Labour MP and lawyer;
Born: May 16, 1938; Died: October 13, 2012.
Sir Stuart Bell, who has died aged 74 of pancreatic cancer, was a senior Labour backbencher who represented the safe seat of Middlesbrough for almost 30 years but also enjoyed successful careers in journalism and law. He also published novels and short stories.
Although he never served as a minister, he was Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman during the 1980s and trade and industry spokesman in the early 1990s under the leadership of John Smith and then Tony Blair. His wooing of business before the 1997 General Election was widely regarded as having helped secure New Labour victory.
But he was not given a role in Mr Blair's first Cabinet, perhaps as a result of tensions with Gordon Brown. But he was rewarded with his appointment as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Church of England's spokesman in the Commons, and he spent a record 13 years in the role.
Later, while serving on the Members Estimate Committee at Parliament, he was outspoken in his supporting of MPs' interests during the expenses scandal of 2009. He himself was not without censure for claiming £29,570 in travel expenses, the highest of any north-east England member.
He was born in the mining village of High Spen in County Durham. His father was a miner but the young Bell wanted to be a writer. Having passed his 11-plus he attended grammar school in Gateshead, leaving to eventually find work with the Blaydon Courier newspaper.
Freelance journalism took him to London where he eventually found work as a copytaker for The Daily Telegraph before taking up a post as a shorthand typist for Lloyd's of London.
He left London after four years and moved to Paris, became fluent in French and worked as the personal assistant to an international lawyer and started to study law. He was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1970 and worked as a lawyer in Paris until 1977, representing large multinational companies and making large amounts of money.
In the early and mid 1970s he wrote several novels – including one work of erotic fiction – and an account of the 1974 election in France, Giscard d'Estaing's Fifth Republic. Already a member of the Labour Party, the experience inspired him to pursue a career in politics. In 1980 he was elected to the city council in Newcastle and was selected in 1982 to replace Arthur Bottomley, the retiring MP for Middlesbrough, a relatively safe seat. He won the seat at the 1983 General Election with a majority of nearly 10,000 votes. He served as PPS to Roy Hattersley, then Labour's deputy leader, and was promoted to the front bench by Neil Kinnock as Northern Ireland spokesman in 1984.
But he resigned from Labour's front bench in 1987 to represent the interests of the parents caught up in the Cleveland child abuse scandal. He was able to help negotiate settlements for the families involved after legal action was taken against Cleveland County Council and the area health authority and was also involved in a lengthy public inquiry.
He retained his seat at the 2010 General Election with a majority of 8689 despite murmurings from some quarters he had neglected his constituency. He was knighted in 2004 for his services to Parliament and was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur, France's highest honour, by President Jacques Chirac in 2006.
Sir Stuart Bell was married in 1960 to Margaret Bruce. After his divorce he married Margaret Allan in 1980. She survives him along with their son and a son and a daughter from his first marriage.
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