Lord Lane was one of the behind-the-scenes figures in the Conservative Party who marshalled its voluntary activities when Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her powers. He spent most of his professional life as an accountant with Binder Hamlyn.
Peter Stewart Lane was born in 1925 and attended Sherborne School in Dorset. He served in the RNVR, as a sub-lieutenant, from 1943-46, and afterwards, instead of going to university, joined a City firm of accountants run by his father, Leonard. Peter Lane qualified in 1948 and was made a partner of the firm, which grew, merged with other firms and became known as Singleton Fabian. He was one of Singleton’s senior partners when it merged with Binder Hamlyn and became the senior partner — a position equivalent to being chairman of a company — in 1979.
Binder was a sizeable City firm which counted Reuters and British Land among the companies whose books it audited. Lane is remembered as a good leader, a good communicator with clients, and an effective generator of new business.
A life-long Tory, Lane served as deputy chairman of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, the umbrella body for rank and file activists that has since been renamed the National Conservative Convention, from 1981-84. He was its chairman from 1983-84 and chairman of its executive committee from 1986-91. Lane was also chairman of the 1983 Conservative Party conference, held in Blackpool, when Tory delight at its recent landslide general election victory was tinged with embarrassment caused by revelations about the private life of Cecil Parkinson. Mrs Thatcher, fresh from victory in the Falklands, had led her party to win 397 of the 650 seats contested in the countrywide vote of the previous June. The Tories won 188 more seats than Labour and 144 more than all other parties combined.
Parkinson was lauded as one of the party’s fastest-rising political stars and a favourite of the Prime Minister. But celebrations were overshadowed by news that he had had an affair with his secretary, Sara Keays, and fathered a child with her.
Lane was one of those left to deal with the aftermath of the IRA bombing of the 1984 conference in Brighton. Three years later he was pushed into the spotlight when hopes that Lord Young of Graffham would succeed Norman Tebbit as Tory party chairman were abruptly scotched. This chairmanship was a much higher profile post than the one held by Tebbit, but Young, it was said, would only accept if he could remain as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He withdrew his name from consideration when it became apparent that it would not be possible for him to do both jobs. At the time the Conservative Charter Movement, a reformist group formed within the party, wrote a public letter to Lane berating the authorities for allowing what it termed a “fiasco” to occur. The CCM also urged Lane to press for direct elections to the Tory party chairmanship with activists as voters.
It was as Sir Peter Lane that he became chairman of Brent International, a chemicals company that he led from 1985-95. In 1993 Lane was presiding when Stephen Cuthbert, a long-serving chief executive, left the company with a £250,000 payoff.
He was chairman of Elswick, a label printer, from 1993-94 and held the same position at Attwoods, the waste management company in 1994, and, from 1994-96, at Automated Security Holdings. ASH was subsequently bought by ADT, a rival controlled by Lord Ashcroft — another peer with connections in the Conservative Party. ASH was struggling with heavy debts as Lane took up the role and a sale to ADT appeared to be the cleanest solution to its problems. Lane also served as a part-time deputy chairman of More O’Ferrall, the billboard advertising company later called More Group, from 1985 to 1997.
Lane was chairman of Nuffield Hospitals, the private, not-for-profit healthcare group, from 1993-96, having served as deputy chairman from 1990. He also led Action on Addiction, the charity set up to fight dependency disorders and drug abuse, from 1991-94. From 1992 to 2004 Lane also served as vice-chairman of the Bishop of Guildford’s Foundation. In this role Lane served three bishops of Guildford, raising finance for social work. As a churchgoer, Lane was keen on ecumenical matters.
Lane was knighted in 1984 and created a life peer in 1990. His wife, Doris, died in 1969. He is survived by two daughters.
Lord Lane of Horsell, Tory party activist and Binder Hamlyn senior partner 1979-92, was born on January 29, 1925. He died on January 9, 2009, aged 83