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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Thatcher leads tributes to Biffen
Lord Biffen
Lord Biffen served under Margaret Thatcher
Baroness Thatcher has led tributes to Lord Biffen, a key member of her first Cabinet, who has died at the age of 76.

The former PM said: "John was an outstanding Parliamentarian, a widely respected Leader of the House of Commons and a great British patriot."

Lord Biffen served in the first two Thatcher governments but was sacked in 1987, when her press secretary famously described him as "semi-detached".

He died on Tuesday in Shrewsbury after being admitted to hospital on Saturday.

The funeral will take place next Tuesday at the church of St Michael The Arch Angel in Llanyblodwell, Shropshire.

Tory leader David Cameron described Lord Biffen as a "thoughtful and principled politician".

Mr Cameron added: "He was also a great House of Commons man and was liked and respected across all parties."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown also praised his contribution to parliament, saying he brought "eloquence, modesty and humour to the debates of the Commons".

'Fine mind'

Lord Heseltine, a friend since the 1950s, praised Lord Biffen as a balanced and reasonable politician, who was liked by all parties.

"John was not what you'd call a sort of party politician.

Lord Biffen (left, back row) in Margaret Thatcher's 1983 Cabinet

"He wasn't in the business of scoring the easy points. He was a very cerebral politician, he had a very fine mind and he thought a great deal - and a very original mind," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

A Eurosceptic and early disciple of Enoch Powell, Lord Biffen had a reputation as an honest and independent-minded figure.

His opposition to state intervention in economic policy and championing of tight fiscal policy prevented his advancement under Edward Heath but helped his promotion under Margaret Thatcher, who made him a key part of her first Cabinet in 1979.

He had been the MP for Oswestry from 1961 to 1983 when he won a by-election, then for Shropshire North from 1983 to 1997 when he was given a peerage.

He became chief secretary to the Treasury in 1979, moving on to be trade secretary in 1981 and then leader of the House of Commons until 1987.

'Clear opinions'

Lord Biffen was famously called a "semi-detached" member of the Cabinet by Margaret Thatcher's press secretary Bernard Ingham after he criticised some policy decisions and called for a "balanced ticket" at the next election.

He was dropped from the front bench after the 1987 general election.

He was always prepared to put his principles before his political ambitions
Nicholas Wood
Lord Biffen's stepson

Current Leader of the House Harriet Harman also remembered Lord Biffen - who took up the post in the year she was elected to Parliament - as a "great" leader of the house.

"Despite being Leader of the House at the height of Thatcherism, he made all Members of Parliament - even those of us in opposition - feel he was our Leader of the House too."

North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson also paid tribute to his predecessor, saying "he had clear opinions...fluently expressed, and a glorious sense of humour even in his last few years.

"He was proud of being called 'semi-detached' by Bernard Ingham, retained his independence, and was true to his principles and core beliefs."

'Sensitive man'

Lord Biffen suffered kidney problems and had been on dialysis. He had been hospitalised with septicaemia on Saturday.

Since 2005 he had been vice-chair of the All-party Parliamentary Kidney Group and was also a patron of the National Kidney Foundation.

He is survived by his wife Sarah, stepson Nicholas Wood and stepdaughter Lucy Eggleton.

Mr Wood said: "I think he was, unusually perhaps for a politician, an extremely sensitive man.

"He was respected by people from all political backgrounds.

"For somebody who had risen so high, he was not very ambitious. He was always prepared to put his principles before his political ambitions."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
A look back at Lord Biffen's life



SEE ALSO
Obituary: Lord Biffen
14 Aug 07 |  UK Politics

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