James Lamond: MP of unswerving convictions

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The Independent Online

James Alexander Lamond, draughtsman and politician: born Burrelton, Perthshire 29 November 1928; Lord Provost of Aberdeen 1970-1971; MP (Labour) for Oldham East 1970-83, for Oldham Central and Royton 1983-92; married 1954 June Wellburn (three daughters); died Aberdeen 20 November 2007.

James Lamond, Labour MP for Oldham East, 1970-83, and after boundary changes Oldham Central and Royton, 1983-92, was a man of unswerving convictions about the causes in which he believed above all world peace. He was as genuine a person as ever entered the House of Commons. However, his reputation was severely damaged by what was conceived to be his involvement in the unrealistic far left, and particularly with the World Peace Council, of which he was at one time vice-president.

A defining moment of Lamond's years in the House of Commons came on a sweltering hot afternoon in July 1980. On the parliamentary order paper, identical questions were drawn at numbers two and three, in the names of Greville Janner, chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the lawyer and Conservative MP Ivan Lawrence, asking the government to ensure that the situation faced by Soviet Jews seeking to leave the Soviet Union would be on the agenda for an important conference on the Helsinki Agreement about to take place in Madrid.

The Conservative minister Peter Blaker gave a reply that pleased them and accused the Soviet Union of a restrictive definition of the term "kinship". Blaker demanded, pretty pompously, that the Soviet Union should fulfil its obligations under the Helsinki Agreement. James Lamond was then called by the Speaker from the opposition back benches. "The question of human rights is important, whether in the Soviet Union or in Israel," he said. "However, will the minister undertake to see that the Madrid conference does not deteriorate into bickering between East and West about human rights, but is used as a platform for a more positive approach on the question of peace and disarmament?"

Sitting on the same bench as Lamond, I was shocked at the nastiness of Blaker's response: "I recognise the interest of the honourable member in matters relating to the Soviet Union. He is a vice-president of the World Peace Council, which is a disguised instrument of Soviet policy." Lamond's friends knew perfectly well that he was not a Russian stooge in the way he was smeared, not only by Conservatives, but, truth to tell, by a number of Labour MPs who ought to have known and behaved better.

In response, Lamond gave notice that he would raise a point of order, referring to "discussions in this House and in the press concerning the raising of questions about individuals in the House, because individuals have no opportunity to make a proper reply at the time".

Lamond stated that he was proud to be vice-president of the World Peace Council and made no secret of it. "Honourable members will find that it is revealed in the Register of Members' Interests," he said. "Indeed they can discover that fact in any reference book they choose to consult. I am proud to let it be placed on the record that I hold that position. Perhaps I may say a few words about the World Peace Council I shall not speak for too long."

There was a tremendous guffaw which was the House of Commons at its nastiest. But to his credit, the Speaker, George Thomas, said: "Since I became Speaker I have always worked on the principle that if an honourable member feels he has been criticised, he should be given a chance to explain." Lamond took his opportunity, and issued the challenge that "if any MPs can prove to me that the World Peace Council receives money from the Soviet government, the British government or any other government, I shall resign my position immediately".

Michael Foot, from the opposition front bench, echoed the demands of Frank Allaun and many of Lamond's friends that Blaker should withdraw. Albeit, however, that Lamond was increasingly to become a respected member of the House of Commons, he never quite got over the caricature of his peace and disarmament beliefs.

Jimmy Lamond was born in Burrelton, Perthshire, the son of a railway guard on the London and North Eastern Railway regularly serving trains between Dundee and Aberdeen. Jimmy left nearby Coupar Angus School at 14 to work it was wartime in the ship-building and ship-repair yard of Hall and Company in Aberdeen. He qualified to begin a course in naval architecture in Newcastle but had to return as his parents could not afford to pay the fees. However he took a Higher National Certificate in mechanical engineering and worked for heating and ventilation companies. Like every other male born in the year 1928, he was excused national service since demobilisation gave the forces enough problems at the end of the war without accepting new national service-men.

Having become active in the Aberdeen Trades Council as a member of the Draughtsmen's and Allied Technicians' Association (Data), Lamond was chosen as a candidate for the Aberdeen City Council, to which he was elected in 1959. A man of considerable intelligence, and total probity, he was chosen as City Treasurer and became Lord Provost in 1970.

To the surprise of many in the Scottish Labour Party, he was beaten in the selection conference for the ultra-safe seat of Aberdeen North. Lamond was a man of generosity in his dealings with other people. On the parliamentary panel of the Engineering Union, he was sent to Oldham and told he had little hope of being selected. On the first ballot, the favourite local candidate came within one vote of outright victory. But as other candidates fell out, every one of their votes went to Lamond and he was selected by a whisker for a seat that he was to hold for 22 years.

"The people of Oldham elected Jim Lamond as MP with a very thin majority of less than 1,000," Malcolm Nield, former vice-chairman of the Oldham East Constituency Labour Party, told me. "As Oldham people grew to know him, that majority increased to 8,000. In part, this was a tribute to his work in getting compensation for the cotton workers who had contracted byssinosis."

His parliamentary neighbour, the MP for Oldham West, Michael Meacher, recalled Lamond's "irrepressible dry humour".

In 1983 on a boundary selection, Lamond beat his friend Joel Barnett, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and third most important minister in the Callaghan government, whose constituency of Heywood and Royton had been carved up by the Boundary Commission.

Because Lamond and I lived, while in London, very close to each other near the magistrates' court at the end of Horseferry Road, because we were friends, and because neither of us wished to go through the unpleasant experience of being mugged, we would walk home together on a regular basis after late votes in the House of Commons, usually nearer one in the morning than midnight. It was on this account that we got to know each other more intimately than is usually the case among MP colleagues.

Tam Dalyell