed a Thames estuary airport. He held his marginal seat at both 1974 elections.

His constituency party had chosen him for his pro-EEC views, and as vice chairman of the Conservative Group for Europe (1973-76) he campaigned for continued membership during the referendum campaign in 1975. As deputy spokesman on employment (1974-79) he was a vigorous opponent of the "danegeld" paid to the unions in Labour's Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill and Employment Protection Bill. He later claimed with some justification that his party spoke for the unemployed, many of whom voted Conservative in 1979.

His reward was an unexciting post as Under Secretary for Defence (Army) where he took a keen interest in weapons quality, and promotion to Minister of State at the Civil Service Department in 1981. Though insistent that pay should not breach the government limit, he settled the civil service strike with a 7.5 per cent increase while maintaining the cash limit, vindication of the doveish approach he favoured in contradiction of the Prime Minister.

He was moved to the Treasury, retaining his responsibility for the Civil Service. His final appointment, as Minister of State for Health, came in 1985 and with it membership of the Privy Council. He was able to increase the number of hospital consultants and help spearhead the campaign against Aids. After his elevation to the Lords, where he served on the Select Committee on Public Service, Hayhoe remained staunchly pro-EU as his party became more eurosceptic.

A sensitive and humane man, genial and outgoing, he had the reputation of being an organiser rather than a great thinker. That did him less than justice. His work on tax credits for children, published in 1968, exemplifies his ability to generate policy. Although principled, he was no ideologue and his pragmatic, sometimes hard-nosed approach, made him an excellent minister. Withal he was a very nice man with scarcely an enemy to his name.

John Barnes

Bernard John Hayhoe, politician: born Surrey 8 August 1925; MP, Heston and Isleworth 1970–74, Brentford and Isleworth, 1974–92; PPS to Lord President and Leader of House of Commons 1972–74; Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Army 1979–81; Minister of State: Civil Service Department 1981, Treasury 1981–85, (Minister for Health) DHSS 1985–86; Kt 1987; cr 1992 Life Peer, of Isleworth; married 1962 Anne Gascoigne Thornton (two sons, one daughter); died 7 September 2013.

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