Soon after entering the House of Commons through a by-election in 1957, I met for the first time Dick Nugent. The then Member for Guildford was a junior minister at the Department of Transport and I had been appointed as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. From the day of my appointment there began a friendship which I valued greatly and which I will always remember with gratitude.
Nugent had already served as a junior minister at the Department of Agriculture and after 1959 he became an influential and much-respected backbencher. As a member of the Executive of the 1922 Committee he exerted a wise and particularly steadying influence on his parliamentary colleagues. This influence he continued to wield in the Commons and the Lords all his life.
In addition to his parliamentary duties he held a number of important public positions. Before becoming MP for Guildford he was a leading figure in the National Farmers Union and after his ministerial period he was chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board from 1960 to 1974. Because of his great knowledge of the water industry, he was appointed as the first chairman of the National Water Council in 1973. When the Water Bill was before the House of Lords at committee stage, in 1989, Nugent moved an amendment which would have meant that the 10 water authorities being privatised would become statutory companies, controlled in price and dividend. The amendment was not accepted, but it was quite an occasion, with a crowded House, a mark of the regard in which he was held.
He was also the influential president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. After his elevation to the peerage in 1966 as Lord Nugent of Guildford he served on a number of Select Committees and was a senior deputy speaker. In the Lords his well-considered and timely speeches were listened to with immense respect.
My wife once said of him: 'Dick looks after his friends as a good gardener tends his flowers.' He had immense patience and took the problems of those he loved as his problems. He gave them thought and always gave sound and considered advice. He had the remarkable ability of analysing his friends' disappointments and then making them seem not disappointments at all but, rather, opportunities. .
To visit and stay in Blacknest Cottage, the Nugents' house in Surrey, was a joy I often knew. Immensely patriotic, Dick loved particularly his County of Surrey, which in his earlier days he served as a county councillor. On one of my visits over a weekend, with Ruth, his wife, we set forth after morning service in the village church to have a picnic lunch. We climbed a very steep wooded hill with the then very fit Dick firmly leading the way. It was fine for Ruth - she was used to it - but it was all I could do to keep up. But then came the reward. We looked on that lovely autumn day over the Downs to the English Channel in the far distance. Dick then said, 'Is that not the most beautiful view? And it's all for free.'
Towards the end of his life Dick Nugent suffered considerable pain which he bore with great courage and patience. Throughout his life he was strong in his Christian faith and he knew the love of Ruth, his lifetime companion. In all my life I never knew a nicer man.
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