Ian Campbell

Loyal Labour MP for Dumbarton
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The Independent Online

Ian Campbell, politician: born Dumbarton 26 April 1926; engineer, South of Scotland Electricity Board 1948-65, MP (Lab) for Dunbartonshire West 1970-83, for Dumbarton 1983-87; PPS to the Secretary of State for Scotland 1976-79; married 1950 Mary Millar (two sons, three daughters); died 9 September 2007.

Do not imagine for a moment that the most useful members of the House of Commons are those who get the most publicity in the media, or record the most column inches in Hansard. Ian Campbell, MP for Dunbartonshire West 1970-83 and Dumbarton 1983-87, was one of those who did not seek publicity but who concentrated on doing a solid job of work for his constituents and his country.

He spoke but rarely on the floor of the House of Commons, and he told me that actually he hated having to do it. On the other hand, he was an excellent chairman of standing committees, and particularly the Scottish Grand Committee, which in pre-devolution days was the main forum for detailed Scottish work at Westminster.

Campbell was one of the few engineers in the Commons and, in my recollection, the first to raise the issue of geothermal energy. On 22 July 1976 he asked what progress the Department of Energy was making in research and development into the utilisation of geothermal energy, a question which arose from his experience working at the South of Scotland Electricity Board.

Replying for the Government, Campbell's friend Alex Eadie, the minister of state responsible for the coal industry, told the House that the Technology Support Unit had looked (at Campbell's prompting) into the utilisation of various alternative forms of energy, including geothermal energy, and a report entitled Geothermal Energy: the case for research in the United Kingdom was being published that very day.

Eadie continued:

After consideration of this report, the Advisory Council on Research and Development for Fuel and Power has recommended a three-year programme of geological and related studies which it is now the department's intention to implement. The total cost of this is estimated to be £840,000. Partial funding has been applied for from the European Commission as part of the EEC's geothermal research and development programme.

Had it not been for Campbell's experience, this work, if modest, would not have begun so soon.

Ian Campbell was born in Dumbarton in 1926 and went from Dumbarton Academy to the Royal Technical College at Glasgow, now Strathclyde University. After National Service he qualified as a chartered engineer, and rose steadily within the South of Scotland Electricity Board. Elected to Dumbarton Council in 1958, Campbell's good sense, and it has to be said his charming smile, persuaded his colleagues to elect him Provost of the town at 36, a tender age for such a position.

When Tom Steele, the well-respected Transport and Salaried Staff Association MP for West Dunbartonshire decided to retire after a quarter of a century, Campbell was an obvious and favoured local son. He inherited a constituency which contained a very special problem – the site of the nuclear base at Faslane. Campbell combined loyalty to government policy and Nato obligations with a tactful attitude to local opinion and indeed the many protesters. He told me, "It was a tightrope".

Behind the scenes he did an enormous amount for the Scottish whisky industry, whose bottling plants were a significant employer in Dumbarton. As Secretary of the Scottish Group of Labour MPs – he was popular with his colleagues in Scotland of all shades of Labour-party opinion – he worked hard to mitigate the huge problems related to the decline of shipbuilding on the lower Clyde.

The only national issue with which he became associated was that of opposition to the abortion legislation brought in by David Steel. On 26 February 1975 he made the telling observation: "Is it not the case that of the four lady members on the committee, two voted against the second reading of the bill and two did not vote? Does that not mean that of the four, not one actually committed herself to support the bill?" With his great friend – they were almost inseparable for years – Jimmy White, the MP for Glasgow Pollok, Campbell did all he could to oppose relaxing the laws on abortion.

In the difficult period of the first Devolution Bill in the late 1970s, Campbell was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Scotland Bruce Millan. He told me that he was far from certain that the devolution idea would not end in tears, but that out of loyalty to the Labour Party and the Labour Gove rnment he would certainly vote for it. It was the dilemma of an honest man – and Campbell was a credit to the profession of politics.

Tam Dalyell