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Henry Brooke, Baron Brooke of Cumnor

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The Lord Brooke of Cumnor
Brooke in 1950
Home Secretary
In office
14 July 1962 – 16 October 1964
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded byRab Butler
Succeeded bySir Frank Soskice
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
9 October 1961 – 13 July 1962
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byJohn Boyd-Carpenter
Member of Parliament
for Hampstead
In office
23 February 1950 – 10 March 1966
Preceded byCharles Challen
Succeeded byBen Whitaker
Member of Parliament
for Lewisham West
In office
24 November 1938 – 15 June 1945
Preceded byPhilip Dawson
Succeeded byArthur Skeffington
Personal details
Born(1903-04-09)9 April 1903
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Died29 March 1984(1984-03-29) (aged 80)
Marlborough, Wiltshire, England
Political partyConservative
SpouseThe Baroness Brooke of Ystradfellte
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford

Henry Brooke, Baron Brooke of Cumnor, CH, PC (9 April 1903 – 29 March 1984) was a British Conservative Party politician who served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General from 1961 to 1962 and — following the "Night of the Long Knives" — as Home Secretary from 1962 to 1964.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Brooke was born in Oxford,[2] the son of artist Leonard Leslie Brooke and Sybil Diana (née Brooke), daughter of Irish churchman Stopford Augustus Brooke.[3] He was educated at Marlborough College, where he was a classmate of Rab Butler, and Balliol College, Oxford. He had an elder brother, 2nd Lt. Leonard Stopford Brooke, who was killed in Germany in 1918 while serving with the Army Cyclist Corps.[1][3]

Political career[edit]

After teaching philosophy at Balliol College for a year, Brooke worked at a Quaker settlement for the unemployed in the Rhondda Valley from 1927 to 1928. This experience led him to turn down the offer of a Fellowship in philosophy at Balliol in favour of a lifetime in politics. After a year on The Economist, Brooke became one of the original members, and subsequently Deputy Chairman, of the Conservative Research Department (1929–1937) under the chairmanship of Neville Chamberlain.[4] The impetus for the pre-war "special areas" legislation was derived from his unsigned articles on "Places without a Future" which he wrote for The Times in 1934.[5]

He was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Lewisham West in a 1938 by-election. He spoke at the request of the Whips in support of Chamberlain in the debate of May 1940, just before the prime minister's fall from power,[6] and Brooke himself was defeated in the 1945 general election. The next year he was elected to the London County Council, and served as Conservative leader on the council until 1951, continuing to serve on the Council and the Hampstead borough council until 1955. In 1949, he led the Conservative party on the London County Council to the brink of seizing power for only the third time in its history.[7] From 1946 to 1948 he was the last deputy chairman of the Southern Railway before nationalisation.[citation needed]

Brooke returned to parliament in 1950 as MP for Hampstead, and entered Winston Churchill's government in 1954 as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, serving under Rab Butler and Harold Macmillan when they were Chancellors of the Exchequer.[8] He continued in this job until 1957, when he became Minister of Housing and Local Government[9] and Minister of Welsh Affairs in the Macmillan government, entering the Cabinet. In the former job he was the main driving force behind making London a smokeless zone.[10] He attracted controversy when steering the Rent Bill through Parliament after it had already secured a Second Reading in the House of Commons under his predecessors.[11] In the latter job, he caused anger throughout Wales through his crucial support of Liverpool Council's bid to secure Westminster's approval of an Act of Parliament to flood Cwm Tryweryn in Meirionydd, thereby by-passing Welsh local authority opposition to the scheme. However, largely in response to the protests over Tryweryn, he subsequently attracted investment to Wales, including such projects as the Severn Bridge, the steelworks at Llanwern, and the Heads of the Valleys Road. In 1961 he became the first Chief Secretary to the Treasury in modern times.[12]

In 1962, he reached his highest level in government, becoming Home Secretary following Harold Macmillan's "Night of the Long Knives" when many senior ministers were sacked. As Home Secretary, Brooke was not particularly successful, and his actions caused controversy on several occasions, including his response to the noisy demonstrations against the state visit by King Paul and Queen Frederica of Greece.[13]

In his obituary in The Times,[14] the author wrote: "His tenure of this difficult post was not a particularly happy one, and although his integrity and fairness were generally admired, there was a feeling in some quarters that he lacked the sensitiveness and flexibility required in the handling of difficult individual cases." In the Dictionary of National Biography,[15] Lord Blake wrote that Brooke had to take a number of decisions in the field of immigration and deportation which infuriated libertarians, and that he seemed to display a certain insensitivity in these cases – an impression enhanced by his somewhat pedantic way of speech. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography[16]

