John Barnes, Historian

Ivor Stanbrook

In June 1970 Ivor Stanbrook regained Orpington, a safe Conservative seat lost to the Liberals in the 1962 by-election, and he held it until he took the decision not to fight the 1992 Election. For more than two decades he was a combative and chronically rebellious backbencher, a man who knew his own mind and spoke it, and who was often critical of his own front bench. He was a member of the 92 Group and was regarded as being well to the right in the party, but it is probably fairer to categorise him as a traditionalist and the positions he took were not altogether predictable. Described by Matthew Parris as the "very hammer of lawlessness and crime", he served on the Parliamentary Select Committee for Home Affairs from 1983 to 1991, but was blocked from becoming its chairman in November 1987 by the Labour MPs on the committee. He was a leading member of the Conservative backbench committees on Home Affairs and Northern Ireland and chaired the Conservative backbench Constitutional Committee. Less predictably, except to those who knew his earlier career, he took the chair of the newly created all-party anti-apartheid group, created in November 1987 to counter the activities of the pro South African Committee led by his Conservative colleague, John Carlisle. He was critical of Mrs Thatcher for appearing to condemn sanctions more than she condemned apartheid and refused to criticise the African National Congress for resorting to violence. He backed the attempt of the Eminent Persons Group to end apartheid and subsequently urged that sanctions should be strengthened, arguing that the South Africans had no intention of changing and that they could only be induced to do so by pressure, and backed their continuance in 1990.

It was not the only issue where he was at odds with Mrs Thatcher. He had supported entry into the EEC in 1971 and he remained a passionate European. He was critical of the use of the whips against Sir Anthony Meyer's leadership challenge and in March 1990 proclaimed that Michael Heseltine was the best alternative to Mrs Thatcher: he had "dynamism, style and a softer image". He backed Heseltine's leadership challenge in November 1990 and continued to support him in the second ballot. As a result, he faced efforts to deselect him in Orpington and these probably played some part in his decision not to fight another election.

In 1979 he had argued that the BBC should be prosecuted under the prevention of terrorism legislation and he remained an advocate of banning Sinn Fein and for taking a tough line with terrorists. Nevertheless he came to believe that the only solution for Northern Ireland's problems lay in redrawing the boundaries of Ulster to exclude predominantly Catholic areas, offering generous resettlement grants to those who did not wish to remain British, and then treating the province exactly as any other region would be treated in the United Kingdom and he cogently argued the case for this in the Commons in the autumn of 1988.

Many of his attitudes derived from his commitment to the Anglican Church. He was against abortion, pornography, and promiscuity, and a firm advocate of family values and for women remaining in the home to bring up their children. He led the successful opposition to the Government's attempt to liberalise the Sunday trading laws in 1986 and was quick to warn against any attempt to revive the legislation. Predictably he was a critic of "trendy Bishops" and was opposed to the ordination of divorced men and women priests. His attitude on this issue and his obvious dislike for working mothers drew fire from the feminists and Teresa Gorman, no less, described him as Neanderthal man. It was not a charge that he minded and, when he opposed an increase in nursery education in 1990, he urged the Government not to be "pulled along by the wretched engine of feminism". It was his firm belief that when women went out to work, they did psychological damage to themselves and their children.

Although a staunch European, Stanbrook also valued the multiracial Commonwealth and never ceased to urge the need to help Africa resolve its problems. He was appalled by the thought that Europe had food surpluses while parts of Africa were wracked by famine. His support for strict control of immigration was accompanied by a rooted hostility to racism. Nevertheless he came to believe that so-called anti racist policies only strengthened racial prejudice and just as he had earlier called for the abolition of the Equal Opportunities Commission, he would also have got rid of the Commission for Racial Equality. His bill to do so failed in 1982. He was critical of certain aspects of Whitelaw's nationality legislation in 1981 and led the resistance to his attempt to liberalise the immigration rules in regard to fiancÚs in 1983.

He was perfectly prepared to vote against his own Government when he thought it right to do so, as he did when museum charges were imposed in 1972. He abstained when housing benefit was cut in 1984 and later warned his colleagues that the misery "caused by massive unemployment is eating into the nation's moral fibre to a greater extent even than the debilitation of the welfare state". He was one of those resisting Keith Joseph's efforts to introduce greater parental contributions to higher education students in 1983 and later in the decade he waged unrelenting, although ultimately unsuccessful war on the Governments decision to introduce War Crimes legislation to deal with elderly Baltic immigrants. But there were occasions also when he was in the vanguard of Thatcherism, particularly where the Government's trade union legislation was concerned.

Stanbrook was the son of a works manager in the family business. He was educated at the Willesden Central School and left at fifteen to become a junior legal assistant in the employ of Wembley Borough Council 1939-43. As he recalled, he was a trade unionist himself, a member of NALGO. During the blitz, he studied part-time at Birkbeck College and in 1942 he was elected Chairman of the University of London Conservatives, a position that he again held in 1947-48 when he took his finals at University College, London in 1948. He had qualified as a pilot in 1943 and served with the RAF between 1943 and 1946. After further study at Pembroke College, Oxford, he joined the Colonial Service and served as an assistant District Officer in Nigeria 1950-56. He became assistant secretary to the Council of Ministers in Lagos in 1956 and later that year was appointed a District Officer in northern Nigeria where he served until independence came in 1960. Stanbrook qualified as a barrister in 1960 in the Inner Temple and practised at the criminal bar for the next thirty years. From 1964 to 1970 he was the Daily Express's night lawyer, but his prime interest was politics and in 1966 he fought the safe Labour seat of East Ham. He was selected for Orpington in February 1967 and, despite losing all the Association Officers when he tried to bar a satire on Heath in the constituency magazine, he proved an effective campaigner. Once he had regained the seat from Eric Lubbock, he never looked like losing it again, even in the face of a strong Liberal tide in February 1974, and he left a position to his successor that weathered the party's misfortunes in 1997 and 2001. He was active in his party's backbench committees, serving as the secretary of the Home Affairs Committee from 1974-77 and its Vice Chairman 1979-82 and as the secretary 1979-81, Vice Chairman 1981-9 and Chairman 1990-91 of the Northern Ireland Committee. He also chaired the Constitutional Committee from 1984 until he stood down from Parliament and served as chairman of the Nigerian (1979-92), Zambian (1983-92) and Zimbabwean (1983) parliamentary groups. He had founded the British-Nigeria Association in 1961.

For a decade after 1980 he became a partner in the European law firm founded by his son, Stanbrook and Hooper. But he gave up the law in 1990 and after his retirement from Parliament concentrated on securing his doctorate from the University of East Anglia 1995.

A man of singular energy, invariably polite and quietly spoken, he could be sharp of tongue and often found brutal phrases in which to express his strong convictions. But the private man belied the public image. Colleagues described a much more considerate, even gentle figure, revelling in books and music, pleasant and amusing. Too rebellious perhaps to ever become a minister, he nevertheless left an ineffaceable mark on the Parliamentary life of his time.