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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 16:14 GMT
Political bruiser admired by colleagues
Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish
Former minister was admired for his wit in debate

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who has died aged 62, was a popular former Conservative minister whose reputation as a political bruiser was tempered by a sharp wit.

Both as a minister under John Major and later as deputy leader of the Conservative peers in opposition, he deployed a sense of mischief as much as heavyweight argument in debates.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
1938 - Born John Jackson Mackay
1979 - elected Tory MP for Argyll
1994 - becomes junior social security minister under John Major
2000 - Chairman of committees (deputy speaker) House of Lords

He gave up the Tory whip in November last year to take on the role of chairman of committees, which included sitting on the Woolsack in the absence of the Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine.

One of his last acts was to interview shortlisted candidates for job of Black Rod, which had been advertised for the first time.

Humble beginnings

John Jackson Mackay, born in Argyll in 1938, attended local grammar schools before training as a teacher at Glasgow University.

He became head of maths as Oban High school, during which time he entered politics first as a town councillor and then in 1979 as Conservative MP for Argyll.

Ministerial posts followed in the Scottish Office including agriculture and fishing where he deployed his detailed knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, angling.

Seat lost

But in 1987 he fell victim to the cull of Conservative MPs in Scotland in the general election, losing his seat.

John Mackay remained in politics becoming head of Conservative central office in Scotland, and returned to Parliament as a life peer in 1991, taking his title from the village of Ardbrecknish, on the banks of Loch Awe in Argyllshire.

Three years later he was back in government as minister of state in the department of social security, where he won praise for the way he handled the introduction of "no-fault" divorces, and the reduction of time couples have to wait to formally separate from five years to one.

Opposition years

After the Tories lost power in 1997, Lord Mackay took on the role of opposition spokesman on constitutional affairs, clashing with the government on some of their flagship legislation including devolution for Scotland and the reform of the Lords itself.

Boasting that he was in the Lords to cause "maximum mayhem" for the government, he regularly scored victories in the division lobby, although 10 of his 11 legislative wins were subsequently overturned in the Commons.

Tory deputy leader

When Lord Cranborne resigned as Conservative leader in the Lords over a secret deal to save the hereditaries, Lord Mackay was made deputy to the new leader Lord Strathclyde.

He remained a strong supporter of the Upper House, once reminding his colleagues after accusations that some might be too old for the rigours of the job: "Dottiness is not necessarily a factor of age and hereditary and life peers over 75 still play an important role in the House of Lords."

In November 2000 he gave up party politics to sit as a crossbencher and take on the role of chairman of committees, a 66,000 a year post sitting on the Woolsack as deputy speaker in the absence of Lord Irvine of Lairg.

He is survived by his widow Sheena and a son and two daughters.

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21 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Former Tory minister dies
21 Feb 01 | Scotland
Tributes to Lord Mackay
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