Rishi Sunak leads tributes to Frank Field after the former Labour minister and crossbench peer dies at 81

Lord Field of Birkenhead
Lord Field was director of the Child Poverty Action Group between 1969 and 1979 - David Rose
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Frank Field, the former Labour minister and crossbench peer, has died aged 81, his family has announced.

Lord Field of Birkenhead passed away in a London care home on Tuesday night following a “long battle with cancer”, and is survived by two brothers.

A statement from his family, issued by his parliamentary office and posted on X, said: “Through a long battle with cancer, Frank Field remained resilient and engaged with life until the end.

“He will be enormously missed by his family and wide circle of friends.

“Frank was an extraordinary individual who spent his life fighting poverty, injustice and environmental destruction. His decency and faith in people’s self-interested altruism made a unique contribution to British politics.

“After 40 years of dedicated public service, Frank will be mourned by admirers across the political divide. But above all, he will be deeply missed by those lucky enough to have enjoyed his laughter and friendship.”

Lord Field served for nearly four decades as Labour MP for Birkenhead before resigning the whip in 2018 over anti-Semitism and “nastiness” in the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, sitting as an independent MP until the 2019 election.

He had been a leading voice on welfare reform, taking on responsibility for the issue as a minister in Sir Tony Blair’s first government in 1997 and was chairman of the work and pensions select committee.

He joined the Lords as a non-affiliated peer in 2020 and was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2021, describing the latter as a “terrific privilege”.

Prior to joining the upper chamber, he clashed with the Lords over Brexit – threatening to abolish the House in its current form if it insisted on watering down Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised the long-serving politician as a “decent, moral, and thoughtful man”.

“He was a great parliamentarian, he made our politics better and raised the level of national debate in this country. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today,” he said.

‘Profound loss’

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “profound loss to politics and to our nation”.

“Frank dedicated his life to being a voice for the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the country,” he said.

“Frank was principled, courageous, and independent-minded. He cared about the people he served, thought deeply about the issues he championed, and worked entirely for the good of the people of Birkenhead as their MP for 40 years. His honour and integrity were well known and admired.

“On behalf of the Labour Party, my thoughts are with his family.”

Writing in The Telegraph in 2018, Lord Field said an attempt by peers to “defy” the Commons by reinstating a series of amendments to Ms May’s Brexit legislation that had been rejected by MPs would amount to an “act of insurrection”.

In a warning to those accused of seeking to thwart the UK’s exit from the European Union, he introduced a bill which would radically overhaul the chamber and replace it with a hybrid senate of experts and elected representatives from across the country.

The Brexiteer said he would be seeking the government’s support for the move “in readiness” for peers preventing “good passage” of laws to implement the referendum decision.

He went on to lose a “no confidence” ballot within his Birkenhead Constituency Labour Party for siding with the Tory government in key Brexit votes.

Last February, he was cheered as he made his first appearance in the House of Lords for almost two years, arriving in the chamber in a wheelchair to pledge allegiance to the King.

He had spoken of his determination to take the oath – something all peers are obliged to do after the death of a monarch.

Tributes to the peer from across the political spectrum poured in on Wednesday morning.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, called Lord Field a “formidable MP” who was “neither cowed by the establishment or whips”, and was the “driving force” behind Parliament’s commitment to prevent slavery and human trafficking within its supply chains.

“Having worked with him on the modern slavery advisory group, and made him its chair, I am in no doubt his efforts saved many lives nationwide from this shameful criminal activity,” the Speaker said.

“Suffice to say, he was one of a kind and he will be sorely missed.”

‘Massive impact’

Lucy Powell, the shadow Commons leader, said the peer “taught and helped me greatly”. She recalled working with him on early years and education, adding that he made a “massive impact” on the lives of many children.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “Rest in peace, Frank Field. A great parliamentarian, crusader for social justice and source of wise counsel.”

Dame Priti Patel, the former home secretary, said he had an “unwavering moral compass”.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Frank Field,” she said. “Frank was a kind and compassionate man and a great parliamentarian.

“His unwavering moral compass, commitment to working cross-party and unshakable principles defined him and will be greatly missed.”

Veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman added: “At Frank’s core was the conviction that poverty was never to be accepted and could be ended. Clever, persistent and caring, he held that argument high across decades RIP”.