UK Politics

Tributes paid to Lord St John of Fawsley

Tributes have been paid to former Conservative minister Lord St John of Fawsley, who has died aged 82.

As Norman St John-Stevas, he served as education and arts minister under Edward Heath and as Commons leader in Margaret Thatcher's first cabinet.

Mrs Thatcher sacked him in 1981 and he entered the Lords in 1987.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke called Lord St John a "good minister" and former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine said he was a "one-off".

Lord St John made a lasting mark on the House of Commons by creating the select committee system, which scrutinises the business of government departments.

'Theatrical'

But he opposed aspects of Mrs Thatcher's monetarist economic policies and left the government as Lady Thatcher culled "wets" who were not seen to be "one of us".

Afterwards he served as chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission and master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

He was a prolific author and a prominent Catholic, a chairman of Booker Prize judges and the editor of the definitive edition of the literary works of the Victorian constitutionalist Walter Bagehot.

Lord St John also became a close confidant of the Royal Family.

Mr Clarke told the BBC: "He was very flamboyant and had a style all of his own, which was very theatrical, but actually he was an intelligent, sensitive man.

"He was a very, very good minister and he had very, very clear political opinions.

"It was almost eccentricity - his lifestyle. But his politics were very sound, very civilised, very mainstream, and he was a very nice guy. I shall miss him a lot."

'Wise figure'

Lord Heseltine said: "He was a one-off, a very unusual character, combining intellect and academic talent with the realities of politics.

"He also had a great sense of humour. As a cabinet minister he used to sit at the far end of the Cabinet table and it was quite frequent that there would be an eruption of laughter from that quarter at something he said.

"That used to annoy the prime minister, but Norman had the great skill of being able to rephrase a joke to make it sound wholly innocuous."

Lord Tebbit, a former Conservative Party chairman, said: "He did a great deal as a clear and outspoken advocate in government for the arts."

The Conservative Leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said: "He was a great parliamentarian and will be missed by all who knew him in both houses of Parliament.

"He was a colourful, deeply spiritual and wise figure whose greatest legacy to the House of Commons remains the select committee, which he created in 1979 as leader of the House."

Former Conservative chancellor Lord Lamont of Lerwick, who began his government career as parliamentary aide to Lord St John, said: "Norman St John-Stevas brought wit, style, elegance and colour to politics. But behind the light-hearted exterior there was a razor-sharp mind, firm principles and deeply-held convictions.

"He was a notable parliamentarian and, as leader of the House, introduced many important reforms."

A spokesman for Lord St John's family said he had died at his home in London on Friday after a short illness.