Sir Lancelot Errington: Civil servant who helped found the Welfare State

 

Happily married to the same lady for 70 years, Lance Errington – it did not occur to us to call such an unpompous and witty man Lancelot – was a hugely effective civil servant who devoted his working life to welfare and his social life to keeping friendships in first-class repair.

Errington was born in the then ancestral home at Beeslack, Penicuik, the son of Major Lancelot Errington, who was fighting with the Royal Scots in Flanders at the time, and was subsequently to farm at Quinish on the Isle of Mull. I asked him how many servants there were in his childhood. "About 20," came the matter-of-fact reply.

With the prospect of being packed off to the Spartan, cold-bath regime of Belhaven prep school at seven, the family arranged for him to have boxing lessons. Errington told me that boxing had taught him to stay cool and keep a firm grip on his temper.

From Wellington Errington went to Trinity College, Cambridge, winning first class honours in History and entry into the Home Civil Service. With the prospect of war, he joined the RNVR. After basic training, in January 1940 Errington was given command of a mine-sweeping trawler, tasked to patrol the Firth of Forth and the approaches to Rosyth, based in Granton Harbour.

He recalled being at anchor in the Forth of Tay off Dundee when a signal came through that the German invasion fleet was on its way. "Our instructions were to set out to sea, to meet the German Armada, and if necessary to ram the German ships." With a chuckle – Errington often chuckled – he added: "By the grace of God the instruction turned out to be a false alarm."

Seconded in 1944 to work for the Admiralty in Bath, he found himself required to share an office with John Betjeman. With a twinkle, he complained that he would often discover the future Poet Laureate sleeping under his desk after a well-oiled lunch.

Back in the Home Office, Errington was one of a dozen officials detailed to work on the implementation of the Beveridge Report. He was one of the unsung practical creators of the Attlee government's Welfare State, and in particular the Ministry of National Insurance, to which he was to devote his talents. Credit tends to accrue to ministers; it was civil servants like Errington who did the crucial spadework to set up the framework of post-war state pensions and health provisions.

I first encountered Errington when he had been seconded to the Cabinet Office to try to sort out Lords reform. He and his colleagues came up with proposals for a two-tier chamber of voting and speaking peers. Errington was unsurprised when it was rejected by politicians in May 1968. As I had been Dick Crossman's PPS, a fly on the wall, on that occasion, I reminded Errington of it after he had retired to his beloved Fashnacloich in Appin, Argyll. "Lords reform," he grunted. "Mission impossible. Two years I wasted."

Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth, later Clerk of the Parliaments, was a member of the Inner Civil Service Working Group on Lords reform in 1967, along with Michael Moriarty, from the Home Office, and Errington from the Cabinet Office. He recalled, "Lance was an old-style civil servant, correct with ministers, and who did not kow-tow to them. I would go to a complicated meeting with complicated papers, and next day Errington as secretary of the group, would have produced detailed and accurate minutes. It was a genuine honour to have worked with him in those days."

Sir Patrick Nairne, his First Permanent Secretary at the DHSS, told me: "I was responsible for the oversight of this huge department. Lance, as one of two Second Permanent Secretaries, looked after his side of the department very efficiently. Whenever I phoned him, he knew the answer." Errington's mastery of complexity also won golden opinions from Brian O'Malley, the influential Minister of State directly responsible for pensions.

In her diaries Barbara Castle, then Secretary of State, records Errington being at her side in her formal encounters with Treasury ministers on Sunday 4 April 1976: "Lance Errington and Co are fighting magnificently on my behalf ... I can leave it to them to do the infighting."

The last 30 years were a time of extreme happiness for husband and wife, his son Humphrey told me: "She, a potter of no mean talent, established a studio in the former vestry, and he immersed himself in the affairs of the community and church as well as being able to indulge his passion for sailing on board his boat."

It came as a surprise to Whitehall colleagues that this Whitehall warrior should take himself off to a remote part of Scotland. It need not have, since for the next third of a century Errington achieved his wish, to immerse himself and his wife in the West Highlands – according to his son because "he had grown tired of the company of High Heidjins in London, and wanted to live among normal people again."

Lancelot Errington, senior civil servant: born Penicuik, Midlothian 14 June 1917; Ministry of National Insurance 1945-65; Cabinet Office 1965-68; Department of Health and Social Security 1968-76, Second Permanent Secretary 1973-76; CB 1962, KCB 1976; married 1939 Katherine Reine (died 2009; two sons, two daughters); died Kirkcaldy 18 October 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Civil Engineering

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Business: This company is going thro...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS1 & KS2 Teachers Required

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment are currently working...

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea