We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Inskip, Thomas Walker Hobart, first Viscount Caldecote (1876–1947), lawyer and politician, was born at Clifton Park House, Clifton, Bristol, on 5 March 1876, the second son of James Inskip (1839–1909), a leading local solicitor, and the first son of his second wife, Constance Sophia Louisa (d. 1914), daughter of John Hampden. His elder half-brother, James Theodore Inskip (1868–1949), became bishop-suffragan of Barking; his younger brother, Sir John Hampden Inskip (1879–1960), became a prominent solicitor. He was educated at Clifton College and at King's College, Cambridge. He obtained a third class in the first part of the classical tripos in 1897. He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1899 and over the next decade developed a successful practice on the western circuit, taking silk in 1914. However, he early had in mind a political career and stood unsuccessfully against Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary, at Berwick-on-Tweed in 1906 and January 1910.

On 30 July 1914 Inskip married Lady Augusta Helen Elizabeth Orr Ewing, eldest daughter of David Boyle, seventh earl of Glasgow, and widow of Charles Orr Ewing, Unionist MP for Ayr Burghs. They had one son. During the First World War he served in naval intelligence in London, rising to become head of the naval law branch in 1918. He represented the Admiralty on the war crimes committee (1918–19). He successfully stood for his native city at the general election of 1918, being elected as a Conservative for Bristol Central.

It was as a law officer that Inskip's political career developed. He became solicitor-general in the Bonar Law government in 1922 and continued under Baldwin. In March 1928 he succeeded Sir Douglas Hogg as attorney-general when, as Lord Hailsham, the latter became lord chancellor. He lost his Bristol seat in the general election of 1929. He returned to the Commons in 1931 as member for Fareham and became solicitor-general in the National Government. This step backwards was to enable Sir William Jowitt, who had been elected as a Liberal in 1929 but had then joined the Labour Party, to continue in office as attorney-general—since Jowitt shifted again and became a supporter, though without a parliamentary seat, of the National Government. Jowitt resigned in 1932 and Inskip once again became attorney-general, remaining in that post until 1936.

Inskip served as a law officer for a total of fourteen years. In this capacity he was neither flamboyant nor brilliant. He did not possess a great legal mind. However, in the cases in which he appeared for the crown, whether criminal or civil, he made his points soberly and sturdily, largely without rhetorical embellishment. Sobriety, it might be added, came easily to a man who was almost a teetotaller and certainly a non-smoker. The stature he gained in legal circles derived not only from his physical stature—he was 6 feet 4 inches tall—but also from the manifest sincerity of his convictions. He had been raised as an Anglican evangelical and remained actively in that tradition. He served as chancellor of the diocese of Truro from 1920 to 1922 and lent his name to various evangelical causes. It is not surprising that he emerged as a strong opponent in 1927 and 1928 of the attempt to introduce a new prayer book for use in the Church of England. Inskip regarded the revisions it contained as undermining the protestant character of the church as established at the Reformation. His speech in the House of Commons against its introduction was widely regarded as being very influential in defeating the measure. A legal officer does not normally have a strong political profile and it was only in relation to his role in this matter that Inskip could be said to have appealed to a wider, though sectional, constituency. In 1928 he declined the suggestion that he might put himself forward for the speakership of the Commons when that office became vacant. It might confidently have been assumed, therefore, that his role would remain in the specialist legal area where his advice and experience were increasingly valued, not least in respect of the most complex legislation of the period, the Government of India Act of 1935. In that same year he declined the mastership of the rolls.

In March 1936, however, Inskip was unexpectedly appointed by Baldwin to the new post of minister for the co-ordination of defence. His First World War naval experience apart, Inskip had not otherwise expressed any great interest in or possessed any great knowledge of defence issues. In one sense this was an advantage because a co-ordinating minister with previous ministerial experience in a service department could easily be accused of prejudice because of that experience. He did not have party enemies—to the extent that Lloyd George even surmised in July 1936 that more Conservative back-benchers wanted Inskip rather than Neville Chamberlain to succeed Baldwin. Even so, despite these assets of neutrality and acceptability, in a situation in which the three service departments remained intact, with their own continuing ministerial heads, Inskip had no powerful position from which to operate. Since he was definitely not minister of defence, a man with a single office and two secretaries could scarcely be said to have a powerful departmental tradition behind him. He could persuade and cajole but not command. Co-ordination of defence was an objective with which few could disagree, particularly in a deteriorating international situation, but the minister's powers were not well defined. It was believed that his essential task was to act as an effective and impartial chairman in inter-service discussions and, somewhat ambiguously, he was the prime minister's deputy in these matters. There were others, however, who found his appointment very odd indeed. Churchill unoriginally described it as the worst since Caligula made his horse a consul.

