Tam Dalyell

Sir Thomas Dalyell of the Binns, 11th Baronet (/diˈɛl/ (listen) dee-EL; 9 August 1932 – 26 January 2017), known as Tam Dalyell, was a Scottish Labour Party politician who was a member of the House of Commons from 1962 to 2005. He represented West Lothian from 1962 to 1983, then Linlithgow from 1983 to 2005. He is particularly well known for his formulation of what came to be known as the "West Lothian question", on whether non-English MPs should be able to vote upon English-only matters after political devolution.

Tam Dalyell
Dalyell on After Dark in 1991
Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh
In office
7 March 2003  15 February 2006
Preceded byRobin Harper
Succeeded byMark Ballard
Father of the House
In office
7 June 2001  11 April 2005
Preceded bySir Edward Heath
Succeeded byAlan Williams
Member of Parliament
for Linlithgow
West Lothian (1962-1983)
In office
14 June 1962  11 April 2005
Preceded byJohn Taylor
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Thomas Dalyell Loch

(1932-08-09)9 August 1932
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died26 January 2017(2017-01-26) (aged 84)
West Lothian, Scotland
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Kathleen Wheatley
ResidenceHouse of the Binns
Alma materEton College
King's College, Cambridge
Military service
Branch/serviceRoyal Scots Greys
British Army
Years of service1950–1952

Early life and career

Dalyell was born in Edinburgh,[1] and raised in his mother Nora Dalyell's family home, the Binns, near Linlithgow, West Lothian; his father Gordon Loch CIE (1887–1953) was a colonial civil servant and a scion of the Loch family. Highland Clearances facilitator James Loch (1780–1855) was an ancestral uncle. Loch (and his son) took his wife's surname in 1938, and through his mother Dalyell inherited the baronetcy of Dalyell.[2] However, he never used the title.[3]

Dalyell was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Eton College.[4] He did his National Service with the Royal Scots Greys from 1950 to 1952, as an ordinary trooper, after failing his officer training. He then went to King's College, Cambridge, to study mathematics, but switched to history. He became Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association and Vice-President of the Cambridge Union Society.[5][6]:63 Cambridge economist Joan Robinson encouraged him to stay for a year after completing his history degree to take an additional degree in economics, which he did and later described as "the hardest work I ever did, much harder than being a PPS".[7] He then trained as a teacher at Moray House College in Edinburgh and taught at Bo'ness Academy for three years[4] and was Director of Studies on the ship school Dunera 1961–1962.[8][9]

In 1969 Dalyell became a columnist for New Scientist magazine,[10] contributing Westminster Scene (later Westminster Diary) until his retirement in 2005. This provided "a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa", covering many subjects of public concern including industrial diseases, data protection, chemical weapons and the environment.[11]

Political career

Having been educated by left-wing economists at Cambridge, Dalyell said that he became a socialist because of the level of unemployment in Scotland.[7] He joined the Labour Party in 1956, following the Suez Crisis.[12] After being unsuccessful as a parliamentary candidate for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1959, he became a Member of Parliament in June 1962, when he defeated William Wolfe of the Scottish National Party in a hard-fought by-election for West Lothian.[2] From 1983 onwards, he represented Linlithgow (when the New Town of Livingston formed its own constituency) and easily retained the seat. He became Father of the House after the 2001 general election, when Former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath retired from the House of Commons.[13] He was a nominated Member of the European Parliament from 1975–79,[2] and a member of the Labour National Executive from 1986-87 representing the Campaign group.[14]

Dalyell's independent stance in Parliament ensured his isolation from significant committees and jobs. His early career was promising and he became Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Richard Crossman.[15] He annoyed a number of ministers and was heavily censured by the Privileges Committee for a leak about the biological weapons research establishment, Porton Down,[16] to the newspapers (though he said that he thought the draft minutes of the Select Committee on Science and Technology were in the public domain).[6]:110–112 When Labour were defeated in 1970, his chances of senior office were effectively over. He was opposed to Scottish devolution and was the first to come up with the "West Lothian question", although it was actually named by Conservative MP Enoch Powell. He continued to argue his own causes: in 1978-79, he voted against his own government over 100 times, despite a three-line whip.[16]

