OBITUARY : Hugh Lawson

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The Independent Online
Hugh Lawson was elected as Common Wealth MP for Skipton at a celebrated by-election in January 1944, sensationally overturning a safe Conservative majority.

He had been deeply influenced by the speeches of Sir Richard Acland and his Forward March movement, which in 1942 merged with J.B. Priestley's 1941 Committee to form the Common Wealth Party. This was a socialist group believing in the principles of common ownership of land and major industrial resources, proportional representation, devolution, social security, honesty in politics and world unity. The Common Wealth Party was opposed to the wartime electoral truce between the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties who had agreed not to fight the sitting party at by-elections. Common Wealth thought that this denied the people an opportunity to express their views at the ballot box and in 1943 Lawson returned to Britain from Gibraltar, where he was serving in the Royal Engineers, in order to stand for Parliament.

During his time as an MP Lawson supported the introduction of Child Benefit and was instrumental in ensuring that it was paid direct to the mother for the benefit of the child, so that it was not merely pocketed by the father. He introduced the idea of weekly "surgeries" where local people could bring their problems direct to their MP.

Lawson was born in 1912 in Leeds. He moved to West Bridgford, Nottingham, in 1915 when his father, a pharmaceutical chemist and general manager of Daisy Pharmaceuticals, was headhunted by Sir Jesse Boot, founder of Boot's Pure Drug Co. The family all became active members of the Methodist church in West Bridgford.

Hugh was educated at Nottingham High School and Nottingham University (then University College, Nottingham, awarding external degrees from London University). He obtained a BSc in Civil Engineering in 1932 and was articled to the Borough Water Engineer in Preston for a two-year apprenticeship. He held appointments first in Daventry and then Bromley, Kent, as an assistant engineer, before joining the Nottingham City Engineers Department in 1937, the same year he married Dorothy Mallinson, daughter of a Methodist minister.

When war broke out Lawson immediately volunteered for service in the Royal Engineers. He spent three years in Gibraltar working on the construction of defences on the rock.

From the time they were married, Hugh and Dorothy Lawson worked for peace among the nations and were supporters of the League of Nations. Lawson's strong socialist principles were well aired even in Gibraltar where he served as "Prime Minister" of a mock parliament run by the Garrison Literary and Debating Society which drafted several revolutionary socialist bills.

In the 1945 general election, Lawson stood down as the member for Skipton because the party had pledged not to oppose the Labour candidate there. He stood unsuccessfully as Common Wealth candidate for Harrow West, but soon afterwards the party broke up and Lawson rejoined the Labour Party. He subsequently stood, unsuccessfully, as Labour candidate for the Nottingham Rushcliffe division at the 1950 election and for King's Lynn in 1955.

Returning to Nottingham City Engineers Department after the war, in 1948 he was appointed Deputy City Engineer and Surveyor of Nottingham, a post which he held for 25 years. During this time he was responsible for the city's development plan and for its primary highway plan. One scheme dear to his heart was an early example of ecological thinking: the construction in the 1970s of a refuse incineration plant supplying steam which generated enough electricity to run the plant, and utilised waste heat in a district heating scheme for nearby housing and shopping centres. He was a council member and district chairman of both the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Municipal Engineers.

When local government was reorganised in 1973, Lawson was appointed Director of Leisure Services for Nottingham. This allowed him to combine his lifetime interests in the theatre, concerts, museums, local history, historic buildings and the countryside with his planning skills. He finally retired in 1976 after nearly 40 years with Nottingham City Council.

For many years Lawson and his wife were active members of the Methodist Church and among other activities he served on the Board of Social Responsibility of the Methodist Church and was chairman of its Standing Committee on Politics and Economics for 15 years. However, in later life, they both felt drawn towards the Quakers and joined the Religious Society of Friends. Here Lawson continued to be an active member serving on many committees. His ecumenical beliefs were expressed through his work for the Nottingham Council of Churches and the Nottingham Committee of the Council of Christians and Jews.

Dorothy died in 1982 and in 1988 Lawson married another Quaker, Eva Koch. Together they found what they referred to as an "unexpected and unsought love" late in life and spent two happy years together before Eva's death in 1991. Hugh Lawson planted a wood in their memory - the "Two Wives Plantation" - at Newstead Abbey.

Richard Lawson and Doug Lawson

Hugh McDowall Lawson, engineer and politician: born Leeds 13 February 1912; MP (Common Wealth) for Skipton 1944-45; Deputy City Engineer, Nottingham 1948-73; Director of Leisure Services, Nottingham City Council 1973-76; married 1937 Dorothy Mallinson (died 1982; two sons), 1988 Eva Koch (nee Holde, died 1991); died Nottingham 23 March 1997.