Tim Farron says former MP, who had cancer, was a ‘campaigner, friend and true champion of the Liberal cause’
Eric Lubbock, the fourth Baron Avebury.
Eric Lubbock, the fourth Baron Avebury, had been suffering from a form of blood cancer. Photograph: Trevor Aston/Alamy
Lord Avebury, the former Liberal MP and renowned human rights campaigner, has died age 87.
The politician was the longest-serving Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords. He took his place in the upper chamber after losing his seat in the Commons in 1970.
Avebury had been suffering from myelofibrosis, a form of blood cancer, for more than a year and had spoken publicly in support of assisted dying, expressing the hope that the practice would be legalised before his own death.
Writing as the issue was presented to parliament last year, he said: “I obviously have a personal stake in the bill and the future of the assisted dying campaign. Currently I am not in the latter stages of my illness and I am very hopeful that this year will not be my last.
“I know that having the right to control my death if it gets unbearable will be a great comfort to me, especially in the final weeks of my life,” he added. “I am confident that, when this time comes for me, assisted dying for terminally ill people will be a legal right in the UK, and I will be able to plan the death that I want.”
Lord Avebury obituary
Born Eric Lubbock, Avebury was educated at Upper Canada college in Toronto, Canada, and Harrow school, before studying engineering science at Balliol college, Oxford.
He joined the Liberal party in 1960 and became a councillor the following year. Avebury made his name with a surprise byelection victory in Orpington in 1962, becoming known as “Orpington Man” after achieving a 7,855 majority – a swing of nearly 22% from the Conservatives – to bring the number of Liberal MPs to seven.
The politician lost the seat in 1970, a year before he became the fourth Baron Avebury upon the death of his cousin and moved to join the House of Lords. In 1999, following Labour’s reform of the upper house, he was elected to remain by his fellow Lib Dem peers while most hereditary peers were removed.
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Paying tribute to Avebury, the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said the peer would be sorely missed. “He was a true Liberal who will be remembered as much for his unyielding commitment to fighting for Liberal causes as his sensational byelection victory in Orpington in 1962.
“He campaigned to lower the voting age, founded the parliamentary human rights group and fought for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, taking up the cases of hundreds of individuals fleeing persecution.
“He was a committed internationalist, regularly promoting human rights around the world. He was a strong supporter of citizenship rights for British minorities in Hong Kong and campaigned against the persecution of religious minorities across many countries.”
“It was a personal honour for me to speak at the 50th anniversary of his byelection victory at the National Liberal Club,” said Farron. “The Liberal Democrats have lost a great campaigner, a great friend and a true champion of the Liberal cause.”
In an article written in tribute to Avebury, Keith Porteous Wood said that the weak and oppressed had lost a true champion. The executive director of the National Secular Society, of which Avebury was an honorary associate, wrote: “He was always disarmingly frank and pragmatic about his death and he told me once how long a consultant said he had to live.
“He took the prediction very literally and precisely; I even joked with him he seemed to be treating it like an appointment and we both laughed. Similarly he joked with me how many of his ancestors had met their ends by being executed. Was it 10? I forget.”