The Daily Telegraph
Liberal Democrat MP who championed small businesses
LORD COTTER, who has died aged 87, was the Liberal Democrat MP for Weston-super-mare from 1997 to 2005, and sat in the House of Lords from 2006 until his death.
Having built up a plastics manufacturing firm with 27 employees, Cotter was the Lib Dems’ spokesman on small business for most of his time in the Commons, then in the upper house until his party went into David Cameron’s coalition in 2010. Rated “sensible, capable and efficient if not spectacular”, he championed new technologies, being one of the first MPS to have his own website.
Cotter was fiercely protective of his constituency, his father’s home town. After Lord Archer of Weston-supermare, who had been brought up there, was imprisoned for perjury in 2000, he led the calls for him to be stripped of his peerage.
“Time and again he is mentioned in connection with Weston-super-mare, pulling the town down,” Cotter said. “People feel he is getting special treatment; now he has issued a diary from prison, and so it goes on. I am taking this action in response to a clear call from the people of Weston-supermare.”
C otter was also arguably the best-known Liberal Democrat in the People’s Republic of China, giving frequent interviews to the Chinese media after visiting the country in 2002 with the All Party China Group, of which he became secretary.
Brian Joseph Michael Cotter was born at Ealing, west London, on August 24 1936, the son of Michael Cotter, a GP, and the former Mary Nugent. He was educated at St Benedict’s School, Ealing, and at Downside, where, aged 16, he ran a 4½-minute mile.
After National Service with the Army in Germany, he took a business studies course at a London polytechnic. After a chequered start including a year out of work, he became first sales manager, then managing director, of Plasticable Ltd in Alton, Hampshire, owning the business from 1989 to 2003.
Originally a Conservative, Cotter joined the Liberal Party in 1983, and in 1986, the year he turned 50, was elected to Woking council, serving for four years. He first fought Weston in 1992, cutting the Conservative Jerry Wiggin’s majority by 2,000 to 5,342.
Wiggin stood down at the 1997 election, the former MEP Margaret Daly taking his place. Cotter worked hard to persuade Labour supporters to vote tactically, and with the Referendum Party polling 2,280 as John Major went down to a heavy defeat, he captured the seat by 1,274 votes, ending a Conservative tenure dating back to 1923.
Appointed Lib Dem small business spokesman by Paddy Ashdown, Cotter told the House in his maiden speech: “If just one job were to be created in every small business, it would solve the employment problem in this country.” He called for a fairer rating system, for the Government to pay its bills quicker and for less red tape, saying that 50 per cent of small-business owners would not start one again because of it.
In 1999, he voiced concern about troop safety in Kosovo after one of his constituents became the first British soldier killed there.
Cotter held his seat in 2001 by 338 votes from a new Conservative candidate, John Penrose, after a recount. From 2003, he was a Trade & Industry spokesman.
At the 2005 election Penrose captured Weston from Cotter by 2,079 votes. The following year Cotter was created a life peer, also becoming the party’s spokesman first on small businesses, and later on skills and apprenticeships. At 73 he was not considered for a ministerial post in when Coalition, but he continued to speak on business and vocational issues.
A practising Catholic, Cotter was a national patron of the YMCA and patron of the Somerset homeless charity Somewhere To Go.
Brian Cotter married Eyleen Wade in 1963. She survives him, with their two sons and a daughter.
Brian Cotter, born August 24 1936, died November 14 2023