Obituary: Sir James Scott-Hopkins

Click to follow
The Independent Online
James Sidney Rawdon Scott-Hopkins, politician, farmer, soldier: born 29 November 1921; MP (Conservative) for North Cornwall 1959-66, for West Derbyshire 1967-79; MEP 1973-94 (elected MEP for Hereford and Worcester and West Gloucestershire 1979-94); Kt 1981; married 1946 Geraldine Hargreaves (three sons, one daughter); died London 11 March 1995.

Jim Scott-Hopkins was a rising young minister under Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home who was passed over by Edward Heath and eschewed by Margaret Thatcher until he became the inevitable choice to lead the British Conservative Group in the first directly elected European Parliament. He never coveted the fruits of high office which other smaller folk obtained (Scott-Hopkins stood 6ft 3in tall) because his motivation was service rather than personal advancement.

The core of his political belief was greater European co- operation, which he felt must be manifested in practical solutions to common problems rather than in ideological dogma. His love of Europe started early - his mother died when he was nine and much of the school holidays was spent on the continent. His commitment to avoiding another European war (he himself served with distinction during the Second World War, mainly in Asia) was total; his chosen method of realising this ambition was through an ever closer union.

Staying with him at Edensor, his home at the heart of his West Derbyshire constituency, I asked him in 1977 what his plans were. "To go to Europe if I can find a seat," he said. He did - serving Herefordshire, Worcestershire and West Gloucestershire for 15 years. Giving up his safe seat at Westminster - the only Conservative MP to do so - was a wrench, but there was never any question about keeping faith with his European ideal.

In his political career he was probably happiest as an Agriculture Minister between 1962 and 1964. He adored the county shows. But he was also able to bring considerable intellectual vigour to the conflicting demands of agricultural support and Treasury restraint. The introduction of standard quantities was strongly opposed by the farming lobby and it was Scott- Hopkins - rather than his titular boss Christopher Soames - who took much of the strain of putting the Government's case.

Nearly 20 years later he was under fire again - this time from a cabal of fellow MEPs who were determined to oust him as British Conservative Leader in the European Parliament. They succeeded. Yet perhaps more remarkable was that Scott-Hopkins ever got the job at all. Not that he was unqualified for it.

As Deputy Conservative leader in the pre-1979 nominated parliament he was totally loyal to Peter Kirk (taking over as leader when Kirk was ill). After Kirk died, Thatcher appointed Geoffrey Rippon to lead the Group. When the attempt to impose Paul Channon on the selection committee in North East Essex failed, Scott-Hopkins was still there.

By common consent he was extremely good on the pastoral side. But the politics of the European Democratic Group (as the Conservative MEPs then styled themselves) was a minefield. Many of the incomers were gauche or political innocents, some both. The leader had no real stick and few carrots, while the tensions between those who were Conservatives and those who were Christian Democrats - even more accentuated today - were not obviously reconcilable. At the same time Margaret Thatcher expected, and from Scott- Hopkins got, loyal support for her "our money" campaign.

The dismissal by his colleagues - in February 1982 - was brutish, painful and bruising. But he rapidly returned to form -never frightened to speak out. At the height of the seal-culling row he sported a sealskin waistcoat in the European Parliament, having, as leader of the EP-Canadian parliamentary group, investigated the matter himself. In the late Eighties - after a quadruple coronary by-pass - he went bouncing over the desert for 10 hours to meet Jonas Savimbi. In the summer of 1993 he met all sections of opinion in South Africa, helping to make the 1994 election work.

Politics was but part of Jim Scott-Hopkins's life. Riding and shooting when younger gave way to more sedate pursuits - playing chess, perhaps after lunch in the Commons, sometimes with Teddy Taylor (``not the most difficult opponent'') or bridge at Edensor partnered by me (``what a balls up of that you made, Richard'').

Unquestionably a Cavalier and never a Roundhead, Jim Scott-Hopkins adored his family as they did him. Geraldine - as well as being his true political pair - was the perfect companion, in politics as much as when they were raising pigs and milking in Hampshire. When we talked in recent months it was often to North Cornwall, where his heart really lay, that we turned; his mind alert as the physical form collapsed under the ravages of lung cancer.

Comments