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Personal Statement

Volume 23: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1982

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4.43 pm

With your leave, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal statement.

I have already given notice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that at the conclusion of today's business I wish to be appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead—in other words, forthwith to resign my seat in the House. It is also my intention, however, as soon as the appointment has been effected, to relinquish it with a view to contesting a by-election in the constituency of Mitcham and Morden, which will result from my resignation. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), the Opposition Chief Whip, has agreed that he will move the writ for that by-election next Tuesday, 11 May so that the by-election can take place on 3 June. I am grateful to him for that.

The House will understand that a Member in my position has no control over the timing of a subsequent by-election. It may well wish in due course to consider whether that situation is satisfactory.

As most hon. Members will know, I announced en 10 December that I was leaving the Labour Party and joining the Social Democrats. I said then that it was my intention to resign from the House and to contest a by-election. This is not the occasion to discuss the reasons for my decision to leave the party to which I belonged for over 30 years. However, I should like briefly to place on record the reasons why I have felt it right to seek the endorsement of my constituents for my decision. I do not wish the action that I am taking to establish any precedent—[Interruption.]

Order. I remind the House that it is customary to hear a personal statement in silence.

—for other Members who may find that they can no longer support the policies adopted by the party under whose label they were elected. That would be to raise the party above the individual conscience and judgment of a Member of Parliament, whereas I think that it is the judgment of each individual Member of Parliament on what is in the public interest that should always be paramount.

There are many precedents of Members who have crossed the Floor of the House without resigning. Perhaps the late Sir Winston Churchill is the most famous example. Whether or not one accepts that such a fundamental change as crossing the Floor of the House involves an obligation to seek re-election, I believe that there is none upon hon. Members who consider that their views have not changed fundamentally but who personally feel that their parties have adopted a radically different position since the last general election. That is the position of my colleagues in the SDP.

My position is different, because I have given specific assurances to the Mitcham and Morden constituency Labour Party, which I have repeated at public meetings, that if ever I were to leave the Labour Party I should resign my seat and contest a by-election. That pledge was first given when my loyalty to the Labour Party was questioned following my criticism in the House of mass picketing at Grunwick in 1977. It has been repeated at public meetings. I do not think it necessary to adduce reasons for keeping one's promises, other than that one has made them.

I hope that I shall return to the House very soon, but whatever the outcome of my decision it has been a great honour to have served in the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are we now establishing a new tradition whereby we read our election addresses in the House?

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) altered his statement to meet my requirements. As the hon. Gentleman is making his last speech before he leaves the House—it is not for me to anticipate the future—and as he has been here for 12 years, I thought it right to allow him to make a statement.

Legal Aid Bill Lords


That the Legal Aid Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. Budgen.]