'Awkward squad' MP Eric Forth dies aged 61

Eric Forth, the Conservative MP and one of the leading members of the Commons "awkward squad", has died from cancer, aged 61. An announcement from Conservative Campaign Headquarters yesterday said he had "died peacefully in his sleep" with his wife, Carol, at his side.

Mr Forth, who came from Glasgow, was famous for his wildly colourful ties, the long hours he put into parliamentary debate and his adroit use of parliamentary procedure, which frustrated and exasperated political opponents.

His death will trigger a by-election in the solidly Tory south London seat of Bromley and Chislehurst.

He held a number of senior posts, including that of Higher Education minister under John Major and the shadow Leader of the House under Iain Duncan Smith, with David Cameron, the present Tory leader, as his deputy. However, he was privately scathing about aspects of Mr Cameron's drive to modernise the party.

He was an obstinate defender of the rights of backbench MPs and voted frequently against his own party's political line. Two months ago, he was the leader of a group of just four Tory MPs who used Commons procedure to obstruct a private members' bill, put forward by the Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz, to tighten up planning laws to ensure that new developments did not add to climate change. He was too ill to prevent it going through the Commons last Friday.

Sir Malcom Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, told MPs that "he was an awkward customer".

But Mr Cameron said: "Watching him speak in Parliament as an MP and from the front bench was a masterclass in how you can use the House of Commons to hold governments to account.We certainly didn't agree about everything and the last thing he would want to be described as was 'a moderniser'."

Mr Forth was born on 9 September 1944 in Glasgow. He was educated at Jordanhill College School and the University of Glasgow. He was MP for mid-Worcestershire in 1983-97, and for Bromley and Chislehurst from 1997.