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Lord Bach of Lutterworth - Doctor of Laws - Former Mayor of Lutterworth and a Councillor with Leicester City, Lutterworth and Harborough Councils

Oration by Dr S J Gurman

Lord Bach of Lutterworth is a lawyer and politician who has given many years’ service to the City and County of Leicester and to the government of this country. He served on Leicester City Council for more than ten years and, more recently, on Harborough District Council. He was also for twenty years a member of the Council of this University. Apart from one brief period, he was a member of the government from 1999 until the recent General Election.

William Stephen Goulden Bach, who is always known as Willy, was born in London in 1946. He is one of those unfortunate people whose birthday falls on Christmas Day, limiting their opportunities for celebration. He was educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford, where he read English. Willy Bach was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1972, the year he moved to Leicester. He practiced as a barrister on the Midland and Oxford Circuit, specializing in the criminal law. He long worked out of chambers in King Street in the centre of Leicester, chambers of which he became head in 1996.

Willy Bach has been active in politics since University, and is a lifelong member of the Labour Party. This is perhaps not surprising, given that his family tradition of political activism stems from the Goulden family, who were Victorian radicals in Manchester. His great-aunt, Emmeline Goulden, married into the Pankhurst family and became one of the leaders of the suffragette campaign that led to women being given the vote. His grandmother, Ada Bach, born a Goulden, also provides a connection with the law, since she once spent three weeks in Holloway Prison as a result of her suffragette activities

Soon after his arrival in Leicester, Willy Bach became active in the Leicester West branch of the Labour Party, of which he was Treasurer for many years. He was a member of the City Council from 1976 until 1987, representing the old St Margaret’s Ward in the City Centre. He fought the essentially unwinnable seat of Gainsborough in 1979 and the more marginal constituency of Sherwood twice, once in 1983 and again in 1987, always for the Labour Party. In the first of these Sherwood contests, during elections, which were a disaster for his party, he himself narrowly missed being elected. The experience was a profound one and helped shape his stance as a Labour Party reformer. He served as a member of Lutterworth Town Council from 1991 until 1999 and was Mayor of Lutterworth in 1993. He has lived near Lutterworth for more than twenty years. He was also a member of Harborough District Council from 1995 until 1999.

Willy Bach became a working Life Peer in 1998 and joined the government in 1999 as a Whip. He was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement in 2001. This is one of the most high-profile jobs in the Ministry of Defence, especially at a time when the Forces are heavily engaged on active service. It is also one of the hardest. The Minister is trapped between competing interests. The Armed Forces, rightly, demand the best equipment and they want it now and in large quantities. The defence contractors, rightly, require, stability and continuity during the long development time of modern weapon systems. The Treasury, rightly, wish to save as much money as is possible. Willy Bach came to love this job, staunchly defending the interests of his Ministry throughout four turbulent years. He achieved some notable victories over the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, somebody named Brown, retaining the manufacture of the Hawk trainer in this country and signing-off the contracts for the new Joint Strike aircraft. Willy Bach also had some success in opening up the United States defence market to British companies.

Willy Bach was moved to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2005 as an Under-Secretary responsible for sustainable farming and food. After a short spell on the back benches, he returned to office in 2008 as the Under-Secretary for Justice in the Ministry of Justice, a post he held until the recent election. His time in office was dominated by a major row over publically-funded legal aid, the cost of which has quadrupled over the past thirty years. This overshadowed the many other results of his term in office. Willy Bach was tough on expenditure but passionate about quality – I can see why the lawyers were so upset. The essence of his passion is a belief that spending on social welfare law, Law Centres, Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and Community Legal Advice Centres in particular, should be maintained even though other categories of legal aid might have to be curtailed. Allied to this passion is his view that traditional legal aid was not helping the poorest in society who needed advice on housing, employment and welfare benefits. He has said that “poor advice is worse than no advice at all”, and actually increased expenditure on a scheme to improve the training and career development of legal aid solicitors.

In his limited spare time, Willy Bach is a devotee of American crime fiction and of Leicester City Football Club. He has been a season ticket holder at City for nearly forty years, supporting them through triumphs and disasters, the good and bad seasons, even when City fans could say, with Michel Platini (the French player and manager) that “some games you lose and some you draw”. His taste in crime fiction is in the hard-boiled, noir tradition. Favourite authors are George V Higgins, the Boston District Attorney turned crime writer, and James Ellroy. The latter said of his novels “I make this stuff up. I don’t know any criminals”. With his long experience of the criminal bar, Willy Bach could give him a tip or two.

Two years ago, almost to the day, Willy Bach sat in the balcony of this hall, watching this University honour his old friend Greville Janner. Today, in recognition of his long years of service to this City and County and to this University, we are proud to honour him.

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and the Council, I present Lord Bach of Lutterworth, barrister and politician, that you may confer on him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

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