Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour's Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
Yesterday we were greeted by the sad news that Lord Newton of Braintree, Tony Newton, had died. Of course we knew that he was desperately ill, but death always has the power to shock.
In the Lords, it is usual to call colleagues on your own benches, “my Noble Friend”. But in Tony’s case, quite exceptionally, he was everyone’s Noble Friend. He was such a fine, principled man. A man of huge integrity who was a proud Conservative and always true to his values.
In terms of votes he was a serial offender, but he didn’t vote against his whip either quietly, hoping that he wouldn’t be noticed, or belligerently. Tony voted after making reasoned arguments and seeking real answers to his penetrating questions. If the answers did not meet his concerns, he had the courage to vote for what he believed to be best. Often his concerns were on behalf of those who are poor or do not have a voice. For example, in the Welfare Reform Bill, he supported universal credit but was opposed to the exclusion of council tax benefit (CTB) and the localisation of CTB –
“What is going to happen in an area where there is a big factory closure and the money has already been spread out? Does everyone already on council tax benefit have to take a cut in order to finance those who have just come on to it? It is mad.”
He also voted against plans to introduce the new under-occupation penalty for council and housing association tenants. He was a man rooted in reality who understood the challenges faced by the people that he used to represent when he was an MP.
On the Health and Social Care Bill Tony spoke nearly every day and the House benefited from his long experience and voice of authority as a former Health Minister. He was always questioning and sceptical but balanced his words of criticism for the Minister with words of praise. He had a terrific sense of humour and a few weeks ago when he was supporting the Government he said,
“My Lord, those who have been here will have realised by now that this is one of my ‘good boy’ days.”
Tony will be greatly missed by all of my colleagues but especially by Willy Bach and Eva Hartshorn-Sanders with whom he was working closely on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. He was a keen ally on all of the significant victories on the Bill including retaining legal aid for expert reports on clinical negligence cases, retaining legal aid for initial advice for welfare benefit problems, on ensuring that legal aid is not restricted to telephone advice and on so much more.
Since I came into the House in 2004 I had had a friendly relationship with Tony but it is not until we worked on the Public Bodies Bill that I understood his quiet but relentless force. He worked to save the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, the Youth Justice Board and the Office of the Chief Coroner. Thanks, in no small part, to his dogged perseverance that particular Bill was transformed.
Tony was brave in following his principles, but he was also brave and utterly determined in his refusal to give way to his ill health and physical frailty. He was a fighter in every sense of the word, impelled by his strong sense of social justice. His fragile and failing body concealed a giant of a man whom we held in the highest regard and whom we will remember with great affection.