He was plunged into controversy at the very beginning of his term of office because of his initial reaction to the case of Carmen Bryan.[17] Bryan was a 22-year-old Jamaican woman and first offender, who pleaded guilty to petty larceny (shoplifting goods worth £2) and was recommended for deportation by Paddington magistrates. Brooke's acquiescence to the court order and her six-week detention in Holloway Prison pending deportation was seen[by whom?] as both unnecessary and unjust. Neither bail nor the opportunity for her to appeal were offered directly to her. Standing firm, Brooke told the House of Commons, "I think it would be a great act of injustice if I were to stand in the way of her returning to Jamaica. I am not prepared to look at this case again". However, criticism in Parliament and in the media combined to force a speedy review where, four days later, Brooke recanted, freeing Bryan and allowing her to remain. Deportations for misdemeanours were subsequently suspended. There had been more than eighty recommendations for deportation in the seven weeks following the Conservative Government's introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act (1962).[citation needed]

Brooke was one of many politicians to receive unprecedented criticism on That Was The Week That Was on BBC Television in 1962–63, which called him "the most hated man in Britain" and ended a mock profile of him with the phrase "If you're Home Secretary, you can get away with murder".[18] He was also involved in the passage of various new anti-drug laws, including ones banning possession of amphetamines and the growing of cannabis. As the final arbiter in death penalty cases he was the last Home Secretary to allow death sentences to go ahead for the murder of John Alan West.[citation needed]

Sir Alec Douglas-Home kept Brooke in office as Home Secretary when he became Prime Minister in October 1963, and his last 12 months in office, which saw the introduction of the Police Act 1964 and the creation of a Royal Commission on Crime and Punishment, attracted much less controversy.[19]

Brooke went into opposition following the Conservative defeat in 1964, and he lost his seat in the subsequent election in 1966. Having been appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour as a Member (CH) in 1964,[20] he was created a life peer as Baron Brooke of Cumnor, of Cumnor in the Royal County of Berks on 20 July 1966,[21] and acted as a Conservative front bench spokesman in the House of Lords until 1970. The onset of Parkinson's disease then led him to retire gradually from public life.[citation needed]

Personal life and family[edit]

Brooke married Barbara Muriel, daughter of the Reverend Alfred Mathews, in 1933. As she was made a life peer, too, they were one of the few couples who both held titles in their own right. The couple had four children:


