John Barnes, Historian

Peter Lane, Lord Lane of Horsell (1925 - 2009)

Peter Lane was a leading figure on the voluntary side of the Conservative Party in the late 1980s and a confidant of Margaret Thatcher's. Although he chaired the annual conference in 1983, (including the session at which Cecil Parkinson appeared to have ensured his survival, only to resign the following morning), Lane exercised most power within the party as the Chairman of the executive committee from 1986 until 1991. It fell to him to take soundings in the constituencies when Michael Heseltine challenged Margaret Thatcher for the leadership in 1990 and he found that seventy per cent of the associations in England wanted Mrs Thatcher to win. Only a handful backed Heseltine. Significantly in Scotland, while most Chairmen were loyal to her, the activists wanted her to go. When it came to the second ballot with Major and Hurd in the frame as well as Heseltine, Lane conducted a further sounding and this time found that eighty three per cent were backing Major.

Virtually his last duty as Chairman of the Executive Committee was to attempt to sort out the row in Cheltenham where a black Birmingham barrister, John Taylor, had been selected as the candidate, but was being challenged by a hard core of party workers. As a result Of Lane’s efforts, Taylor survived the challenge only to lose the seat to a not particularly pleasant campaign by the Liberal Democrats.

Peter Stewart Lane was born on 29 January 1925, the son of Leonard Lane and was educated at Sherborne School in Dorset. His war service in the RNVR was as a sub-lieutenant in the destroyers Ripley, Viceroy and Saumarez from 1943-46, and he saw action in the North Atlantic and with the Russian convoys.

He joined the City firm of accountants run by his father, Lane, Scotten, and qualified in 1948. He became a partner in the firm, which grew in size and merged with other firms, becoming Singleton Fabian. He was one of Singleton’s senior partners when it merged with Binder Hamlyn and became Binder Hamlyn’s senior partner from 1979 until 1992.

It was a sizeable City firm, which counted Reuters and British Land among the companies whose books it audited. Lane is remembered as an effective generator of new business, a good leader and a good communicator. He was much in demand as an auditor and was asked to serve in many boardrooms. For more than a decade he chaired Websters Publications, a firm whose publications were as diverse as What’s On in London and the Racing and Football Outlook.

A life-long Tory, Lane was elected as one of the Vice Chairmen of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations1981-83. He Chaired the National Union in 1983-84 and was knighted in 1984. He was chairman of the 1983 Annual Conference of the Conservative Party, held in Blackpool, and was dismayed when the party’s delight at its recent landslide victory in the general election of 1983 was overtaken by embarrassment when the press carried stories about the private life of Cecil Parkinson. He was seen as one of the party’s fastest-rising political stars and a favourite of the Prime Minister, but her hope to make him Foreign Secretary had been dashed by the news that he had had an affair with his secretary, Sara Keays, and was about to father an illegitmate child. Lane chaired the session at which Parkinson gave a performance thought sufficiently impressive to ensure his survival, but news that there would be further revelations in the morning newspapers brought about his resignation.

In April 1984 he was asked by the Transport Minister, David Mitchell, to review the system of financial protection in place for air travel and holidays. His conclusion was that the £140 million held in the Air Travel Reserve Account to protect holidaymakers, in the event that a company collapsed, was adequate, but that if it became depleted the Government should have resort to a levy on tour operators.

Lane was one of those left to cope with the aftermath of the IRA bombing of the 1984 conference in Brighton and he took the chair of the executive committee of the National Union from 1986 until 1990. His chairmanship began at a time when there were fears that the 7,000 strong Anglo-Asian Conservative Society had been infiltrated by militant Sikh extremists. His solution was the creation of a One nation Forum to represent all ethnic Conservatives. He saw this as a positive move to mobilise ethnic voters in support of the Conservative cause. The spotlight fell on him again when hopes that Lord Young of Graffham would succeed Norman Tebbit as Tory party chairman were abruptly scotched. Young, it was said, would only accept the job if he was allowed to remain as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in addition. When it became apparent that it would not be possible, he withdrew his name from consideration. The Conservative Charter Movement, a reformist group within the party, in a public letter to Lane, attacked the authorities for allowing what it termed a “fiasco” to take place, and typically urged Lane to press for direct elections to the Tory party chairmanship. He was a major conduit of party opinion during the 1990 leadership election and did not allow personal considerations to sway his judgement. He was made a life peer in the 1990 birthday honours.

He had served as chairman of Brent International, a chemicals company, from 1985-95, and had a leading part when Stephen Cuthbert, its long-serving chief executive, left the company in 1993 with a £250,000 payoff. From 1993-4 he chaired Elswick, a label printer, and he was also briefkly chairman at the waste management company, Attwoods in 1994.From 1994-96, he was Chairman att Automated Security Holdings, which was subsequently bought by its rival, ADT. Ironically this was a company controlled by Lord Ashcroft — another peer with major connections to the Conservative Party. ASH was struggling with heavy debts as Lane took up the role and a sale to ADT appeared to be the cleanest solution to its problems. Lane served also as the part-time deputy chairman of More O’Ferrall, the billboard advertising company later called More Group, from 1985 to 1997.

In addition to his career as an active businessman, Lane was chairman of Nuffield Hospitals, the private, not-for-profit healthcare group, from 1993-96, having served as deputy chairman from 1990 and a Governor of the Nuffield Homes Trust since 1985. He also led Action on Addiction, a charity set up to fight dependency disorders and drug abuse, 1991-94. From 1992 to 2004 Lane also served as vice-chairman of the Bishop of Guildford’s Foundation, raising funds for social work. A regular churchgoer, Lane took a keen interest in ecumenism.

Lane served as a JP in Surrey from 1976 and was a freeman of the City of London.

He had married Doris Botsford in 19151 and they had two daughters. The eldest married Lord Trefgarne. Doris died in 1969.

Peter Lane died on 9 January 2009, less than three weeks short of his 84th birthday.