The Earl of Lauderdale: Scottish Unionist MP who helped lead the rebellion over the Suez crisis

From 1968, for the next quarter of a century, early every evening when Parliament was sitting, a large, bustling figure – pince-nez quivering, hair flying – would swoop down the corridor from "the Other Place", and through the House of Commons Members' Lobby, through New Palace Yard to Westminster tube station. On his way he would button-hole any acquaintance he met to promote his cause of the moment – something always worthy, usually important, and occasionally barmy. This was Patrick Maitland, 17th Earl of Lauderdale, 18th Lord Maitland, 17th Lord Thirlestane and Boltoun, 13th Nova Scotia Baronet of Ravelrig, Hereditary Bearer of the National Flag of Scotland by Decrees of the Lord Lyon King of Arms 1790 and 1952, heading home after his working day.

He might have seemed to some a figure of fun. But that would not be accurate. In late middle age, and into advanced old age, he could laugh at himself. He was not an eccentric; he was an original. And, in his prime, as a Conservative MP in the 1950s, Maitland was anything but a figure of fun. Like many Conservative MPs he stood as a Unionist – nobody was more opposed to Scottish devolution than he was. He was a major problem for the Government whips, as the right-hand man of Capt Charles Waterhouse, ring leader of the Suez rebels. Maitland had the Conservative government whip withdrawn from him in 1957. He was a principled politician, willing to eschew personal advantage. A lot of us may think that the Tory Suez rebels were wrong-headed, but they had their political beliefs and stuck to them, knowing that they were probably sacrificing their careers.

Patrick Maitland metamorphosed into the Earl of Lauderdale by a most circuitous route. It was a series of unanticipated deaths that led him in 1968 to the title, which had originated with the "L" of Charles II's "cabal". With this unexpected inheritance, Maitland, not a bitter man, did tell me that he thought that the great house at Thirlestane near Lauder should have gone with the Earldom, rather than to the family of his friends, the Maitland-Carews. His father was an Anglican minister (and the second son of the 13th Earl of Lauderdale) and he himself was deeply religious throughout his life, being one of the Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, in Norfolk.

At Lancing, Maitland was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh, and went on to read History at Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1933, he joined Beaverbrook Newspapers and was a sub-editor on the Daily Express, being taken under the wing of the great Beaverbrook editor, the hugely demanding Arthur Christiansen. Christopher Soames, a journalist colleague working in the same office, later to be a Tory cabinet minister and European Commissioner, told me that Maitland was a very good journalist.

It was natural that in 1939 Maitland should become a war correspondent. At the outbreak of hostilities he found himself in Poland for a year. This was followed by two eventful years covering the Balkans before he was sent to the Pacific in 1941. In 1943, he was poached by Foreign Office Intelligence.

Though not in uniform, he was thought to have had "a very good war" and in 1951 was chosen as the Conservative candidate in the general election of that year to succeed Lord Dunglass (Alec Douglas-Home), who had become the Earl of Home. Always one to poke fun at himself, he observed that there were people among his constituents in Lanarkshire who thought that their candidate was déclassé compared with his predecessor. Because my West Lothian constituency bordered South Lanarkshire across the Fauldhouse Moor, I know that Maitland was regarded as an excellent constituency MP, a point conceded by Peggy Herbison, MP for North Lanarkshire 1945-70, and sometime Minister of Pensions and Chairman of the Labour Party.

However, in 1959, Maitland was defeated by 540 votes by the glamorous young Labour candidate Judith Hart. Maitland kept 24,631 votes but succumbed to Mrs Hart's 25,171. Because of his rebellion on Suez and the enmity of the Government Chief Whip, Edward Heath, there was never any chance that he would be selected for a Conservative seat elsewhere. So he devoted himself to work in industry, particularly as a director of Elf Petroleum.

In 1968, he succeeded as 17th Earl of Lauderdale, on the death of his elder brother (who had inherited through their father, the second son of the 13th Earl). Maitland revelled in becoming a Member of Parliament again, albeit in the House of Lords. He became Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Energy, Transport and Research, and in 1974 Chairman of the European Communities Scrutiny Committee. He was a regular attender of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee and I had a lot to do with him when I was Secretary. He was co-founder and, from 1980 to 1999, vice-chairman of the All-Party Group for Energy Studies.

Even as a nonagenarian, he was as energetic and as enthusiastic as ever, although he greatly missed his wife Stanka, who died in 2003. With good reason, he was proud of his sons and of his daughters, one of whom, Lady Olga Maitland, followed in her father's footsteps as a journalist and politician, serving as Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam from 1992 to 1997.

Tam Dalyell

Patrick Francis Maitland, journalist and politician: born Walsall 17 March 1911; journalist 1933-59; Balkans and Danubian Correspondent, The Times 1939-41; Special Correspondent, Washington, News Chronicle 1941, War Correspondent, Pacific, Australia, New Zealand 1941-43; Editor, The Fleet Street Letter Service 1945-58; Editor, The Whitehall Letter 1945-58; MP (Unionist) for Lanark 1951-59 (Independent Conservative May-Dec 1957); succeeded 1968 as 17th Earl of Lauderdale; married 1936 Stanka Lozanitch (died 2003; two sons, two daughters); died London 2 December 2008.