Obituary: Baroness Stedman

Baroness Stedman was the former Under-Secretary for the Environment in the Callaghan government and Leader of the SDP in the House of Lords from 1988 to 1991.

She was born Phyllis Adams, the only child of parents who brought her up in a modest, loving home in the railway city of Peterborough, in a tradition of integrity, practicality and the devotion of talent to the benefit of others. She became head girl at the County Grammar School in Peterborough where, to the warm approval of her trade-unionist father, she discovered a natural ability at public speaking and debate which opened the world of politics to her - never to be used for ambition, only for service.

She became a librarian and in 1934 attended her first trade union conference, as a most personable and enthusiastic delegate, at the age of 18.

When the Second World War broke out she entered the National Fire Service and was promoted to Group Officer, Derbyshire, in command of the county's force, including some 2,000 women. From this time she retained friendships which lasted over the next half- century, as well as the affectionate designation of "Miss Fire Service". She served as a member of the Executive Council of the Fire Service National Benevolent Fund from 1976 until her death.

In 1941 she married Harry Stedman, who also served in the Fire Service, continuing after the war as a volunteer. She helped Harry to rebuild his family rose-growing business at Longthorpe and to run it with success for over three decades. This took them both all over England and deepened their love for the countryside, above all the Lake District. In their domestic and business circle, among their neighbours and in their travels the Stedmans made lifelong friends. Not blessed with children of their own, they gave a number of young people the understanding, encouragement and love of the best parents and grandparents.

In 1946 Stedman stood as a Labour candidate for Cambridgeshire County Council and so began 29 years of continuous service; she was Vice- Chairman from 1974 to 1976. In 1965 she was appointed OBE, and her pleasure in this was completed when her husband received the same award for his service as a magistrate.

In 1976 she completed six years as a member of the Peterborough New Town Development Corporation. She had given unstinting encouragement to the outstanding team of officers who designed and created this successful transformation of the city which had always been her home. Linked to this interest was her involvement in accessible leisure facilities for the vastly increased townships, including the great new park and associated archaeology in the Nene Valley, and its preserved steam railway which, with John Horam, her then ministerial colleague, she opened in 1977.

These developments were for her an extension of her husband's and her own 29-year devotion to managing and financing the Peterborough Phab (Physically Handicapped/Able Bodied) club where, week after week, disabled and able- bodied children and young people were enabled to enjoy a full life together.

The final symbolic act of the Development Corporation, floodlighting Peterborough Cathedral - which she loved and attended - gave her special delight.

In 1975 she was made a life peer. She served as Baroness-in-Waiting from 1975 to 1979, when she became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment. (From 1974 to 1985, she also found time to engage in the broadcasting industry as a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and in Hereward Radio.)

Ministerial office was never better graced. Her perception of what was the right thing to do was instantaneous, her concern to see it done absolute. Her understanding of and sympathy with domestic life was profound yet realistic. So was her love of Britain and its heritage, and she rejoiced to make the final use of the National Land Fund in 1979 by the acquisition of Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, where domestic life has been quintessentially preserved from medieval times.

Stedman acted as Opposition spokesman for transport, the environment, local government and new towns from 1979 to 1981, when she joined the Social Democratic Party. She served the SDP successively as Whip, Chief Whip and Leader in the House of Lords. When the party was dissolved in 1991 she moved to the cross- benches, where her regular presence was marked by her reliable kindness and her considered participation.

Many of her interventions were in the interests of disabled people and their mobility, but she was also a firm champion of the House if she saw a sign of government paying insufficient regard to constitutional checks and balances.

Phyllis Adams, politician: born Peterborough 14 July 1916; OBE 1965; created 1974 Baroness Stedman; Baroness-in-Waiting 1974-79; government spokes-man on transport, the environment and trade, House of Lords 1975-79; Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State, Department of the Environment 1979; Opposition spokesman on the environment, local government, new towns and transport, House of Lords 1979-81; SDP whip 1982-86, Chief Whip 1986-88, Leader of SDP, House of Lords 1988-91; married 1941 Harry Stedman (died 1989); died Peterborough 8 June 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

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
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project