LUBBOCK, Eric (1928-2016).



14 March 1962 - 18 June 1970


Lubbock was born on 29 September 1928 into a staunchly Liberal family: his two grandfathers had been MPs and a Great Aunt the first president of the Women’s Liberal Federation. Educated in Canada and at Harrow, he went on to read Engineering at Balliol College, Oxford. He served in the Welsh Guards and afterwards joined Rolls Royce. He married Kina-Maria O'Kelly de Gallagh in 1953 and they had three children.

Lubbock joined the Liberal Party in 1960. After serving as a councillor for a year he stood at the Orpington by-election in March 1962, famously winning the seat in the ‘Liberal Revival’. He became the party’s Chief Whip. Lubbock sat on various bodies discussing electoral reform, pursuing Liberal positions to change the First Past the Post system. Lubbock ran for the Liberal leadership in 1967, after losing to Jeremy Thorpe he kept his position as Chief Whip until 1970. 

Lubbock succeeded his cousin as 4th Baron Avebury and entered the Lords as a hereditary peer in 1971. He was a keen Human Rights activist, forming the Parliamentary Human Rights Group in 1976 which he chaired for 21 years. In 1985 he re-married (to Linsday Stewart) with whom he had a son. After reform of the Lords removed most hereditary peers in 1999, his fellow Liberal Democrats voted to keep Avebury in the Lords. He served until his death in February 2016, becoming the longest-serving Liberal Democrat peer.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Eric Lubbock in the British Library.

Transcript of clip

[On his successful Private Member’s Bill] It had two elements to it. First of all it provided that people on mobile home sites couldn’t be evicted without a court order. Secondly, it required local authorities to provide accommodation for gypsies and travellers living in or resorting to their area. That was the first legislation that had ever covered the subject of gypsies and travellers specifically, and it was to some extent successful in providing hundreds of dwellings for gypsies and travellers, until the Conservatives repealed it in 1994. My constituency was part of the routes that gypsies used going from London to the hop picking areas in Kent, a lot of them passed through the area and camped on the A21, which was a major highway through the constituency with [large] areas along the borders for gypsy caravans. So we were familiar with the problem. We had a gypsy site in St Mary Cray, and it was obviously something that was in the interests of the constituency as well as nationally. I had very good support from the government, particularly from Arthur Skeffington who was the Parliamentary Secretary on the ministry of housing and local government, as it was then. They put resources into the drafting of the bill, and supporting me on committee.

Summary of interview

Track 1 [0:00:11] [Session one: 9 August 2015]

Track 2 [1:15:45] Eric Lubbock [EL] describes earliest memories, those of living in Lowndes Square, near Hyde Park, and spending time at grandmother's house in Downe, Kent. Mentions summers spent at other grandmother's house in Penrhos, Anglesey, and favourite childhood doll. [01:19] Mentions Kent grandfather, a biologist and etymologist. Grandfather's wife, Alice Avebury; his friendship with neighbour Charles Darwin and achievements as an MP. Mentions that other grandfather and great-grandfather were also Liberal MPs. [02:44] Mentions that mother was an opera singer before manning first aid post in Wandsworth during Blitz and overseeing refugee camps at control commission in Austria. Mentions that father was a successful businessman and a liberal, but not engaged in political activity. [03:52] Mentions childhood spent between Lowndes Square and EL's grandmother's house, High Elms, in outer London. Describes what became of High Elms and memories of it, including staff there. Mentions having one older sister. Comment about early life in Lowndes Square, affluent local area, trips to Hyde Park and Harrods.

Track 2 [cont. from 08:13] Comment about absence of religion in family. Describes grandmother's heterodox religious views and her losing two sons in WW1, including EL's uncle Eric. [09:35] Mentions schooling at local elementary and then St Peter’s Court in Broadstairs, a private school. Describes hatred of St Peter’s Court. [10:51] Describes being evacuated, age 11, at outbreak of WW2 with sister to Toronto, to live with parents' friends called Woods. Describes schooling at Upper Canada College and contrasts with British system. Mentions particular interest in mathematics. Describes returning to England age 15 and attending City & Guilds College, and Harrow for two terms, before going to Balliol College, Oxford, at 17 to read maths. [12:50] Describes evacuation to Canada on a steamer boat, the Scythia, from Liverpool with sister and nanny. Discusses fondness of Canada and host family, with whom EL's father had a business connection. Describes dislike of housemaster in Canada and enjoyment of maths. [16:21] Mentions having few friends at Harrow. Describes one friend, Eddie, who became a distinguished lawyer; Eddie's involvement in determining border between Eritrea and Ethiopia and EL's recent communication with him. Description of EL chairing Eritrea Support Group in 1970s and being long-term supporter of Eritrean independence. Remarks about dislike of Harrow but lack of impact on life and career.

