Ex Tory minister Lord Walker dies

image captionPeter Walker served both Heath and Thatcher in government

Former cabinet minister Lord Walker of Worcester has died at the age of 78.

The former Conservative MP passed away on Wednesday morning - he had been suffering from cancer.

Peter Walker was MP for Worcester from 1961 to 1992. He served in Prime Minister Ted Heath's cabinet between 1970 and 1974 and was a prominent figure in Lady Thatcher's government throughout the 1980s.

His son, Robin, won the seat for the Conservatives in last month's election.

'Whizz- kid'

In a statement, Lord Walker's family said: "Peter Walker passed away quietly on Wednesday morning after a long struggle with cancer.

"His whole family were able to be with him in his last days. He will be hugely missed by his wife Tessa, five children and five grandchildren.

"As a politician, he always believed in the importance of helping those most in need, combining efficiency with compassion. He was a true One Nation Conservative and a patriot. His great personal compassion was always reflected in his private life.

"To the end he was passionate about his work and his family, working diligently and enthusiastically, but always taking the time to support and cherish those closest to him.

"For all his great achievements, those who know him best will remember him most for his humour and generosity."

Lord Walker is probably best know for being energy secretary during the 1984 miners strike, but his political career both in opposition and government, was one of the longest of the 20th century.

Branded the "whizz-kid" of the Heath government, he avoided the fate of many of his fellow "wets" by successfully serving under Margaret Thatcher for all but four months of her premiership.

Born in North London in March 1932, to Conservative supporting, working class parents, he became a leading light in the Young Conservatives, unsuccessfully contesting the 1955 general election as the youngest candidate, at the same time as forging a highly successful career in business.

Miners' strike

Together with Jim Slater, he formed Slater Walker Securities, which became a multi-million pound business, specialising in corporate raids and takeovers of ailing companies.

He entered Parliament as MP for Worcester in 1961, in a by-election, and went on to serve as a junior local government minister after Ted Heath's 1970 election victory, pioneering the sale of council houses.

He was promoted to become the first Secretary of State for the newly created Department of the Environment, overseeing the huge reorganisation of local government which saw the abolition of a host of small urban and rural councils and the creation of much larger authorities.

Together with Michael Heseltine, then responsible for aviation, Lord Walker brought about the merger of BOAC and BEA to form the new British Airways, although it remained a state owned airline.

When the Conservatives returned to power in 1979, Lord Walker was surprised to be offered the post of minister of agriculture, despite being critical of Margaret Thatcher's monetarist policies and leadership style.

After the 1983 election, he was offered the position of secretary of state for energy, which pitched him into a year-long confrontation with miners' leader Arthur Scargill during one of the most bitter strikes in British history. He also oversaw the privatisation of British gas.

Following the 1987 election he was moved again, this time becoming Secretary of State for Wales, before deciding to quit frontline politics two years later.

He finally stood down from Parliament at the 1992 election and was made a life peer.