Emmott, Alfred, first Baron Emmott, of Oldham 1858-1926, politician and cotton spinner, was born at Chadderton, near Oldham, 8 May 1858, the third son of Thomas Emmott, cotton spinner, of Brookfield, Oldham, by his wife, Hannah, daughter of John Barlow, of Chorley, Cheshire. Educated at the Friends' School, Kendal, where he became a good cricketer, and at Grove House, Tottenham, he graduated Bachelor of Arts of London University in 1880, having entered his father's firm in 1879. In 1881 Emmott joined the Oldham town council and in 1891 became mayor. He took a prominent part in the committee work of the town council, and for forty-three years was a member of the Oldham chamber of commerce and for long its president. He was also president of the Oldham Master Cotton Spinners Association. He was active on the local bench, and all his life was closely identified with Oldham, not only as its most prominent citizen, but also as one of the leading men of the Lancashire cotton industry.
In 1899 Emmott entered parliament, winning Oldham from the conservatives, and holding the seat until he became a peer in 1911. He became chairman of committees of the House of Commons in 1906 when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman came into power, and he presided in committee during the stormy debates on the budget of 1909. Tall and striking in appearance, quiet, if somewhat stern in manner with a considerable sense of humour and an essentially fair and judicial mind, Emmott carried out the difficult duties of his position during five years (1906-1911) with complete success. During this time he also served on the royal commission on food supply in time of war and as chairman of a committee on technical education. In 1911 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Emmott, of Oldham, and became under-secretary of state for the Colonies, an office which was specially congenial to him. He had been sworn a privy councillor in 1908. In 1913 he was chairman of the first delegation of the Empire Parliamentary Association to proceed overseas. It visited Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Interchange of views took place between the English delegates and the members of the parliaments of the countries visited, and the delegation inaugurated the system of parliamentary conferences throughout the Empire, now a prominent feature of the work of the Parliamentary Association.
On returning to England Emmott was created G.C.M.G. (1914), and in the same year entered the Cabinet as first commissioner of works. He was a strong supporter of Mr. Asquith during the early months of the European War, but left office in 1915 on the formation of the first Coalition government. He then began what was perhaps the most important work of his life, namely the creation of the War Trade Department, which he directed until 1919. The principal duty of the department was the issue of licences designed to maintain British export trade without weakening the blockade. As the War proceeded, the department created a system of statistics whereby exports from England to countries conterminous with Germany were rationed on the basis of the average figures for such exports before the War. This rationing was negotiated with the countries concerned and in return certain necessary imports were received from them. In order to eliminate the chance of export licences being granted to persons likely to trade with the enemy, a list of reliable consignees was prepared. Later, other considerations came before the department, such as the conservation of supplies for home use and for military needs. Thus the department gradually became a clearing-house dealing with all questions of blockade requirements, domestic and military necessities, and the prevention of the total loss of British export trade, which was largely falling into the hands of America and Japan. Committees were established for the granting of the export licences, with an appeal to Emmott, whose decision was final. His commercial knowledge and judicial temper gained for him the respect of the exporting firms and enabled the country to safeguard a large part of its overseas trade during the War. For his war services he was created G.B.E. in 1917.
In 1920 Emmott was appointed chairman of a commission to inquire into the political and economic conditions of Russia and the usage of British subjects by the Bolsheviks. The report of the commission contained a severe indictment of the brutality with which British subjects were treated. He also served as chairman of a commission to inquire into the desirability of a decimal coinage, and signed the majority report against the scheme. About this time he resumed the direction of the family firm, which had become Emmotts and Walkshaw, and also became a director of the textile engineering firm of Platt Brothers, of Oldham, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, the National Boiler General Insurance Company, and the Calico Printers Association. In 1921 he was president of the World Cotton Congress at Manchester and Liverpool, after which he advocated a scientific investigation into the cost of cotton manufacture in Lancashire and in the competing countries, having been struck by the relatively lower cost prevailing in the latter.
Emmott was deeply interested in education and served as chairman of the governors of the Hulme grammar school at Oldham, and was a member of the court of governors of Owens College, and later when the College became the Victoria University of Manchester. He was also chairman of the committee charged with examining the working of teachers' superannuation, as the result of which the Superannuation Act of 1925 was passed. From 1922 to 1924 he was president of the Royal Statistical Society, and in 1922 he became president of the National Association of Building Societies, presiding at the annual meeting at York in 1923. He was active in the management, and for many years president, of the Lancashire and Cheshire Young Men's Christian Association, and a founder of the Anglo-Belgian Union (1917). During the War his wife had worked hard for the Belgian refugees, and he was thus brought into close touch with Belgium. In 1923 he laid the foundation-stone of the British memorial at Zeebrugge, and attended its unveiling by King Albert two years later, receiving the order of the Belgian Crown.
All these activities left Emmott little time for politics, but he spoke frequently in the House of Lords as a consistent supporter of Mr. Asquith and a critic of the post-war coalition government. Emmott was a churchman, but his education and ancestry led him to understand and sympathize with nonconformist views. A strong free trader, he was nevertheless attracted by Imperial preference and was a supporter of the Liberal League, in the principles of which he believed as firmly as he did in the Empire. But although in the House of Commons he was a man on whom the party whips could firmly rely, he did not always vote with them, and in the House of Lords he was conspicuous for his independence of view. He was a keen sportsman, a good shot and golfer, and always interested in cricket.
Emmott died very suddenly from angina pectoris at his London house 13 December 1926, the day on which he was engaged to speak at a liberal party gathering. He married in 1887 Mary Gertrude, daughter of John William Lees, of Waterhead, Oldham, by whom he had two daughters. As he left no son, the barony became extinct.
A cartoon of Emmott appeared in Vanity Fair 19 October 1910.
The Times, 14 December 1926
Hansard, Parliamentary Debates
Lord Ullswater, A Speaker's Commentaries, 1925
Journal of Royal Statistical Society, 1927