In the 1990s, Dalyell asked the Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, to grant diplomatic immunity to Lester Coleman, a co-author of Trail of the Octopus, so that he could give evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial in Scotland; the US Government had indictments against Coleman, accusing him of passport fraud and perjury. Allan Stewart, a former Scottish Office minister and Conservative MP for Eastwood, also said that Coleman should be granted immunity so he could testify in Scotland. The Lord Advocate rejected Dalyell's plea, saying that the Home Office and the English courts had jurisdiction over the demand of the US government's extradition demand regarding Coleman, and that the Crown Office and the Scottish Office had no authority over the case.[17] Dalyell later said, "I had contact with Les Coleman 10 years ago. In my opinion, though he has a chequered history, I take him seriously."[18]

Dalyell was vocal in his disapproval of actions he deemed imperialistic. Beginning with his opposition to action in Borneo in 1965, he contested almost every British military action, arguing against action in Aden,[19] the depopulation of Diego Garcia,[20] the Falklands War (especially the sinking of the General Belgrano), the Gulf War and action in Kosovo and Iraq.[21] "I will resist a war with every sinew in my body", he said.[7] When invited by a television journalist to rank Tony Blair among the eight Prime Ministers he had observed as a parliamentarian, he cited policy over Kosovo and Iraq as reasons for placing his party leader at the bottom of the list. He was also a strong presence in Parliament concerning Libya and led no fewer than 17 adjournment debates on the Lockerbie bombing,[22][23] in which he repeatedly demanded answers by the Government to the reports of Hans Köchler, United Nations observer at the Lockerbie trial.[24]

In February 2003, he became the first Father of the House to be ordered to leave the chamber, after asking questions about the government's "dossier" on weapons in Iraq.[25] Following his outspoken opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and criticism of the Government, Downing Street suggested that he might face withdrawal of the Labour whip.[26] In May, the American magazine Vanity Fair reported Dalyell indirectly as having said that Prime Minister Tony Blair was unduly influenced by a "cabal of Jewish advisers".[27] He specifically named Lord Levy, who was Blair's official representative in the Middle East, and Labour politicians Peter Mandelson (whose father was Jewish) and Jack Straw (whose great-grandfather was Jewish). Mandelson said that "apart from the fact that I am not actually Jewish, I wear my father's parentage with pride".[28] Dalyell denied accusations that the remarks were anti-Semitic.[29][30][31] In March 2003, regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Dalyell accused Blair of being a war criminal. He stated that "since Mr Blair is going ahead with his support for a US attack without unambiguous UN authorisation, he should be branded as a war criminal and sent to The Hague".[32]

On 7 March 2003, Dalyell was elected as Rector of the University of Edinburgh.[33] After a three-year term, he was succeeded in 2006 by Mark Ballard. It was announced on 13 January 2004 that Dalyell would stand down from Parliament at the next general election,[5] and he left the House of Commons in April 2005 after 43 years as a Member of Parliament.[34] He had been Scotland's longest-serving MP since the resignation of Bruce Millan in 1988. He was succeeded as Father of the House by Alan Williams. In 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that Dalyell had submitted an expenses claim for £18,000 for three bookcases just two months before his retirement from the House of Commons.[35] Dalyell claimed that this was a legitimate expense to which he was entitled;[36] the House of Commons' Fees Office released £7,800.

Dalyell was given an honorary doctorate by Heriot-Watt University in 2011.[37]

Personal life and death

He married Kathleen Wheatley, a teacher, on 26 December 1963;[38] she was the elder daughter of the late Baron Wheatley, one-time Lord Advocate and Labour MP for East Edinburgh.[4] They have a son Gordon Wheatley Dalyell,[39] and a daughter Moira, both of whom are lawyers. In his retirement, and for some years previously, he contributed obituaries to The Independent.[4] In 2011 he published his autobiography, The Importance of Being Awkward. The dedication is "To the men and women of West Lothian – Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal, Communist – who, whatever their political opinions, were kind to me in all sorts of ways over 43 years as their representative in the House of Commons."[40]

Dalyell died at home, aged 84, after a short illness.[41]


  • The Case of Ship-Schools (1960), OCLC 851703328
  • Ship-School Dunera (1963), OCLC 774519818
  • Devolution: The End of Britain? (1977), ISBN 9780224015592
  • One Man's Falklands (1982), ISBN 9780900821653
  • A Science Policy for Britain (1983), ISBN 9780582902572
  • Thatcher's Torpedo (1983), ISBN 9780900821677
  • Misrule (1987), ISBN 9780241121702
  • Dick Crossman: A Portrait (1989), ISBN 9780297796701
  • The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell (2011), ISBN 9780857900753
  • The Question of Scotland ~ Devolution and After (2016), ISBN 9781780273686