Track 2 [cont. from 19:28] Mentions that interest in politics came much later. Describes father persuading EL to switch from maths to engineering degree at Oxford. [20:33] Mentions being conscripted into army for two years, serving in Welsh Guards and spending 18 months in Germany. Description of working at Rolls-Royce for five to six years after leaving army in 1951. Remark on lack of political interest at that point. Mentions going on to work as management consultant and then for Charterhouse Group in the City, while living in Downe. Describes joining Liberal party in 1960, being inspired by Jo Grimond [JG] and standing for council in 1961. [23:02] Discusses family's lack of strong political views and impact of political events on family. Describes parents' anti-Nazi stance in 1930s and mother's time working with refugees in Austria during Anschluss and occupation, about which she wrote a book. Description of EL's lack of awareness of politics as a young person.

Track 2 [cont. from 26:00] Describes becoming friends in 1945 at university with Seretse Khama, later President of Botswana, and attending Botswana’s independence celebrations. Comment about EL and Seretse Khama joining Communist party at Oxford; comic remark about EL being motivated by unrequited feelings for party secretary. Mentions boxing for the university. [29:07] Anecdote about Oxford lecturer, Tom, with strong Scottish accent and tutor, Dick, with passion for cricket. Description of EL's lack of academic focus at university. Mentions friend from Balliol, Pat Scally, and one from Canada, David Robinson, who became a District Commissioner in Bechuanaland and died in a road accident. [31:34] Mentions not telling parents about Communist affiliation; clarifies that it was Communist club, not party.

Track 2 [cont. from 31:57] Mentions two years of conscripted service. Remark on spending 21st birthday training at Welsh Guards depot. Comment about choosing Welsh Guards because EL's uncle had been first commander in 1914-15. Describes going to officer cadet school and then regiment in Wellington barracks for a few weeks before going to Germany. Describes regiment lodging in former Hitler Youth barracks in Wuppertal-Elberfeld, near Dusseldorf, and EL's role of platoon commander. Describes regiment's role of occupying Nazi Germany, including manoeuvres at Sennelager. Expression of confusion and regret at order to not fraternise with local population. Comment about enjoyment of army experience. Mentions regiment later going to Korea, after EL left. [36:03] Mentions joining Rolls-Royce in Derby. [36:40] Remark about lack of political influence of army experience. [37:02] Mentions being a councillor, and prior to that directing subsidiaries of Charterhouse Group. Mentions marrying in 1951, age 23, having met wife at a ball at Hurlingham. [38:46] Mentions lack of political aspirations at the time. Describes Liberal party having three or four councillors in Orpington when EL joined in 1960 and party's local election successes. Describes being asked to stand as local councillor in Downe in 1961, canvassing every house and winning. Comment about national, not local, move towards Liberals. Comparison with David Steel's 1965 win, due to disillusionment with Conservatives and Labour. [41:20] Comment about Liberal party being radical, not in centre, and continuing to be so under Tim Farron. Discussion of differences and continuities between Liberal party that EL joined and Liberal Democrats. Describes importance of open trade between countries to the party, symbolised by European Union. Comment about wider concept of Europe going back to William Gladstone and EL always having been a strong European. Comment about Liberals' firm stance on Europe, unlike Conservatives and Labour, and their role in pressing for industrial democracy. [43:36] Describes influence of JG on EL joining Liberals.

Track 2 [cont. from 44:42] Describes contesting Orpington seat. Description of incumbent MP, Donald Sumner, being persuaded to resign to make room for Peter Goldman [PG], a protégé of Iain Macleod, prompting by-election in 1962. Explains that initial Liberal candidate, Jack Galloway, did not stand due to being accused of bigamy by ex-wife. Describes Donald Wade, party Chief Whip [CW], telling Christine Parker [CP], party agent, to find a local candidate, specifically a councillor; CP then proposed that EL stand. Description of EL's reluctance and employer giving him time off to stand. [49:10] Describes long campaign process due to Conservatives not moving the writ, prompting a Liberal petition taken up in Parliament by Jeremy Thorpe. Describes local perception of PG as outsider; PG's campaigning troubles. Describes campaign being organised by Pratap Chitnis, later party's chief agent. Comic story about campaign headquarters burning down and a local woman suggesting Tories did it. Describes strong Liberal campaign advertising and key issues, notably nurses' pay pause. Mentions perceived need for change from Harold Macmillan. Comments about EL's pride in being a grass-roots candidate and Norris McWhirter's disparaging remark on being beaten by EL in 1966. [56:26] Describes living in small house on grandmother's former estate, with three children, throughout career as MP. Discusses family ties to local area. [57:54] Describes considerable involvement of national party during by-election.

