Howe, Geoffrey (1 of 1). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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House of Lords, London
Howe, Geoffrey, 1926-2015 (speaker, male)
Greenwood, Mike, 1959- (speaker, male)
Part 1: Talks about his early family life and parents’ background in Wales. Went to Welsh chapel. Politically his grandfather and great uncle were Liberals. Talks about his Great uncle [00.55]. Regrets at not learning to speak Welsh. Wife called him “a fiery Welshman” –but flames diminished by being a Wykhamist by education. Born 1926, aware of long queues outside labour exchange in the 1920s -Port Talbot was a working class town [02.10] with steel works. Grandfather was a founder member of a trades union. Later, as a barrister, his best clients were in the Iron and Steeltrades Confederation. Development of personal political views [3.18] as protégé of friend (Robert Sheaf) at Winchester. Wrote “Charter of St Martha’s Vineyard” influenced by GK Chesterton –mixed but individualistic [4.20] Going to Winchester public school after local schools. Interesting and diverse influences –headmaster Spencer Leeson became Bishop of Peterborough –introduced him to Europe. Eric James was responsible for Debating Society which he joined. Winchester deeply linked to European religion and politics [06.20]. He and Robert planned out future political careers aged 15 –planned to be Prime Minister. Talks about an essay he wrote during military training. [08.40]. Cyril Robinson another important influence at Winchester (mentions other names too). History lessons gave an important grounding in world to come. Describes cycling round Hampshire and visiting old churches. Found Roman coin near Andover. Links with Winchester continued. [12.05] 1945 Election –he was campaigning for Liberal Party before joining the army, he enlisted in 1944 and expressed preference for Royal Signals. Had served in Home Guard and OCTU (Officer Training Cadets) signals platoon –was keen on making his own radio sets. [12.55]. He was a Liberal Unionist, canvassed for Liberals at Exeter –they also had good sandwiches. Became a Conservative on arriving at Cambridge (University) –still regarded himself as “Chestertonian”. [14.57] Army career in Signals –training and commission. Snowed in at Catterick then went to East Africa for 20 months as 2nd in command of 100 soldiers [16.00]. His commander had enlisted from the dole. Not tempted by career in army already had a scholarship to study Law to Cambridge. [18.00]. Father and Great Uncle were Solicitors, no question that he would be a lawyer. Trinity Hall [18.55]. Active in the Cambridge Union. Politics dominated his life at Cambridge chairman of Conservative Association [19.45]. Peers at Cambridge –mentions Denzil Freath, Tony Lloyd, Douglas Hurd, Greville Janner, Percy Craddock , Jack Ashley [22.06]. A lot of intermingling. [23.22]Took Bar Exams (with Patrick Jenkin, close colleague). Refers to origins of Bow Group [24.20] to match the intellectual component of the Fabian Society. First pamphlet was on “Coloured people in Britain” trying to influence colonial and commonwealth people (who were otherwise voting Labour) with Conservative ideas 25.30. Prepared them to focus on immigrants when they came. Described himself as Centre Conservative. [27.45] Influx of immigration –refers to Enoch Powell and Kenya where Mau Mau prisoners were being maltreated –principles of Imperial rule should be universal [28.45]. Importance of Ian Macleod –and also Enoch Powell –broadminded and diverse party [29.45]. Legal career –diverse chambers -mentions some of the people (Rose Heilbron ?, Ewan Montague, Brian Gibbons, Norman Richards). “Inherited” the brief for organisations like the Police Federation and Iron and Steel Workers Union. Welsh background equipped him to represent Unions. Tells joke about his wife’s father stipulating whom could she could marry (not a lawyer, a politician or a Welshman) [31.50] Managed to maintain career in law and in politics –became Solicitor General. Assumed it could happen –regarded the Lord Chancellorship as a better bet than the Premiership [32.15]. Doesn’t regard himself as ambitious. Talks about last cases at the Bar –against Quentin Hogg. Tells story about Hogg and the Kenno-meat dogfood case which he fought and won [34.45]. Law always part of a parallel career. 