Ron Ledger

Labour MP who was a Barnardo's boy

Ronald Joseph Ledger, politician, hotelier and casino proprietor: born London 7 November 1920; MP (Labour and Co-operative) for Romford 1955-70; Chairman, Hairdressing Council 1966-79; married 1946 Madeleine de Villeneuve (three sons, two daughters); died Lake, Isle of Wight 11 December 2004.

Chuter Ede - Clement Attlee's distinguished Home Secretary and author of the Butler/Ede Education Act of 1944 - told me that one of the most moving maiden speeches that he had ever heard in his vast experience of the House of Commons was that made by Ron Ledger, on 10 June 1955:

The story starts in 1923. In that year, a certain family was already faced with a social problem, because the father of the family decided he could no longer stay at home. The mother was pregnant, and was left the responsibility of caring for three children. If she did not go to work, her fourth child would have to be born in the workhouse. The three children were therefore placed in an institution, known to us all as Dr Barnardo's Home. Thirteen years later one of the three children went out into the world to fight the normal battles and, indeed, is today a Member of this House. But I have not the slightest idea where my brother, my sister, my mother, my father or any other relative might be.

Throughout his time in Parliament Ledger was to argue the case for nursery schools and the education of infants. In this, he was before his time.

After Barnardo's Ledger was briefly fostered by a solicitor and his wife and sent to Skinners' Grammar School in Tunbridge Wells. He found it difficult to fit in and became (after a brief spell as a solicitor's apprentice) a toolroom engineer. His wartime service was in India as a fitter and a leading aircraftsman. He told me that this experience had convinced him how right the Labour government was to take the initiative in giving independence to India, albeit that events between Muslims and Hindus were to turn out to be particularly bloody. I remember Ledger as one of comparatively few MPs who really interested themselves in the problems of rapidly expanding communities from the subcontinent in Britain.

Chosen after two years at Nottingham University (where he took a Diploma in Social Science) as the Labour candidate for the city's Rushcliffe Division, he lost in 1951 to Sir Martin Redmayne, a future Conservative chief whip, by 30,972 to 22,506. On the basis of his good showing and close connections with the Co-operative movement, he was chosen to fight Romford, where he held the seat in 1955 by 27,326 to 2,401.

Wilf Mills, the only remaining member of Romford Council in the time that Ledger was an MP, remembers him as "a great communicator and very energetic":

He had time for everybody and was one of the first MPs when it was not fashionable to do so to make a point of spending hours - when no election was on - meeting people in shopping centres and announcing his presence over a loudspeaker. He was immensely helpful in the housing problems which Romford had with the London County Council. But he made no progress in his campaign for free public transport, which was not, given the traffic problems into London from Essex, such a daft idea.

Tony Benn recalls him as a respected Member who saw his job as to represent his constituents faithfully. One of his main interests, in which he was very effective, was the problems faced by the furniture industry. I remember his passionate plea on 3 April 1963 during the debate on the budget statement:

One of the largest industries in Romford is the furniture industry, where in the past year two factories have been closed. I should have thought that the Chancellor would have given some thought to this industry in which a considerable amount of short-term working is occurring in the country.

Nearly a quarter of the factories were working only two or three days a week. A union survey showed that half the factories producing furniture in the London area were working with considerably reduced personnel "and almost all the remainder are on short time".

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, then Edward du Cann, took Ledger's plea very seriously: he received a deputation and acted to give fiscal help to the furniture industry.

In 1967 Ledger decided that he would not contest Romford, where there were enormous boundary changes proposed at the 1970 election and prepared to become mine host at the Halland Hotel at Seaview in the Isle of Wight. He took on a number of jobs including the management of a casino (he owned Holliers Casino in Shanklin, 1973-83) and a directorship of Enfield Electronics.

Among his many activities was that of Chairman of the Hairdressing Council for 13 years from 1966. John Byrne, the council's Registrar, pays tribute to the work that Ledger did in the cause of registration of hairdressers, "which is what the Hairdressing Council as a statutory body is all about".

Ron Ledger was a man full of fun, who we all felt wanted to do something for people rather than climb any greasy political pole.

Tam Dalyell

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