Alec Woodall: MP who fought for the rights of miners and servicemen

"He was forthright and honest. He stood by his word. He was underrated in the House of Commons and worked hard. He got on with the job." That was how his Yorkshire whip, Alan McKay, summed up Alec Woodall. McKay shared digs in Balham with Woodall when Parliament was sitting, along with the MP for Pontefract Geoff Lofthouse (later Lord Lofthouse) and Edwin Wainwright, MP for Dearne Valley. And the overwhelming majority of his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party would have agreed with him. "For someone from Alec Woodall's background or mine in the Yorkshire coalfield, parliament was a different world," Lord Lofthouse, who served as deputy speaker, told me. "Alec would make the detour in his car to Pontefract to collect me and drive me down to London. He showed me the ropes, as he did to many Yorkshire working-class MPs. I could always trust him for advice."

Alec Woodall was born in Hemsworth, represented Hemsworth in parliament and died in Hemsworth. His father was a miner who suffered an injury which resulted in a broken back and confinement to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and one of Woodall's special interests throughout his parliamentary career from 1974-87 was the treatment of and compensation for injured mine workers.

He went to the South Road Elementary School in Hemsworth and went at the age of 14 to the South Kirkby pit, where he was to spend the rest of his working life as a mine worker, ending up as the pit traffic foreman. Typically, he volunteered to serve in the war in 1939 and not to take advantage of his claim to work in a reserved occupation. He landed on D-Day+2 on the Normandy beaches, with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and after the battle for Caen was seconded to the Canadian regiment, Princess Patricia's, the sister regiment of the KOYLI. As a sergeant he saw his French-Canadian platoon commander killed in front of him and had to assume command. He himself was blown up during the battle for Tessel Wood and invalided home to a hospital in Southport. The doctors put him right after months of surgery: he remained rather deaf, and deafness was one of his causes in the House of Commons.

In the late 1960s the various factions of the Yorkshire miners made it difficult for him to get on the parliamentary panel. But his friend and predecessor, Alan Beaney, prolonged his stay in parliament because he wanted Woodall as his successor, to whom he could bequeath his 34,000 majority. After eight years as a member of Hemsworth Urban District Council, at the age of 56 Woodall became an MP.

In 1976, he was chosen as parliamentary private secretary by one of the ablest of all cabinet ministers of any party, Edmund Dell, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Throughout his 13 years in the Commons, Woodall displayed an interest in, and deep knowledge of, trade and export issues. His attendance in the chamber was exemplary and whenever he made a contribution it was to the point and infused with personal knowledge. I remember his question on 18 February 1985 to David Hunt, Mrs Thatcher's energy minister: "Is the minister aware of the grave concern that is being expressed by many domestic consumers about the quality of the coal that is now being delivered to them by distributors? Is he further aware that that coal is nothing but muck, that it spits, causes a great deal of hardship and anxiety, and is not worth the money that is being paid for it, which is almost twice as much as the price for domestically produced coal?"

Woodall was one of Arthur Scargill's sworn enemies. I shall always remember how he pronounced "Scar-gill" with the anger and passion which could only come from a fellow Yorkshire miner. He was in the thick of it, alongsideothers representing the Yorkshirecoalfields such as Peter Hardy, in the battle to save the industry from being led up the garden path, as they sawit, by Scargill and his friends. Woodall was to pay the price by being deselected in 1987, in favour of the chairmanof his own constituency party, a Scargill supporter.

With the support of his wife, a very strong Yorkshire lady, Molly Scott, also born in Hemsworth, he did not succumb to the bitterness which might have been expected. He devoted himself to the work of the Soldiers', Sailors', and Airmen's Families Association, on whose national committee he had served for most of the time he was an MP. I said to him once, "have a good weekend." He replied, "on Friday and Saturday I'm going down to Portsmouth to see 'the bad boys'." I discovered that six or seven times a year he went to the service detention centres to see that they were being treated properly. The services, particularly the "squaddies", had no better friend in Parliament than Alec Woodall.

Alec Woodall, miner and politician: born Hemsworth 20 September 1918; MP for Hemsworth 1974–87; married 1950 Molly Scott (one son, one daughter); died Hemsworth 3 January 2011.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little