Ian Wrigglesworth – 1978 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Ian Wrigglesworth, the then Labour MP for Thornaby, in the House of Commons on 1 November 1978.

It is a great honour to be the last person in this Parliament who will have the pleasure of seconding an Address. As I was asked to carry out this duty with my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), who will not be returning as a Member in the next Parliament, I had a fleeting fear that someone knew something that I did not. But we have a strong tradition of returning Labour Members in the North-East of England. That is one tradition that I shall be more ​ than happy to follow when the election comes. The one tradition that I was relieved to find did not have to be followed on this occasion was the wearing of court dress for the moving and seconding of the Gracious Speech.

It is an honour to be asked to second the Address for two reasons: first, because I share the task with my right hon. Friend who has so ably moved the motion. He is known and respected throughout the House not only for his devoted public service, but as one of the kindest and most generous of Members. Others are more qualified than I to speak of this, but I know that I can speak for many of the newer Members, particularly Labour Members, when I say that we are grateful for the willing help and advice that my right hon. Friend has always been prepared to give, in English or in Welsh, during our time here.

Secondly, it is an honour for my constituents on Teesside, Thornaby that I should be allowed to prey a little on the indulgence of the House this afternoon to mention the area which I am privileged to represent. The North-East contrasts vividly with Anglesey. In the last five years Teesside has grown into Europe’s biggest petrochemical manufacturing area. It is the country’s third largest port and, by the early 1980s, it will be Europe’s biggest steel producing area. The vast majority of my constituents work in these and related industries, not least, in the past, my own family, which has had three generations on Teesside in steel and engineering.

It is a particular pleasure and privilege for me to represent a Teesside constituency, for the area is filled with memories of my own childhood and youth there. Indeed, having worked for a short time as a milk roundsman in Thornaby, I often tell my constituents that I remember their Alsatians better than their faces.

Despite being called Thornaby, two-thirds of my constituency is in fact the western side of Middlesbrough, a borough which I have the honour and pleasure to represent together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley). Although having early origins, both Middlesbrough and Thornaby mushroomed as Victorian industrial towns following the advent of the railway to the area between 1825 and 1830. ​ Middlesbrough became a municipal borough in 1853 and Thornaby in 1893.

The area is flanked on the south by the beautiful North Yorkshire moors national park, with its hills and coast. The constituency, although small in area, is rich in variety, containing almost every conceivable type of housing, as well as being the home of Teesside park racecourse and the rapidly recovering Middlesbrough football club at Ayresome Park. I seem to have been saying for about 20 years, that Middlesbrough football club is rapidly recovering. Greater faith has no man than that of an MP in his local football team.

It is a happy coincidence that I should have this opportunity to address the House only five days after an event in Middlesbrough which attracted a great deal of attention and stimulated considerable civic pride in the town. Last Friday was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Captain James Cook, in Marton, in Middlesbrough—he is the town’s greatest son—and the occasion was marked by the opening of a large and immensely attractive museum in Stewart park within sight of his birthplace and the church where he was baptised. The museum has been built by a trust presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough and backed in a bold and imaginative way by Middlesbrough council. We hope that the whole country will be proud of this symbol of international co-operation and friendship so reminiscent of the life of the navigator and explorer himself.

The House will not be surprised to learn that many of the problems facing the constituency over recent decades have arisen from the decay of the Victorian industrial and social heritage in the area. The foundations of the iron and steel industry built by Bolckow and Vaughan and of the chemical industry built by Brunner Mond have had to be harshly recast and adapted to modern requirements.

The Northern region has been scarred by unemployment over the decades and, although the Jarrow march started 30 miles north of Teesside, the area has by no means been immune from this problem. With the rest of the Northern region we have shared, year in, year out, ​ the unwelcome accolade of having the highest unemployment of any region in the country, excluding Northern Ireland.

I was drawn into politics in the early 1960s when unemployment was the outstanding issue above all others for people on Teesside. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, in his flat hat, at Thornaby station in 1962. I remember the by-elections of my right hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough and for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) and of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray). Remembering the debates of that time and in subsequent years, I should like to think that we have learned a little humility on this issue on both sides of the House, for the unemployment problem, as everyone knows, is still with us. That is why, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech that the Government will continue to

“pursue every available means of moving to full employment.”

