Obituary: Lord Tranmire
Friday 21 January 1994
IF THE OLD saying required proof that good works produce a long life - and a happy one - then one only need turn to the example of Robin Turton, Lord Tranmire, who has died at the age of 90. He was the epitome of the Tory squire and politician with a highly developed social conscience. He was involved in numerous good causes. And, though his ministerial career was relatively brief, he served as an MP long enough to become Father of the House and to earn the respect of members on all sides save, perhaps, that of Harold Macmillan.
Robin Turton came into a difficult inheritance. The family farm in Yorkshire - and the family seat - Upsall Castle in Yorkshire - were both in some disrepair when he took them over. Well before the time of his death, however, he had repaired the family fortune. Meanwhile, at the tender age of 26, he had become both a barrister and an MP. He had been interested in politics from an early age, but his election to Parliament was secured in singularly fortuitous circumstances. His uncle had been the member for Thirsk and Malton since 1914. On the eve of the 1929 general election Sir Edmund Turton died and the local Conservative association promptly decided to adopt him as their candidate. He was elected, and served until his elevation to the House of Lords in 1974.
For 22 years he was a backbencber. A shy and diffident man handicapped - unusually for an advocate - by a stammer, he did not make any particular mark in the House until Anthony Eden advised Winston Churchill to give him office. Turton served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. Later he held the same rank at the Foreign Office. At the end of 1955 Eden promoted him to be Minister of Health (not then a post of Cabinet rank). But, when Eden was succeeded by Macmillan, his ministerial career came to an end.
In the meantime he had had a successful war, winning the Military Cross, and serving in various staff positions in North Africa. After his political demotion he busied himself with many parliamentary committees, and became chairman of the Select Committee on Estimates. Having, in 1930, procured the establishment of a system of legal aid to help those too poor to take their grievances to court, he continued to concern himself with the problems of the disadvantaged. He was also increasingly involved in Commonwealth affairs, and this involvement led him, in 1975, to become president - at the instigation of his old friend, the late Neil Marten, the MP for Banbury - of the campaign to withdraw the United Kingdom from the Common Market.
His Commons career was prolonged in odd circumstances. He had announced his intention to retire and the constituency association had chosen Jonathan Aitken to succeed him. Aitken, however - along with the Sunday Telegraph for which he then wrote - was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, as a consequence of reports on the Nigerian civil war. Aitken withdrew, and Turton continued to serve until Aitken won his case. That was typical of the man. Modest about himself he was, but he was unflinching in his devotion to what he saw as his duty.
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