Conservatives have paid tribute to Midland MEP Phillip Whitehead who died at the age of 68.

Mr Whitehead, Labour MEP for the East Midlands and a former chairman of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, died suddenly in hospital after being taken ill at his Derbyshire home on Saturday night. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack.

A former television producer, he also sat as Labour MP for Derby North from 1970 to 1983, and became an MEP in 1994. A journalist and TV producer, he was editor of This Week and Panorama and in 1974 he won an Emmy Award for his TV series The World at War.

Yesterday Malcolm Harbour led the tributes on behalf of the West Midlands Conservative MEPs who also include Philip Bushill-Matthews and Philip Brad-bourn. "We were greatly saddened to hear of the untimely death of our Labour MEP colleague Philip Whitehead," said Mr Harbour.

"Philip was greatly respected across all sides of the European Parliament, in particular for his strong support for the rights of citizens in Europe and his promotion of effective consumer policies. He brought his extensive experience to bear with charm and humour, and was always ready to engage with colleagues from all political parties with a friendly word.

"His welcome appointment as chairman of the European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee in July 2004 brought these qualities to the fore.

"As the lead spokesman for the European Conservatives, I had the privilege of working closely with him as he grew into this role. He presided over the committee with great style, using his sense of humour to defuse moments of tension and overcome controversy.

"Under his leadership, the committee was making great progress in promoting the policy areas to which he was so committed. He encouraged all members to contribute to the committee's work, and gave special support to the MEPs from the new member countries. We send our sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. We shall miss him greatly."