OBITUARY: Lord McFadzean

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Knighted by Macmillan, ennobled by Wilson, created a Knight of the Thistle by the Queen, William Hunter McFadzean was one of the heavyweight British businessmen of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

In 1966, Harold Wilson as Prime Minister wanted to give every public sign both of promoting meritocrats, and sending magnanimous gestures to captains of industry and olive branches to the City of London. No one fitted his bill better than the canny Scots lad o' pairts William McFadzean. Wilson adored choosing people for the Lords. "Well you see I've created a great Scots nobleman!" he said to Judith Hart and myself one night in the voting lobby. He was pleased as Punch. What he did not add was that his nobleman was also the chairman of the biggest employer in the Huyton constituency, British Insulated Callender's Cables, and had been a personal friend on a constituency basis for many years. But it was a perspicacious choice by the Prime Minister. And it was justified.

McFadzean was a mixture of formidable businessman of ferocious drive and rasping Scottish accent, and a man of genuine humility with an ability, often found in Scots, to mix easily in England. I knew him as a great encourager of younger people, not least those like me about whose political views he had many qualms.

McFadzean was the son of a travelling instructor in cheesemaking who went from farm to farm in the area of the Solway giving farmers his expertise. Cheesemaking was far from the automatic process it is today. In that area of south-west Scotland the huge amounts of milk produced from wonderful pasture could not be drunk fresh, and in the years before the establishment of creameries it was important that individual farms should be able to make their own cheese and butter. McFadzean's father died in 1918 when William was 14. But he often returned to Garthland and his brother's family.

Encouraged by teachers at Stranraer in the way that Scottish dominies would do their very best for their talented pupils, McFadzean was sent to the High School of Glasgow and on to do accountancy at Glasgow University. He distinguished himself as a hockey player and shined in the Glasgow Western hockey team. Hockey - an unglamorous sport in Britain - was to get his support for the rest of his life.

He joined the Glasgow accountants McLay, McAllister and McGibbon, "the three Ms" as they were widely known, in 1922. They gave him five years' rigorous training and entry to the equally rigorous Glasgow accountants Chalmers, Wade & Company. It was at the end of this period that he married Eileen, daughter of Arthur Gordon of Blundellsands, who was to be his constant support for over 62 years.

His greatest step was in 1932 to leave Glasgow for Liverpool and join British Insulated Cables as their accountant. He rose steadily to become financial secretary in 1937 and executive manager in 1942, playing an important role in British war production. At the end of the war there was an amalgamation between British Insulated Cables and Callender's Cable and Construction Company. McFadzean was appointed to the board as executive director and became deputy chairman in 1947 and chief executive director in 1950. No man played a greater part in building up BICC to be one of Britain's most successful companies and rated on a world-wide basis.

McFadzean's interest in the growing nuclear industry made him a key member, too, of the main board of the National Nuclear Corporation in the 1970s and a deputy chairman of RTZ . By this time he had developed enormous clout. He was a former President of the Federation of British Industries (1959-61). He had been chairman of the Industrial Federations of the European Free Trade Area in the early 1960s and a founder of the Export Council for Europe. About another free trade area, the North Atlantic Free Trade Area and the special relationship with Canada and the United States McFadzean said:

Emotionally this must appeal to us with so many of our kith and kin in these countries and with almost a common language between us but this, too, is not realistic. Certainly from my frequent visits to Canada and the States I cannot find any real desire for such a relationship existing politically or economically. It could only lead gradually to domination, to our being the 51st State. I am all for partnership; but I am fundamentally against domination.

Possibly that was why he was such a determined European.

In 30 years' membership of the House of Lords he took five years before making his maiden speech; and it was his only speech. Scarcely ever can one speech have been more weighty. It was on 26 July 1971, in the crucial debate on entry into the European Community. McFadzean ended movingly:

I first came into national life at the time of Messina and I witnessed then the tragedy of Britain not participating in the talks that led up to the Treaty of Rome. I subsequently watched at close quarters the inception and development of the Common Market. Of course it has had, and will continue to have, its problems. But it is an inspiring conception and has achieved much not only economically but in so many other ways as for example the dedication of its people. How many European industrialists . . . were frightened to death when their country joined it but who today thank God they did? It will in time fulfil, I am confident, all its high objectives.

When I asked one of his colleagues in the Midland Bank, of which he was deputy chairman from 1968 to 1977, what he thought McFadzean's contribution had been he replied laconically, "Vision". McFadzean was a man of judgement who turned out to be right far more often than most in public life.

Tam Dalyell

William Hunter McFadzean, businessman: born Stranraer, Wigtownshire 17 December 1903; managing director, BICC 1954-61, chairman 1954-73, honorary president 1973; President, Federation of British Industries 1959-61; director, Midland Bank 1959-81, deputy chairman 1968-77; Kt 1960; created 1966 Baron McFadzean; KT 1976; married 1933 Eileen Gordon (one son, one daughter, and one adopted daughter deceased); died Bath 14 January 1996.