Former MP is honoured with Freeman status

Tom Clarke was always a champion for the rights of disabled people and is pictured during a visit to the RNIB in 2011.
Tom Clarke was always a champion for the rights of disabled people and is pictured during a visit to the RNIB in 2011.

Former MP Tom Clarke is to become the first Freeman of North Lanarkshire to recognise more than 50 years of public service.

Mr Clarke was first elected as a councillor for Coatbridge Town Council in 1964 and ten years later became provost of the newly formed Monklands District Council.

He was awarded a CBE for services to Local Government in 1980 and subsequently elected as MP for Coatbridge and Airdrie following the death of James Dempsey.

Due to boundary changes his constituency would become Monklands West in 1983, Coatbridge and Chryston in 1997 and finally Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill in 2005 which he served until this earlier year.

Having been first elected to the shadow cabinet in 1987, the former filmmaker whose movie Give Us a Goal would be shown at Cannes, became Minister for Film and Tourism under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Coatbridge North and Glenboig councillor Michael McPake presented a motion at the full meeting of North Lanarkshire Council last week calling for Mr Clarke be given Freeman status which councillors passed unanimously.

This honour has not been bestowed since Motherwell District Council awarded it to Cardinal Thomas Winning in 1994.

Councillor McPake said: “Tom gave exemplary public service to this area for more than 50 years and in all that time his character remained completely unblemished, how many long-standing politicians can say that?

“I think the main reason he should be awarded Freeman status is for his ability to get two Acts of Parliament passed, most MPs struggle to get just one.

“Managing to get the 1986 Disabled Persons (Services, Representation and Consultation) Act passed under a Thatcher Government, when many thought it would be rejected, was particularly important and has helped countless people in North Lanarkshire and across the UK.

“Tom didn’t personally bring me into politics, but he was definitely someone to look up to, so he certainly had an indirect influence.”

North Lanarkshire provost Jim Robertson said in the chamber the details need to be worked out to hold a ceremony for Mr Clarke to receive the honour, but joked he now had permission to “graze his sheep up at Shotts”.

Mr Clarke had no idea Councillor McPake was presenting the motion and was thrilled when told the good news.

He said: “I am absolutely delighted and thrilled this has happened, it came as a complete surprise when I was told about it, but a very pleasant one.

“I love North Lanarkshire and its people and I was so proud to be able to serve them in public life from my 20s until earlier this year.

“I feel so honoured by this gesture from the council and even more privileged with learning that Cardinal Winning was the last person to be made a Freeman so I am in very good company.”