1955 & 59 Fought Aberavon constituency –invited to become candidate without selection process. Issues were about “large Government” and reducing the tax burden. [37.00]. Solid Labour constituency. Didn’t want to win seat then –wasn’t ready for Parliament then. Third attempt was Bebington on Merseyside –fitted in with his work on Wales and Chester Law Circuit. Fully competitive Selection process this time. Lost seat in 1966. Talks of Earlier Tory domination of Merseyside [39.35] when Merseyside had voted with their (Protestant) church against the Irish but now voted with their class [40.00]. Negative campaign in 1964 on threat of a return of Labour Government. Talks of campaign using a speaker van with music –constituency was “Beatles country”. Also considered idea of launching a pirate radio station [41.45]. Successful against the grain of the result in General Election. Impressions of Parliament –less hostile than he thought it would be -his Trade Union background made him more at ease with mood in Parliament (dominated by Labour Government) [43.20]. Working life –absence of secretarial support –shared a secretary with two others; worked sitting on benches. Salary –less than adequate, many had other careers, many Tories were ex-officers with pensions [45.20]. Interesting how mood of the House could change. Speaks of handling two major Bills –Industrial Relations Bill and European Communities Bill [46.00]. Moved to Front Bench pretty early. 1970 Became Solicitor General. Maiden speech –a mélange of Ian Macleod and Enoch Powell. Became a member of One Nation Group [48.10]. Enjoyed speaking. Managing two careers –in Law and Politics. Describes charting a plane to get back for a three line whip [49.30]. Tells another story about leaving a case by charter plane and hearing the result –he won –over the radio en route to Westminster (“grande luxe”). The Whips –had little reason to be fierce –there was lot of automaticity about handling the work; debates were not prolonged unduly people didn’t sin it out to be a damned nuisance. Got advice from people on the other side [52.20]. Party willing to acknowledge dissent –e.g. over Europe. [54.25] People expect MPs to concentrate more on their position today, plus their workload is higher. He feels Government should be equipped with people with a non-political career. Strong case for preserving the Lords as is [55.45]. Makes analogy of Lords as Trial Judge and Commons as the Jury. 1966 Lost office –great disappointment, hadn’t expected it. Sent telegram “can you spare a dime?” Continued to be active in party and to practice Law. 1970 Elected to Reigate, had earned a safe seat [59.25]. Appointments under Ted Heath –Solicitor General. Involvement in major legislation –impact on working life. Opportunity for confidence. Worked with Robert Carr –marvellous man. Important work on European Communities Bill. Still working with modest resources. Worked alongside Peter Rawlinson (frequently referred to in interview). [1.03.28] Other things to do –trial of alleged unseemliness in theatres – Oh! Calcutta trial. [1.04.18] Relationships with other members –try to maintain civil relationships. Jack Ashley was one of closest friends. Denis Healy jibe [1.05.15]. Sad that Denis never achieved leadership of the party. Personal regret about not attaining leadership. Personal v political life [1.07.25] Continuous balance e.g. in Bebington seat; rented house near constituency. Harder today to maintain that balance for a member. Regrets the necessity for a nearly exclusive political career before Westminster. [1.09.40] Admired Macleod, Powell, Carr. [1.10.40] Leaving office. Sad to go. Working with Margaret (Thatcher) was worthwhile and rewarding –despite differences. Impressive to see her perform as leader. [1.12.00] Describes seeing her deal with Russian leadership and then in Tokyo for G5/G7 ? Performed without script-astonishing. Real personality. Story of European meeting under Danish leadership –Mitterand anecdote.[1.15.17] Moving to the House of Lords 1992. You don’t have access to the same resources. You can use the Library. Workload is what you make of it. You are relieved of burden of constituency work, but kept busy. Wife is also a peer. Rewarding, friendly and courteous atmosphere. [1.17.14] House of Lords reform. Some changes need to be made but not introduction of elected members. No one can demonstrate how situation will be improved –it’s only about “legitimacy”. Expects “sanity to prevail”.
Life story interview with Lord Philip Goodhart (1926-2015), former Conservative Member of Parliament.