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Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I should like to make a short personal statement.
I do not propose today to go into the history of my various disagreements with Government decisions, and, even more, with the way in which they have been increasingly made and the considerations on which they were so often based. There will be time enough for all that. But in view of some of the wilder speculations and exaggerations over the weekend, I feel I owe it to the House and to my right hon. Friends on this side of the House, in particular, and, if I may say so, to myself, to say why I decided to resign at this time.
It was not despite the gravity of the situation; it was, in a sense, because of it. It is in just such a situation that it is essential for Cabinet Government to be maintained if democracy is to be assured, and equally it is in just such a situation that temptation to depart from it is at its greatest. Power can very easily pass not merely from Cabinet to one or two Ministers, but effectively to sources quite outside the political control altogether. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
It is open to anyone to challenge my judgment of the situation on Thursday night, when it was learned that the Prime Minister and two other Ministers were already at the Palace, or to feel that I exaggerated the dangers in it. But I am very conscious of past parallels in my own political lifetime, and felt strongly enough on the issue to gather some of my colleagues together and to protest then. When that protest was virtually brushed aside on the basis that what I had done was in itself irregular, I felt that the time had come to leave the Government.
But for what I have read over the weekend, I would feel it quite unnecessary to say that, of course, my purpose in the action I have taken is not to challenge the Prime Minister or to set out to lead a Left-wing revolt against the Cabinet.
I had a feeling that that suggestion might have amused and surprised some of my hon. Friends, as it did me.
I do, however, feel most strongly that if the authority and success of this Government is to be re-established, as, indeed, it must be, then the basis on which they take their decisions must be changed and their communications within the Government and with those outside must be greatly improved. Just making what are called tough decisions on occasions, valid as they may be, is not enough. There must be a thread of continuity evident in all that is done.
Whether I can help to bring about the necessary change by my resignation and by acting outside of the Government only time and experience can tell; but I shall loyally try. I believe that restoring the morale and the enthusiasm of those who elected this Government with such high hopes in 1966 is a most vital and urgent task facing us. It has seemed increasingly to me over a period that we were ignoring the basic reasons for the decline, that we were misreading all the political signs and refusing to recognise that we ourselves were at least partly responsible for the mood of cynicism in the nation which, whatever our future policy decisions may be, is Britain's greatest threat.
I completely accept that so long as I remained in the Government I fully shared the responsibility for all this, whatever my private or semi-private reservations. I have decided by this action to end that responsibility.
To those who say I did it on the wrong issue and at the wrong time and in the wrong temper, let me just say this. There never could be a wholly right issue or a wholly right time, as those who before me have walked this unhappy road and made statements from this seat can no doubt testify, and if one waited for the cold, calculating consideration of all personal and other consequences one would probably never move at all.
In my view, there is no practicable alternative to this Government which would not be infinitely worse for the nation, to put it mildly. Our business is to try to make this Government very much stronger and more effective and, meanwhile, to campaign as powerfully as we can in the country to restore confidence in and support for this Government. I propose to do all that I can to those ends.