Obituary: Eric Taylor

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The Independent Online
Eric Scollick Taylor, parliamentary officer, priest: born Newcastle upon Tyne 16 April 1918; ordained priest, Liberal Catholic Church 1943; Clerk to Committee of Privileges, House of Commons 1949-57, Estimates Committee 1957-64, Committee of Public Accounts 1964-68, Clerk of the Journals 1972-75, Clerk of Committee Records 1975-83; consecrated bishop 1977; Presiding Bishop 1984-93, Regionary Bishop, Great Britain and Ireland 1985-93; died London 4 June 1995.

The varying roles of Eric Taylor - principally as a House of Commons Clerk but also as a bishop in the Liberal Catholic Church - projected him into a public arena where he was not always at ease. He was a shy man, although one of strong convictions. Tenacious of opinion, at times unreasonably intransigent, he could nevertheless see the funny side of things and in his dealings with younger people he was generous of his time and wisdom.

Hailing from the North-East, Taylor came to the Clerks Department of the House of Commons in the bleak days of 1942, a year after an enemy bomb had destroyed the Commons Chamber. He became an acolyte in, and then grand master of, the arcane school of procedure, modelling himself on his professional mentor L.A. Abraham, who had retired as a Principal Clerk in 1958.

Like "Abe", Taylor was conservative in his view of the institution and he witnessed the Crossman reforms of the mid-1960s with a jaundiced eye. His greatest lament was for the passing of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means, believing, with other traditionalists, that the dismantling of the classic system of financial control would lead to a diminution in the powers of the House vis-a-vis the executive. For most of his career as a Clerk, Taylor served Committees, perhaps most at home in the Byzantine refinements of the Privileges Committee which he advised for eight years.

A decade after his arrival in the Clerks Department came his book The House of Commons at Work (1951) which, through its numerous Penguin reprints, became a standard textbook in universities and schools. Taylor confessed a fear that he might one day be listening to a radio programme of the 10 worst- written books in the English language when a familiar passage of The House of Commons at Work would be read out. In fact his book remains the most pleasingly literary of the "guides" to Westminster procedure.

Outside the House, Taylor had been ordained as a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church in 1943, rose to a bishopric in 1977 and became Presiding Bishop from 1984 to 1993 after his retirement from the public service. In church matters, Taylor was more Catholic than Liberal, orthodox in his doctrinal views and enjoying the traditional rites of his church. These unprogressive proclivities did not please everyone but his achievement in holding together a small church scattered across 42 countries was not inconsiderable.

Taylor was a man of wide culture, with a mischievous sense of humour and a taste for the pleasures of life. With his companion, Betty Evans, he gave amusing and enjoyably eccentric parties in his various Chelsea abodes where an array of friends, raffish and respectable, rubbed shoulders in somewhat Bohemian surroundings.