UK Politics

Ex-Home Secretary Leon Brittan dies

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Media captionCarole Walker reports on the life and career of the former Home Secretary

Former Home Secretary Leon Brittan has died aged 75 after a long battle with cancer, his family have said.

The former Conservative MP was a key figure in Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s and later became a European Commissioner.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he had been a "dedicated and fiercely intelligent public servant".

Lord Brittan recently faced questions over his handling of child abuse allegations during his time in office.

The controversy centred on a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles handed to the then home secretary by former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens. Lord Brittan insisted the proper procedures had been followed.

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Media captionLord Lamont described Leon Brittan as "a clever man, a good friend and a kind man"

'Meteoric rise'

First elected in 1974, Lord Brittan was home secretary in Margaret Thatcher's government from 1983 to 1985. He later became trade and industry secretary, resigning in 1986 during the row over control of British helicopter manufacturer Westland, which became known as the Westland affair.

He quit when he was revealed as having authorised the leaking of a letter from the solicitor general criticising former Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had also resigned a few weeks earlier.

As an MP, Lord Brittan represented the constituencies of Cleveland and Whitby and Richmond in Yorkshire. He stood down from the Commons when he became a European commissioner in 1989.

Commons Leader William Hague, the current Richmond MP, said he had been a "kind, assiduous and brilliant man", while former Chancellor Lord Lamont said he "would have risen to the top of whatever profession he had chosen".

Leon Brittan

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Image caption Leon Brittan (third left) served in Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet
  • Raised in London, he studied at Cambridge University and worked as a barrister after graduating.
  • Served as home secretary from 1983 to 1985 and president of the Board of Trade in 1985/86, before resigning in 1986 in the aftermath of the Westland helicopter affair.
  • Spent a decade in Brussels from 1989 to 1999 as one of the UK's European commissioners, and as vice-president of the Commission from 1989 to 1993.
  • He was MP for Cleveland and Whitby from 1974 to 1983 and for Richmond, Yorkshire, from 1983 to 1988.

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said Lord Brittan had enjoyed a "meteoric political rise" to the Home Office, where he clashed with striking miners.

His family said he was a beloved husband, stepfather and step-grandfather.

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Media captionWilliam Hague tells the Commons the late Lord Brittan was a "kind, assiduous and brilliant man"

They added: "We also salute his extraordinary commitment to British public life as a member of Parliament, minister, Cabinet minister, European Commissioner and peer - together with a distinguished career in law, and latterly in business.

"Leon passed away last night at his home in London after a long battle with cancer. We shall miss him enormously."

In his tribute, Mr Cameron added: "As a central figure in Margaret Thatcher's government, he helped her transform our country for the better by giving distinguished service as chief secretary to the Treasury, home secretary and secretary of state for trade and industry."

Analysis by Tom Symonds, BBC home affairs correspondent

Image copyright BBC News
Image caption Geoffrey Dickens was a long-standing campaigner against child abuse

In recent years Leon Brittan's name has been drawn into the growing national debate about historical child abuse.

In 1983, as Conservative home secretary, he is believed to have received letters and documents, often described as a "dossier", from the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens, alleging that prominent people were paedophiles.

More on the 'Dickens dossier' claims

Former Conservative Party leader Lord Howard said it was a "tragedy" that Lord Brittan's "last days were dogged by these quite unsubstantiated allegations" about the child abuse dossier, but did not think it had "very much effect on him".

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Media captionMichael Heseltine describes Lord Brittan as a "man of great integrity" and "great culture and great intellect"

It was claimed that the dossier containing the allegations had been "destroyed" by officials. Last year a review found no evidence that records were deliberately removed or destroyed.

It failed to find "the Dickens Dossier", or any clear evidence of what Mr Brittan had done after receiving it.

In response, Lord Brittan said he had received a "substantial bundle of papers" from Mr Dickens, which he had asked Home Office officials to examine and "report back to me" if "action needed to be taken".

In October Fiona Woolf, the government's chosen head of the wider public inquiry into child sexual abuse stepped down over criticism of her links with the Conservative peer.

Paying tribute, Lord Heseltine said he hoped Lord Brittan would be judged by his political achievements, saying there was no way a home secretary "can tell someone to lose a document".

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