Byers, (Charles) Frank, Baron Byers 1915-1984, Liberal politician, was born in Liverpool 24 July 1915, the only son (there were two younger daughters) of Charles Cecil Byers, a Lloyd's underwriter, vice-chairman of United Molasses Ltd., and one-time Liberal parliamentary candidate, and his wife, Florence May, daughter of James Fairclough, of Northenden, Cheshire.
     Educated at The Hall School, Hampstead, and Westminster School, Byers was captain of football and athletics and princeps oppidanorum at the latter. Going up to Christ Church, Oxford, in October 1934, he emerged four years later with a third class honours degree in politics, philosophy, and economics. He was awarded his blue and international colours as a 220-yard hurdler, holding the British Universities' record for over twelve years. At Oxford his interest in politics developed. He was a Liberal by temperament, instinct, and upbringing and became chairman of the Union of Liberal Students and the University Liberal Club (1937), often recalling with a wry chuckle that his treasurer was one Harold Wilson (later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx) [qv.].
     Leaving Oxford in 1938 he joined Gray's Inn, but his studies ended when on 2 September 1939, the day after the outbreak of the war, and only a few weeks after his marriage, he enlisted in the Royal Artillery. In due course he became a lieutenant-colonel on the staff of the Eighth Army. His courage and determination, which were natural attributes, were recognized when he was appointed OBE in 1944, mentioned three times in dispatches, awarded the croix de guerre with palms, and created a chevalier of the Legion of Honour.
     Byers had been adopted as prospective Liberal parliamentary candidate for the North Dorset constituency at the age of twenty-two, and returned to England in July 1945 for the general election. He won a remarkable and unexpected victory, being one of only twelve Liberals in the Commons. He was at once conspicuous for his political flair, judgement, and administrative ability, and became chief whip in 1946 after only a few months. However, largely because of boundary changes he narrowly lost his seat in 1950 and failed to regain it in 1951. Already a part-time director of the Rio Tinto Company (later RTZ), he now became full time, organizing the company's world-wide exploration programme. By 1959 he was in a position to resume his political work, and he became for many years the dominant figure in the Liberal Party as director of its election campaigns, chairman (1950-2 and 1965-7), president, general fund-raiser, and peripatetic speaker. He was responsible almost single-handed for the survival of the party in a difficult period. He contested, without success, a by-election in Bolton in 1960.
     When in 1964 the Liberal Party was offered its first two life peerages, Byers was an obvious choice. In 1967 he became leader of the Liberal peers, a position which he held unchallenged until his death. He was appointed a privy councillor in 1972, and became chairman of the Company Pension Information Centre in 1973 and part-time consultant at Marks & Spencer in 1977. He was chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association, a member of the committee on privacy (1970-2) led by (Sir) Kenneth Younger [qv.], chaired a far-reaching report on the organization of British athletics (1968), and was enthusiastically involved in a host of voluntary activities where he was able to demonstrate his passionate concern for people as individuals, particularly the young, the sick, and the deprived.
     For twenty years Byers was an outstanding and widely admired party leader in the House of Lords. Lean, wiry, red-haired, and pugnacious, his carefully prepared speeches were appreciated for their logic, forceful delivery, and conciseness of argument. His Liberalism was both caring and practical, as is shown by his moving contributions to the debates on the Immigration Act in 1971. He had an impish and irreverent sense of humour. His occasional impatience was no more than a reflection of his quickness of mind, as was the brusque bark of Byers with which he answered the telephone. He had a profound and sympathetic knowledge of parliamentary customs and procedures, and made a distinctive contribution to the all-party talks in 1968 on the reform of the upper house.
     On 15 July 1939 he married another Liberal stalwart, Joan Elizabeth, daughter of William Oliver, company director of Spicers Ltd., of Alfriston, Wayside, Golders Green. They had one son and three daughters. Byers suffered heart attacks in 1973 and again in 1978, but remained fully active. On 6 February 1984 he had his third and fatal attack when he was working in his room at the House of Lords. It is said that members do not die in the House, because coroners have no jurisdiction in a royal palace, but on the way to hospital. It was the only time Byers broke a parliamentary convention.

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Contributor: Wigoder

Published: 1990