19 MAY 1984, Page 17

Mr Gummer at home

Andrew Gimson

r JohnSelwyn Gummer recently went M

to Leiston, a small town in his consti- tuency of Suffolk Coastal, to attend the Party of a museum. The Conservative 9rty could not have a chairman who was More assiduous as a constituency MP: the ,sregularity with which he is to be seen local functions is prodigious, and arSues almost a want of judgment on his Part• Perhaps now that he is safely installed a seat which is not going, as was his Cornier seat of Eye, to be abolished by the Boundary Commission, and is freed from the need to think about winning a nomina- tion for Eye's replacement, he will be able t° relax a bit. Otherwise some of his elec- L ,urs, while flattered that he takes the trouble to come and see them, will be deter- red,, from ever playing any part in the affairs °, the Tory orY Party by the sight of the unremitting chores it imposes. • But Mr Gummer is unlikely to relax. He IsYPical of that kind of modern MP who W`11 volunteer to you the alarming informa- t,1°,11 that he loves his constituency work. The logical outcome of this great love of constituency work is a House of Commons composed of Citizens Advice Bureau (wtorkers. devoting their time to surgeries tkile MP as medicine man) and to ringing up 'ie social services. These activities give the Legislator the pleasant idea that he is being c°f some use, and is in touch with that Estnrio thing called 'real life', but they also role. raus ac[ him from any larger view of his zeLuekii.. , y the English suspicion of excessive altogether is not quite extinct. We have not lt)gether sold out to the enthusiasts. Mr tibr4.111,Mer's keen new agent recently had the ck idea of sending unsolicited raffle ekets, value five pounds, to party members, a move which has set back the o t_rY cause in East Suffolk more in a week tiny the socialists could manage in a cen-


rilMJ Gummer, however, contrives to re- escant breezy. When I congratulated him on reolPing from his duties in Smith Square he the led: `A '., it's wonderful, you can bring familyh gavee family had duly been brought. This me , toe a perfect chance to test Mr Gum- , t s Patience by telling him a story about '1,12 adder which I had found that morning ; go sking in the sun, and which might imperil taltiltn, Children. But he cleverly went off to Iv_ .0 another constituent, and soon after- orsds Sir Joshua Rowley, Lord Lieutenant 1../e uLffolk, started to address the crowd. !Ns uegan on a melancholy note. The ()tie eurn he was opening is an industrial ed the 'ani_d six years previously he had attend-

ieentennial celebrations of the firm,

Richard Garrett Ltd, whose products were being exhibited. In 1980 Garretts, which had suffered an earlier bankruptcy in 1932, finally went out of business. Sir Joshua did not dwell on the extent to which the col- lapse of Garretts, and its rebirth as a museum, epitomised the evolution of tradi- tional British manufacturing, but the museum itself tells the story. The first Richard Garrett began work in Leiston in 1778 at a blacksmith's forge. His son mar- ried Sarah, daughter of John Balls, who had invented the first practical threshing machine. By 1830 the firm was making threshers, seed drills, ploughs and winnow- ing machines. In 1851 Garretts had a large stand at the Great Exhibition, and in 1853 the Long Shop was opened, one of the world's first flow-line assembly halls: boilers entered at one end, completed steam

engines left at the other.

This revolutionary hall is now the centre of the museum. It contains a number of splendid bits of machinery which are going to be restored, the Science Museum in Lon- don providing half the funds. It will be a `working museum' and of its type it will be excellent. One of the stewards to whom I spoke intended to train as a residential social worker. He had been unemployed for five months after taking his A levels, had then worked for nine months in a home for the mentally handicapped, had since been unemployed for a year, prerequisite for work at the museum paid for out of the public purse (though considerable private funds have also been raised). He later in- tended to go to the Suffolk College of Fur- ther Education to become a qualified social worker. He was an amiable man, as no doubt many Spanish monks of the 17th cen- tury were amiable, and was genuinely in- trigued by the history of Leiston, as they doubtless were genuinely intrigued by God, but his occupation appeared the merest make-work scheme. He was looking after exhibits which had won medals for inven- tiveness a hundred years ago.

