Lord Kingsland: Lawyer and politician who led the Tories in Europe and went on to serve as Shadow Lord Chancellor
Friday 24 July 2009
The sadly premature death of Lord Kingsland deprives the Conservative Party of one of its most formidable operators in the House of Lords and a wise source of advice on constitutional matters. He had not always enjoyed the regard in which he was currently held by his own party. When he led the Conservative group in the European Parliament, he was thought, quite wrongly, to be mad keen on Euro-federalism and was the subject of vitriolic attacks by Lord Tebbit. He was, however, a supporter of the single currency and that was sufficient to damn him in the eyes of most Eurosceptics. In fact, he was essentially a pragmatist, moderate in his own opinions and well able to recognise the strength of alternative views to those to which he adhered.
The journalist Quentin Letts memorably described him as "a skinny, bald brain-box with one of those skulls that you can almost see pulsating as he ponders", but his razor-sharp intellect was accompanied by great generosity of spirit, as the Conservative leader in the Lords noted, and friend and foe combined to acknowledge "his unfailing sense of justice and integrity". It is clear that he was held not only in respect, but with great affection by his colleagues in the Lords. He had a wry, self-deprecatory sense of humour, exemplified in his explanation as to why he did not call himself Lord Prout: he confessed to a fear that he might be called "Lord Brussels Prout". His considerable professional and academic expertise were always worn lightly, but as David Cameron observed, "his formidable experience and immense diligence made him an exceptionally powerful and effective spokesman for the Opposition in the House of Lords on legal matters, where his forensic approach held the Government properly to account."
Christopher James Prout was educated at Sevenoaks School and read economics at Manchester University (1960-63). He took further qualifications in economics at Columbia University, New York (1963-64), to which he had won a scholarship, and at The Queen's College, Oxford (1964-66). He joined the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1966. Although based in New York, he travelled extensively in its service, and took a particular interest in Yugoslavia. He had devoted his doctoral studies to the operation of markets in planned economies and was later to publish an extended version as Market Socialism in Yugoslavia (1985). He returned to England in 1969 to take up a Leverhulme Research Fellowship at the University of Sussex.
Called to the Bar in 1972 as a member of the Middle Temple, he practised in the field of European competition law, but after he took silk in 1988, his interests shifted to the fields of planning, the environment and waste. He became a bencher of the Middle Temple in 1996.
Alongside his interest in law ran an abiding interest in politics and in 1979 he was elected to the European Parliament as the Conservative Member for Shropshire and Staffordshire. Although he was patently without political experience, his abilities were quickly recognised by his new colleagues and he became first deputy and then, in 1983, chief whip of the Conservative group. When Lord Plumb stood down as its leader in 1987, Prout defeated Lady Elles, Sir Fred Catherwood and Claus Toksvig to become leader not only of the Conservative MEPs, but of the centre-right European Democratic Group to which it belonged.
Prout shared Mrs Thatcher's view of the efforts of Jacques Delors to "graft social engineering" on to the single market and when the Delors scheme for the future of the EC was put to the vote, he and the Conservatives were almost alone in voting against. But he was less keen on Mrs Thatcher's populist rhetoric and when she laid into "a diet of Brussels" during the 1989 European election, he was observed to be sitting alongside her a good deal less than happy. Nor was the outcome good; the Conservatives lost 13 of their 45 seats. The EDG's Spanish members promptly joined the European People's Party and Mrs Thatcher told Prout to follow suit. Despite his personal doubts about the wisdom of the move, he sought to do so, only to meet with a humiliating rebuff.
Prout loyally kept silent about Mrs Thatcher's instructions, but he was badly bruised by subsequent Conservative charges that the Conservative MEPs had "gone native". Early in 1990 the Party chairman, Ken Baker, sought to mend a fast deteriorating relationship and there was a "positive" meeting between the group and Mrs Thatcher. Nevertheless, when she faced a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine in November 1990, Prout told the 1922 Committee that 20 of his group wanted her to go and only five were backing her.
