Tony Blair last night led tributes to the former Labour Home Secretary and Chancellor Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who died yesterday at the age of 82.

Lord Jenkins, who as one of the "gang of four" broke away from Labour to found the Social Democratic Party, collapsed at his home near Didcot, Oxfordshire. He had been suffering from heart trouble and had recently come out of hospital.

The Prime Minister, his predecessors Sir Edward Heath and Lord Callaghan, and former SDP colleagues paid tribute to Lord Jenkins' towering political stature, his biography of Winston Churchill and his warm friendship.

Mr Blair, a political ally as well as a close friend, said: "I will miss him deeply. Roy Jenkins was one of the most remarkable people ever to grace British politics.

"He had intellect, vision and an integrity that saw him hold firm to his beliefs of moderate social democracy, liberal reform and the cause of Europe throughout his life."

Former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn described Lord Jenkins as the "grandfather of New Labour" as an SDP founder.

Jenkins was first elected to Parliament in 1948 and served in both of Harold Wilson's governments.

He made his name as a reforming Home Secretary from 1965 to 1967, legalising abortion and homosexuality and making divorce easier.

Jenkins became Chancellor in 1967, but was criticised for not producing an election-winning Budget in 1970.

After Labour's return to power in 1974, he was again appointed Home Secretary.

He resigned as a Labour MP in 1976, and became president of the European Commission the following year.

Along with Shirley Will-iams, William Rodgers and David Owen, Jenkins founded the SDP in 1981. He was made a life peer in 1987.

Former Labour prime minister Lord Callaghan said: "He was one of the outstanding statesmen of his era."

Lord Owen said: "He was by any standards a major political figure."

Sir Edward Heath, former Tory prime minister, said: "Roy Jenkins was one of the most distinguished politicians of his generation in Britain and then in Europe."