Track 2 [cont. from 58:43] Describes joining Parliament, having never visited it before, and encounter with Herbert Samuel, who served with both EL's grandfathers. Mentions maiden speech on nurses' pay. Remarks about EL's discomfort with public speaking. [1:01:23] Comments about EL being part of small group of six Liberal MPs; difficulty of covering all subjects between them. Describes party strategy of focus on local elections. Comment about negotiation with other parties starting from 1964 Labour Government onwards due to narrow majority. Describes close relationship with John Silkin, Labour CW. Comic story about being called "Sir Eric" due to support for Labour. [1:05:34] Comment about excessive drinking in Commons at the time. Describes MPs meeting journalists in Annie's Bar and Whip's Office official acting as intermediary between parliamentary party and Lobby. Mentions only having one secretary in eight years and lack of research support. Mentions being CW from 1964 onwards. Comment about culture of ignoring excessive drinking in Commons.

Track 2 [cont. from 1:09:09] Mentions sitting in Chamber a lot. Describes weekend surgeries and dealing with constituents' housing issues, notably council housing. Mentions other local issue at the time of unpaved roads. Anecdote about holding public meeting in constituency on Cuban missile crisis and attendees' focus on local issues. [1:13:20] Mentions changing nature of work in EL's time as MP and focus on his private Member's Bill from 1967 onwards. Mentions later roles as spokesman on technology and member of Select Committee on the Standards of Conduct in Public Life and Speaker’s Conference on Electoral Law. [1:14:54] Remark about Library being excellent and MPs being well served by House staff.

Track 3 [0:18:16] Mentions interest in housing, health and technology, and need to cover many subjects. Describes pursuing interests through campaigns, speeches and being member of Select Committee on Science and Technology, on which he was the only Liberal. Remark about covering so many subjects being tiring. Story about working through from all-night Commons sitting to morning Bill Committee. Comment about non-Liberal MPs' perception of EL as irritant. Story about being voted down on Speaker’s Conference on Electoral Law over single transferable vote [STV]. Describes Liberal policy on electoral reform. Mentions grandfather being first president of the Proportional Representation Society. Remarks about benefits of STV compared with first past the post. [05:42] Mentions attempt to lower voting age to 18 at Speaker’s Conference, with support of Lena Jeger and Jack Mendelson. Comment about belief in now reducing voting age to 16.

Track 3 [cont. from 07:00] Mentions cross-party agreement on Committee on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, on which he was the only Liberal. Comments about collegiate nature of Select Committees and their increasing importance to parliamentary system. [09:23] Mentions working with journalists through the Lobby, notably to promote his private Member's Bill. [10:04] Mentions chairing Parliamentary Civil Liberties Committee [PCLC] from 1964 to 1970; its strong relationship with National Council for Civil Liberties [NCCL]. Mentions close friendship with Martin Ennals [ME], secretary-general of NCCL and later Amnesty International, and ME's influence on EL founding Parliamentary Human Rights Committee in 1976, which EL chaired for 25 years and still vice-chairs. Comment about issues PCLC focused on, including Northern Ireland. [12:13] Describes process of establishing and running all-party groups; their changing role and importance. [14:25] Describes importance for small parties of liaison with external NGOs in EL's time as MP. Mentions Electoral Reform Society's support while EL on Speaker’s Conference. [16:06] Comment about difficulties for members of small parties. Describes Liberal party's process of dividing work.

Track 3 [cont. from 17:34] Description of EL's private Member's Bill, Caravan Sites Act 1968, as main contribution while Back-Bench MP.
Track 4 [1:06:50] Describes important provisions of 1968 Act and its repeal by Conservatives in 1994. Describes flaws of current Gypsy and Traveller accommodation policy and strong public hostility to such sites. Comments about relevance of that issue to EL's constituency. Describes strong Government support for Bill, notably from Arthur Skeffington in Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

Track 4 [cont. from 05:04] Description of EL's appointment as CW by JG in 1963 and enjoyment of it. Mentions two predecessors in role: Donald Wade and Arthur Holt. Describes inspirational first meeting with JG and continued admiration for him. Describes experience of being CW in small party. Comic story about EL's difficulty persuading Peter Bessell to vote with party. Describes Whips' reliance on persuasion. Describes being on several Committees as Whip and relationship with other party Whips. Mentions friendship with John Silkin and their discussions on realigning the left. [12:45] Describes being persuaded to stand for Liberal leadership in 1967 by Emlyn Hooson and retrospective relief at not succeeding. Describes process of leadership competition. Comment about EL's belief that Jeremy Thorpe would have made a good leader.

