Jim Prior, Baron Prior

"Jim Prior" redirects here. For the Irish hurler, see Jim Prior (hurler).
The Right Honourable
The Lord Prior
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
In office
14 September 1981  27 September 1984
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Humphrey Atkins
Succeeded by Douglas Hurd
Secretary of State for Employment
In office
4 May 1979  14 September 1981
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Albert Booth
Succeeded by Norman Tebbit
Shadow Secretary of State for Employment
In office
29 October 1974  4 May 1979
Leader Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Reg Prentice
Succeeded by Albert Booth
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
11 March 1974  13 June 1974
Leader Edward Heath
Preceded by Roy Jenkins
Succeeded by Keith Joseph
Leader of the House of Commons
Lord President of the Council
In office
5 November 1972  4 March 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Robert Carr
Succeeded by Edward Short, Baron Glenamara
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
20 June 1970  5 November 1972
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Cledwyn Hughes
Succeeded by Joseph Godber
Member of Parliament
for Waveney
Lowestoft (1959–1983)
In office
8 October 1959  11 June 1987
Preceded by Edward Evans
Succeeded by David Porter
Personal details
Born (1927-10-11) 11 October 1927
Political party Conservative
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge

James Michael Leathes Prior, Baron Prior, PC (born 11 October 1927), often known as Jim Prior, is a British politician. A member of the Conservative Party, he was a member of parliament (MP) from 1959 to 1987, representing the constituency of Lowestoft from 1959 to 1983 and the renamed constituency of Waveney from 1983 to 1987. He served in the Cabinet from 1970 to 1974, and from 1979 to 1984. He was made a life peer in 1987. Lord Prior served as the Chairman of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce from 1996 to 2004.

Although he was in the cabinet of Margaret Thatcher (1979–81) as employment minister, he disagreed with some of her views on trade unions and her monetarist economic policies generally. This made him a leader of the "wet" faction in the Conservative Party.[1]

Life and career

Prior was educated at Charterhouse School, before going on to Cambridge University, where he earned a first class honours degree in Land economy at Pembroke College. He did military service as an officer in the Royal Norfolk Regiment of the British Army, serving in Germany and India.

He was first elected to Parliament in 1959, and was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1970–1972, then Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council until February 1974. He was one of several unsuccessful candidates in the Conservative Party's 1975 leadership election, entering at the second round and gaining 19 votes to Margaret Thatcher's 146.

Cabinet years

Under Margaret Thatcher he was Secretary of State for Employment from May 1979 to 14 September 1981. Of his appointment, Thatcher said of their relationship "we agreed that trade unions had acquired far too many powers and privileges. We also agreed that these must be dealt with one step at a time. But when it came down to specific measures, there was deep disagreement about how fast and how far to move."[2]

Prior is believed to have annoyed Thatcher by being too friendly with trade union leaders, with Thatcher writing "He [Prior] had forged good relations with a number of trade union leaders whose practical value he perhaps overestimated." And during his period in the Cabinet, he is believed to have angered the right wing of his party and the Prime Minister for not pressing far enough with anti-trade union legislation. In September 1981, Prior became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland[3] and was in this office until September 1984.[4] This transfer was widely seen as a move by Thatcher to isolate Prior, who disagreed with her on a number of economic issues. The post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was seen as a dumping ground to marginalise ministers. However, when Prior resigned, Thatcher revealed that she was going to offer him another Cabinet post during the reshuffle, which would have very likely been a non-economic one.

Later years

In 1986, he collaborated with John Cassels and Pauline Perry to create the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) which would become the National Centre for Universities and Business in 2013.

He retired from Parliament in 1987, and was created a life peer as Baron Prior, of Brampton in the County of Suffolk on 14 October 1987.[5]

He is Vice-President and was Chairman of the Rural Housing Trust.

Prior was interviewed in 2012 as part of The History of Parliament's oral history project.[6][7]


In January 1954 Prior married Jane Lywood. They have four children. Prior's oldest son David Prior held the seat of North Norfolk between 1997–2001 and was appointed Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for NHS Productivity, resulting in his elevation to the peerage in his own right as Baron Prior of Brampton, in May 2015.

In the media

Prior was interviewed about the rise of Thatcherism for the 2006 BBC TV documentary series Tory! Tory! Tory!.

Fictional portrayals

Prior is generally acknowledged to be the principal model for Peter Morrison, a personally honourable, somewhat stuffy, and ultimately hypocritical public school hero and then Conservative politician, in the Alms for Oblivion novel sequence written by his Charterhouse friend, Simon Raven. When asked his opinion of this identification, Lord Prior dismissed Raven's roman fleuve as 'James Bond books for poofs'.


  1. Hugo Young, One of Us (1989) pp 193–99
  2. Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (HarperCollins, 1993), p. 28.
  3. Kehoe, Emmanuel (2 July 2006). "Charity queens and their subjects". The Sunday Business Post. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  4. Parkhouse, Geoffrey (8 September 1984). "Thatcher in sombre mood over pit talks". Glasgow Herald. p. 1. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 51097. p. 12971. 21 October 1987.
  6. "Oral history: PRIOR, James (b.1927)". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  7. "Lord James Prior interviewed by Mike Greenwood". British Library Sound Archive. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Edward Evans
Member of Parliament for Lowestoft
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Waveney
Succeeded by
David Porter
Political offices
Preceded by
Cledwyn Hughes
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Succeeded by
Joseph Godber
Preceded by
Robert Carr
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Edward Short
Lord President of the Council
Preceded by
Albert Booth
Secretary of State for Employment
Succeeded by
Norman Tebbit
Preceded by
Humphrey Atkins
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Douglas Hurd
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