Gladstone link recalled as Steel is honoured

Lord Steel is presented with his lifetime achievement award by Sir Menzies Campbell
Lord Steel is presented with his lifetime achievement award by Sir Menzies Campbell

THEIR births were seperated by nearly 130 years but Lord Steel has recalled his connection to 19th century Prime Minister William Gladstone after receiving a top political award.

The former Liberal leader’s 47-year political career was recognised last Wednesday with a lifetime achievement title from House magazine –the official House of Commons newspaper.

Receiving the gong from his friend Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lord Steel said he was “overwhelmed” and thanked the loyalty and support of Borderers for electing and then re-electing him as MP over a 32-year period.

The first presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament told the audience of an extraordinary conversation with one of the oldest women in the Borders as he fought to retain the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles constituency in 1966.

“She said to me: ‘You’re the second MP I have ever shaken hands with – the first was Mr Gladstone’,” added the 73-year-old, referring to the four-time Liberal PM who was an MP for 62 years.

Lord Steel added: “I am overwhelmed by the kindness of this award and your choice of my old friend Ming Campbell to present it.

“Given my student days’ enthusiasm for the restoration of a Scottish Parliament and the start of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, it might be assumed that the most momentous day in my political career would be in 2002 when in the chair I invited the president of a democratic South Africa (Thabo Mbeki) to address us in the Scottish Parliament,

“But it is not so. The most significant and memorable date was March 24, 1965 when, after the most hard-fought by-election, I was elected to serve the people of the Scottish Borders in the high court of parliament.

“The turn-out in the last by-election here in London was 29 per cent. In the Borders on a wintry day it was 84 per cent, of which we were all justly proud. But for that day none of the rest would have followed.”

Lord Steel told the audience, which included ex-Speaker Baroness Betty Boothroyd, that representing the region had given him “enormous satisfaction” over more than three decades, from witnessing new developments such as the electronics industry and building of Tweedbank and Borders General Hospital.

He also mentioned his unsuccessful campaign to save the Waverley railway line in 1969.

“Without the loyalty and support of the Border people – including those who never voted for me – none of all the other things in my life would have happened,” he added.

Sir Menzies described how Lord Steel “has always done what he thinks right – and I can’t think of anyone better qualified to achieve this award”.

The current speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness D’Souza, Labour MP Gisela Stuart and Lord Cormack also spoke about his life and career.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is in its fourth year and is chosen by the editorial board of the House magazine, which is made up of MPs and peers. Previous winners include veteran Labour MP Tony Benn.