Yet the power of invention is not dead in

Leiston. David Cook, a design engineer at Garretts who was made redundant, with the rest of the workforce, in 1980, has since in- vented an aircraft which holds four world records. Because it weighs less than 150 kilograms, or 330 pounds, it is classified as a `microlighe. It has flown faster (78 mph), further (340 miles) and with a heavier load (it will take a passenger as well as the pilot) than any other aircraft in its class. It flies like an ordinary aeroplane (except that for reasons unintelligible to me it will perform the amazing feat of standing almost still at full power in a vertical position without going into a spin or stalling), but it costs £6,000 instead of £40,000 to buy, and five pounds instead of £50 an hour to fly.

Mr Cook did not, in the approved man- ner, carry out market research to see whether the world wanted his extraordinary machine, though he expected that it would. Hying was his hobby: he was an amateur, in the sense of one who does something for the love of it, rather than the corrupted sense of one who is incompetent. In 1978 he made the first crossing of the English Channel in a powered hang glider (technically a foot- launched aircraft). He was the same age, had the same sponsor (Duckhams Oils), and even the same birthday as Bleriot, who in 1909 made the first Channel flight. But whereas Bleriot had 25 horsepower to get him across, Mr Cook had only nine. The Royal Aeronautical Society was so impress-

ed that it gave Mr Cook a medal.

His new aircraft, the Shadow, was designed in three weeks on his living room floor. He built it in four months in his base- ment, living mainly on hope. The banks would not back him, because one crash, while it might kill Mr Cook, would certainly kill the plane's prospects, but he found individuals who would. And as Mr Cook believed would happen, the plane flies, and people want to buy it. Negotiations are under way with customers in India, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and France. It can be used for crop spraying, for aerial surveys, for deliveries to remote islands, and for border patrols. The more daring sort of soldier is also excited by the fact that if you cut the engine one mile up, you can glide silently for 18 miles before landing. Surely, 1 said, the stage was set for the revival of Leiston as a manufacturing cen- tre, sending advanced machines all over the world.

There is, however, one obstacle, unknown to Richard Garrett or to Bleriot, which deters Mr Cook from manufacturing in Leiston, or anywhere in Britain. The latter-day pioneer has to satisfy safety rules. It is not enough to argue that no commer- cial user is going to buy a plane which crashes. To plead that in Mrs Thatcher and Mr Gummer's Britain you are meant to be allowed to take risks is similarly useless. In March 1983 the Civil Aviation Authority

The Spectator 19 May 1984 issued 56 pages of regulations with which Mr Cook has had to comply in order to ge', an airworthiness certificate. Britain is the very first country to have introduced a comprehensive airworthiness scheme for microlight aircraft. It Is a species of bureaucracy in which we lead the world. The officials make up the rules; 11,d then the officials enforce them, and n! enterprises like David Cook's (he now has factory and five employees) have to fill in as things, forms, llike d r oanpdp ndgo t haes pml aanney ftiresomero the roof of the hangar, or putting weights °II vastly in excess of any it will ever have bear, as though British s hnaturally Aerospace. n 0 tI In the hMe r CCAooittk view, S., about three-quarters of the rules ar" superfluous, having no bearing on safe,T and existing purely for their own sake. n' will not manufacture the plane in a county where he finds officialdom so intent on t covering itself against any mishap that frames rules which promote the 8reate-d ci safety Cook will licence peopleto make ainkse htea Mr his plane abroad. If Mr Gummer wants to prove himself as truly great constituency MP, one wh° catie do difficult things as well as easy ones will set to work redressing Mr c()°1*- grievance, so that the people of Leistot:; have somewhere other than a museum work.