Obituary: Edwin Wainwright
Tuesday 03 February 1998
There is no better way for a young Member of Parliament, newly arrived in the House of Commons, to get to know his colleagues than serving with them on an interesting Standing Committee on a House of Commons Bill. In the spring of 1964, Eddie Wainwright and I served on the committee stage of the first Continental Shelf Bill, which was to do with a little gas which had been found in the North Sea and some uncertain North Sea oil prospects.
Wainwright was an extremely effective member of the committee - which included the then Minister of Fuel and Power, Freddy Erroll, the expert Col C.G. Lancaster, Angus Maude, Norman Pentland, John Payton, Jim Prior, Sir Frank Soskice, later Home Secretary, and William Whitelaw. It was a measure of the homework that he did in those days and his deep interest in all matters to do with fuel and power that Wainwright succeeded in cutting ice on the committee stage. He anticipated many of the future problems:
We must appreciate that the developers will not be searching for oil for the benefit of the nation alone. Obviously they will have the interests of their shareholders and owners at heart. The question, therefore, of who is to receive the benefit is very important. We must also bear in mind that the developers, by virtue of the risks which they take in finding oil, must receive some reward for taking that risk.
In those civilised days, at the conclusion of the Bill, the minister had a drinks party for colleagues of all parties who had taken part. I remember Erroll, not only a cabinet minister but a formidable businessman, thanking Wainwright most charmingly for his many interventions from which, said Erroll, he had learnt a lot. Those were days when ministers would listen seriously to those who had first-hand experience of industry, albeit they might not share their general political view.
Edwin Wainwright was born into a mining family and started work at Darfield Main Colliery in 1922, two days after his 14th birthday. He understood the value of technical knowhow in the mining industry and worked to improve himself on and off at Barnsley Technical College.
In the mid-1930s, he became an active member of the Branch Committee of the National Union of Mineworkers, and in 1939 started his 20-year experience as a local councillor - his knowledge of local government was often of great assistance in House of Commons committees.
In October 1959, he was rewarded with the Dearne Valley seat. His main political contribution - and it was a very considerable one - was as Secretary of the Trade Union Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party, for 17 years, 1966-83, when he was also Secretary of the Yorkshire Group. This was an era when both groups mattered far more than they do today.
Wainwright gained a reputation for being fond of beer and the Commons bar. It was not unfair. However, from my personal experience, whatever had happened the night before Eddie Wainwright was fresh as a daisy at 8am in the Commons the following morning. His colleagues chuckled that he was never ever the worse for wear either in his constituency or in the presence of his beloved wife of 60 years, Dorothy, who was a tower of strength both to him and to the Labour Party.
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