Prout welcomed John Major's election and the subsequent improvement in relations with the EC. He was a strong supporter of what he saw as the Prime Minister's negotiating triumph at Maastricht and sought once more to align his group with the EPP. In April 1992 they were accepted as allied members and Prout became a vice chairman of the EPP group. All Prout's diplomatic skills were evidenced in the way he held his group together, but inevitably there were dissident voices calling for a change in leadership. It did not help that he was denied the opportunity to speak from the platform at the 1993 Conservative Party Conference, but from the floor he urged that no one should use the word "federalism" in the run-up to the 1994 European elections and that they should go into them united. He also crafted a manifesto to which all could subscribe. He personally had no difficulty with Major's concept of a "multi-speed" Europe, but the rifts in the party were now so deep that it was no surprise when the Conservatives won only 18 seats. Prout himself was out, beaten after a recount in his new, supposedly safe seat of Herefordshire and Shropshire by 1,850 votes.
He had been knighted in 1990 and Major now made him a life peer and Privy councillor. Returning to the Bar, he became an assistant recorder on the Wales and Chester circuit in 1997, a recorder in 2000, and a deputy High Court judge in 2005. His political career took off in 1997 when the Conservative party went into opposition and he was given the job of shadowing the Lord Chancellor. He warned of the risks inherent in the Human Rights Act and in a powerful article for The Times in September 2000 argued that there was a danger that judges would be perceived as being drawn into the political process.
Nor was he at all happy with the Government's attempts to modify Britain's traditional liberties in order to deal with terrorism. He strongly opposed the reform of Britain's extradition laws after 9/11, reluctantly abandoning his position when the Government brought the bill back to the Lords for the third time: in the closing weeks of his life, he was fully engaged in a further attempt to modify the provisions of the 2003 Act. He was instrumental in the spring of 2005 in inflicting a series of defeats on the Government when they sought to replace their terrorism legislation, and a stand-off between the two Houses of Parliament took place over Kingsland's effort to insert a sunset clause in the bill. When the bill returned in the autumn he accepted that the Government had a right to secure a second reading, but continued to resist efforts to further extend detention without trial.
Other successes were his efforts to prevent the abolition of juries in serious fraud cases, where he induced the House to impose a six-month delay on the introduction of the bill and the use of CPS-designated case workers to prosecute in magistrates courts. Although he managed to preserve the title of Lord Chancellor, he could not prevent Lord Falconer from dividing up its historic functions, and in 2008 he accepted a new shadow role, speaking on legal affairs in the Lords. Only his sudden illness and death prevented him from continuing his forensic assaults on the Coroners Bill and the Parliamentary Standards Bill.
His activities were not confined to the House. Since 2004 he had chaired the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority and as the chairman of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory from 2002 until 2009 he had played a key role in establishing the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Plymouth in 2007. He had served as the president of the Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society and was the president of the Shropshire Horticultural Society when he died. One of his proudest boasts when appointed master of the garden of the Middle Temple in 1999 was of the prizes it was awarded.
In his younger days he had been a keen Territorial, serving with the Oxford University OTC (1966-74), the Queen's Royal Lancers (1974-82) and on the staff of the 3rd Armoured Division (1982-88). He was awarded the Territorial Decoration in 1987. In the same year he became a deputy lieutenant for Shropshire.
Kingsland contributed to the 4th edition of Halsbury's Laws of England and wrote on environmental law for The Practitioner's Handbook to EC Law.
Apart from his enthusiasm for gardening, musical comedy and the turf, Kingsland was a keen yachtsman, mainly for pleasure, although his yachts were entered for the Daily Telegraph Cup at Cowes, which he won in 2007.
His friends had always regretted his decision to remain a bachelor and they were delighted when late in life he married Carolyn and took on a family of four stepchildren. He had already fought off cancer and he was as busy as ever when he was suddenly taken fatally ill at home. There can be no doubt at all that he would have found a place in a future Conservative administration, and it is a genuine tragedy that he was not to have the time to show that his abilities would have been well matched to the job.
Christopher James Prout, lawyer and politician: born London 1 January 1942; MEP (C) Shropshire and Stafford, 1979–94; Leader, British Cons. MEPs, 1987–94; Deputy Whip, 1979–82, Chief Whip, 1983–87, Chairman and Leader, 1987–92, European Democratic Group; Kt 1990; cr. 1994 Baron Kingsland of Shrewsbury; married (four stepchildren); died 12 July 2009.
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