British Conservative politician
Born 1905 Died 1965
Harry Hylton-Foster was the Member of Parliament for York (1950-1959) and the Cities of London and Westminster (1959-1965), who served as the Solicitor-General between 1954 and 1959 before being elected as the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Harry Braustyn Hylton Hylton-Foster was born at Ewell in Surrey on the 10th April 1905, the only son of Harry Braustyn Hylton Hylton-Foster and his wife, Margaret Isobel Hammond-Smith. He was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read jurisprudence and graduated with a first in 1926. He then decided to follow his father's profession as a barrister, being called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1928, in the same year as he became legal secretary to Robert Finlay, 1st Viscount Finlay at the Permanent Court of International Justice. In his subsequent legal career he was Recorder of Richmond (1940–1944), Huddersfield (1944–1950), and Kingston-upon-Hull (1950-1954) took silk in 1947 and was additionally the Chancellor of the Diocese of Ripon (1947–1954) and of Durham (1948–1954). Naturally his career was interupted by World War II, when Harry joined the intelligence branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1940, and later served as Deputy Judge Advocate in both North Africa and Italy from 1942 until 1945.
As far as politics was concerned he first stood as the Conservative candidate for Shipley in the 1945 General Election, and although he failed the first time round, he was succesful at York in the General Election of 1950, although his majority was only 77. Helped by his appearances on the BBC programme In The News, he was returned in both the 1951 and 1955 General Elections with far more comfortable majorities, and during his time as a backbencher, succesfully brought to the statute book a private members bill that dealt with the estates of intestates. Appointed Solicitor-General in 1954, he duly received the customary knighthood, and then chose to abandon York in favour of the far safer seat of the Cities of London and Westminster (a decision which apparently attracted some "local criticism"), but was nevertheless elected with a healthy majority of 17,188 in the 1959 General Election.
Harry was then elected as the Speaker of the House of Commons in the new Parliament, although the Labour Party complained that they had not been given enough time to find their own candidate when their original choice of Frank Soskice turned out not to be available, whilst Selwyn Lloyd later noted that it was unfortunate precedent for someone to "go direct from office to Speaker's Chair". Nevertheless Harry was regarded by The Times as "a good speaker, though perhaps not among the greatest", his greatest weakness being an over-indulgence towards minorities that demonstrated that he lacked a certain firmness, whilst his successor Horace Maybray King spoke highly of his "urbanity and charm" and that he possessed the "saving grace of not taking himself too seriously".
Re-elected as the Speaker following Labour's victory at the 1964 General Election, he made the fateful decision to return to work rather earlier than he should have done following a hernia operation in the autumn of 1964, and later collapsed in the street on the 2nd September 1965, at Duke Street in St James. Although a passing policeman administered the kiss of life, he was pronounced dead on arrival at St George's Hospital in Hyde Park Corner. His death percipated something of a minor political crisis, since the Labour Party was forced to chose a replacement from its own ranks which effectively reduced its parliamentary majority to one.
He was survived by his wife Audrey Pellew Clifton Brown whom he had earlier married in 1931, although they had no children. Coincidentrally Audrey was the only child of a Douglas Clifton Brown who had been the Speaker between 1943 and 1951. Her father later became the one and only Viscount Ruffside, it being customary for former speakers to be awarded a viscountcy, and although Harry missed out on his peerage by dying in office, his wife was later created the Baroness Hylton-Foster in his honour 1965. However Audrey had to make do with a life peerage given that the Labour government had by that time resolved not to create any new hereditary peers.
Many years later it emerged that together with the Attorney-General, Reginald Manningham-Buller, Harry had regarded the British attack on Egypt in 1956 as unlawful and "seriously considered" resignation over the matter. Although as it turned out everyone decided it was best not to mention the fact at the time.
- The Speaker Dies In London Street, The Times, Friday, Sep 03, 1965
- Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, Q.C. Speaker Of The House Of Commons Since 1959, The Times, Sep 03, 1965
- Marc Brodie, ‘Foster, Sir Harry Braustyn Hylton Hylton- (1905–1965)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
- ‘HYLTON-FOSTER, Rt Hon. Sir Harry (Braustyn Hylton)’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2007; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
- Richard Norton-Taylor, Lawyers warned Eden that Suez invasion was illegal, The Guardian, December 1, 2006