Lord Stunell, Lib Dem MP who helped negotiate the Coalition with Cameron’s Tories – obituary

Andrew Stunell at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference
Andrew Stunell at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference - Getty Images

Lord Stunell, who has died aged 81, was one of the most influential and respected Liberal Democrats during the period of the party’s greatest successes, and a junior communities minister in David Cameron’s Coalition, whose formation he had helped negotiate.

An architect by profession, Andrew Stunell was MP for Hazel Grove for 18 years, Lib Dem chief whip for five, and since 2015 an active life peer; he spoke in the House of Lords as recently as March 27, on leasehold reform.

Paying tribute, his party leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Andrew was famous for his clear-sightedness and humility whatever the pressure – a real ‘people person’ even before the term was invented. A great friend, colleague, and mentor to many of us – his contribution to the cause over so many years was immeasurable.”

An active Methodist and former Baptist lay preacher, Stunell was a skilful campaigner, with his particular passion the environment. His legislative legacy is the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act of 2004, a private member’s measure enabling homes to be built or renovated with security and energy saving features, to create “greener and safer buildings”.

As Parliamentary Under Secretary for Communities and Local Government from 2010 to 2012 under the Conservative Eric Pickles, he had responsibility for community cohesion, racial equality, building regulations and the implementation of the Big Society with regard to housing and regeneration.

The Lib Dem Coalition negotiators (L-R) David Laws, Andrew Stunell, Danny Alexander and Chris Huhne
The Lib Dem Coalition negotiators (L-R) David Laws, Andrew Stunell, Danny Alexander and Chris Huhne - AP

Robert Andrew Stunell was born at Sutton, Surrey, on November 24 1942, the son of Robert Stunell, a chartered mechanical engineer, and his wife Trixie, a teacher and musician. From Surbiton County Grammar School, he studied Architecture at Manchester University and Liverpool Polytechnic.

Graduating in 1965, he joined the Co-Operative Wholesale Society in Manchester as an architectural assistant, then from 1967 worked for Runcorn New Town, being admitted to the RIBA in 1969. From 1981 until 1985 he had a freelance practice.

Stunell was a Chester city councillor from 1979 to 1990, and from 1981 to 1991 led the Liberal/Lib Dem group on Cheshire county council. Moving to Stockport, he was a councillor there from 1994 to 2002.

He fought Chester at the 1979 general election for the Liberals, and in 1983 and 1987 for the Liberal/SDP Alliance, finishing a strongish third each time. Up to 1997 he was political secretary of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.

He first fought the Stockport commuter constituency of Hazel Grove in 1992, falling 929 votes short of ousting its Conservative MP Tom Arnold. As Tony Blair led New Labour to power in 1997, Stunell defeated a new Tory candidate by 11,814 votes to take the seat. He held Hazel Grove comfortably at the next three elections.

Paddy Ashdown appointed Stunell an energy spokesman in a greatly expanded Lib Dem contingent. From 2001 he was chief whip; he was re-elected to the post in 2005 but stepped down the following year to be shadow secretary for communities and local government.

He left the front bench in December 2007 when Nick Clegg asked him to chair the party’s local election campaign team, also being vice-chair of the Lib Dems’ 2010 general election campaign.

When that election resulted in deadlock, with Cameron’s Conservatives failing to secure an outright majority over Labour under Gordon Brown, Clegg’s Lib Dems went into negotiations to form Britain’s first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s.
Stunell, Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne and David Laws formed their negotiating team, with William Hague, Oliver Letwin, George Osborne and Edward Llewellyn acting for the Conservatives.

A Coalition Agreement was reached, and Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister and Stunell a junior minister at the DCLG. He stayed there until Clegg shuffled his pack halfway through what had been agreed would be a fixed-term parliament.

Having left the government, Stunell was appointed to the Privy Council in November 2012. The following year he was knighted for political and public services.

He stood down from the Commons, aged 72, at the 2015 election. In it, the Lib Dems were routed, Hazel Grove falling to the Conservative William Wragg by 6,552 votes.

Stunell received a life peerage in the dissolution honours, as Baron Stunell, of Hazel Grove in the County of Greater Manchester. He served for a time on the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and took an ongoing interest in housing standards, fittingly the subject of his final speech.

In it, he regretted that with Michael Gove’s leasehold reform Bill, “the promise is in the title but the delivery is not in the Bill”, and the measure was “suffering from a headlong rush by the Government to introduce new material into the Bill as it goes along.” Stunell added: “We have heard enough evidence today that the Government are spending an increasing amount of time chasing their tail, trying to make their legislation work.”

Nevertheless he welcomed the measure, despite some “major flaws and missed opportunities for real reform”, with “the regulation of property agencies clearly right up there near the top, and the omission of flats from the creation of new leases just absurd.” Overall, he said, the Bill was “just a skirmish in a much bigger battle for fair property rights and access to decent housing for all”, and he welcomed the Government’s stated readiness to improve it.

He was appointed OBE in 1995.

Andrew Stunell married, in 1967, Gillian Chorley, who survives him, with their three sons and two daughters.

Andrew Stunell, born November 24 1942, died April 29 2024