The Daily Telegraph

Lord Monkswell

The first peer to reclaim a hereditary title, he took up his seat and became a thorn in Labour’s side


THE 5th LORD MONKSWELL, who has died aged 73, was one of the more colourful members of the unreformed Upper House; by trade a former lathe operator, van driver, tractor engineer and fruit juice factory operative, in 1984 he became the first person in history to reclaim a hereditary title after it had been renounced by his father, and took his place on the Labour benches.

Mild-mannered, bushy-bearded, rumpled and rather sad-looking, Monkswell seemed an unlikely firebrand, yet he had a genius for upsetting his fellow peers and, once inside the House, he became something of an embarrassm­ent to his party.

His refusal to abide by House convention­s manifested itself from day one, when he committed the solecism not only of making his maiden speech on the same day that he took the oath, and making it on the highly contentiou­s issue of unemployme­nt, but delivering it on the first day television cameras arrived in the House, thereby depriving some of his more seasoned colleagues of prime time on News at Ten.

In 1988 it was Monkswell who (inadverten­tly, as he claimed) admitted to the public gallery four lesbians who abseiled into the chamber on to Black Rod’s box in protest against Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill, outlawing the promotion of homosexual­ity in schools. In his personal statement admitting his role, he might have charmed the peers into forgiving him. Instead he compounded his offence by saying that the government was doing to homosexual­s what the Nazis did to the Jews.

On another occasion he insisted on trying to divide the House by voting against the order renewing the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He could not even find someone to count his vote and he remained a minority of one.

In 1994 he was jailed for 14 weeks for attacking a Mr Robin Cook, a psychother­apist, at a stress clinic in Chorlton-cum-hardy, Manchester. Monkswell, who used an adjustable spanner to carry out the assault, claimed that the victim had been brainwashi­ng a woman with whom he had been having an affair.

By this time the element of surprise in Monkswell’s behaviour had diminished. Nonetheles­s, eyebrows were raised when, within a week of his release from Kirkham open prison, “Lord Porridge”, as he was now affectiona­tely known, was back on his feet protesting about coal privatisat­ion.

Monkswell admitted that jail had been “difficult at times”, but felt that on the whole it compared favourably with the House of Lords. “In prison I had three square meals a day, a warm bed to sleep in and I had a job that provided just enough money to buy tobacco,” he recalled.

Despite his eccentrici­ties, Monkswell was one of the House of Lords’ most assiduous attenders. The uncharitab­le often suggested that he did it for the allowance – indeed following his spell in prison, he had no income having been made redundant, and claimed both housing and unemployme­nt benefit.

But Monkswell took his responsibi­lities seriously. He spoke in scores of debates and, in 1997, took the Dignity at Work Bill, a Private Member’s Bill to prevent workplace bullying, through the Lords. It fell when the election was called and made no progress in the Commons.

In many ways, Monkswell was a peer in the finest independen­t-minded traditions of the old unreformed upper house. “I attend because it is my duty,” he explained. “I am summoned here by the Queen to advise her on arduous and important affairs of state and I take my responsibi­lities seriously.”

Lord Monkswell was born Gerard Collier on January 28 1947, the son of William Collier and Helen (née Dunbar). His father’s uncle was grandson of the first Baron Monkswell, Sir Robert Porrett Collier, the former MP for Plymouth and Attorney General in the Liberal government of William Gladstone. The second Lord Monkswell acted as a Lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria; the third was a Foreign Office mandarin.

But Gerard’s father, the fourth Lord Monkswell, became a Communist as a young man, fought in the Internatio­nal Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, then became a GP in Essex and a Labour politician in local government. He renounced the title when he inherited it on the death of his uncle in 1964. He had divorced his first wife when his son was one year old.

Young Gerry was brought up by his mother, a teacher, and his stepfather, the keeper of the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh.

Being dyslexic, he did not do well at school and left aged 16. He did a series of odd jobs – driving a van, working for Britvic – and grew his hair long. But he pulled himself together and did a degree in Mechanical Engineerin­g at Portsmouth Polytechni­c, after which he worked in middle management for Massey Ferguson, becoming a tractor product quality control engineer.

In 1974 he married Ann Valerie Collins, a television researcher, with whom he would have three children. In 1979 he contested the Morecambe and Lonsdale seat for Labour in the general election, polling rather less than half the votes of the Conservati­ve victor.

On the death of his father in 1984 he reclaimed the title which his father had disclaimed and took his place on the Labour benches of the House of Lords. Labour peers, being few in number, were delighted. He was given a coat peg to share with Lord Melchett.

In 1989, after being made redundant by Massey Ferguson, Monkswell decided to become a full-time peer and agreed to stand as a Labour candidate for Manchester City Council. He also found some clients to lobby for at Westminste­r.

But the stresses of life had begun to take their toll. His home life was turbulent; he had begun an affair with a married woman and was experienci­ng problems with his council work.

These stresses first came to a head at a meeting of a campaign against domestic violence when, in front of all and sundry, he scrawled “and women” on a poster urging men to desist from domestic violence. “I’ve known men who suffered violence from their wives. I just wanted to make that point,” he explained. The campaigner­s were not best pleased.

Monkswell resigned his seat on Manchester Council after being sent to prison. By the time he was released, his marriage was reported to be in trouble and his relationsh­ip with his mistress had broken down. “I don’t see myself having a relationsh­ip with anybody now,” he confessed sadly, “too much pain and not enough confidence.” He moved into a bedsit in Dolphin Square where he was “no lonelier than you’d expect”.

But Monkswell was not entirely without friends in high places. In 1995, despite being unqualifie­d, he found a temporary job as an electricia­n helping to install television cables in the Houses of Parliament. By 2000 he was reported to be holding down a part-time job as a shelf-stacker in the hardware department of the B&Q superstore at Stockport.

Monkswell lost his seat in the Lords under the purge of hereditary peers in 1999. As a good Labour man, he was all in favour of abolishing the voting rights of hereditari­es, though he admitted he would miss the place. In 2003, he put himself forward as a candidate in a by-election when the remaining three hereditary Labour peers had to choose a successor on the death of a fourth Labour hereditary peer, Lord Milner.

He lost, as he did in subsequent by-elections in 2005 and 2011. Lord Monkswell’s family motto was “Perseveran­ce”. “I suppose that’s why I have great difficulty recognisin­g when something has finally come to an end,” he said.

Lord Monkswell is survived by his wife Ann Valerie and by their daughter and two sons, of whom the elder, James Adrian Collier, born in 1977, succeeds to the peerage.

In 1988 he ‘inadverten­tly’ let into the public gallery four lesbian protesters, who abseiled into the chamber

Lord Monkswell, born January 28 1947, died July 12 2020

 ??  ?? Monkswell outside Parliament: he was one of the most assiduous attenders of the Lords, though the uncharitab­le contended that it was for the daily allowance
Monkswell outside Parliament: he was one of the most assiduous attenders of the Lords, though the uncharitab­le contended that it was for the daily allowance

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