Lord Kimball: Farmer, MP and the last of the 'Knights of the Shires'

The man who devoted most of his parliamentary career to animal issues

It is 59 years since Marcus Kimball was elected to the House of Commons; Anthony Eden was his first prime minister. Talking to me in 1982 as an old schoolfriend when he had decided to retire at the forthcoming election, he said in his usual matter-of-fact tones, “Today's Tory party is no longer my scene. Most of them do not care for me, and I don't care for most of them.”

Kimball was one of the last of an almost extinct species, the Knight of the Shire. This is not to be derogatory: as the docker and Labour's chief whip Bob Mellish put it in his Bermondsey lingo, "Give us a bleeding Knight of the Shire any day rather than bleeding city-slickers on the make!"

The son of Major and Mrs Kimball of Whissenthorpe, Melton Mowbray, Kimball was mainly brought up by his mother, as his father was away on active service. She was an immensely capable lady who managed the extensive family estates in the east Midlands and the far north of Scotland.

In 1942 he went to Eton, and the House of LH Jaques. "LHJ" was an imposing and authoritative "beak" who would take no nonsense; but he was a wonderful encourager of his pupils "to do their own thing". Jaques encouraged his activities as Keeper of the Beagles – a position of some standing at 1940s Eton – and his captaincy of the shooting Eight.

He liked to give the impression of being idle, but he was not, and he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He flourished as a member of the Hawks Club for the university's sporting elite. Well-prepared at Eton by his history teacher, David Graham-Campbell , he survived the taxing supervision of the scholarly historian Walter Ullmann.

In the 1955 general election Kimball lost in Derby South to the future Nobel Peace Prize laureate Philip Noel-Baker, but he was considered a good candidate, and when the Leader of the Commons, Harry Crookshank, died, he won the by-election in February 1956. Lord Cormack told me that as chairman of the Lincolnshire Young Conservatives he remembers Kimball at a meeting in Louth as an ebullient, thrusting young politician full of good ideas.

Crookshank had been MP for Gainsborough since 1921. Rural life in those days was a different political universe. It is factual, not apocryphal, that the station master at Gainsborough railway station would doff his cap to Crookshank with the words, "I look forward, sir, to your next annual visit."

The present MP, Sir Edward Leigh, told me that in 1983 Kimball handed him three boxes of constituency files from his car boot with the words, "Edward, I have left you a virgin bailiwick. Don't spoil it by doing anything." Kimball took the view that canvassing was undignified. Equally, in 28 years he never voted against his government, and rebuked Leigh when he dared to vote against John Major's wishes.

Kimball displayed no great appetite for ministerial office – though had Reginald Maudling beaten Ted Heath to the Tory leadership it is likely that Kimball's knowledge of forestry and land management would have made him a candidate for a junior post at the Ministry of Agriculture. In those days I sat for hours through a series of agricultural provision bills on the Opposition Committee back benches. Kimball, encouraged by the whips, would keep quiet and get on with his constituency correspondence. Every now and then he would come to life and make a concise, pertinent contribution. He had become a self-styled "backwoodsman" who opened his parliamentary mouth only when he had something worth saying. He seldom spoke on the floor of the House.

My first recollection of Kimball's parliamentary activity, in 1962, encapsulates the issue, vital to agriculture, that he was to raise often. He asked how many experiments usingpoison to kill pigeons had been allowed in East Anglia and London. The Agriculture Minister James Scott-Hopkins told him that in view of the damage the experiments should continue. Fifteen years later I raised the issue of Newcastle Disease, transmitted by defecating pigeons, in the European Parliament. Scott-Hopkins, by then leader of the Conservative delegation, chuckled, "Pigeons! The man who really knew about pigeons was Marcus Kimball!"

He recalled that as a sequel to his PQs in 1962, Kimball met Christopher Soames, the Minister for Agriculture. Afterwards, Soames said to Scott-Hopkins, "James, Marcus knows more about pigeons than you, me and our Min Ag officials! We would be prudent to do as he suggests." And government policy changed thanks to Kimball's representation.

It is a fact that from the mid-1960s he was more interested in his role as a Master of Hounds (with the Fitzwilliam and the Cottesmore hunts) than in political advancement. From 1966-82 he was chairman of the British Field Sports Society and from 1999 deputy president of the Countryside Alliance; in Parliament he was instrumental in blocking bills to outlaw hunting and hare coursing. Douglas Hogg, who will deliver the encomium at his memorial service at Oakham on 24 April, emphasised to me Kimball's contribution over a lifetime to country sports. µ TAM DALYELL

Marcus Richard Kimball, farmer and politician: born 18 October 1928; MP for Gainsborough 1956–1983; Kt 1981; cr. 1985 Life Peer; married 1956 June Mary Fenwick (two daughters); died Market Harborough 27 March 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions