Alan Beith

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Beith
Alan Beith MP Liverpool.jpg
Lib Dem Shadow Leader of the Commons
In office
29 August 1999 – 15 May 2003
Leader Charles Kennedy
Preceded by Charles Kennedy
Succeeded by Paul Tyler
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
In office
11 April 1992 – 12 February 2003
Leader Paddy Ashdown
Charles Kennedy
Preceded by Russell Johnston
Succeeded by Menzies Campbell
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman
In office
12 July 1994 – 29 August 1999
Leader Charles Kennedy
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Simon Hughes
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
1985 – 16 July 1988
Leader David Steel
Preceded by John Pardoe (from 1979)
Succeeded by Russell Johnston (Lib Dems)
Liberal Chief Whip in the Commons
In office
Leader David Steel
Preceded by Cyril Smith
Succeeded by David Alton
Member of Parliament
for Berwick-upon-Tweed
In office
8 November 1973 – 30 March 2015
Preceded by Viscount Lambton
Succeeded by Anne-Marie Trevelyan
Personal details
Born (1943-04-20) 20 April 1943 (age 76)
Poynton, Cheshire
Nationality  United Kingdom
Political party Liberal (before 1988)
Liberal Democrats (1988–present)
Spouse(s) Barbara Ward (1965–1998)
Diana, Baroness Maddock (2001–present)
Children 1 daughter
1 son
Alma mater Oxford University (MA, BLitt)
Religion Methodism
Website Official website

Alan James Beith, Baron Beith, PC (formerly known as Sir Alan Beith; born 20 April 1943) is a British politician who represented the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed as its Member of Parliament (MP) from 1973 to 2015.

From 1992 to 2003 he was Deputy Liberal Democratic Party Leader and, by 2015, Sir Alan was the longest-serving member of his party sitting in the House of Commons and the last Liberal Democrat//Liberal MP to have experience of Parliament from the 1970s.

Beith was elevated as a Life Peer in the 2015 Dissolution Honours List[1] and took his title and a seat on the House of Lords Opposition benches on 23 November 2015.[2]

Early life

Balliol College, Oxford

The son of John Beith, of Scottish extraction, he was born in 1943 at Poynton in Cheshire. He was educated at The King's School, Macclesfield before going up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics graduating in 1964. He then pursued postgraduate studies at Nuffield College receiving a Bachelor of Letters (BLitt) degree.[3]

In 1966 Beith began his career as a politics lecturer in the University of Newcastle. In 1969 he was elected as a Councillor on Hexham District Council and, in 1970 he was also elected to Corbridge Town Council. He contested Berwick-upon-Tweed as the Liberal prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) at the 1970 general election but was heavily defeated by the sitting Conservative MP Antony Lambton (formerly styled Viscount Lambton).

Member of Parliament

In 1973 Alan Beith was elected to the North Tynedale District Council, and later that year Antony Lambton resigned as an MP following a Fleet Street exposé. At the ensuing by-election on 8 November 1973, Beith secured a famous victory, by a mere 57 votes, becoming Berwick's first Liberal MP since 1945.

The next year was to prove a major campaigning effort for the newly elected Alan Beith MP, just three months after his by-election success he was out canvassing his constituents again at the February 1974 general election, being returned to Parliament with an increased majority of 443. Less than a year after entering the House of Commons, Beith had to contest the constituency for a third time in quick succession at the October 1974 general election, winning but with the reduced slim majority of just 73 votes.[4]

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party

Beith was appointed to the BBC Advisory Council in 1974 serving as a member until 1984. On the election of David Steel as Liberal Leader in 1976, Alan Beith became the Party's Chief Whip in the Commons. After the 1983 general election he was appointed Liberal Spokesman for Constitutional Affairs. He was elected as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in 1985, in both cases continuing his duties as a Commons Chief Whip.

After the 1987 general election, Beith concentrated his efforts as Liberal Spokesman for Treasury Affairs and stood down from being Liberal Chief Whip after eleven years in post. In 1988 the Liberal and Social Democratic parties joined forces as the SDP–Liberal Alliance (SLD).

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Beith stood against Paddy Ashdown in the first leadership election in 1988, an election which Ashdown won by a large margin. Beith stayed on as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats following the 1992 general election under Ashdown until 2003, and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1992. In 1994, he became the Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary and continued in post under Charles Kennedy's leadership. After the 2001 general election he briefly became Lib Dem Shadow Spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department, but left the Lib Dem frontbench in 2002, though remaining its Deputy Leader until the following year.

After standing down from the Lib Dem frontbench he chaired the Commons Constitutional Affairs, and Justice Committees. Following Sir Menzies Campbell's resignation as Leader of the Liberal Democrats on 15 October 2007, Beith was encouraged to stand as a prospective compromise candidate for the Lib Dem leadership. However, via his personal website, he announced his decision not to stand for election as party leader.


