HOWE, Geoffrey (1926-2015).



15 October 1964 - 31 March 1966
18 June 1970 - 28 February 1974
East Surrey
28 February 1974 - 9 April 1992


Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe was born in Glamorgan, Wales, on 20 December 1926. He was educated at Winchester College and did National Service with the Royal Corps of Signals (1945-48) before going to Cambridge. He was a member and chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association and a founding member of the Bow Group. He married Elspeth Rosamund Morton Shand (Baroness Howe of Idlicote) in 1953.

Howe was called to the Bar in 1952 and was made a QC in 1965. He unsuccessfully contested Aberavon in 1955 and 1959, a safe Labour seat. He was elected at Bebington, but lost the seat at the following election. Elected for Reigate in 1970, he became Solicitor General, working on the Industrial Relations Act and European Communities Act in 1972. In that same year he became Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs until the end of Heath’s government in 1974.

In 1974 he was elected for East Surrey and served as Social Services spokesman and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, Howe was named Chancellor of the Exchequer and occupied the post until 1983. His tenure was marked by policies to liberalise the economy and to reduce inflation. From 1983 he served as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs until 1989 when he became Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council. He was Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet minister but resigned in 1990 over the government’s policy towards Europe. Howe stood down from the House of Commons in 1992 and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon.

Geofrey Howe died on 9 October, 2015.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Geoffrey Howe in the British Library.

Transcript of clip

“It was quite difficult but it was always manageable [to have both a legal and a political career]. In a large number of the county court personal injury cases I did for the unions one could predict the duration... On one occasion I was doing a criminal case in Shropshire assizes and was on a three line whip back in London. The case was on Monday and Tuesday, and I chartered a plane to come back for the Monday vote... [On another occasion] I'd been doing a case at Haverfordwest Assizes against Emlyn Hooson. And I was able to say to him at the end of the second day when the case ended, ‘can I give you a lift back to London?’ And we did fly back in my chartered plane. As we flew over the RAF base in Wiltshire, as our plane was going over, the radio to which we were listening in the plane gave the news of the verdict of the case we’d been in. I won.”

Summary of interview

Track 1 [01:19:14] 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”.