Even so, Inskip played a significant role in resolving the dispute which had long festered between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry concerning the control of aircraft in naval operations. The outcome in July 1937 was that the Air Ministry was persuaded to give way and accept what became the Fleet Air Arm. Another area in which he was heavily involved was the question of supply: he initially opposed the creation of a separate ministry, and had to consider how far there should be ‘interference’ in the priority assigned to military and civil requirements. Inskip was also necessarily at the heart of the debates which then raged about Britain's strategic priorities and the calculation of risks. His memorandum to the cabinet on 22 December 1937 was very important. It reflected in large measure a Treasury belief that it was as important to maintain economic stability as to maintain the armed forces. It fell to Inskip to try to establish a system of rationing between the services and to keep expenditure within the limits decreed by the Treasury. He felt, nevertheless, that Britain could not make proper provision in peace for the defence of the British empire against three different powers in three different theatres of war. It was up to diplomacy to reduce the number of potential enemies. In 1938 he was able to intervene to increase expenditure for the air force over Treasury objections and to maintain defence production at capacity. In January 1939, however, Chamberlain required him to resign, and it seems highly likely that this was because by this juncture Inskip had come to the view that appeasement had failed and war was inevitable.

Inskip then moved between several posts in swift succession. He was transferred to the Dominions Office in January 1939. In September 1939, on the outbreak of war, he was appointed lord chancellor in place of Lord Maugham, and was raised to the peerage as Viscount Caldecote of Bristol. In May 1940 he returned to the Dominions Office and was leader of the House of Lords. In neither office was he a member of the war cabinet. In October 1940, however, his political career came to an end on his appointment as lord chief justice, the first former lord chancellor to be appointed to the office. He remained in this position through the war, though towards its end his health deteriorated and he resigned in January 1946. As lord chief justice he took a keen interest in promoting legal education and continued his charitable works, notably with the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society. He died at his home, Greystones, Enton Green, near Godalming, Surrey, on 11 October 1947; his wife survived him. He was buried at Baldock, Hertfordshire, near the grave of his grandfather, and was succeeded as second viscount by his son, Robert Andrew Inskip (1917–1999).

Inskip's most important role was that which he occupied between 1936 and 1939 in the co-ordination of defence. The qualities he brought to it were those he displayed throughout his career: calm judgement and a steady capacity to weigh evidence and draw unemotional conclusions. In that position at that particular time his limitations were also evident. Yet, given the ill-defined character of his role, he made a greater contribution than might have been assumed from the nature of his previous experience. In his various legal capacities he again left his mark by his courtesy and patience in dealing with the matters before him on a day-to-day basis, even if there are few specific decisions which continue to be linked to his name. His Christian convictions were throughout his life reflected in his commitment to charitable bodies; there his financial contributions were generous. He loved to be out of doors—shooting or playing golf—particularly in Scotland, with which country he became associated through his marriage.

Keith Robbins

Sources  

R. F. V. Heuston, Lives of the lord chancellors, 1885–1940 (1964) · B. Bond, British military policy between the two world wars (1980) · M. Howard, The continental commitment (1972) · R. P. Shay, British rearmament in the thirties: politics and profits (1977) · G. C. Peden, British rearmament and the treasury, 1932–1939 (1979) · K. Hylson-Smith, Evangelicals in the Church of England, 1734–1984 (1988) · A. Hastings, A history of English Christianity, 1920–1985 (1986) · P. Catterall, ‘The party and religion’, Conservative century: the conservative party since 1900, ed. A. Seldon and S. Ball (1994) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1948) · Burke, Peerage

Archives  

CAC Cam., diary |  BL, corresp. with Albert Mansbridge, Add. MS 65253 · CAC Cam., corresp. with Lord Weir


Likenesses  

A. John, oils, 1942, Inner Temple, London · F. Brill, portrait, priv. coll.

Wealth at death  

£17,908 11s. 11d.: probate, 24 March 1948, CGPLA Eng. & Wales