Sir Peter Tapsell speaks on Tony Benn in House of Commons

Sir Peter Tapsell MP
Sir Peter Tapsell MP

Sir Peter Tapsell has paid tribute to the late former MP Tony Benn.

Speaking i the House of Commons the Louth and Horncastel MP said: “I am the only Member still in the House who voted in favour of the 1963 Peerage Bill, which enabled Tony Benn to renounce his distinguished father’s Stansgate viscountcy and return to us here. At the time, it was a controversial vote.

“Earlier, he had been elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 25, when I, just back from the Army, was in my first year at Oxford. Very shortly after his election he came, in full evening dress, to debate at the Oxford Union. He was strikingly handsome. The president of the Union introduced him to us with the words, ‘I call upon the honourable Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Member of Parliament, New college ex-president, to address the house.’ He made a stunning speech. I remember thinking to myself, ‘How am I ever going to be able to compete with that?’ Of course, I never was able to. Very few people were ever able, as orators, to do so.

“Tony Benn was always kind to me, particularly at the time of the debates on the Maastricht treaty. I even had the privilege, over the years, of occasionally being invited to drink his strong, unsweetened Darjeeling tea from one of his huge tin mugs: the Benn equivalent of a companionship of honour.

“In private life, he was a gentle, sweet, charming man, with perfect manners. His personality changed a little when he had an audience to address. He was a brilliant, rather demagogic speaker — fluent, witty, forceful and above all, passionate — as much a master of the public platform as of the Chamber of this House.

“I would rank him, with Nye Bevan, Michael Foot and Enoch Powell, as the four finest parliamentary debaters during my half century in the House. At his best, he was spellbinding, so that listening to him one was sometimes in danger of being intellectually swept towards some of the wilder shores of politics. Harold Wilson — they were chalk and cheese — famously said of him that he was the only man he had ever known who immatured as he grew older, but that was his great charm: he always retained his youthful enthusiasm and boyish zest, and the conviction that his words could make the world a better place.

“Those are qualities that many women, in particular, find attractive. My French wife thought that he was delightful and great fun. His enchanting American wife adored him as he did her. Tony Benn was a great parliamentarian and a good man. England will remember him.”