Roy Mason

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The Lord Mason of Barnsley

Roy Mason 1978.jpg
Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
14 July 1979 24 November 1981
Preceded by John Silkin
Succeeded by Norman Buchan
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
In office
4 May 1979 14 July 1979
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded by Humphrey Atkins
Succeeded by Brynmor John
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
In office
10 September 1976 4 May 1979
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded by Merlyn Rees
Succeeded by Humphrey Atkins
Secretary of State for Defence
In office
4 March 1974 10 September 1976
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
James Callaghan
Preceded by Ian Gilmour
Succeeded by Fred Mulley
President of the Board of Trade
In office
6 October 1969 19 June 1970
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded by Anthony Crosland
Succeeded by Michael Noble
Minister of Power
In office
1 July 1968 6 October 1969
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded by Ray Gunter
Succeeded byOffice Abolished
Postmaster General
In office
6 April 1968 1 July 1968
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded by Edward Short
Succeeded by John Stonehouse
Minister of Defence for Equipment
In office
7 January 1967 6 April 1968
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byOffice Created
Succeeded by John Morris
Minister of State for Trade
In office
20 October 1964 7 January 1967
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Succeeded by Joseph Mallalieu
Member of Parliament
for Barnsley Central
Barnsley (1953–1983)
In office
31 March 1953 18 May 1987
Preceded by Sidney Schofield
Succeeded by Eric Illsley
Personal details
Born(1924-04-18)18 April 1924
Royston, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died19 April 2015(2015-04-19) (aged 91)
Political party Labour
Alma mater London School of Economics

Roy Mason, Baron Mason of Barnsley, PC , DL (18 April 1924 – 19 April 2015), was a British Labour politician and Cabinet minister who was Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the 1970s.


Early life

He was born in Royston, West Riding of Yorkshire, on 18 April 1924, [1] and grew up in Carlton, Barnsley, also in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Mason first went down the mines at the age of fourteen and he became a branch official of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in his early twenties. Aged 26, he studied at the London School of Economics as a mature student on a Trades Union Congress (TUC) scholarship. [2] He remained in the coal industry until he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for the Barnsley constituency at a by-election in 1953. [3]


Mason was Labour Party spokesman on Home Affairs, Defence and Post Office, 1960–1964. Minister of State at the Board of Trade, 1964–1967. Minister of Defence (Equipment), 1967–1968. Minister of Power, 1968–1969. President of the Board of Trade, 1969–1970. Secretary of State for Defence, 1974–1976. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 1976–1979

Northern Ireland

A high-profile politician, Mason's appointment to Northern Ireland was unexpected and seemed to indicate a tougher response from the British Government than that pursued by his predecessor, Merlyn Rees. In late 1976, he told the Labour party conference that "Ulster had had enough of initiatives, White Papers and legislation for the time being, and now needed to be governed firmly and fairly". He rejected both military and political solutions in favour of "justice for all; with equality before the law; and, crucially, with republican terrorism treated as a security problem, and nothing else". [4]

While Secretary of State for Defence Mason had been responsible for the introduction of SAS units into the 'bandit country' of South Armagh. At Stormont Mason was responsible for the tougher role taken by the security forces and authorised an increase in British Army covert tactics with the SAS allowed to operate throughout Northern Ireland. Mason's time in Northern Ireland was characterised by a reduction in violence; "in 1976 there were 297 deaths in Northern Ireland; in the next three years the figures were 111, 80, 120. [5] In 1977 he stood up to militant loyalists attempting to repeat their successful Ulster Workers Council strike tactic of 1974. In the same year he twice attempted to get some movement towards a political settlement from the local political parties but both attempts failed. In March 1979 the INLA planned to assassinate Mason but this plan was aborted. [6]

Mason's policies in Northern Ireland earned the ire of Irish nationalist MPs. [7] This played a part in the March 1979 vote of no confidence, which the Labour government lost by one vote, precipitating the 1979 general election. [7] Nationalist MP Gerry Fitt abstained in the vote of no confidence, stating that he could not support a government with Mason as its Northern Ireland secretary. [7]

After Labour's election defeat in 1979 Mason came under increasing pressure from some on the left in his constituency party and from Arthur Scargill but did not countenance joining the Social Democratic Party. Mason received full police protection, over 30 years after leaving office. In 1982 the then Energy Secretary Nigel Lawson suggested to Margaret Thatcher that she should make Mason the next Coal Board chairman, but she refused, saying that Mason was "Not one of us". Instead, Ian MacGregor was appointed. [8]

Later life

After his retirement from the House of Commons at the 1987 general election, he was created a life peer on 20 October 1987 taking the title Baron Mason of Barnsley, of Barnsley in South Yorkshire. [9] Mason lived in the same semi-detached house with his wife Marjorie from their marriage until he was aged 84.

He died at Highgrove Nursing Home, Stanley Road, Barnsley, of cerebrovascular disease, one day after his 91st birthday, on 19 April 2015. He was survived by his wife and his two daughters. [10] [11] [3]

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  1. "Birthdays today". The Telegraph. 18 April 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2014. Lord Mason of Barnsley, former Labour Government Minister, 88
  2. Yorkshire Post Obituary – 'Roy Mason a Man Forever Linked with Barnsley' Retrieved 20 April 2015
  3. 1 2 "Former Labour MP Lord Mason of Barnsley dies". BBC News. 20 April 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  4. Archived 28 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Johnston, Wesley. "Deaths in each year of the 'Troubles' 1969 – 1998" . Retrieved 22 September 2013.
  6. Holland, Jack; McDonald, Henry (1994). INLA Deadly Divisions.
  7. 1 2 3 "Lord Fitt". Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. 27 August 2005. Retrieved 25 December 2012. His influence on the British government sharply diminished in 1976 with the advent that year of Mason as Secretary of State. "He's an anti-Irish wee git", Fitt told journalists; but perhaps Mason's worst sin was that he ignored the MP for West Belfast. Fitt took his revenge in the crucial vote on the Labour government's bill for Scottish devolution. He could not bring himself, he explained, to vote for a government with Mason as Ulster Secretary, against a background of alleged police brutality in the province. The government, defeated by one vote, resigned; the radical Gerry Fitt had helped to usher in the rule of Mrs Thatcher.
  8. Nigel Lawson -The View from No.11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical
  9. "No. 51099". The London Gazette . 23 October 1987. p. 13091.
  10. "Death of Lord Mason of Barnsley at 91". Yorkshire Post. 20 April 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  11. List of Deceased members of the House of Lords
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sidney Schofield
Member of Parliament for Barnsley
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Barnsley Central
Succeeded by
Eric Illsley
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Short
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
John Stonehouse
Preceded by
Ray Gunter
Minister of Power
Position abolished
Preceded by
Anthony Crosland
President of the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
Michael Noble
Preceded by
Ian Gilmour
Secretary of State for Defence
Succeeded by
Fred Mulley
Preceded by
Merlyn Rees
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Humphrey Atkins