Commentary (The Times)

Obituary: Monro [Hector] (1922-2006) [Scottish Conservative stalwart]

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 31 Aug 2006
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1,080 words
Themes: Union of UK nations, Conservative Party (history), Terrorism

Lord Monro of Langholm

OCTOBER 4, 1922 - AUGUST 30, 2006

Genial Conservative politician who stood up for the Scottish interest in all matters from farming and defence to rugby

HECTOR MONRO was the last of a generation of Scottish Conservative MPs who could recall the days when the party fought general elections in Scotland on equal terms with Labour, and even held a majority of seats, regarding itself as the natural representative of the country’s interests.

In 1964, the year he was elected as MP for Dumfries, there were 24 Scottish Tories in the House of Commons. In 1997, the year that he stood down, there were none. During the 33 years in which he represented Dumfries he built up a personal following which transcended party barriers and held back the opposition, and it was a measure of his popularity that when he handed over, Labour took the seat immediately, with a majority of almost 10,000 votes.

As one of a trio of “One Nation” Conservatives in Scotland, the others being Alick Buchanan-Smith and George Younger, Monro believed in the importance of standing up for the Scottish interest, even if, on occasion, that meant defying the party whip.

Although by nature a loyalist, he refused to go along with the decision to close down the steel works at Ravenscraig, announcing, in a forthright Commons intervention, that it would be inconceivable for British Steel to begin running down the industry, and that, were it to do so, there would be “universal opposition” to the decision in Scotland.

He was equally outraged when, as a longstanding member and former president of the Scottish Rugby Union, he learnt of plans to phase out the Scottish rugby sevens competition. It would, he said, be indefensible to abandon such a worthwhile and popular event.

A former flight-lieutenant in the RAF, he found himself caught up in the grim aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster in 1988, when a PanAm airliner was brought down within a few miles of his home. He went at once to the scene, and spent many hours helping rescue workers and comforting relatives of the victims. Later, he took part in a ceremony at Arlington Cemetry alongside President Clinton, when a Scottish cairn was dedicated to the memory of those who had died.

Hector Seymour Peter Monro was born into a distinguished military family, and was brought up at Craigcleuch, near Langholm in Dumfriesshire. His father, Captain Alastair Monro, served with the Cameron Highlanders, which meant frequent postings abroad. Educated at Canford School and King’s College, Cambridge, he joined the University Air Squadron, and, instead of serving in the Army, was called up into the RAF in 1941. He served with Coastal Command on Atlantic patrols in Sunderland flying boats before being trained in the US on Catalinas and taking part in covert patrols in the Far East.

He was demobbed in 1946 in Hong Kong. On his return to Scotland he took up farming at Craigcleuch but maintained an interest in flying through the Royal Auxiliary Air Force with 603 Squadron (Edinburgh) from 1947 to 1954. In later years he was Honorary Inspector for the General Royal Auxiliary Air Force. He held the Air Efficiency Award (AE).

In 1952 he embarked on a political career when he became a councillor on the old Dumfries County Council and in 1964 was elected Conservative and Unionist MP after the resignation of the former Solicitor-General, David Anderson, who had been MP for only eight months.

Monro’s natural interests were in defence and agriculture, and during his 33 years in Parliament he held various posts, including Scottish Conservative whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scottish Office from 1971 to 1974, then opposition spokesman on Scottish affairs and also on sport, and was chairman and a member of various committees. He was Minister for Sport from 1979 to 1981. Described by colleagues as “a loyalist of the old school”, he could nevertheless be relied on to speak up in robust terms on those issues where he felt strongly, particularly when it came to farming, about which he had first-hand knowledge. He was delighted to be elevated to the peerage in 1997 and became an assiduous attender of the House of Lords.

He was married in 1949 to Anne Welch, and they had two sons. His wife died in 1994, and Monro later married a family friend, Doris Kaestner, of Baltimore, whom he and his first wife had met while golfing at Muirfield.

A genial, easygoing man, he was an enthusiast for antique cars, and enjoyed driving round his constituency in an open-top Bentley with the old county number plate SM4. Far from being seen as evidence of grandeur, this was generally seen as typical Monro behaviour.

When, on one occasion, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind, came down to help him with his canvassing, he found himself caught up in the equivalent of a royal progress. So well-known and liked was Monro that their tour was interrupted on every street corner by friends and admirers wishing him good luck in the fight ahead; the Secretary of State found himself somewhat eclipsed.

Rifkind’s successor, Ian Lang, recalls that Monro was “deeply rooted in the area — there was no other seat that he wanted to represent more, and he was dedicated to the interests of his constituents, and to the wider constituency of Scotland”.

He served as a member of the area executive committee of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, was president of the Scottish Rugby Union and a member of the Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers.

He remained at Craigcleuch until 1956 when he moved to Williamwood near Annan, celebrating 50 years there this year.

He was keen on all country sports including shooting (he had won the clay-pigeon shooting at Bisley in his earlier years), was president of the National Small Bore Rifle Association and was a member of the Nature Conservancy Council. He was knighted in 1981 and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1995. He died after a short illness and is survived by his second wife, Doris, and his sons Seymour, a retired major-general, and Hughie, a brigadier, who was flown back from Baghdad to be at his father’s bedside.

Lord Monro of Langholm, AE, Conservative Minister, MP for Dumfries, 1964-97, was born on October 4, 1922. He died on August 30, 2006, aged 83.