Beith was knighted in the 2008 Birthday Honours.[5] At the May 2010 general election he was returned as MP for Berwick, albeit his majority was reduced by a substantial swing to the Conservatives.


On 7 August 2013, Sir Alan announced his retirement as an MP at the 2015 election, having represented Berwick-upon-Tweed for 42 years.[6] He was announced as a life peer in the 2015 Dissolution Honours and was created Baron Beith, of Berwick-upon-Tweed in the County of Northumberland on the afternoon of 19 October.[7]

2009 House of Commons Speakership election

On 19 May 2009, Beith was the first MP to declare his candidacy to succeed Speaker Michael Martin, who stood down from the position on 21 June 2009. Sir Alan Beith pledged he was "willing to take on the task of leading reform" were he elected as Commons Speaker.[8] Conservative MP John Bercow won, becoming the 23rd Speaker of the House Commons of the United Kingdom.[9]

Expenses scandal

On 22 May 2009, Sir Alan was reported by The Daily Telegraph to have claimed £117,000 in second home allowances while his wife, Baroness Maddock, claimed £60,000 Lords expenses for sharing the same address.[10]

Replying in writing on both their behalfs to The Telegraph journalist's exposé: "It would be quite wrong for the taxpayer to pay twice for the same costs, so we have shared the costs, either by sharing the cost of rent, or by my wife using her allowance towards costs incurred (she normally claims only half the Lords' overnight allowance)", he argued in defence.[11]

Coalition Government

Sir Alan served as Chairman of the Commons Justice[12] and of the Liaison Select Committees until retiring in 2015.

He was one of only four Liberal Democrat MPs to vote against the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.[13] He was the only Liberal Democrat MP to oppose recognising Palestine as a state in the Commons vote on 13 October 2014.[14][15]

Sir Alan campaigned throughout his years in the House of Commons for the A1 road to be made dual carriageway in Northumberland.[16]

File:Knights Bachelor Insignia.png
Insignia of a Knight Bachelor

Personal life

Beith was married in 1965 to Barbara Ward and they had a son and a daughter. His first wife died in 1998 and he married secondly in 2001 Diana Maddock (née Derbyshire), formerly MP for Christchurch (1993–97).[17]

Sir Alan and Lady Maddock divide their time between homes at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland and London SW1; they are one of the few married couples both titled in their own right.[18] He serves as President of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum and of the Historic Chapels Trust, a charity he helped to found and of which was Chair of Trustees 2001-14. Beith is also President of Northumberland Hospital Radio and of the National Liberal Club.[19]

He reportedly speaks French, Norwegian, Swedish and Welsh, and is a keen supporter of heritage matters.[20]

Honours and distinctions

and, the following honorary doctorates:


  1. "Dissolution Peerages 2015". Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "House of Lords Official Report 23 November 2015" (PDF). Retrieved 24 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Debrett's People of Today
  6. Alan Beith to step down in 2015. Liberal Democrat Voice (7 August 2013); retrieved 31 January 2014.
  7. The London Gazette: no. 61389. p. 19950. 23 October 2015. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  8. "First MP discusses run for Speaker". BBC News. 19 May 2009. Archived from the original on 20 May 2009. Retrieved 20 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Mr Speaker
  10. Winnett, Robert; Watt, Holly; Prince, Rosa (22 May 2009). "MPs' expenses: cover-up of Ian Gibson and his daughter's cut-price flat deal". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Beith, Alan (22 May 2009). "Beith publishes full Telegraph questions and answers". Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Justice Committee Membership". Retrieved 24 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. MPs who voted against the Third Reading of the Equal Marriage Bill. Pink News. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  14. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 13 Oct 2014 (pt 0004)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "MPs debate Palestine and Israel". UK Parliament.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Retiring MP Sir Alan Beith. Chronicle. Retrieved 06 October 2014.
  17. "About Alan Beith". Retrieved 19 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Mosley, Charles (ed.) (2003). Burke's Peerage & Baronetage, 107th edn. London, UK: Burke's Peerage & Gentry Ltd. p. 2559 (MADDOCK, LP). ISBN 0-9711966-2-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Profile,; accessed 11 February 2016.
  21. The London Gazette: no. 59160. p. 1. 18 August 2009.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Viscount Lambton
Crowned Portcullis.svg
Member of Parliament
for Berwick-upon-Tweed

Succeeded by
Anne-Marie Trevelyan
Party political offices
Preceded by
Sir Cyril Smith
Liberal Chief Whip in the House of Commons
Succeeded by
David Alton
Preceded by
John Pardoe
as Deputy Leader of the Liberals
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
(Position abolished)

Succeeded by
Russell Johnston
as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Preceded by
Russell Johnston
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Sir Menzies Campbell