Buchan-Hepburn, Patrick George Thomas, Baron Hailes 1901-1974, politician and governor-general of the Federation of the West Indies, was born 2 April 1901 at Smeaton Hepburn, East Lothian, the third son (there was also a daughter) of Sir Archibald Buchan-Hepburn, fourth baronet, a barrister, and his wife, Edith Agnes, daughter of Edward Kent Karslake, KC. He was educated at Harrow (1915-19) and Trinity College, Cambridge, which he left without a degree.
Buchan-Hepburn was a painter of more than amateur skill who, from his youth, was much attracted to the arts. He was equally interested in politics and in 1926 became honorary attaché at the British embassy in Constantinople at an early stage of the Kemalist regime. After two years of diplomatic experience, he returned to England in 1927, and, though not established as a civil servant, was appointed personal private secretary to the chancellor of the Exchequer, (Sir) Winston Churchill. His work with Churchill fed his political ambition. In the general election of 1929 he unsuccessfully contested the seat of Wolverhampton East as the Conservative candidate, but in the following year he was elected a member of the London County Council for North Kensington. In the landslide general election of 1931 he became Conservative MP for the East Toxteth division of Liverpool, a seat he held until in 1950 he switched to Beckenham.
On entering the House of Commons in 1931 he was invited to be parliamentary private secretary to Oliver Stanley [qv.], then under-secretary of state in the Home Office. He remained with Stanley in the same capacity when he moved through the ministries of Transport, Labour, and Education to become president of the Board of Trade in 1937. Buchan-Hepburn thus acquired knowledge and experience of no less than five important government departments.
In 1939 he resigned his appointment with Stanley on being invited to be an assistant government whip and, shortly thereafter, a junior lord of the Treasury. He retired from that office to serve with the 11th (City of London Yeomanry) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery and was brigade major from 1940 to 1943.
In 1944 he was reappointed a junior lord of the Treasury, and when in July 1945 the Conservative government lost office, he became deputy Opposition chief whip. In 1948 he was promoted to chief Conservative whip, and on the return of his party to power in October 1951, he retained that office in the new government, becoming parliamentary secretary to the Treasury and a privy councillor.
As chief whip, both in Government and in Opposition, he was faultlessly efficient and entirely trusted by the prime minister, Churchill. He was also respected for his administrative competence by members of the Cabinet, though his occasional petulance did not always endear him to the back-benchers. He was loyal to Churchill personally, and devoted to him, but he was anxious for him to retire in favour of Anthony Eden (later the Earl of Avon) [qv.] at least two years before he actually did so, and from 1953 onward he made strenuous though unavailing efforts to that end.
In 1955, under Sir Anthony Eden, he became minister of works with a seat in the Cabinet. It was an office for which his architectural good taste and love of the arts made him eminently suitable, but in 1957, when Harold Macmillan (later Earl of Stockton) succeeded Eden in January, Buchan-Hepburn retired. He was created a peer, reviving a family title to become Baron Hailes. The first Lord Hailes, also called Patrick Hepburn, had been ennobled in 1452 and was the ancestor of the notorious Earl of Bothwell [qv.], husband of Mary, Queen of Scots [qv.].
Shortly afterwards Macmillan offered him the challenging assignment of governor-general of the newly created Federation of the West Indies. The British empire was about to be dissolved. In the process the experiment was made of uniting the larger British colonies in the Caribbean, several of which were clamouring for self-government, in one federation, even though the islands were separated by wide expanses of ocean. Lord and Lady Hailes established themselves at Government House, Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Hailes worked hard to make the Federation acceptable to all concerned, and he won the confidence as well as the personal esteem of the political leaders in the different islands. However, it became clear that the concept, imaginative though it was, with the prospect of ultimately uniting all the British Caribbean islands in one closely knit independent Federation, could not be translated into lasting reality, for the conflicting claims and ambitions of Trinidad and Jamaica were irreconcilable.
So in 1962 the Federation was dissolved and the governor-general returned home, being appointed CH in recognition of his efforts to make a success of the endeavour. He had been appointed GBE in 1957. In 1963 he became chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England, a task which he undertook with energy, making full use of the talents which were natural to him and the profound knowledge he had acquired over the years.
Hailes was intelligent, quick on the uptake, practical in handling awkward problems, articulate, and invariably painstaking. He was also tall and strikingly good-looking, with fair wavy hair, large grey eyes, and an engaging smile. At the same time he was vain, basically unsure of himself, and sensitive to criticism, whether direct or implied. Nor can patience be listed among his qualities, though he was consistently conscientious. A calm, serene discussion might suddenly, and often bewilderingly, end in storm and anger.
In 1945 Buchan-Hepburn married Diana Mary (died 1980), daughter of Brigadier-General the Hon. Charles Lambton and widow of Major William Hedworth Williamson. There were no children and the barony became extinct when Hailes died in London 5 November 1974.
Contributor: J. R. Colville