Labour politician and public servant
LORD Thomson of Monifieth, KT, PC, DL, was MP for Dundee East for 20 years from 1952 and held several ministerial positions in Harold Wilson's governments. Other appointments included chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and British Commissioner of the European Economic Community (EEC). In the 1980s he became a life peer and sat on the Liberal Democrat benches in the Lords.
Lord Thomson, a courteous man who had the enviable knack of finding common ground between opposing parties, began his career as a journalist with DC Thomson in Dundee.
His widow, Lady Grace Thomson, said: "He loved his time in Dundee. It was his own town and he loved the people. He only left to go to Europe, which was a very important cause to him."
George Morgan Thomson was born in Stirling and moved with his family to Monifieth as a child, attending Grove Academy in Broughty Ferry. He then joined DC Thomson, where he became a chief sub-editor, then an editor.
During the Second World War Lord Thomson served in the RAF, afterwards returning to journalism as editor of Forward, an influential left-wing Scottish newspaper, for ten years. During this time Lord Thomson, who had a strong calling to politics, contested Glasgow Hillhead for Labour in the general elections of 1950 and 1951. The following year he won a by-election at Dundee East, which was to remain his seat for 20 years.
He showed early promise in the House and proved an excellent debater and a good constituency MP. Wilson appointed Lord Thomson as a minister in 1964, but his first major appointment came in 1967 as commonwealth secretary, when he was much involved in the protracted negotiations with Ian Smith, the prime minister of Rhodesia. Lord Thomson met Smith in Salisbury for inconclusive talks surrounding the latter's unilateral declaration of independence but he returned convinced a settlement was unlikely.
In October 1968, Lord Thomson and Wilson met Smith on board HMS Fearless at Gibraltar and their peace proposals enraged their backbenchers and the Commonwealth.
Lord Thomson revisited Salisbury on two further occasions to no avail and reluctantly enforced controversial oil sanctions against the illegal regime.
Wilson moved Lord Thomson to minister without portfolio (where he instigated some far-reaching local government reforms) then returned him to the Foreign Office, with the crucial task of negotiating the UK's entry into the EEC. He proved adept and meticulous in this demanding role and when the Heath government took over negotiations in 1970, it accepted the basis of Thomson's agreements.
His enthusiasm for Europe left him at odds with many in the Labour Party and, along with Roy Jenkins, Lord Thomson resigned from the shadow cabinet. This made him an ideal candidate for the UK's first commissioner in Brussels, where he became responsible for regional policies. It was a wrench with Dundee, where Lord Thomson had given loyal service, but when Labour voted to hold a referendum on the EEC Lord Thomson resigned his seat.
In Brussels, he maintained an air of relaxed dignity (he insisted on being addressed by his first name, which raised the eyebrows of some Brussels die-hards) but remained committed to social reform. He energetically campaigned on behalf of Europe's deprived areas – from Sicily to the Highlands. "I am on the side of the underprivileged, and it doesn't matter which country they work in," he declared.
In 1980, Lord Thomson was appointed by William Whitelaw to the IBA. It was to prove no sinecure; two new TV channels were soon to come on air (Channel 4 and TV-AM) and he was to face charges from the Thatcher government of censorship during the Falklands campaign. Morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse lobbied him constantly and even took the IBA to court in 1983 over the Channel 4 film Scum (the IBA won on appeal). Then, in 1988, a fierce battle ensued over Thames TV's Death on the Rock documentary about the SAS's killing of three IRA members on Gibraltar.
The foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, demanded the documentary be banned, considering the material questionable and against the national interest. Margaret Thatcher condemned the decision to transmit the programme but, undeterred, Lord Thomson accused her of "grossly over-reacting". Defending the freedom of the press and the broadcast media was, he considered, a vital part of his job.
Lord Thomson left the IBA in 1988 and joined the Liberal Democrats, where he became party spokesman on broadcasting. He criticised ITV for altering the time of News at Ten ("News at when?" he asked) and the prevalence of game shows and feature films.
In 1977, Lord Thomson was created a life peer. Other honours included the chancellorship of Heriot-Watt University and an honorary degree from Dundee University. He was appointed a Knight of the Thistle in 1981. He was also chairman of the Pilgrim Trust and sat on the boards of Royal Bank of Scotland and ICI.
Lord Thomson married Grace Jenkins in 1948; she and their two daughters survive him.