Eric Reginald Lubbock, 4th Baron Avebury
29 September 1928–14 February 2016
Lord (Eric) Avebury has died.
Eric Lubbock was known as “Orpington Man” after winning a remarkable by-election in 1962, holding the seat until 1970, when he then went to the House of Lords as the fourth Baron Avebury.
As a school boy he and Jo Grimond were two of the handful of Liberal MPs who inspired me to become interested in politics. While a sixth former at school, and in the first interview which I ever gave, to the local newspaper in the town where I lived, I said that if ever I went into politics I would want to be a campaigning MP like Eric Lubbock.
In 1979 Eric came up to Liverpool to campaign in my own by-election at Liverpool Edge Hill.
A year later we travelled together to Beirut and visited refugee camps at Shatila and Sabra. In a meeting held in the middle of the night we also met with Yasser Arafat, urging him to renounce violence and, whilst working for the recognition of a Palestinian homeland, accepting the absolute right of the State of Israel to exist.
After I entered the Lords in 1997 Eric and I campaigned together on a variety of human rights issues – making common cause on many occasions – from Burma to Darfur, from Tibet to Pakistan, from trying to put right the nineteenth century miscarriage of justice in the Irish Maamtrasna murder trial to championing the rights of people fatally affected by asbestos.
We also campaigned together for the rights of Indian Dalits, fiercely opposing the caste system.
Eric, who had become a Buddhist, said this about caste:
“How is it possible that humans, naturally filled with loving-kindness or metta as it is called in Buddhism, should conceive a murderous hatred and contempt towards those who are slightly different? The division of people into separate categories which are readily identifiable, and which are assumed to be capable of passing on the characteristics which assign them to each of those categories, is the root of the mischief.”
Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Dalit who did more than anyone to oppose case had lived in London from 1921-1922 and Eric said of the house where he had lived: “it will become a ‘focal point to spread Dr Ambedkar’s message about equality, human rights and social justice…These messages are desperately needed in the world today, and personally I’m convinced by the evidence that the more equal societies are, the happier and less vulnerable to social ills they become.” He added, “The presence of an Ambedkar Centre in a house where he lived in London should help us all to confront the evil of caste prejudice, as we did against racism a generation ago.”
In June 2015 Eric supported me in a debate on freedom of religion and belief.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have been expressed to my noble friend Lord Alton for the powerful way in which he introduced this debate, and indeed for the consistent and wonderful way in which he always defends the rights of people’s religious freedom. On no occasion have I heard him speak more powerfully on the subject than he did today
When I came to reply I said:
Many noble Lords have given me undeserved generosity in the remarks they have made, none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As we walk in here each day, most of us probably pass the western wall of Westminster Abbey, among other things, we can see the statute of Archbishop Oscar Romero murdered in El Salvador. Only a week ago the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was honoured in Mr.Speaker’s House for all the work he did on behalf of Oscar Romero. Combined with that, the work he has done for human rights over the past 50 or 60 years really is unparalleled. At the age of 17, when I was interviewed by a local newspaper, I was asked if I wanted to go into politics. I said, “Not really, but if ever I did I hope I would be like Eric Lubbock”—as he then was. If people are looking for a role model, they could do no better than look at the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
Our last campaign together was on the issue of mesothelioma – about which he had campaigned for four decades. He spoke in favour of my Mesothelioma Research Bill:
Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill [HL]: Second Reading (20 Nov 2015)
Lord Avebury (LD):
My Lords, I, too, begin by congratulating my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his masterly presentation of the case for the Bill, and on the assiduity with which he has pursued compensation for mesothelioma sufferers over a great many years with determination and thoroughness. I know how many hours he has spent on this and how many more hours he is likely to spend on it in future, but if we get this Bill through, it will be a major advance in securing compensation for sufferers of this horrible disease.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: . The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has been raising this issue for more than 40 years. I always like to think of him as the inspiration for some of the things I try to do in politics. Being just a chip off his block is sufficient. He reminded us that there has been woefully inadequate funding, no continuity, and only a fraction of the necessary resources.
We didn’t always find ourselves in agreement – but when we held opposing views (on issues such as assisted suicide or the right to life of the unborn) we disagreed respectfully and recognised that the pursuit of politics should always be on the basis of conscience.
Abhorring enforced conformity, he strongly opposed making such questions into issues of party policy.
His instinctive belief in tolerance and free speech enabled him to see why others could hold different views and come to different conclusions.
Above all, Eric Avebury was always there for those many down-trodden and forgotten people, assiduously documenting their cases and fearlessly raising his voice on their behalf, tirelessly campaigning to get injustices put right.
His voice will be greatly missed.
May he rest in peace.
Yesterday, June 30th, friends of the late Eric Avebury gathered at the Royal Institution to celebrate Lord Avebury’s life and work. Eric’s causes included championing the Dalit “untouchables” in India and in promoting the Gypsy Caravan Sites Act. Whether at home or overseas Eric Avebury countered ill-informed prejudices and scapegoating. One of those who paid tribute to him at the Royal Institution was Damian Le Bas who said that Eric Avebury was “one of the greatest friends the Gypsies ever had.” See: