David Chidgey, who has died aged 79, was the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh, Hampshire, for 11 years from 1994 onwards, and a peer from 2005. With a professional background as a chartered engineer, after entering the House of Commons he quickly became the party’s spokesman on transport at a time when the privatisation of British Rail was being debated fiercely.
At various times he was also the party’s spokesman on employment, and on training, trade and industry. In 2005 he led the successful campaign that blocked plans by major high street banks to increase charges significantly at cash dispensing machines, which would have disproportionally affected poorer people. During his last four years in the Commons he was a member of the Speaker’s panel, occasionally deputising for the Speaker.
Prior to politics Chidgey had been involved as an engineer in major projects to build up water, electricity supplies and transport networks in west Africa, Oman, Bangladesh, Brazil and the Middle East. In parliament he developed his long interest in Africa and became a member of the select committee on foreign affairs.
Once he moved to the House of Lords he became the LibDems’ frontbench spokesman on African development and on human rights issues. In 2010 he contributed an article to the Guardian on the difficulties of the countries of Africa’s Great Lakes region. His expertise was recognised by a number of institutes and thinktanks, including the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, where he became chair of its oversight committee (2008-11).
Born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, David was the son of Winifred (nee Weston) and Cecil Chidgey, an army officer. He attended Brune Park county high school in Gosport and went on to study mechanical and aeronautical engineering as a civilian student at the Admiralty College in Portsmouth, graduating in 1964. He then studied civil engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth).
After he met April Idris-Jones, a probation officer, in a jazz club, the couple married in 1965 and had a son, David, and two daughters, Joanna and Caitlin. Chidgey’s initial employment was with Hampshire county council (1965-72) on traffic engineering projects, before going into the private sector, which is when he began his involvement in overseas projects. His professional expertise was recognised by a number of awards, including a fellowship of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Committed to his native Hampshire, Chidgey was elected to his local New Alresford town council in 1976 and then to Winchester city council in 1987. He had wider aspirations than local government, however, and while in the middle of fighting the Hampshire Central European parliament byelection in autumn 1988, he approached the LibDems’ regional chair with a view to becoming a parliamentary candidate.
He was adopted by the party for the Eastleigh constituency in 1992, adjacent to his Winchester home, winning it at the second attempt in February 1994 at a byelection triggered by the death of the Conservative MP Stephen Milligan. Chidgey held the seat twice thereafter (in 1997 and 2001), before retiring at the 2005 general election and entering the Lords.
As well as international matters, he was active in debates on issues that affected his locality, including through parliamentary speeches on the protection of chalk streams that flowed through Hampshire.
His last speech, towards the end of 2021, came in a debate on amendments to the environment bill, in which he played a part in the government’s climbdown in favour of stronger action by water companies on sewage control.
Chidgey was a diligent caseworker and a thoughtful and thorough problem solver who was happy to be approached informally by his constituents. His internationalism and attention to environmental issues made him a natural Liberal, and he was much respected by his parliamentary colleagues. He was actively involved in the National Liberal Club, serving on its general committee.
He is survived by April, his three children and two grandchildren.