British Labour Politician and Lawyer
Born 1902 Died 1979

Frank Soskice was the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead East (1945-1950), Sheffield Neepsend (1950-1955) and Newport, Monmouth (1956-1966) who was Clement Attlee's Solicitor-General and briefly Home Secretary under Harold Wilson before sitting in the House of Lords as the Baron Stow Hill of Newport. He is best remembered for being the first Home Secretary during whose term of office no one was hanged.


Frank Soskice was born on the 23rd July 1902 in Geneva, the eldest of the three sons of David Vladimirovich Soskice and his second wife, Juliet Catherine Hueffer. His father was a Russian revolutionary who struggled against the Tsarist regime and settled in Britain in 1898, but later returned to Russia as a journalist and was a member of Kerensky's secretariat during the months of August and November 1917; whilst his mother was a musician and writer, as well as being the daughter of Francis Hueffer, music critic of The Times and the granddaughter of the painter Ford Madox Brown.

Educated at St Paul's School, Frank then won a classics scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained a first in classical moderations in 1922 and then a third in philosophy, politics, and economics in 1924. It was after graduating from Oxford that he became a British citizen, being later called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1926. As a barrister he specialised in international law and indeed acted for India, Greece, and Cambodia at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. During World War II he served in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and saw active service in East Africa before joining the Political Welfare Executive in Cairo and then Special Operations Executive in London.

Elected to Parliament as the Labour Member of Parliament for Birkenhead East in the General Election of 1945, he was appointed Solicitor-General by Clement Attlee. Boundary changes later resulted in the loss of his seat in February at the General Election of 1950, although he remained as Solicitor-General and was even the United Kingdom delegate to the United Nations General Assembly for a short time. He was however back in the Commons by April of that year after Harry Morris, the member for Sheffield Neepsend, was persuaded to take a peerage and vacate his seat. Frank was subsequently promoted in April 1951 to the post of Attorney-General, although his time in that office was necessarily brief as the Labour Party went into opposition at the General Election of October 1951. Frank then returned to his legal career although he remained a prominent member of the 'Hampstead set', and indeed lived only two hundred yards away from Hugh Gaitskell, and was spoken of as a possible Foreign Secretary in any future Labour government.

He was again briefly out of Parliament following the abolishment of his Sheffield Neepsend constituency in 1955. But although he failed to win the nomination for Manchester Gorton, he was soon afterwards selected for Newport, Monmouthshire and returned to the House of Commons at the by-election held in July 1956. Unfortunately whilst he was close to the Labour leadership, this brought him no nearer to office as it wasn't until 1964 that the Labour Party finally succeeded in winning an election; at which point the new Prime Minister Harold Wilson made him the Home Secretary. As it turned out this wasn't one of Wilson's better appointments, as Frank rather mishandled the results of an electoral boundary commission report for Northamptonshire, and then annoyed the party's left wing when he accepted a Conservative amendment to the Race Relations Act 1965 that substituted conciliation for the criminal sanctions originally specified in the draft bill. Unfortunately by this time Frank was suffering from arthritis and a twisted shoulder and came to be regarded as simply not up to the job. He was replaced by Roy Jenkins in the cabinet reshuffle of December 1965, and appointed to the largely honorary post of Lord Privy Seal. It was no surprise to anyone when he decided to stand down from the House of Commons at the General Election of 1966 and subsequently accepted a life peerage as the Baron Stow Hill of Newport. He later died at his home in Hampstead on the 1st January 1979.

As noted above Frank Soskice was the first Home Secretary who never hanged anyone, indeed his one achievement was his promotion of the bill that eventually became the Murder Act 1965, which at least temporarily abolished the death penalty. In the circumstances therefore he decided to commute the sentences of all those convicted of murder during his term of office to life imprisonment. He married Susan Isabella Cloudesley Hunter in 1940 who bore him two sons.


SOURCES

  • Robert Pearce, ‘Soskice, Frank, Baron Stow Hill (1902–1979)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2007
  • STOW HILL’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2007; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
    (http://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/article/oupww/whowaswho/U160002, accessed 20 February 2008)
  • Robert Gomme, ‘Soskice , David Vladimirovich (1866–1941)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

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