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Bill Rodgers, Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank

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The Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
Official portrait, 2019
Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords
In office
19 December 1997 – 7 June 2001
Preceded byThe Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
Succeeded byThe Baroness Williams of Crosby
Secretary of State for Transport
In office
10 September 1976 – 4 May 1979
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded byJohn Gilbert
Succeeded byNorman Fowler
Junior ministerial offices
Minister of State for Defence
In office
4 March 1974 – 10 September 1976
Prime Minister
Sec. of State
Preceded byGeorge Younger
Succeeded byJohn Gilbert
Minister of State for the Treasury
In office
13 October 1969 – 19 June 1970
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
ChancellorRoy Jenkins
Preceded byDick Taverne
Succeeded byTerence Higgins
Minister of State for the Board of Trade
In office
1 July 1968 – 13 October 1969
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byEdmund Dell
Succeeded byGoronwy Roberts
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 January 1967 – 3 July 1968
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Sec. of State
Preceded byThe Lord Walston
Succeeded byMaurice Foley (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
In office
21 October 1964 – 7 January 1967
Serving with Maurice Foley (1964–1966)
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Sec. of State
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded by
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
In office
14 June 1979 – 8 December 1980
ShadowingFrancis Pym
Preceded byFred Mulley
Succeeded byBrynmor John
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
In office
4 May 1979 – 14 June 1979
LeaderJames Callaghan
ShadowingNorman Fowler
Preceded byNorman Fowler
Succeeded byAlbert Booth
Parliamentary offices
Member of the House of Lords
In office
12 February 1992 – 12 December 2023
Life peerage
Member of Parliament
for Stockton-on-Tees
In office
6 April 1962 – 13 May 1983
Preceded byGeorge Chetwynd
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1928-10-28) 28 October 1928 (age 95)
Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Political partyLiberal Democrats (1988–present)
Other political
(m. 1955; died 2006)
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford

William Thomas Rodgers, Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank, PC (born 28 October 1928)[1] is a British politician and life peer. As a Labour Party member of Parliament, he served as Secretary of State for Transport from 1976 to 1979, and was one of the "Gang of Four" of senior Labour politicians who defected to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He subsequently helped to lead the SDP into the merger that formed the Liberal Democrats in 1988, and later served as the party's leader in the House of Lords between 1997 and 2001.

Early life


Rodgers was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, and educated at Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool. After national service in the King's Regiment (Liverpool), he studied Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford on an Open Exhibition.[2] He was general secretary of the Fabian Society from 1953 to 1960 and a councillor on St Marylebone Borough Council from 1958 to 1962. He was instrumental in lobbying the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to reverse its vote in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament in 1961.[3] He also unsuccessfully fought a by-election at Bristol West in 1957.

Political career


Rodgers first entered the House of Commons at a by-election in 1962, representing Stockton-on-Tees, and served in Labour governments under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, becoming Secretary of State for Transport in Callaghan's cabinet in 1976. Within the Labour Party, he was known for being a highly effective organiser around centrist causes such as multilateral nuclear disarmament and Britain's membership of the European Economic Community. He held the post until Labour's defeat in the 1979 general election. From 1979 to 1981 he was Shadow Defence Secretary. With Labour drifting to the left, Rodgers joined Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen in forming the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. In September 1982, Rodgers stood to become the president of the SDP, but took only 19.4 per cent of the vote, finishing in a distant second place behind Williams.[4]

At the 1983 general election the SDP–Liberal Alliance won many votes but few seats, and Rodgers lost his seat of Stockton North (known as Stockton-on-Tees before the boundary changes of 1983). He remained outside Parliament, unsuccessfully contesting Milton Keynes for the SDP in the 1987 general election, until he was created a life peer as Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank, of Kentish Town in the London Borough of Camden, on 12 February 1992.[5] During that interval he was Director-General of the Royal Institute of British Architects and also became Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority.

In 1987, Rodgers was chairman of the successful "Yes to Unity" campaign within the SDP in favour of merger with the Liberal Party. He became the Liberal Democrats' Lords spokesman on home affairs in 1994 and was the party's leader in the Lords between 1997 and 2001. Rodgers's autobiography was titled Fourth Among Equals, reflecting his position as the least prominent of the SDP's founders. He was interviewed in 2012 as part of The History of Parliament's oral history project.[6][7]

Rodgers retired from the House of Lords on 12 December 2023.[8]

Personal life


In 1955, Rodgers married Silvia Szulman (1928–2006), a Berlin-born artist and writer, who became a political hostess.[9] The couple had three daughters: Rachel, Lucy, and Juliet.[10]

On 8 May 2001, Rodgers suffered a stroke at his home and was treated at the Royal Free Hospital and attended speech therapy sessions at North Middlesex Hospital for two and a half years. He said he was "very, very lucky not to have suffered any physical damage" as a result.[11] He has since been a keen advocate for better treatment and care for stroke victims.[12]


Rodgers was a main character in Steve Waters's 2017 play Limehouse, which premiered at the Donmar Warehouse; he was portrayed by Paul Chahidi.[13]


  1. ^ "Rodgers of Quarry Bank". Who's Who. A & C Black. 2023. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U32981. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Lord William Rodgers". Liverpool John Moores University. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  3. ^ Thorpe, Andrew (1997). A History of the British Labour Party. London: Macmillan Education UK. p. 151. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-25305-0. ISBN 978-0-333-56081-5.
  4. ^ Berrington, Hugh (1984). Change in British Politics. London: Frank Cass and Company. p. 83. ISBN 0203013271.
  5. ^ "No. 52836". The London Gazette. 17 February 1992. p. 2711.
  6. ^ "Oral history: Rodgers, William (b.1928)". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  7. ^ "Lord Rodgers of Quarrybank interviewed by Mike Greenwood". British Library Sound Archive. Retrieved 14 July 2016.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Retirement of a Member: Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 834. UK: House of Lords. 13 December 2023. col. 1883.
  9. ^ "Lady Rodgers of Quarry Bank". The Times. 10 October 2006.
  10. ^ "Silvia Rodgers". The Guardian. 9 October 2006.
  11. ^ "House of Lords - Stroke Victims: Treatment on 23 May 2006".
  12. ^ "House of Lords - NHS debate - 25 June 2009 Hansard".
  13. ^ "David Tennant, Roger Allam and more at Limehouse opening night". WhatsOnStage.com. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2023.


Party political offices
Preceded by General Secretary of the Fabian Society
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Fabian Society
Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament
for Stockton-on-Tees

Constituency abolished
Political offices
Preceded byas Minister of State for Transport Secretary of State for Transport
Succeeded byas Minister of State for Transport
Preceded by Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Succeeded by
Preceded by Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Succeeded by
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by Gentlemen
Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank
Followed by