Obituary: Rt Hon the Lord Marsh, politician and businessman

The Rt Hon the Lord Marsh of Mannington, politician and businessman. Born: 14 March, 1928, in Swindon. Died: 29 June, 2011, in Wiltshire, aged 83.

At one stage in the first Harold Wilson government it appeared that Richard Marsh was a possible future prime minister. He presented a new and youthful image, was in the Cabinet and was clearly ambitious. Then in 1971, Wilson sent Marsh to the backbenches and his career at Westminster never really recovered.

One of the Cabinet posts Marsh had held was Minister of Power and he administered the early days of North Sea exploration. Marsh was a skilful operator, balancing the interests of the Aberdeen area, the ecologists and the international oil companies that wanted to proceed with the exploration as fast as possible. Marsh ceased being an MP in 1971 and became chairman of British Rail and then of the Newspaper Publishers' Association.

Richard William Marsh was the son of a foundry worker and was educated at Jennings School in Swindon. He then read English at Ruskin College, Oxford, and from 1951-59 worked with the National Union of Public Employees. He won Greenwich for Labour in 1959 and made an early impact in the House when he introduced the Offices Act 1961, which extended the benefits and legal safeguards enjoyed by manual workers to white-collar workers.

Marsh was clearly a rising star in the Labour Party, spoke well in the House and projected a relaxed and debonair persona on television. So it was no surprise when he was made Minister of Power in 1966. It was an important portfolio as it involved the first years of exploration in the North Sea and the bill to renationalise the steel industry: both highly contentious issues.

In Scotland the first round of awarding licences for the North Sea had been announced in April 1965; 22 production licences for a total of 78 blocks had been allocated. Marsh ensured that Whitehall kept a firm hand on the administration of safety matters but tried to let the oil companies develop the seabed using all their available technical muscle.

The nationalisation of the steel industry, also in 1966, proved to be a thorny and highly charged affair. It was a political hot potato with the Wilson government, controversially, returning to old guard Labour policies. Such well established Scottish iron and steel works as Colvilles and Stewarts & Lloyds became departments of the massive British Steel Corporation. Marsh appointed Lord Melchett to chair the new organisation and saw the nationalisation act through Parliament despite concerted opposition from the Conservatives. Marsh's shrewd political judgment proved a deciding factor in getting the bill onto the statute books.

In 1968 he was given another difficult ministry: Transport.He succeeded the firebrand Barbara Castle and inherited a contentious Transport Bill -"The Bill is stuffed with all the radical proposals for reorganising British transport that have been maturing under that neat crop of that fiery red hair", said one commentator.

Then there was ports' nationalisation and the overseeing of the installation of the vehicle licensing office at Swansea. He also had to deal with bus and tube strikes in London.

But Marsh brought to the ministry a refined air. He confessed he was a keen motorist and had taught his father to drive but not his wife. Throughout his time as a minister Marsh had impressed MPs with his command of his subjects and sheer efficiency, so it was a major surprise when Wilson relegated him to the backbenches without any obvious reason.

He left Westminster in 1971 and Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath made him chairman of British Rail. He was faced with the aftermath of the savage Beeching cuts but Marsh echoed Dr Beeching's policy when he said: "My responsibility is to run a business, not a social service." His relations with the trade unions proved difficult and he faced problems over the reduction in manpower as a result of modern technology.

In 1975 he left BR and became chairman of the Newspaper Publishers' Association. That hardly satisfied Marsh's business energies and he joined the boards of several public companies both in the City and industry. He was also a founding investor in TV-am in 1985 and during its troubled early year, Marsh was deputy chairman. The channel's high-minded desire ("a mission to explain") never really worked and it ceased transmitting in 1992.

Marsh published his autobiography Off the Rails in 1978 and was made a Life Peer in 1979, sitting on the cross benches. He did, however, announce the previous year that he would be voting for Margaret Thatcher.

He was married three time. His first marriage, to Evelyn Andrews, by whom he had two sons, was dissolved in 1973. In 1975 his second wife Caroline died in a road accident in which the wife of broadcaster David Jacobs also lost her life; Marsh and Jacobs both survived. In 1979 Marsh married Felicity daughter of Lord McFadzean of Kelvinside.