Lord Monro of Langholm

Tory DoE and sports minister


Hector Seymour Peter Monro, farmer and politician: born Edinburgh 4 October 1922; MP (Conservative) for Dumfries 1964-97; Scottish Conservative Whip 1967-70; a Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury 1970-71; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office 1971-74, 1992-95; Parliamentary Secretary of State (with responsibility for sport), Department of the Environment 1979-81; Kt 1981; PC 1995; created 1997 Baron Monro of Langholm; married 1949 Anne Welch (died 1994; two sons), 1994 Doris Kaestner; died Dumfries 30 August 2006.

For a third of a century Hector Monro, Conservative MP for Dumfries from 1964 to 1997, was my friend and parliamentary opponent. His opponents held Monro in the highest regard for a very good reason. We knew that he cared deeply about the subjects for which he had ministerial responsibility. Many ministers see office as a stepping stone to greater things. Monro was totally motivated by the job in hand.

There was no better example of this than his behaviour as a minister in the Department for the Environment responsible for the day-to-day piloting through the Commons committee stage of the 1980-81 Wildlife and Countryside Bill, creating a legal framework for wildlife protection in Britain. Led by Denis Howell, those of us in the Opposition team sensed that Hector - the name by which he was almost universally known throughout Parliament - would, if he thought it was justified, fight his corner with his ministerial colleagues and would often get his way. He had no thought for what his stubbornness might do to his career.

This favourable opinion is shared by a man who perhaps above all others now alive is in a position to know - Sir Martin Holdgate, who was the Chief Scientist at the Department of Environment at the time, and soon to become Deputy Secretary responsible for rural affairs. Supported by such distinguished civil servants as Peter Scott-Malden and Alan Levitt, Monro took on the prejudices of many in the government party and pushed through the "Sandford amendments" which created the concept of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Holdgate recollects him as

a warm, sympathetic, concerned man who felt deeply about the environment. Monro made the 1981 Act far stronger than it otherwise would have been and at the same time he did not antagonise the feelings of the land-owning and sporting fraternity from which he came. Monro was responsible above all others for persuading core Tory supporters that his measure, which went far beyond what had appeared in the first draft of the Bill, was not inimical to their interests. This was a huge if unsung achievement.

Tom King, then the Environment minister in overall charge of the Bill, says:

I could not have asked for a better or more loyal and likeable colleague than Hector. We worked together on the Commons Bill that became the Wildlife and Countryside Act. But it is no secret that it was Hector who carried the major burden of piloting this important Act. He brought to it his lifelong interest and great knowledge of nature conservation and the countryside and was liked and respected by all the different groups whose varied interests he had to consider.

It is my belief that it was Monro who persuaded King, and other members of the Government less sympathetic to the environment, that they should not use the dreaded guillotine procedure. One result was that, after endless speechifying by Peter Hardy, Andrew Bennett, Ted Graham and myself on subjects ranging from Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk to the difficulties the constabulary would have to face in identifying the differences between the bar-tailed and black-tailed godwit, Monro persuaded the Government for parliamentary time reasons to concede what we were really after - the establishment of marine nature reserves. Any other minister would have taken the easy way out and that would have been to the long-term disadvantage of the Isles of Scilly, Lundy and other areas of marine conservation.

Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, but then a young public affairs officer for the Council for the Protection of Rural England and one of the ever-present briefers of the Opposition team, recalls:

Hector Monro was a minister and above all a countryman who could out-talk the lot of you on the habits of the redshank and the bar-tailed godwit. But what he really did was to shift the whole system away from a narrow regulatory regime towards the provision of incentives for doing the ecologically correct thing.

Another environmental achievement that belongs to Monro is the first systematic approach to dealing with alien species of flora and fauna. Holdgate concurs with the view that he was among the first to take pest control seriously.

Hector Monro was born in 1922 into a military family. He lost his father, Captain Alastair Monro of the Cameron Highlanders, in 1943, but his real mentor was his maternal grandfather, Lt-Gen Sir Spencer Ewart, who could claim to be the first head of what became MI5 and MI6, and whose own father, General Sir John Ewart, had been a lieutenant-colonel in the 93rd Highlanders at the Siege of Lucknow in the Indian Mutiny. Hector was also proud of being a direct descendant of General Sir Thomas Brisbane, not only a distinguished military man but the first astronomer who mapped the southern heavens; he gave his name to the city of Brisbane when he became Governor of Queensland.

After Canford, the Dorset public school, Monro went to King's College, Cambridge, but he spent only a year as a student, leaving the university air squadron for a commission flying in RAF Coastal Command. Monro, a very modest man who never flaunted his achievement, later told both Tom King and me that Coastal Command had involved hazardous patrols far out into the Atlantic searching for U-boats in Catalinas for up to 24 hours at a time. In 1964 I was told by Brigadier Sir John Smyth VC MP that Monro, the new MP for Dumfries, had been unlucky not to be decorated for his work as a pilot both in the Battle of the Atlantic and subsequently in the Far East.

Monro had a lifelong concern for the RAF and was an honorary air commodore of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force from 1982 to 2000 and its Honorary Inspector General from 1990 to 2000. When he was on the back benches before being made a whip and after leaving ministerial office he spoke in virtually every debate involving the RAF.

Returning to civilian life, he farmed at Williamwood, Kirtlebridge, in Dumfriesshire and became Chairman of the Dumfriesshire Unionist Association in 1958. He was the obvious choice as Conservative candidate for Dumfries in the general election of 1964. A man of great charm, he had no difficulty in holding his seat when those in the Conservative interest were tumbling all round Scotland.

In 1967 he was appointed Scottish Whip and worked closely with his talented contemporaries George Younger, Alick Buchanan Smith, Ian Lang and Teddy Taylor, under the general direction of Gordon Campbell, who was to become Ted Heath's Secretary of State for Scotland. Progressing from being a senior government whip, Monro was the natural choice to take over responsibility for agriculture in the Scottish Office. He worked hard on the enormously knotty problem of agricultural holdings, and years after he left the department he had the satisfaction on 21 April 1983 of saying:

Honourable members would not wish the Bill to leave the House without congratulating the Government on introducing it. For a long time change has been desired in the structure of farm tenancies in Scotland . . . This Bill will be welcomed throughout agriculture in Scotland.

What he did not say was that he had done more work than anyone else over the years to reach a satisfactory compromise.

In 1974 Margaret Thatcher gave him responsibility for sport. He had been a formidable rugby player and was very prominent in the Scottish Rugby Union for 20 years between 1958 and 1977. He was also President of the Auto-cycle Union (1983-90) but his main contribution was his concern, alas only semi-effective, to prevent the destruction of school playing fields.

It was a huge blow to Monro that in 1994 his ever-supportive wife, Anne, died. I attended the funeral and saw for myself the outpouring of sympathy from a huge number of constituents, some of them friends of mine in the Dumfriesshire Labour Party. His popularity as a local MP straddled party politics. And even when people were angry with him (as I was over his attitude to the PanAm 103 destruction over Lockerbie in his constituency) he was disarming.

His family and friends were very pleased that he should marry Anne's friend Mrs Doris Kaestner, a widow from Baltimore, with whom he was to have 12 happy years. He took great pride in the army career of his son General Seymour Monro.

Until a recent short illness he played a constructive role in the House of Lords, where his knowledge and experience was valued - because he only, as always, opened his mouth on things that he really knew about.

Tam Dalyell

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?