AS A minister of the Crown in the Scottish Office, Jack Nixon Browne was an unimpressive public performer. But as a member of the House of Lords, and Lord Craigton, he was a most useful member of select committees, and for the last 20 years chaired the All Party Conservation Committee with energy and distinction.
Long before it was fashionable, Craigton was a champion of conservation. Indeed, as a frequent attender in Committee Room 4B in the Lords corridor, to which Craigton invited speakers to the All Party Conservation Group of both Houses of Parliament, I would marvel at how the curmudgeonly and irascible minister with whom I had had dealings in the early 1960s could have metamorphosed into a genial, effective, dedicated pioneer of enlightened conservation policies. Part of the answer was that, though he represented a Scottish constituency by chance, he was ill at ease with the Scots, and the Scots wondered how he had come to hold ministerial office in St Andrew's House. It was Browne's misfortune that his life as a parliamentary private secretary, parliamentary secretary, and Minister of State was confined to the Scottish Office.
Browne was the son of Edwin Izod, a businessman connected with mining machinery who had bases both in Rugby and Johannesburg. He was born in 1904 and spent much of his boyhood in South Africa where the seeds were sown of his lifelong fascination with fauna and flora. When Harold Macmillan made him a life peer in 1959, his friends were not surprised that he took an unusual coat of arms of six leopard faces.
Izod, as he then was, was sent to Cheltenham College. In 1920, under family pressure, he changed his name from Izod to Nixon Browne, because it was thought to be more acceptable to the business milieu in Britain in which the family moved.
In 1939, Browne volunteered for the RAF, and made his name in Balloon Command. This was later to be a source of some unkind ribaldry among parliamentary colleagues who thought that they themselves had been at a rather sharper end of the struggle against Hitler. However, one man at least took a different view, and that man was in a position to know. After I was elected to Parliament in 1962, I used to visit Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder, my father's crippled, but still alert, widower cousin at his Surrey home. In the course of conversation Tedder said: 'Do you have anything to do with Nixon Browne, now Lord something or another?' 'Yes,' I replied.' 'Inventive fellow,' Tedder said, 'did a good job with his balloons in protecting our runways and cities.' Arthur Tedder was not one to praise an acting group captain like Browne without reason.
Through a chum connected with Balloon Command and friends of his first wife, Helen Inglis, Browne was given the opportunity to contest the Glasgow Govan seat. In the Labour landslide of 1945, he failed to win but was given another bite of the cherry in 1950 when the Tories began their dramatic come-back in Scotland, on their way to taking a majority of seats and over half the popular vote in 1955. Extraordinary as it may seem today, Browne held Govan until 1959 (for the last four years the constituency was known as Craigton). That he did so had much to do with the Orange Lodge vote which was then as blue as the football strip of Glasgow Rangers, whose ground at Ibrox Park was in Browne's constituency.
Browne was Parliamentary Private Secretary to James Stuart, the Secretary of State for Scotland. Browne liked to tell of the late-night sagas involving Scottish business in the 1950s when the Conservatives were kept up night after night. On one occasion the late Willy Ross growled at Stuart, 'Speak up, we can't hear you.' 'Sorry,' replied the languid aristocrat, 'I would have been speaking up if I thought anyone was listening]'
In April 1955 Browne was promoted to Under-Secretary under Stuart, a position he held when in 1957 Stuart became Viscount Findhorn, to be succeeded by Jack Maclay. On losing his seat in 1959, Browne was elevated to the Lords as Lord Craigton and became Minister of State. Nowadays, no one bats the proverbial eyelid when Lynda Chalker is defeated at Wallasey but goes to the Lords and continues as Minister for Overseas Development, or Peter Fraser, having been rejected by South Angus, turns up as Lord Advocate, and now Minister of State at the Scottish Office. In the 1960s, it created great resentment that a defeated candidate should be resurrected as Minister of State.
As one of the government's senior representatives in Scotland he seemed to be inadequate and was one of those blamed for the demise of Tory fortunes from the position of majority party. However, this judgement may be harsh, and a senior civil servant tells me that Craigton did a good job in the protracted, if in retrospect misguided, negotiations which resulted in BMC coming to Bathgate, the Rootes car plant to Linwood, and the steel industry to Ravenscraig.
At the age of 60, on the fall of the Conservative government in 1964, Craigton rebuilt his successful business career in London. He became chairman of United Biscuits Holdings in 1967, and was president of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce.
But many of us will remember Craigton for his sustained interest in wildlife. For 10 years he was vice- chairman of the Fauna Preservation Society, becoming chairman in 1981- 83. Concerned with conditions in zoos, he was vice-president of the World Wildlife Fund and was one of the driving forces as a trustee of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust.
He was justifiably immensely proud of the garden which he and his second wife, Eileen, of 43 years, had created at Wraysbury. No one has used his position in the House of Lords more effectively to promote the cause of ecological understanding.