Lord Hardy of Wath – MP for Rother Valley 1970-83 and for Wentworth 1983-97 – died just before Christmas 2003, aged 72. He had been ill for some time.
Peter Hardy was born at Wath upon Dearne in 1931 into a mining family. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all gone down the pit. Peter was educated at Wath upon Dearne Grammar School, Westminster Teacher Training College and Sheffield University, where he took a degree in Curricular Studies. After National Service in the RAF he taught at various South Yorkshire Schools until his entry into Parliament. For the ten years before that he was head of the English Department at Mexborough County Secondary School. Initially, in Parliament, he took a deep interest in Education issues and was a champion of classroom teachers. He served on Wath upon Dearne Urban District Council for ten years and was Chairman in 1968-69. He also took a great interest in mining issues, naturally, and was sponsored by NACODS. For some time he was Chairman of the PLP Energy Committee.
Assiduous and diligent are perhaps the words which describe him best. He was meticulous in his constituency work and had no pretentions to high office, though he served as PPS to Tony Crosland 1974-77 and then David Owen 1977-79, when he took over as Foreign Secretary after Crosland’s death. Although highly critical of the Common Market – particularly the Common Agriculture Policy – he was a fervent European in the wider sense. He was a member of the delegation to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, serving as Leader of the Labour delegation from 1983 to 1996 and simultaneously as vice-chairman of the Socialist Group on the Council of Europe.
He was justly admired for his encyclopaedic knowledge of and deep interest in wildlife and habitats. He wrote a book about badgers and was the sponsor of the Badgers Act of 1973, the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act of 1975 and the Protection of Birds (Amendment) Act of 1976.
During the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, a mammoth piece of legislation, Peter kept fellow MPs and Ministers up till 2.00am in Committee. This actually achieved some tangible results, unlike most filibustering. Deals were struck – and there are species now protected in the schedules to that Act which would not otherwise have been.
He campaigned for years to give statutory protection to hedgerows, long before such matters became fashionable and probably before the term biodiversity had crossed any other MPs’ lips. Outside Parliament he served for several years on the Council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as well as on the Central Executive of the NSPCC. He bred and showed deerhounds and Irish wolfhounds, judged at dog shows and was an adviser to the Kennel Club. He left the Commons in 1997 and moved into the Lords, where he was active on much the same issues until the onset of his illness, in late spring of last year.
He was widely respected and admired for the quiet and serious manner in which he made a contribution to public life and his death came as a great shock to his colleagues, who were largely unaware of the seriousness of his illness. Those who care deeply about wildlife and countryside issues have lost a very great Parliamentary champion.
Alan Howarth, PLP