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Personal Statement

Volume 893: debated on Wednesday 11 June 1975

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Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a personal statement to explain my resignation from the Government.

I say at once that it is a real sadness to me that I can no longer continue my work at the Ministry of Overseas Development. The House will know that I have devoted my time to the interests of the Third World for some six years in Opposition and in Government. As I told the Prime Minister on Monday, I had a White Paper in draft. I hope that it will see the light of day.

With the dedicated help of my former staff in the Ministry, I have set a course in development strategy which I think is commanding some support throughout the world. One of my last acts as Minister on referendum day, 5th June, was to have my disaster unit send a 50-bed hospital to help the famine in Somalia. Today I was to have announced to the Development Committee in Paris that our assistance to the poorest countries will from now on be entirely in the form of grants rather than in terms of repayable loans.

I would like to say through you, Mr. Speaker, to my former Ministry how much gratitude I have to the staff for their work in the past year in meeting the detailed demands of a new strategy and how much I hope for its success, and how sorry I am to leave them.

As all right hon. and hon. Members who have ever been faced with such a decision will well know, resignation is never a simple matter. My own decision arises from a mix of factors. I do not today put them in order of importance. Perhaps in a few weeks I shall be able to do so. I can only say to the House that they all entered into my decision last night. The Prime Minister, when he sees the record of my statement, will recall that he gave an undertaking as Leader of the Opposition to create an Overseas Development Ministry as an independent Ministry away from the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. It was part of our manifesto, and it was fulfilled. I do not think that it caused any intolerable problems within the Government. It may have caused good constructive tensions, but I doubt whether my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary could claim that I have made his life too difficult.

I regret the Prime Minister's decision to deprive my Ministry of its independence, whatever the change in the status of its Minister. It is my Ministry that is the real loser. Frankly, I can see no reason for the Prime Minister to sack me from my Ministry. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to develop my policies with my colleagues within the European Community.

Of course, there is a further background to my decision. Judgments of this kind are immensely serious and they reflect inevitably a mood of anxiety and concern. One is driven over the edge of the abyss not by the specifics of a situation but by its political context. I fear that we are witnessing the first dangerous stages of what could prove to be a historic catastrophe for the Labour Party and the Labour movement. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I do not expect Opposition Members to agree with me. I am speaking if I may, to my hon. Friends on the Labour benches. I hope that the House will be kind enough to listen to me. If I am right, it is a catastrophe that must be prevented.

The City, the CBI and the Conservative Party have served notice on the Government that they must sacrifice the industrial policies on which they were elected and in the shaping of which I played some part in my party. It is a radical policy, but it is a relevant policy. Socialism must always be relevant to the problems of our nation and people. As a nation we face great economic problems. If the Government seek to solve them by capitalist methods—and I trust they will not do so—and abandon their Socialist policies, they will fail to resolve the economic crisis and will betray the Labour movement. Every Minister involved at every stage of the work on the Industry Bill has been displaced. I cannot disregard the consequence of that.

I shall support the Prime Minister and the Government. I shall work for my party, for the Labour movement and for the Third World. I leave the Govern- ment with no bitterness or rancour. Policies of political philosophy always matter a great deal more than do individuals. I have tried to make my statement today, which I felt I should do, in concern for my party and its policies.