Obituary: Nigel Ivan Forbes, Lord Forbes, KBE, JP, DL, farmer and politician
LORD Forbes, Premier Lord of Scotland and Chief of Clan Forbes, who has died aged 95, was a great survivor from the second government of Harold Macmillan. An Aberdeenshire farmer, he was very much at home among the grouse-moor set cultivated by Supermac.
He was also perhaps the last surviving “representative peer”. From the Act of Union until 1963 not all Scottish peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, instead electing 16 of their number to represent Scotland in the Upper House. So although the 22nd Lord Forbes succeeded to his peerage on the death of his father in 1953, he did not join the Lords until the general election of May 1955, when he was elected in a special ceremony at Parliament House in Edinburgh.
Making his maiden speech later that year, Forbes joked that he had been “elected” to the Lords in “a truly democratic manner” and therefore wanted to do “some justice” to his “Scottish electors” (other hereditary peers). He then offered some “constructive criticism” of the Transport Commission, presciently urging it to build a Forth road bridge to avoid “wasting money” on a “totally inadequate” ferry system.
Three years later, and much to his surprise, Forbes was summoned by Macmillan and offered the post of Minister of State at the Scottish Office to replace Lord Strathclyde (the recent Leader of the Lords’ grandfather), who was leaving the government. He agreed, but on the condition that he would only serve until the next general election, which took place the following year.
Forbes, however, had limited political experience and some civil servants were as puzzled as he was at Macmillan’s choice. Nevertheless, he spoke ably enough on Scottish education and home affairs in the Upper House, spending most of his time on the Deer (Scotland) Bill, which created stiffer penalties for poaching and a close season in the Highlands. It was a subject, helpfully, close to Forbes’ heart.
Nigel Ivan Forbes was born on 19 February, 1918, the eldest son of the 21st Lord Forbes and his wife Lady Mabel Anson, a daughter of the 3rd Earl of Lichfield. (The Forbes peerage was created in the 1440s for a grandson-in-law of King Robert III and one of the clan, the Rev John Forbes, later settled in the United States where one of his descendants – born a Forbes – was John Kerry’s mother.)
Forbes was educated at Harrow and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, after which he followed his father into the Grenadier Guards. He served in France during the Second World War but a mortar shattered his leg during the retreat to Dunkirk. Two years later he married the Hon Rosemary Katharine Hamilton-Russell, the eldest daughter of 9th Viscount Boyne, with whom he later had two sons and a daughter.
After recovering from his injuries, Forbes served as adjutant and attended Staff College, later becoming military assistant to the High Commissioner in Palestine during the violent twilight of the British Mandate. He retired from the army with the rank of Major, and in 1953 succeeded to his title. At the Coronation ceremony that June, Forbes carried the coronet of Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood.
Forbes’ first political role came as a member of Alford District Council from 1955 to 1958, while he also served as chairman of the River Don District Board from 1962 to 1972. In 1955 he was a Justice of the Peace for Aberdeenshire, and in 1958 a Deputy Lieutenant.
After leaving the Scottish Office in 1959 (concurrently, he had been chairman of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland) Forbes joined a number of parliamentary delegations and concentrated on his business career, becoming a founding director of Grampian Television in 1960, remaining on its board until the late 1980s. When the Peerage Act of 1963 abolished Scotland’s representative peers, Forbes became a full Member of the House of Lords as of right.
Forbes also served as a member of the Aberdeen and District Milk Marketing Board (1962–72), deputy chairman of Tennent Caledonian Breweries for a decade, and later chairman of Rolawn Ltd, now Europe’s largest producer of cultivated turf.
Politically, Forbes was concerned about the influence of Communism in the UK, suspicious of Scottish devolution and also unhappy with his party’s leadership. In late 1974 he urged the Conservatives to replace Edward Heath with a “real and inspiring leader”, so was naturally content when they followed his advice early the following year. Forbes ceased to be a Member of the House of Lords when most hereditary peers were expelled in 1999.
On succeeding to his peerage Forbes chose not to inhabit the family seat of Castle Forbes (built in 1815), instead living on the south side of the River Don while managing the 5,000-acre family estate. In 1972 the castle was converted into a private hotel, and later Forbes’ younger son moved back in to what is now a private guesthouse.
Even in his nineties, Forbes remained passionate about his corner of Aberdeenshire, and was appointed to an honorary post with the Bailies of Bennachie, guardian volunteers of the hill overlooking his home. A keen naturalist, ornithologist and photographer, when younger he also took parties to study wildlife in East Africa.
Lord Forbes died on 5 March; his oldest son, the Master of Forbes, Malcolm Nigel Forbes, who was born in 1946, succeeds him as the 23rd Lord Forbes.