Boyle, Edward Charles Gurney, third baronet, and Baron Boyle of Handsworth 1923-1981, politician, was born at 63 Queen's Gate, Kensington, 31 August 1923, the elder son and eldest of three children of Sir Edward Boyle, second baronet, barrister, and his wife, Beatrice, daughter of Henry Greig, of Belvedere House, Kent. He was the grandson of Sir Edward Boyle [qv.], Conservative MP for Taunton in 1906-9, who was created the first baronet in 1904. He was educated at Eton where he was captain of Oppidans, editor of the Eton Chronicle, and president of the Political Society. Journalism and politics remained two of his abiding interests. He succeeded his father as baronet in 1945. Towards the end of World War II he served for a short period in the Foreign Office, after which he went up to Oxford as a scholar of Christ Church where he read history. He played an active part in Conservative undergraduate politics and was elected president of the Union in the summer of 1948. Even at that time he was considered to be exceptionally mature, a charming and persuasive, though not a rhetorical, speaker, and one who was likely to make his mark in the outside world. He left Oxford in 1949 with a third class degree, disappointing to him and at first sight somewhat surprising. His intellectual characteristics, however, comprised a wide breadth of interest, a remarkable store of information, and a phenomenal memory for everything which he encountered, but his was not a mind full of innovative ideas or of penetrating analysis. His strength lay in his deep-seated and moderate convictions which guided him all through his life.
It was, no doubt, because he was so impressively grown-up that he was selected to fight a by-election in the Perry Bar division of Birmingham in 1948 whilst still at Oxford. Having lost the by-election he fought the same seat in the 1950 general election when he again lost. Meantime he had become a journalist and was assistant editor of the National Review under John Grigg. Later in that year he was elected to the House of Commons for the Handsworth division of Birmingham at the age of twenty-seven, the youngest member in the House. His ability and steadfastness were soon recognized by his appointment the following year as parliamentary private secretary to the under-secretary for air. In 1954 he received his first government post as parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Supply, after which the whole of his parliamentary life until he left the House of Commons in 1970 was spent on the front bench either in government or in opposition, with one short exception after his resignation at the time of Suez.
In 1955 he became economic secretary to the Treasury and from then on it was economic affairs and education which he enjoyed in politics above all else. A heavy responsibility was placed upon him by the budget of R. A. Butler (later Lord Butler of Saffron Walden) [qv.] in the autumn of 1955. Butler himself was overstrained by the illness and death of his wife. His emergency budget had been whittled down by the cabinet to the point where it was doubtful whether it was worth the trouble it caused. No one, however, had the strength to call a halt to it. Boyle defended it tirelessly in the Commons, in particular the proposition that it was possible to reduce inflation by increasing indirect taxation, thus putting up prices, a proposition which became colloquially known as Boyle's Law.
When Sir Anthony Eden (later the Earl of Avon) announced his decision to use British forces in Egypt, Boyle resigned, though without great fuss. He thought the policy was both dishonourable and doomed to failure. When Harold Macmillan (later the Earl of Stockton) became prime minister in January 1957 he began to heal the wounds in the Conservative Party caused by the Suez adventure by inviting both Julian Amery and Edward Boyle to take office in his government. Boyle became parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Education, but returned to the Treasury as financial secretary after the general election of October 1959. There he strongly supported proposals for indicative planning and an overall incomes policy. In 1962 he was appointed minister of education and became a member of the cabinet. He was successful in expanding and bringing up to date the educational system. Always an admirer of Butler, he continued to develop the approach set out in the Butler Education Act of 1944.
When the responsibility for science was moved from the lord president of the Council to the enlarged Department of Education and Science in 1964, Quintin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone) became secretary of state for the new department, and Boyle was made minister of state with special responsibility for higher education. He retained his seat in the cabinet and in no way resented his change of status at the department, for the new structure was one that he had himself urged upon the government.
After the defeat of the Conservative Party in the general election of 1964, Sir Alec Douglas-Home (later Lord Home of the Hirsel) made Boyle shadow home secretary. Here he was unhappy, feeling that his own moderate views on home affairs were all too often in conflict with the more right-wing views of many members of his party. He became opposition front bench spokesman for education and deputy chairman of the party's advisory committee on policy a few months later in February 1965. As leader of the Conservative Party, Edward Heath made a number of attempts in 1965 to persuade Boyle to move to other front-bench positions to enable him to widen his experience in preparation for the highest offices in government. However, he repeatedly refused and in 1970 retired from Parliament in order to devote more time to what had now become his overwhelming interest, education, and in a role where he could express his views and implement his policies without constant interference from those taking part in the political battle. He became vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds in the same year.
Whilst still in Parliament in the second half of the sixties, he had engaged in many additional activities, becoming a director of Penguin Books (1965), a member of the Fulton committee on the Civil Service (1966-8), and pro-chancellor of the University of Sussex (1965-70). After he moved to Leeds his main activity outside the university was as chairman of the top salaries review board. Here he was noted for the fairness and firmness with which he dealt with the intractable problems which arose between governments and the public services during the 1970s. He felt deeply that the constant attacks on public servants from the press and politicians were unjustified and deeply damaging to the national interest. He went to great pains to ensure that those working in the public service received the honourable recognition which was their due, expressed not only in words but in their remuneration.
The early years of Boyle's vice-chancellorship of Leeds University covered that difficult period during the first half of the 1970s when the majority of students on both sides of the Atlantic were opposed to the continuation of the war in Vietnam and, in particular, to those governments which appeared to be supporting it or conniving at it. Boyle's diplomatic touch, administrative skills, concern for the welfare of both teachers and students alike, and above all his energy and humanity in keeping in continuous contact with all aspects of university life enabled him to maintain a reasonable stability where many others failed. Everyone knew that he cared little about himself and his personal position, but that he was determined to maintain the standards of his university in the interests of the future of the students for whom he was responsible. In 1977-9 he was chairman of the committee of vice-chancellors and principals. He found these dignitaries more difficult to handle. He was most happy when he was moving among his own students in his own university.
Boyle was a genial host and a stimulating conversationalist. He had a great love of music, which he shared with Edward Heath, who visited him on the evening before his death. Although he did not play any instrument himself, he possessed a fine collection of gramophone records and a profound knowledge of music and musicians. He was a regular opera goer, favouring particularly Glyndebourne in the summer. He was an admirer of Gabriel Fauré about whom he had collected papers for a book which, alas, was never written. To this Dictionary he contributed the notice of Reginald Maudling. In his early days he was a high Anglican but over his last twenty-five years he moved further and further towards agnosticism.
Boyle, who received honorary degrees from the universities of Leeds (LLD, 1965), Southampton (LLD, 1965), Aston (D.Sc., 1966), Bath (LLD, 1968), Heriot-Watt (Doctor of Literature, 1977), Hull (Doctor of Literature, 1978), and Sussex (LLD, 1972) was also an honorary freeman of the Clothworkers' Company (1975) and a freeman of the City of London, a charter fellow of the College of Preceptors, and an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (1976). Boyle was admitted to the Privy Council in July 1962 and received a life peerage in 1970. He became a Companion of Honour at a special investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 30 June 1981, shortly before his death.
He died in the vice-chancellor's lodge at Leeds on Monday 28 September 1981 after a prolonged illness, at the early age of fifty-eight. He was unmarried and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his brother, Richard Gurney Boyle (born 1930).
Contributor: Edward Heath