Obituaries:Lord Reigate

Click to follow
The Independent Online
John Vaughan-Morgan, created a baronet in 1960, and given a life peerage as Lord Reigate 10 years later, was one of the last of an almost specifically Conservative breed of politician - a Knight of the Shires. True, when in the House of Commons hesat for a Surrey seat, and Surrey scarcely qualifies as Shire territory, but his whole background suggested that great tradition of public service which this almost mythical description so fits. Lord Reigate did hold government office, but at a relatively junior level. He will be best remembered as a stalwart Tory, a conscience on the back benches and a goad of government. He was not insensitive to honours, was delighted to be appointed to the Privy Council, and was fond of remarking, after acquiring his baronetcy, ``My father was a mere knight.'' That remark, however, expresses humour, not snobbishness. He was the most unstuffy of men and a great servant of the public weal. He was also a distinguished soldier.

John Vaughan-Morgan was born in 1905. His father - Sir Kenyon - being an MP, a political instinct was instilled into him at an early age. He went to Eton and, later, to Christ Church, Oxford. In 1940 he married Emily Cross, an extrovert New Yorker. (An interesting subject for research would be the number of British politicians who have married American women.)

Vaughan-Morgan had only a few months of marriage before the outbreak of the Second World War. He enlisted in the Welsh Guards, and spent all the war on overseas service. Mentioned though he was in despatches, he was essentially a staff officer, rising, after the Normandy landings, to being the first General Staff Officer of the 21st Army Group. Without being brilliant, he was immensely (``immoderately'', said a contemporary) efficient, and unfailingly conscientious.

These qualities he brought to the ministerial appointments he was later to enjoy. He was made Parliamentary Under- Secretary to the Ministry of Health in 1957 and, in September that year, he moved up a rung to become Minister of State at the Board of Trade. This post he relinquished (``not without relief'', he used to say) after the 1959 general election. The Prime Minister of the day, Harold Macmillan, then in the full flush of his authority, wanted to bring on younger men; and Vaughan-Morgan was content with the back-bench role. Unlike many middle-ranking ministers who have not reached the Cabinet, he never evinced any sign that he felt unfulfilled.

Other than strictly political interests took up some of his time in later years. There were business concerns and - this was a task which gave him great satisfaction - for more than 10 years from 1963 he was Chairman of the Board of Governors of Westminster Hospital. He liked to say that, apart from giving him the chance to continue his pursuit of the interest he had acquired in health policy during his junior ministry, it was especially gratifying that his hospital and political home bore the same name.

Another, if smaller, distinction came Reigate's way when he was made an Honorary Freeman of the borough from which he took his title. This was in 1971, and it was a just reward for his devoted attention to his constituency over the years. In some ways, moreover, it symbolised his character as a man who valued local roots, and a man who had simple tastes. His favourite clubs, for example, did not include that bastion of Toryism, the Carlton, but did include the much more rudimentary Beefsteak, and - a testimony to his sporting interests - Hurlingham.

Sometimes forbidding in appearance and manner, Reigate was, on closer acquaintance, a convivial companion. He also had about him an inherent goodness of nature, and great dedication.

Patrick Cosgrave John Kenyon Vaughan-Morgan, politician: born 2 February 1905; member for Chelsea, London County Council 1946-52; MP (Conservative) for Reigate 1950-70; Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Health 1957; Minister of State, Board of Trade 1957-59; Bt 1960; PC 1961; Chairman, Board of Governors, Westminster Hospital 1963-74; created 1970 Baron Reigate; married 1940 Emily Cross (two daughters); died 26 January 1995.