Wing Cdr Sir Eric Bullus

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The Independent Online

Eric Edward Bullus, journalist and politician: born Peterborough 20 November 1906; staff, Yorkshire Post 1923-46; member, Leeds City Council 1930-40; Secretary, London Municipal Society 1947-50; member, Harrow UDC 1947-50; MP (Conservative) for Wembley North 1950-74; PPS to Secretary for Overseas Trade, and to Minister of State 1953-56, to Minister of Aviation 1960-62, to Secretary of State for Defence 1962-64; Kt 1964; married 1949 Joan Denny (died 1993; two daughters); died Herne Bay, Kent 31 August 2001.

Eric Bullus achieved a childhood ambition when he entered the House of Commons, as one of a remarkable intake of Conservative MPs. Although he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary for Overseas Trade in 1953 and subsequently served first as PPS to Toby Low as Minister of State at the Board of Trade, 1954-56, and then in the same capacity to Peter Thorneycroft between 1960 and 1963, his part in the Commons was that of a stalwart backbencher of very traditional views.

Unsurprisingly, he was hostile to Britain's entry into the EEC and that brought him into conflict with his constituency party in Wembley North. He spoke strong words about the dangers of the loss of British sovereignty and when the decision in principle was taken on a free vote, he voted against entry. Subsequently in 1972 he defied a three-line whip to vote in favour of a referendum on the whole issue. He had assured his constituency party that he would not vote against the Government if there was a threat to its continuance and he was one of those called in to learn from the Prime Minister's lips that the vote on the European Communities Bill would be regarded as an issue of confidence.

Although he voted for the second reading, he opposed the crucial second clause which gave European legislation the force of a parliamentary enactment. Thereafter he loyally supported the Government on further crucial votes including the third reading. But it was no great surprise that, when boundary changes took place and he had to seek nomination for the new seat of Brent North against five others, among them the youthful Michael Howard, he should have lost out to the charismatic figure of Dr Rhodes Boyson.

Perhaps unfairly, he is best remembered as a staunch supporter of the birch, having launched an unsuccessful Private Member's Bill in 1952 to reintroduce it as a penalty for crimes of violence. Less controversially, as a long-serving councillor, first in Leeds and then on the Harrow Urban District Council, he was a powerful backer of giving local government more freedom and strongly supported the measures taken by Duncan Sandys to that end in the mid-1950s.

Although he liked to think of himself as a staunch Yorkshireman and was proud of his election, not uncontested, as President of the Society of Yorkshiremen in London in 1969/70, Eric Edward Bullus was actually born in Peterborough, in 1906. He was the second son and one of five children born to Thomas Bullus, who was from Leeds and had moved south to take up a position as a Sun Insurance manager.

After the family's return north, Bullus was educated at Leeds Modern School and at Leeds University. He was later to write the school's history and serve on its governing body for 18 years. He also gave service to the university as a foundation member of the Brotherton Collection Committee in 1935.

By profession he was a journalist. He had joined the Yorkshire Post in 1923, but from 1930 politics became his prime interest. At the age of only 23, he became the youngest member of the Leeds City Council and among his achievements as Chairman of the Libraries and Arts Committee was responsible for launching the Leeds Lunchtime Concerts. Typically he recalled that in the course of a decade he had served on no fewer than 18 of the council's 25 committees.

In August 1940 he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the RAF Volunteer Reserve and served in the Air Ministry War Room until 1943. Promotion to Flying Officer and Flight Lieutenant followed. In 1943 he was appointed to Mountbatten's staff in South East Asia and promoted to Wing Commander the following year. He was demobilised in December 1945 and rejoined the Yorkshire Post, serving in its Fleet Street office.

Determined to fulfil his political ambitions, he was appointed in November 1947 to be the assistant secretary of the London Municipal Society, the body that fought London elections on behalf of the Conservative Party, and succeeded to the secretaryship in 1948. Working closely with the chairman, John Hare, and with Henry Brooke, he was a major contributor to the party's success in the 1949 London County Council elections.

His own political career developed in parallel, first as a Harrow councillor, 1947-50, and then as the successful candidate for Wembley North in the general election of February 1950, a seat which he held comfortably even in 1966. He served briefly as secretary of the Conservative backbench defence committee and as vice-chairman of its Air sub-committee, positions that he gave up on becoming Thorneycroft's PPS at Aviation in 1960. He was knighted for his services in 1964.

In 1957 he was the author of a Bill to give parish councils power to light roads and public places and to protect footpaths and public spaces, and in a fruitful act of rebellion he backed Sir Gerald Nabarro's successful campaign to be rid of Schedule A taxation. Bullus also claimed a major contribution to Britain's postal system. An inveterate contributor to the press, he relied greatly on the post to deliver his articles on time. Let down more than once, he suggested in 1966 that there should be a special stamp guaranteeing next-day delivery. He liked to believe that this had played its part in Tony Benn's decision to move to a two-tier mail system.

Bullus had always been an active sportsman. He played football for the Yorkshire Amateurs, cricket for the Leeds Cricket Club and rugger for Headingley. As an MP, he played 71 matches for the Lords and Commons Cricket Team. He served as its Treasurer from 1957 until he stood down in 1974 and he wrote its history in 1959.

As a committed Christian, Bullus became a lay reader in the diocese of Ripon in 1929 and subsequently exercised his vocation in London from 1947, St Albans from 1960 and for the last 35 years of his life at St Martin in Herne in the Canterbury diocese. He was also a member of the Central Readers' Board. A keen statistician (he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1949) he calculated that he had preached almost one thousand sermons and on the 70th anniversary of his admission received a letter of congratulation from the Bishop of Maidstone.

From 1960 until 1970 he was a member of the House of Laity. Earlier he had served on the Archdeaconry Council in Delhi in 1944 and the same year wrote History of the Church in Delhi. In 1954 he was appointed to the management board of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, where a close colleague was the future Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie.

John Barnes