Lord Walker of Doncaster -2003

Harold Walker, who was Member of Parliament for Doncaster 1964-83 and for Doncaster Central 1983-97, died in November 2003, aged 76.

Harold Walker was a Mancunian, born in Audenshaw in 1927 and educated at elementary school and Manchester College of Technology. He did National Service in the Fleet Air Arm and entered politics through trades council and constituency activism in Ashton, Mossley and Gorton. He worked as a tool-maker and was sponsored by the Amalgamated Engineering Union when he won the Labour nomination in 1962 to fight Doncaster at the next election.

His nomination was controversial and the party’s agent resigned. The allegation was that Harold was “too working class” to prevail in a seat where many voters had posh pretensions. Indeed, the seat had been held ever since 1951, by Anthony Barber the Tory high-flyer and future Chancellor of the Exchequer. However his critics underestimated his appeal and in the election of 1964 Harold defeated Barber by over 1000 votes. It was one of the most spectacular victories of the 1964 change of Government, following what has been described as “one hell of a campaign.”

Following a short stint in the Government Whips’ Office, Harold was appointed Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment and Productivity in 1968. His appointment co-incided with Barbara Castle’s occupancy of the post of Secretary of State, and the publication of the White Paper “In Place of Strife”. Harold’s good connections with the trade union movement, particularly the Engineering Union, were never more needed as the battle for hearts and minds in relation to industrial relations raged, but this was not a happy period for the Labour Government, particularly Employment ministers. It came to an abrupt end with the General Election defeat in 1970.

When Labour returned to Government in 1974 Harold was re-appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, and was Minister of State from 1976-79. In that capacity he was the Minister who introduced legislation on the job-creation programme. He was also responsible for Health and Safety at Work, and it has been said that no Member of Parliament, as a Minister, an Opposition Spokesman or a back-bencher ever did more for the cause of safety in the workplace.

With the Party back in Opposition, he served as the Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker from 1983 to 1992, when he was knighted for his services to Parliament. He was extremely well-liked on both sides of the House and was a very convivial colleague and there were many who expected or hoped to see him as the first working-class Speaker. However, in 1992 he was no match for the great mood in Parliament which swept Betty Boothroyd into that post, as the first Woman Speaker.

In 1997 he retired from the Commons and entered the other place as Lord Walker of Doncaster.
His many friends, in both Houses, will mourn his passing.

Alan Howarth PLP