Obituary: The 14th Earl of Northesk

A staunch opponent of compulsory ID cards and a recognised Lords authority on IT issues

Born: 3 November, 1954, in Angus.

Died: 28 March, 2010, in Sussex, aged 55.

THE earldom of Northesk dates from 1662 and is one of the oldest in the Scottish peerage. The 14th earl inherited the title from his father in 1994 but Northesk had the distinction of being elected to retain his seat in 1999 when peers voted which hereditary peers should remain in the House.

The fact that Northesk retained his seat in the upper house was a reflection of the considerable work he had done in debates, especially on security and IT matters. He had become a recognised authority on both and in recent years Northesk was a prominent campaigner against compulsory ID cards – something he argued against vehemently both on the grounds of cost and invasion of privacy.

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He had a deserved reputation for his work regarding civil liberty issues and making the laws surrounding computer technology both workable and comprehensible.

The Countess of Mar, a long-standing friend of Northesk, told The Scotsman: "David and I were great friends in the House. We bounced ideas off each other and talked through issues at length. We thought along the same lines and I much admired his integrity and high intellect. He had a clear perception of right and wrong and had an expert knowledge of technical subjects.

"He was quiet, somewhat reserved, and a very private person, but David had one unusual facet to his character. Often in the evening he would disappear on to eBay and buy Beanie dolls, which he collected. David was a charming and kind man. I shall much miss his companionship and knowledge."

David John MacRae Carnegie, 14th Earl of Northesk, was born into a distinguished family whose ancestral home, Ethie Castle, is near Arbroath. An ancestor was an admiral and served at Trafalgar as third in command to Nelson. Accounts of the battle mention that Admiral Northesk "had a distinguished share in achieving the victory". His conduct was deemed "masterly and gallant".

After Eton and University College London, Northesk spent much time working on his estate in Angus. After he inherited the title he concentrated his energies in the Lords and pursued vigorously his passion to protect democracy and freedom. These interests led him to becoming an authority on many aspects of technology and he believed some government policies were dangerously infringing civil liberties.

He spoke eloquently on all aspects of cyber crime but undoubtedly his most ardent campaign was against ID cards. In a Lords speech in 2006 he said: "Does the minister agree that the issue is as much about ownership of the huge amount of data routinely collected about all of us as it is about privacy? If so, what stance do the government take on the questionable legality of the Home Office authorising the DNA database to be used by the Forensic Science Service to research whether race and ethnicity can be determined from DNA samples?"

After a meeting of the All Party Internet Group, on which Northesk sat, one American commentator wrote: "I wish more political thinkers shared his cogency and interest when examining these matters."

Northesk's expertise resulted in his being invited to act as an adviser to many campaigning bodies. He was closely associated with Privacy International an advisory body set up by Simon Davies 20 years ago. Davies talked of Northesk fondly and said: "David was an extremely effective campaigner – always level-headed and balanced. He had the knack of listening, taking advice and then getting the best out of people.

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David's overriding passion was the protection of democracy and the freedom of the individual. Significantly, he was respected for the way he set out his arguments – even by those who did not agree with him."

Tragedy struck the family in 2001 when his son and heir to the title shot himself while on leave from a psychiatric hospital. This sad event undoubtedly caused Northesk much anguish. It means the title will now pass to a close relation, Patrick Carnegey. Northesk's death will necessitate a by-election, in which Tory hereditary peers will vote for a replacement from among the ranks of hereditaries.

It was his own very personal brand of campaigning zeal for which Northesk will be remembered in the Lords. His family motto was 'A task executed without a spot or stain', and Northesk exemplified that in his speech in the Lords' debate on ID Cards when he said: "The Bill is far less about the introduction of identity cards... than about the establishment of a centralised and over-arching database containing extensive details about every individual in the land."

The 14th Earl of Northesk, who died of cancer, married Jacqueline Reid in 1979. She and their three daughters survive him.