Track 4 [cont. from 15:17] Mentions living in mother's house in constituency while an MP. Describes modest salary and lack of expenses at the time. [17:23] Describes office arrangements and evolution of technology available to MPs. [19:02] Description of pressures on MPs' family lives. Comments about events leading to breakdown of EL's first marriage and sense of having neglected family responsibilities. [21:00] Describes daughter becoming councillor in Haringey; her struggle of juggling several roles. Comment about other two children from first marriage; them not being politically active. Description of EL's family's involvement in his political activities and visits. [22:55] Mentions good relationship with constituency party. Describes poor relationship with Conservative-run local newspaper, The Orpington and Kentish Times. [24:02] Describes constituency surgeries held every Saturday. Description of EL's constant attendance of constituency events. [26:06] Describes commute from Orpington to central London. [26:43] Describes separate relationships with national and constituency party, and important relations with party's research arm, initially run by Harry Cowie. Describes close relationship with party colleagues. Mentions being officer of a party committee. [29:12] Describes importance of pairs during Labour's small majority. Mentions close ties with John Silkin. [30:32] Mentions work as MP not involving international travel and deliberate concentration on home affairs. [31:00] Anecdote about hearing Churchill speak in the Commons. [32:30] Description of elements of being an MP that EL liked and disliked. Comments about EL's strong Division record; comic story about disputing that record with John Selwyn Gummer. [35:05] Description of EL's admiration for Gladstone, notably Concert of Europe and Government of Ireland Bill 1893. Mentions JG as heroic contemporary. [36:40] Comment about not focusing on other parties' Back Benchers.

Track 4 [cont. from 37:20] Comments about reasons for EL losing seat, notably 1968 Act and adverse change of constituency's demographic. Description of EL's declining majority. [40:11] Describes surprise at becoming Baron Avebury in 1971. Describes finding four jobs in 24 hours after leaving Commons, including advising G.D. Searle, chairing Digico Ltd and writing a column in The Engineer magazine. [43:06] Description of differences between Lords and Commons and EL's relief at ability to focus on national issues. Comment about interest in human rights broadening. Story about visiting Eritrea at end of sixth offensive and meeting leader of revolution. Mentions visiting Eritrea for independence celebrations and after Eritrea-Ethiopia war. Comments about principle of self-determination and consequent support for independence of Bangladesh and East Timor. Description of EL's efforts to raise profile of issues as a Lord. Comment about supporting Aceh's independence, as EL's uncle did in 1871 in the Lords. [48:37] Describes party's support for causes EL believes in and incorporating "caste" into protected characteristics under Equality Act. [50:09] Comments about greater importance of work with NGOs in the Lords and greater ease of cross-party relationships. Comment about MPs' separateness in Commons. [51:59] Describes Lords European Committee, on which EL served, and importance of two-way relationship between Europe and member state citizens. Comment about European Commission welcoming Parliaments' participation. Remarks about relative insignificance of political parties in Select Committees. [54:15] Discussion about less significant time pressures in Lords and sitting times. [55:19] Describes ability to form stronger relationships with NGOs in Lords and freedom to attend functions. Story about EL attending recent Anthony Nolan meeting on stem cell transplantation and opening dialogue between it and the Secretary of State. Comment about expertise in Lords, compared with Commons. [57:33] Mentions having jobs outside Parliament while Lord in 1970s and 1980s. [58:19] Describes support of Whips Office in Lords and lack of policy-related party support. [58:56] Comment about liaising with Liberal MPs. Describes close relationship with Evan Harris; his shared support for abolishing blasphemy. Story about process of successfully abolishing blasphemy in 1990s. Describes current dispute with Bishops over EL's Chancel Repairs Bill. [1:01:09] Comments about disagreeing with presence of Bishops in the Lords and importance of democratically elected Members. Remark about EL's lack of motive to retain present system due to current illness. Discussion of EL's belief in the need for Lords reform. Comment about destructive impact of David Cameron recently adding 50 peers. Comments about support for hereditary by-elections by Conservatives; their opposition to House of Lords Reform Act in previous Session. [1:05:58] Mentions having some effective Lords colleagues.