I have received this week the quarterly report of the Cleveland county careers officer. It makes depressing reading, but it shows a drop in the number of young people unemployed and an increase in the number taking up the youth opportunities programme, which is doing such valuable work in assisting young people.

I do not believe that we can hope to resolve this problem until concerted international action leads to a return of confidence and an upturn in world economy. For that reason, I welcome the promise in the Gracious Speech that the Government

“will continue to play a leading part, with our international partners, in seeking an end to the worldwide recession.”

Teesside also has a major structural unemployment problem. Of the total employed, only 48 per cent. are in service industries compared with 58 per cent. nationally. For that reason, we are delighted that the Government are pressing ahead with their dispersal plans to bring the Property Services Agency to Middlesbrough, with 3,000 white collar jobs.

The crazy paradox of all this is that it is taking place against a background ​ of unprecedented investment in manufacturing industry on Teesside. When Henri Simonet visited Teesside two years ago, he called it

“Europe’s most dynamic industrial site. It is like the Ruhr without the pollution or the problems.”

It certainly gives the lie to those who want to knock Britain and its workers. Our industries work round the clock. Our men are trained on night shifts, not in night clubs, as some would have us believe.

Over the last four years more than £1·1 billion has been invested in manufacturing industry on Teesside. That amounts to £2,000 per head of population in Cleveland compared with only £206 nationally. Ten times the national average has been invested in the Cleveland area. Monsanto, ICI, British Steel and British Petroleum are massive organisations and they have made massive investment in Teesside sites on both sides of the river.

The sad paradox is that, despite all this bustle and heavy investment, male unemployment is 10·6 per cent. compared with 6·7 per cent. nationally, and we have been consistently above the national average. This pool of unemployed people is comprised mainly of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. That, it seems to me, is a deficiency that only training and retraining can overcome. Therefore, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech that

“Special encouragement will be given to the education and training of young people and others to safeguard and increase the supply of skilled manpower.”

I am not one who takes a depressed view of the high investment—high unemployment paradox—although it is a problem. It is a problem which will confront the nation more and more as time goes by. In my view, a Luddite approach will not help. Clearly, we must maintain our competitive position in the world. I believe that the inventiveness of men and the great wealth being created can overcome the displacement of jobs by new technologies. For that reason, it is important for the investment momentum to be maintained particularly in the steel industry where the holding back of developments might create severe bottlenecks later and damage our engineering industries even more, particularly those which are engaged in plant manufacture.

Since the Gracious Speech mentions a number of proposals affecting the Celtic fringe, it would be remiss of me as a Northern Member of Parliament not to mention our hope that during this Session the Government will look sympathetically upon the proposal for a new and considerably enhanced role for the Northern Economic Planning Council. The Northern group of Labour Members and the regional council have submitted proposals to Ministers. It is hoped that progress can be made in this Session.

Two further items in the Gracious Speech are of particular interest to me. The first involves banking legislation. We should welcome the proposal to introduce a Bill to control banking more closely. In due course I should like to go further and, through the amalgamation of the National Giro and the National Savings Bank, bring about a comprehensive State banking corporation. As a Co-operative sponsored Member I should also like to welcome the measures which are to be taken in the banking legislation to aid credit unions.

I was pleased to hear that the Government intend to pursue further their proposals for industrial democracy. I am sure that this will be a beneficial piece of legislation. But it should be accompanied by a major campaign by the Government to introduce single status for employees in British industry. Industrial democracy will be hampered unless we are able to overcome the “us” versus “them” attitude in large sectors of industry. It is necessary for the inequities to be overcome and for the antagonisms to be reduced if we are to achieve the sense of identification with a firm that is a precondition to success.

It was once said that one had reached a position of responsibility when one took decisions on subjects about which one knew nothing. There is no doubt that the range of subjects in the Gracious Speech—more than some expected—will test the wits and judgment of hon. Members. We hope that the proposals will improve the society in which we live and the world of which our country is a part. That is another reason why it has been an honour to second the motion. I warmly commend it to the House.