Obituary: Sir John Farr

Click to follow
The Independent Online
John Arnold Farr, landowner and politician: born Nottingham 25 September 1922; MP (Conservative) for Harborough 1959-92; Kt 1984; married 1960 Susan Ann Milburn (two sons); died 26 October 1997.

John Farr, who sat as Member of Parliament for Harborough from 1959 to 1992, was, above all, an old-fashioned, right-wing Tory romantic.

He had a highly traditional rural and brewing background, and a good war record in the Royal Navy. His landholdings were extensive, in Britain, in Ireland and in Zimbabwe, where he owned 10,500 acres. He was keen on hunting, shooting, fishing and cricket, but he could be very unconventional in right-wing political terms.

He was always willing to oppose the government of the day when he thought them wrong. Thus, while he staunchly upheld the rights of private gun owners, he fought strongly against the increase in the number of licences allowed by legislation in 1980, fearing that it would encourage irresponsible owners of firearms. Again in 1987, when the Government introduced restrictive legislation on the possession of firearms in the aftermath of the Hungerford massacre, Farr angered the shooting fraternity by stoutly supporting the new legislation.

In the run-up to British entry into the then Common Market Farr resolutely defied the Heath government, arguing instead for the creation of a Commonwealth parliament, which he believed would better serve the commercial and political interests of Britain. On the other hand, to the great embarrassment of the Home Office in the 1980s, he campaigned strongly for a retrial of those convicted of the Guildford and Birmingham bombings, and consistently attacked the Appeal Court for its inadequacies in reversing miscarriages of justice.

Above all, however, Farr was a countryman and conservationist, before that term became fashionable. His environmental concern was, indeed, shown in his maiden speech in 1959, criticising the use of toxic sprays. Again, in 1972, he successfully opposed a Bill to set up an oil terminal on Anglesey and in 1975 he sought to change capital transfer tax provisions in order to protect wildlife areas. As a landowner, he was sharply critical of any extension to the rights of what he called "professional ramblers". He supported the rights of the Falkland islanders long before most members of the House of Commons were aware of the Argentinian threat. In 1981, moreover, he opposed government policy on Gibraltar, arguing that Gibraltarians should be granted British nationality.

John Farr was born in Nottingham in 1922, and educated at Harrow. In 1940, at the age of 18, he enrolled in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and later fought in the Mediterranean and the South Atlantic, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. After the war he entered the family brewing firm as executive director. After contesting the unwinnable seat of Ilkeston in 1955, he embarked on his long political career as a victor in the Conservative landslide on 1959.

He was to prove himself an adept parliamentarian, serving on various Select Committees, most importantly that on Standing Orders. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the UK Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from 1972 to 1974, and of the Conservative backbench Agriculture Committee and Northern Ireland Committee. From 1973 until 1978 he was a delegate to the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. He had a host of other interests, including - as he confessed in 1960 - a penchant for owning racehorses, which lost him money.

He was careless of his appearance, once evoking from David McKie of the Guardian the remark that his summer suit "looks as though it has just spent the winter in someone's laundry basket . . ." But, throughout his life he was brave, tenacious and industrious in pursuit of his manifold interests and concerns. Few politicians have served their country better without ever holding ministerial office.