Intended for healthcare professionals


John Nicolas Rea: GP and reluctant peer

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 15 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2385
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}
Photo credit: Judith Rea

The north London GP Nicolas “Nic” Rea spent a year agonising over whether to take up his hereditary seat in the House of Lords. He feared that it might represent a savage betrayal of his principles, but serendipity played the decisive hand.

During a train journey from Birmingham to London, Rea’s son, Quentin, met, by chance, the former Labour Cabinet minister Tony Benn; Joan Lestor MP; and the anti-war activist Lord Fenner Brockway. He told them about his father’s dilemma.

Writing to Rea, Brockway said, “I promised to let you know that many of us who are reluctant peers try to use the chamber to urge the causes in which we believe. I think we have made some success of it. I don’t know whether this will make you reconsider your attitude, but we would very much like to have you with us.”

Succeeding his uncle, a merchant banker and a Liberal leader in the House of Lords, in 1981, Rea used his peerage for nearly 40 years to promote public health—and was briefly a Labour front bench spokesman.

Early life and career

His background may explain his initial ambivalence to the Lords. His mother was the influential sculptor Betty Rea. Deeply committed to anti-fascist, left wing politics, she was an active member of the Communist Party …

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