See also


  1. Loch, Percy Gordon (1934) The Family Loch, privately printed, p. 202.
  2. Wilson, Brian (26 January 2017). "Tam Dalyell obituary". The Guardian.
  3. "Obituary: Tam Dalyell". BBC News. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  4. Fergusson, James (26 January 2017). "Tam Dalyell obituary: Campaigning Scottish Labour MP who was 'far too inquisitive for his own good'". The Independent. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  5. "Dalyell to step down at election". BBC News. 13 January 2004.
  6. Tam Dalyell (2011). The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell. Birlinn. ISBN 9780857900753. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  7. Andrew Brown (13 April 2002). "Heckling for Britain". Guardian online. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  8. Dalyell, Tam (20 May 1982). "A Falklands Polemic". London Review of Books. 4 (9): 17.
  9. Roe, Nicholas (9 October 1992). "The Way I Was: Master of the ship school dorm: Tam Dalyell". The Independent. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  10. Tam Dalyell (21 May 2005). "The End of an Era at New Scientist". New Scientist (2500).
  11. "Editorial: Columnist Tam Dalyell retires". New Scientist (2500). 21 May 2005.
  12. Rhodes, Mandy (26 January 2017). "Tam Dalyell on Thatcher and how he'd like to be remembered". Holyrood. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  13. "Politics: Tam Dalyell". BBC News. 22 October 2002. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  14. "MPs, Lords & offices: MPs: Tam Dalyell". www.parliament.uk. UK Government. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  15. "Profile: Tam Dalyell". BBC News. 10 February 2003.
  16. "Profile: Tam Dalyell". BBC News. 13 January 2004. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  17. Tinning, William (4 August 1995). "Immunity ruled out in Lockerbie row. Plea to Lord Advocate fails over former US intelligence agent". The Herald. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  18. McDougall, Liam (7 May 2006). "Ex-CIA agents claim they were smeared to cover-up the truth". The Sunday Herald. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  19. MacLeod, Murdo (25 November 2007). "Fury of Aden's 'forgotten' soldiers". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  20. "MP fights for islanders' rights". BBC News. 22 November 2001.
  21. Roth, Andrew (19 March 2001). "Tam Dalyell". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  22. "Lockerbie".
  23. "Lockerbie". They Work For You website 19 January 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  24. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 1 May 2002 (pt 3)". Archived from the original on 30 September 2011.
  25. Tempest, Matthew (10 February 2003). "Father of the House Given Marching Orders". The Guardian.
  26. Wintour, Patrick; Hall, Sarah (7 April 2003). "Galloway and Dalyell Face Loss of Whip". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  27. Brady, Brian (4 May 2003). "Dalyell: 'Zionist Cabal Runs Policy on Israel'". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  28. "Fury as Dalyell Attacks Blair's 'Jewish Cabal'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 4 May 2003. Archived from the original on 15 November 2007. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
  29. Watt, Nicholas (5 May 2003). "Dalyell May Face Race Hatred Inquiry". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  30. "Dalyell's 'Jewish Cabal' Remarks Denied". BBC News. 4 May 2003.
  31. White, Michael (6 May 2003). "Dalyell Steps Up Attack on Levy". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  32. Dalyell, Tam (27 March 2003). "Blair, the War Criminal". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  33. Curtis, Polly (10 March 2003). "Dalyell Becomes Next Edinburgh Rector". Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  34. White, Michael (29 March 2005). "Tam Dalyell, Parliament's Great Dissenter, Leaves the Field After 40 Years of Battle". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  35. "Labour MP Suspended Over Expenses". BBC News. 16 May 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  36. "MP 'Relaxed' About Bookcase Claim". BBC News. 16 May 2009.
  37. "Heriot-Watt University Honorary Graduates, November 2011" (Press release). Heriot-Watt University. 23 November 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  38. "A Tribute to Tony Benn (From Parliament: The 1960s in The Importance of Being Awkward by Tam Dalyell)". www.birlinn.co.uk. 14 March 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  39. "Current Nova Scotia Baronetcies".
  40. "An Interview with Tam Dalyell". www.alexwood.org.uk. 18 March 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  41. "Former Labour MP Tam Dalyell dies". BBC News. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Taylor
Member of Parliament for West Lothian
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Linlithgow
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Edward Heath
Father of the House
Succeeded by
Alan Williams
Academic offices
Preceded by
Robin Harper
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Mark Ballard
Baronetage of Nova Scotia
Preceded by
Nora Dalyell
(of Binns)
Succeeded by
Gordon Dalyell
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