Lord Brooke of Cumnor died from Parkinson's disease in 1984, aged 80.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Lord Brooke of Cumnor – Former Conservative Home Secretary". The Times. 1 April 1984. p. 14.
  2. ^ 1911 England Census
  3. ^ a b "Mr. Leslie Brooke – Illustrator of Children's Books". The Times. 2 May 1940. p. 9.
  4. ^ See John Ramsden, The Making of Conservative Party Policy, Chapter 4 (Longmans, 1980) for a full description of Brooke's work at the Research Department.
  5. ^ See Tory Policy-Making, edited by Alistair Cooke (Conservative Research Department, 2009), Chapter 2, pp 12-13. "A year spent in a Quaker settlement for the unemployed in the Rhondda Valley before joining the CRD had instilled in Brooke a deep commitment to economic and social progress which made him a natural Chamberlain man: and, like Chamberlain ... he enjoyed asking the tough questions about how progress could be achieved within an evolving framework of Tory policy which allotted no place to high taxation as the basis of extended state activity." Cooke, op. cit., at p. 13 describes him as the linchpin of the Research Department until his departure in 1937 to prepare for a Parliamentary career.
  6. ^ John Ramsden, op.cit,. at p. 66 writes of the "real admiration that was felt for Chamberlain as a politician by almost everyone who worked for him - the same loyalty was generated at the Ministry of Health and the Treasury when he was in charge."
  7. ^ Badly beaten in 1946, the Conservatives obtained 64 seats in 1949, the Labour Party 64 and the Liberals one. They received comfortably the largest number of votes – 1,523,499 to 1,405,543 – and would have gained power if 12 voters in Stoke Newington had voted for one of their candidates, and not for Labour. In the event, Labour retained power by deploying the votes of those aldermen who continued in office to elect a new chairman from outside the Council (who, in turn, voted in favour of the election of six more Labour aldermen).
  8. ^ Harold Macmillan, in his memoirs Riding the Storm, wrote that Brooke was an experienced politician, destined, as he could see, to reach high office. "A good scholar he was sound rather than brilliant, and was absolutely reliable and loyal."
  9. ^ His Parliamentary Secretary Reginald Bevins (1957-1959), in his Memoirs The Greasy Pole (Hodder & Stoughton 1965) wrote at p. 50 of the intense workload, but added: "A number of people, however, combined to make life tolerable, even enjoyable. Henry Brooke for one. He was as straight as a die, the most honest politician I have ever known. Confronted by any problem, most ministers ask themselves, first, what is the right course to take and, in the light of this, what is politically expedient. I know of some who only asked the second question. Henry Brooke only asked himself the first question. To him politics is not the art of the possible; it is simply doing what he considers right. This is his character, and there is nothing priggish in it." He also wrote, at p. 103: "I have always respected Henry Brooke’s judgment. His detractors are very bad judges of character, for he was, as I have already said, the most honest man in British politics and a man who, as Home Secretary, was most unfairly traduced."
  10. ^ In The Times, 3 April 1984, Lord Molson wrote in a supplementary obituary notice: "There were many who told him that to change so completely the London atmosphere was impossible, practically and financially. His persistence and his deep knowledge of government, central and local, achieved a change in the London environment which only the rapidly diminishing number of us who can remember the old ‘pea soup’ fogs can appreciate." Lord Molson was a former chairman of the Committee for Environmental Conservation.
  11. ^ See Simon Heffer, Like the Roman, A Life of Enoch Powell (Hutchinson, 1996) at p. 211: "On 18th February 1958 the Labour-supporting Daily Herald reported gossip that Brooke and Bevins were saying bluntly that they had been saddled with the Rent Bill, which they were finding it hard to defend." The aim of the Act, to attract investment into the private rented market, was thwarted by the Labour Party’s announcement that it would repeal the Act as soon as it took office (as indeed it did, in 1965).
  12. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, wrote: "His hard-working and orthodox character was appreciated in the Treasury, where he helped to prepare some unpopular policies associated with the chancellor of the exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd."
  13. ^ Brooke is reported as saying: "The demonstrators were shouting 'fascist police' at masses of splendid London policemen who had to be taken off their proper work of fighting crime to quell their filthy abuse." (The Times, 15 July 1963).
  14. ^ The Times, 30 March 1984. This obituary added: "In private life his quiet manner, friendliness and utter reliability ensured him a host of friends, and his loyalty and devotion to Marlborough College, to Balliol, to London local government, and to the Conservative Party will cause him to be long remembered among innumerable people."
  15. ^ The Dictionary of National Biography (Missing Persons), Oxford University Press 1993, p. 92.
  16. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  17. ^ Miss Carmen Bryan (Deportation Order) Hansard, HC Deb 19 July 1962 vol 663 cc 635-41. The actual decision had been taken by Brooke's predecessor R.A.Butler, but he loyally defended it.
  18. ^ See Robert Shepherd, Iain Macleod (Hutchinson, 1994), at p. 287: "The time was ripe for the satirists. The notion that modern society should be ruled by its elders and betters was increasingly rejected, yet Macmillan’s Government had about it the aura of rule by elders and betters. Inevitably, ministers (especially the hapless Home Secretary Henry Brooke) became the butt of some harsh satirical comment."
  19. ^ In September 1964, a month before the General Election, he agreed with the Prime Minister that the 1957 Homicide Act was "'unworkable' and that the next Home Secretary, of whatever party, would have to abolish the death penalty." Richard Lamb, The Macmillan Years 1957-1963, p 410. His speech from the Opposition back benches in the death penalty debate in December 1964, and the tributes it received, have been republished by his son Sir Henry Brooke (a former Lord Justice of Appeal) at https://sirhenrybrooke.me/2016/01/31/my-fathers-speech-in-december-1964-in-the-death-penalty-debate/
  20. ^ "No. 43502". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 November 1964. p. 10228.
  21. ^ "No. 44059". The London Gazette. 21 July 1966. p. 8227.


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Lewisham West
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Hampstead
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Housing and Local Government and Welsh Affairs
Succeeded by
New post Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Preceded by Paymaster General
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary of State for the Home Department
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Harold Webbe
as leader of the Municipal Reform Party
on London County Council
Leader of the Conservative Party on London County Council
Succeeded by