ENGLAND-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > ENGLAND-OBITS > 2007-12 > 1198415059
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [ENGLAND-OBITS] HILL: John Edward Bernard Hill
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2007 13:04:19 -0000
Last Updated: 1:38am GMT 20/12/2007
Farmer, Conservative MP and enthusiast for Europe who incurred the wrath of
the Tory Right for his views on education
John Hill, who died on December 6 aged 95, was a Suffolk farmer and for 19
years Conservative MP for South Norfolk; he was a government whip under
Macmillan and Home and briefly an education spokesman in opposition.
Hill was very much a Tory moderate. On education he was a disciple of Sir
Edward Boyle, incurring the wrath of the Conservative Right. He was strongly
pro-European, a vice-chairman of the Conservative Group for Europe, and an
inaugural member of Britain's delegation to the European Parliament.
His lasting contribution to parliamentary life is small but important: the
digital clock at the corner of the annunciator screens throughout the Palace
of Westminster that shows how long a member has been speaking. After
pressure from Hill, in 1970 Commons staff found a way of projecting the time
on to the screen, using mirrors, for just 75 - against the 500 it would
have cost for an extra television camera.
Hill was an inveterate traveller. Between coming down from Oxford and being
called to the Bar, he toured the Middle East, India, the United States and
China, where he covered 400 miles on foot.
He was also an art lover, and collected paintings by Samuel Palmer. Soon
after his election he suggested levying a small charge on visitors to the
National Gallery to finance the national collections. When Edward Heath
introduced such charges, Hill found himself entitled to half-price admission
as a member of the National Art Collections Fund, and was amused - given
that he was 6ft 4in tall - to be issued with a child's ticket at the Tate.
Hill's constituency stretched almost the entire width of Norfolk. Its
politics were dominated by agriculture, but with Norfolk's farmworkers
unusually well-organised he faced strong Labour opposition; his majority in
1966 fell to 119. There was pressure to return to agricultural use land
taken for wartime airfields, and Hill campaigned for the rural unemployed to
be put on to destroying redundant runways.
By the mid-1960s the expansion of Thetford to take London "overspill" was
also causing problems. Hill was appalled when the Post Office told newcomers
they would have to wait three years for a telephone because of a shortage of
John Edward Bernard Hill was born on November 13 1912, the only son of an
officer in the Cambridgeshire Regiment. He was educated at Charterhouse and
Merton College, Oxford, where he won a soccer Blue, before being called to
the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1938.
On the outbreak of war he joined 54 Field Regiment RA, later being
transferred to the Scots Guards. In 1942 he qualified to fly spotter planes,
and after a spell at the War Office was posted to Tunisia with 651 Squadron.
He flew air observation posts on a number of sorties and was wounded the
following year. He was invalided out in 1945 with 100 per cent disability.
To assist his recovery Hill took a 700-acre farm near Halesworth, Suffolk,
which became his lifelong home and interest. He was appointed to the East
Suffolk and Norfolk River Board and served on the executive committee of the
Country Landowners' Association before and after his years at Westminster.
In the same year that he took up farming he was elected a local councillor,
but the chance to serve in Parliament was unexpected. In 1954 South
Norfolk's Conservative MP, Captain Peter Baker, was expelled from the
Commons after being jailed for seven years for forgery. Hill was selected to
fight a difficult January by-election, with a vigorous Labour challenge and
the logistical nightmare of holding five village meetings a day in heavy
On the worst night of the winter 100 people turned up to hear Hill, but
Aneurin Bevan drew 450 with a warning that England would be wiped out within
32 hours of nuclear war breaking out, and Hill was relieved to scrape home
by 865 votes (Baker's majority had been 3,239). In the 1955 election five
months later he widened the margin to 1,475.
At Westminster, Hill twice promoted an anti-litter Bill, and campaigned for
more effective action against pigeons to reduce crop damage. In November
1956, at the height of convulsions in the party over Suez, he was elected to
the executive of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.
In January 1959 Macmillan appointed Hill (with the young Willie Whitelaw) an
unpaid Government whip, and in October 1960 Hill was promoted a Lord
Commissioner of Treasury, or senior whip.
On the back benches after the defeat of 1964, he spoke mainly on agriculture
and the economy. When Heath became leader in 1965 he made Hill an education
spokesman. He held the job for just five months, until the 1966 election,
his most memorable contribution being to suggest that school meals were such
good value that the government should charge more for them. Once more on the
backbenches, Hill became the senior Conservative on the Agriculture Select
Committee, and worked with Edward Boyle to develop a liberal Tory education
policy. The annual elections to the backbench education committee became a
battle between Hill and the Right-winger Ronald Bell; when Boyle left
politics, Bell got the votes together to oust Hill as vice-chairman - but he
came back, and in 1972 was elected to the chair.
Comfortably re-elected in 1970, Hill became a strong backer of Heath on
Europe. He became a delegate to the Council of Europe and Western European
Union, then in 1973 was one of Britain's first contingent in the Strasbourg
Parliament, serving on its transport, social and public health committees.
At the February 1974 election - when South Norfolk underwent major boundary
changes - Hill made way for the future Education Secretary John MacGregor,
but was permitted to remain at Strasbourg for a further six months, at the
height of uncertainty over whether the incoming Labour government would pull
out of Europe. He then returned to farming, and his hobbies.
Hill was a governor of Charterhouse (1958-90), and from 1975 to 1982 served
on the council of the University of East Anglia.
He married, in 1944, Edith Luard, who died in 1995; their adopted daughter
|[ENGLAND-OBITS] HILL: John Edward Bernard Hill by "Peter McCrae" <>|