Senior Labour backbencher Sir Stuart Bell dies after cancer battle


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Indy Politics

Senior Labour backbencher Sir Stuart Bell died this morning after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, his family said.

The 74-year-old had been MP for Middlesbrough for nearly three decades, and served in key positions in Parliament.

Sir Stuart was the son of a Durham miner, and, after a grammar school education, was briefly a colliery clerk and newspaper reporter before becoming a barrister.

Having lived and worked in Paris for a spell, he returned in 1977 to pursue a career in politics.

He unsuccessfully contested Hexham in 1979, and was a member of Newcastle City Council until he won Middlesbrough in 1983. He went on to hold the seat through seven general elections.

While never serving as a minister, Sir Stuart was the party's Northern Ireland spokesman during the 1980s.

And later in his career he was handed a powerful role on the Commons Commission - the body responsible for running the House.

He played a central role during one of Parliament's most difficult periods, as the long-running scandal of MPs' expenses abuses finally emerged in 2009.

Sir Stuart, who had been suffering pancreatic cancer, died at home with his family around him.

Mr Bell, who was married with one son, was knighted in 2004 for "services to Parliament" and was also awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 2006 for his contributions to Anglo-French relations.

A published novelist as well as the writer of several political works, his role as as MP saw him finally reach the Commons - where as a young man he had dreamed of working for the official record, Hansard.

He was soon appointed a Commons aide to Labour's deputy leader Roy Hattersley before taking on the Northern Ireland role - as well as working with families affected by the Cleveland child abuse scandal.

After the 1992 general election, he was shadow trade minister under both John Smith and Tony Blair and went on to serve for 13 years from 1997 as Second Church Estates Commissioner, handling church/state relations.

Among his political missions was to secure voting reform, leading Labour campaigns for a switch to AV - but he was an active opponent of the party's proposals to replace the House of Lords with a senate.

Labour former Europe minister Chris Bryant paid tribute to the "ardent and intelligent pro-European Labour MP" as parliamentary colleagues began to register their sorrow at his death via Twitter.

Ian Swales, the Liberal Democrat MP for neighbouring Redcar, wrote: "Very sad to hear of the death of Stuart Bell MP. Always a total gentleman to me."