Sir Basil was born in Timaru, New Zealand. His father, a hotel proprietor, inherited the title of 4th Baronet in 1941 and it passed to Basil upon his death in 1949. Sir Basil, who showed a preference for labouring jobs, made little of his title.
He was Minister of Transport and Minister in Charge of the State Insurance Office from 1972 till 1975.
When Labour won the 1984 election, Sir Basil became Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives.
He served as Speaker for one year, before passing away in office after a short illness. The then Prime Minister, David Lange recalled in My Life (2005) that Sir Basil was gravely ill in Wellington Hospital, and if he resigned from the member's superannuation scheme before he died (but not otherwise) his estate would get a lump-sum payment. He had to answer a question in the house, then went to hospital with a letter of resignation "only to find that he had died hardly a minute before I got there". And Labour lost the subsequent Timaru by-election, with a candidate that did not suit "the conservative character of the electorate."
It is interesting to note that Sir Basil is the second baronet to serve as Speaker. The first being Sir Charles Clifford, 1st Baronet Clifford, of Flaxbourne (First Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives).