Sir Ralph Howell: Norfolk farmer and Tory MP

Ralph Howell was an outspoken and unashamed right-wing Conservative from farming stock, and a successful farmer in his own right. He recaptured Norfolk North for the Conservative Party in 1970 and held the seat until 1997.

Well-regarded within the party, Howell served on the executive of the 1922 Committee from 1984 until 1990. His main expertise and interest lay in what he saw as the malign interaction of the tax and social security system, which made it more beneficial for half the working population not to work, and he regularly urged the case for raising the tax threshold, publishing a well-argued statement of the case for such a move, Why Work?, in 1976. He became a strong advocate of "workfare" and a stern critic of welfare scroungers.

In 1988, anticipating what was later to become a Blairite policy, he attempted unsuccessfully to introduce a Bill to bring in compulsory national identity cards. He also wanted to block social security payments to newly arrived immigrants and childless couples, and became an advocate of a year's compulsory National Work Service for all school-leavers. More publications followed: Why Not Work? in 1991 and Putting Britain Back to Work in 1995.

His final effort was a Right to Work Bill, introduced in 1996 with support from MPs of all parties. Based on his belief that most unemployed people want to work, it suggested the state should be the employer of last resort, offering work to those who could not find a job. There were moments in the 1980s, particularly when he ousted Jim Lester from the chair of the Conservative backbench employment committee in 1983, when it looked as if his views might prevail. Margaret Thatcher had a considerable regard for him and his ideas, but her ministers were wary and he remained a prophet in the wilderness.

Ralph Frederic Howell was born in 1923 and educated at Diss Grammar School. He joined the RAF in 1941 and served as a navigator and bomb-aimer with Bomber Command. He ended the Second World War a Flight Lieutenant. When he was demobilised in 1946, he began farming, with 90 acres to his name. He ended with an 800-acre holding near Dereham and other holdings. From 1963 until 1980 he served on the Board of the Mid-Norfolk Farmers Trading Company, and in 1973 he became an underwriter at Lloyd's.

He served as the local chairman of the NFU, but alongside his farming interests engaged himself in the Conservative Party. He was the founder chairman of the Dereham Young Conservatives in 1947, and became a leading light of the South West Norfolk Conservative Association, serving as its chairman, 1961-65. He had also been elected to the Mitford and Launditch Rural District Council in 1961.

The Conservatives had lost North Norfolk by 53 votes in the 1964 general election and Howell was chosen in February 1965 to win it back. With the Labour tide running strongly in March 1966, it proved too difficult a task. The Labour majority widened to 737, but Howell was thought to have done well. In 1970 he took the seat by 4,684 and retained it at six general elections before standing down in 1997. In 1974, he was nominated to serve in the European Parliament and served on the assembly of the Council of Europe 1987-97.

Howell served on the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, the Social Services Select Committee and the Employment Select Committee, but his more influential role was played on the backbench committees of the Conservative Party, where he served as vice-chairman and secretary of the Employment Committee before becoming its chairman in 1984. In 1987 he stood down in order to become chairman of the Agriculture Committee, but lost that job a year later when he inadvertently gave his supporters the wrong time for the vote! From 1979 to 1983 he had also been vice-chairman of the backbench Finance Committee, where he proved a strong advocate of tax cuts to be financed by cuts in what he saw as the bloated bureaucracy of the NHS.

Although in most things an orthodox right-winger, arguing for the whites in Southern Rhodesia and the Turks in Northern Cyprus, Howell remained his own man. He was ready to criticise ministers when they had things wrong, and he abstained in protest against the poll tax on many occasions. He sought tougher legislation on the trade unions than James Prior, the Secretary of State for Employment, was ready to contemplate, and was deeply critical of the Government's deal with the trade unions over contracting out in 1984.

Predictably he was a founder member of the 1992 Group, but he enjoyed the respect and a good deal of affection from a much wider constituency in the party as a man who had served country, constituency and party well.

John Barnes

Ralph Frederic Howell, politician and farmer: born 25 May 1923; MP (Conservative) for North Norfolk 1970-97; Member of the European Parliament 1974-79; Kt 1993; married 1950 Margaret Bone (died 2005; two sons, one daughter); died Norwich 14 February 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
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
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015