The quiet and clever Lord

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Fraser of Carmyllie discovered more than he wanted to about pantiles during the Holyrood building inquiry

The inquiry was proceeding apace - but had become rather stuck. The sticking point? Whether buildings in 17th century Scotland customarily deployed slates or pantiles.

Compared to, say the West Lothian question or the Schleswig Holstein impasse, the pantile problem might seem relatively minor.

However, such was not the case as Lord Fraser of Carmyllie sought to get to the bottom of the cost inflation and delays which had beset the construction of the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood.

One of the sundry challenges which had confronted the project was Queensberry House, the splendid 17th century mansion at the core of the complex. It was to be preserved, restored. But how? To what standard? To which template?

Enter the Pantile Problem. Should Queensberry House be reroofed with slates? Or pantiles? This provoked endless examination and argument among experts - who divided into Pantilists and Slaters.

Image caption Lord Advocate Peter Fraser, pictured in 1990

Result? More delay - until eventually the Pantilists triumphed. This debate was then played out again before Lord Fraser as he held his inquiry.

Expert upon expert crowded forward to give their views. At one point, the issue threatened to swamp all else. Lord Fraser had plainly had enough. He glanced warily over his half-moon spectacles as yet another enthusiastic young conservationist stood before him.

"Have you come", he intoned wearily, "to talk to me of pantiles?" Came the enthusiastic reply: "Well, yes, actually, I have, Lord Fraser!"

Groaning faintly but audibly, his Lordship waved a weary finger which plainly signalled that he merely wished to be rescued from this architectural morass.

The inquiry drew together several aspects of Peter Fraser's character. His intellect, his wit, his warmth, his precise brain, his legal skills, his capacity for hard work and concentration. Above all, perhaps, his wish to serve Scotland and Scottish interests.

I met Peter before he was elected to parliament but came to know him well when he was an MP and I worked in the Westminster gallery and lobby as a journalist.

He was palpably able - and served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Younger before being promoted to Solicitor General for Scotland.

Think twice

The turn of the political tide removed him from the Commons - but he was later to return to the Lords and to office as Lord Advocate in which capacity he issued the initial indictment relating to the Lockerbie bombing. Later still, he was a government minister under John Major.

On the constitutional issue, Peter Fraser perhaps typifies the conundrum which confronted the Conservative Party for decades, prior to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. He was one of the Thistle Group of Tories in the late 1960s and 1970s, arguing for devolution.

But still it fell to him in 1997, as a party grandee, to act as the conduit from the Tories to the autonomous Think Twice campaign which argued for a No vote in the referendum of that year.

Warm tributes have rightly been paid from across the political spectrum. His companionable personality, his political aptitude, his legal skills.

Myself, I rather like the verdict previously offered in a book by Matthew Parris. He describes Peter Fraser as "quiet, clever and nice". My sympathy to Lady Fiona and the family.

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