Working for social justice, equal opportunity and fairness
The life and work of Peter Archer, who died in June, is remembered by Baroness Jan Royall in this tribute made to a recent meeting of the Labour Peers Group
“Today we remember our friend and comrade, Peter Archer, who died on 14th June, aged 85. Peter was a gentle, strong man steeped in Labour values and the Labour movement, and with an extraordinary past.
Peter came into the party via his Methodist beliefs which guided his life; joining the Labour Party during the Second World War when he was a Bevin Boy. This was the first step towards a career dedicated to international human rights in an egalitarian, ethical society. He was always an idealist rooted in reality – a modest man, a selfless man who always did and said what he believed to be right, qualities which would later mean that he was hugely influential in Parliament.
He was born and raised in Staffordshire and started life as a Clerk in the Ministry of Health. After four years as a Bevin Boy who had embraced politics, he went to the London School of Economics and University College London, then became a barrister, and went on to be an outstanding lawyer throughout his life. He became a QC in 1971.
He was elected to Parliament in 1966, as MP for Rowley Regis and Tipton. Boundary changes in 1974 meant that he instead then served the renamed constituency of Warley West. He was Solicitor General from 1974 until 1979, and then served in Opposition as the Labour Party’s Spokesman on Legal Affairs, then Trade, then Northern Ireland. In the latter role he played a major role in the case of the Birmingham Six, in 1986 urging reconsideration of their sentence, five years before their release.
Peter came to the Lords in 1992 where he was a hugely valued colleague. From the Labour benches, he was able to pursue the issues of principle that were the guiding forces of his life. Having been a founder member of the original Amnesty International Committee, he was one of their moving spirits and a steadfast supporter throughout his life. His commitment to human rights and to Amnesty was second to none. During our 13 years of government, he opposed some of what he considered to be authoritarian policies, especially on immigration and asylum issues. He campaigned and voted against the Iraq War.
Tony Blair appointed Peter to recommend how to deal with claims from families of Holocaust victims whose assets had been seized and he became chairman of the compensation board. He also headed a public enquiry in 2007 into how haemophiliacs had been given blood infected with Hepatitis C or HIV.
Peter ended his distinguished career as he began it: fighting for justice, fighting for human rights and striving to make this world a better place. We are proud to have known and worked with Peter; we miss him, and our thoughts are with Miff and his son.”
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the Lords