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Silkin, Lewis, First Baron


SILKIN, LEWIS, FIRST BARON (1889–1972), British lawyer and politician. Born in London, the son of a Hebrew teacher and wholesale grocer who had migrated from Lithuania, Silkin became a solicitor and then a prominent figure in London local government. He entered Parliament as a Labour member in 1936 and from 1945 to 1950 was minister of town and country planning in the Labour government of Clement *Attlee. In this capacity he piloted major planning legislation through Parliament, and was one of the progenitors of Britain's "New Towns" as well as of its national parks system. In 1950 Silkin was given a peerage with the title Baron Silkin, and from 1955 to 1964 was deputy leader of the opposition in the House of Lords. He was also active in Jewish affairs as president of the Trades Advisory Council, a body protecting Jewish commercial interests from discrimination, and of the British *Technion Committee.

Two of Silkin's sons also became prominent in law and politics. samuel silkin, baron silkin of dulwich (1918–1988), a barrister educated at Dulwich College and Cambridge, was elected a Labour member of Parliament in 1964 and in 1966 became recorder (i.e., judge) of Bedford. Silkin was appointed attorney general in the Labour government after the elections in February 1974, serving until 1976, but refused the knighthood which usually goes with the office. He retired from the House of Commons in 1983 and was given a life peerage. His brother John silkin (1923–1987), who was also educated at Dulwich College and Cambridge, and became a solicitor, was elected a Labour member of Parliament in 1963 and appointed parliamentary secretary to the Treasury and government chief whip in 1966. From 1969 to 1970 he was minister of building. Silkin was appointed minister for planning and local government in the Labour government after the elections in February 1974, with a seat in the cabinet, and minister of agriculture, fisheries and food in September 1976, serving until 1979. Generally on the left of the party, he was often a strong nationalist and opposed British entry into the European Community. In 1979–80 he served as the opposition spokesman on industry and during 1980 he became the shadow leader of the House of Commons. In November 1980 Silkin stood for the leadership of the Labour Party but received only limited support, and was also defeated for the deputy leadership in 1981.

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William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

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