WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2009-01 > 1232806544
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] REES: Peter Wynford Innes Rees 2008
Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2009 14:15:44 -0000
Pugnacious Chief Secretary to the Treasury who drove down public spending in
Last Updated: 8:08PM GMT 02 Dec 2008
>From The Telegraph.co.uk
Photo: UPPA The Lord Rees, who died on Sunday aged 81, was, as Peter Rees,
a canny tax barrister who became a useful if controversial member of
Margaret Thatcher's government, serving for two years in her Cabinet as
Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Later he made a successful career in
Short, rubicund and bespectacled with twinkling eyes, Rees, though far from
being a disagreeable man, possessed a testy manner which did not assist him
when, as Chief Secretary, he conducted the annual spending negotiations with
departmental ministers. It was, however, highly effective at rattling Labour
ministers, as when in 1975 he provoked Denis Healey into calling him a
Despite his abrasive side and his robust views on law and order, immigration
and picket-line violence - all reinforced by his experiences as MP for the
port and pit constituency of Dover - Rees was not a knee-jerk Right-winger.
After visiting Rhodesia in 1970 he confided that the "moderates" in Ian
Smith's Rhodesian Front terrified him.
Rees's quick mind and financial acuity made him a handy Treasury and trade
minister; a colleague rated him "possibly the only foxhunting man in Wales
who can count up to 10 without using his fingers". Yet he became a bte
noire for the Left because prior to taking office he had acted as an adviser
to the Rossminster group of finance companies, whose tax avoidance schemes
later fell foul of the Inland Revenue.
In 1979 the House of Lords upheld the Revenue's right to raid the homes of
key figures in the company at dawn in search of incriminating documents.
Labour MPs demanded Rees's resignation, arguing that the investigation could
not be thorough if Rossminster's former adviser was the minister in charge
of the Revenue. To the embarrassment of the government, the affair rumbled
on for a year, but Rees survived with Mrs Thatcher's support - though Dennis
Skinner never let the matter drop.
Peter Wynford Innes Rees was born on December 9 1926. His father, the even
more short-fused Maj-Gen TW "Pete" Rees of Goytre Hall, Abergavenny, would
have a daredevil war with the Indian Army in Burma; the novelist John
Masters, his 20th chief of staff after Rees senior had sacked the previous
19, wrote: "Nothing cheers up the troops like a dead general. Pete did his
Unlike many Cambrian silks, Rees had the advantage of social position. After
Stowe, he joined the Scots Guards at the very end of the war before going up
to Christ Church, Oxford, to read History. Rees was called to the Bar by
Inner Temple in 1953, then embarked on a sound if initially unspectacular
practice in London and on the Oxford Circuit, taking Silk in 1969 and
becoming a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1976.
Rees fought three seats unsuccessfully, but was picked in 1970 to fight the
social security minister David Ennals at Dover, where a late swing to the
Tories saw him elected by 1,649 votes. The whips soon appointed him to the
Select Committee on Company Taxation, and in 1972 he became Parliamentary
private secretary to Sir Geoffrey Howe. A year after the Tories were
defeated in 1974 he joined the executive of the 1922 Committee.
Rees got his first front-bench job in November 1977, when Mrs Thatcher
appointed him a finance spokesman; he took to the task with relish, scorning
the deadening thicket of business taxation under Labour while adroitly
handling points of fiscal detail. When Labour was driven from office in May
1979 he became Minister of State at the Treasury with responsibility for tax
matters, only for Rossminster to rear its ugly head.
In September 1981 Rees moved sideways to become Minister for Trade. It was,
for once, no reflection on his powers of diplomacy that within 24 hours of
his visiting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's sulphurous prime minister Dr Matathir
Mohamed announced trade sanctions against Britain. Much of his time was
spent fending off retaliatory action by the Reagan administration against
British products, notably steel, in protest at Europe's alleged
protectionism and readiness to help the Soviet Union build a gas pipeline
Rees also played an important role in the restoration of relations with
General Pinochet's regime whose support for Britain during the Falklands War
dulled memories of the rupture under Labour over the torture in Chile of the
British doctor Sheila Cassidy.
After the Conservative landslide of 1983 Mrs Thatcher brought Rees into her
Cabinet, at 56, as Chief Secretary to Nigel Lawson. The new Chancellor was
eager to make room for lower taxes by putting a tight rein on public
spending, and imposed an instant cut of 500 million in advance of Rees's
first annual "bilaterals" with spending ministers. Rees nevertheless managed
to get departmental "bids" down to the 126.4 billion provided for in the
previous Budget, though it took a session of Lord Whitelaw's "Star Chamber"
to achieve the settlement.
Rees hoped the 1984 spending round would be less personally gruelling, and
looked to a further promotion; he was being canvassed as successor to James
Prior as Northern Ireland Secretary. He did manage to hammer departmental
bids down to the level needed to prepare the way for tax cuts, but within a
month of Lawson's January 1985 expenditure White Paper he had to admit that
spending was surging ahead of estimates.
By that spring he knew he was out of favour; he would ask Lobby
correspondents over lunch: "What are they saying about me?" He was sacked in
On the back benches again after eight years, Rees was one of five Tories to
vote against the Channel Tunnel, reflecting constituents' fears about the
project's impact on the ferries. He also urged Lawson to join the European
Monetary System - something the Chancellor was himself urging on Mrs
Rees now saw his future in the boardroom. Shortly after his dismissal he
became deputy chairman of Leopold Joseph Holdings, and early in 1986 a
director of the tea and offshore services company James Finlay.
Just before leaving the House at the 1987 election he joined the board of
the Economic Forestry Group, which was about to provoke an environmental
storm by planting conifers in the Flow Country of Sutherland as a tax
shelter for celebrities including Terry Wogan and Westminster Council's Lady
Porter; he chaired the Group from 1989 until 1993, by when the experiment
had proved a costly failure. A long-standing "name" at Lloyd's, he was
elected to its council in 1987 as one of three external members.
Created a life peer as Baron Rees of Goytre, he became chairman of the Duty
Free Confederation. In 1988 he became chairman of London and Scottish
Maritime Oil (later LASMO), presiding over its successful but pyrrhic bid
for Ultramar, but was ousted on age grounds in 1993. He also chaired General
Cable, General Mobile Communications, CLM Insurance Fund and the Quadrant
He married, in 1969, Mrs Anthea Wendell.
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