Obituary: Baroness Stedman

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The Independent Online
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.