HC Deb 21 February 1977 vol 926 cc1034-41

3.30 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

With the permission of hon. Members, I should like to pay a short tribute to the life and work of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Anthony Crosland, our colleague, whose passing we all mourn.

He was a major political figure of the present generation, gifted beyond the reach of many of us, and I had hoped that his work and gifts would be available for many years to come in the service of his country and his party. As in the case of our former colleague, Iain Macleod, who died shortly after becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is especially hard to bear when men of distinction and with more work to do are cut off. Their loss is general to the House of Commons, and general to us as a whole and to the political life of our country, no matter where we may sit in the House.

I shared a small part in Tony Crosland's life since I met him 30 years ago after he had addressed a meeting at Oxford University. He entertained me in his rooms and told me of his wish to become a Labour candidate. The university was not a world with which I was particularly well acquainted, and I could not help but note that rather distinctive manner of his. I wondered how he would go down in politics, and I asked him tactfully whether he was sure that he would feel at home away from the Oxford atmosphere. I then had the first taste of what we all got to know very quickly afterwards: he brushed me swiftly aside and left me in no doubt about what he intended to do.

Fortunately, he attracted the attention immediately of people much more important and with better judgment than myself, especially Hugh Dalton, one of whose great attributes, as the older Members among us will remember, was his constant encouragement of young people, whoever they might be. It was he who helped Tony Crosland to secure the seat at South Gloucestershire. When he came to the House he soon made his mark from the third Bench above the Gangway, especially in debates on the Finance Bill. He made critical and penetrating but amusing speeches, especially on economic matters. Even Sir Stafford Cripps, who was the object of the criticism, seemed to unfreeze a little as he listened to some of his strictures.

But Tony Crosland's interest was not limited to economics. He and I were both delegates to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and we shared, as young men, the intense interest of watching the great figures of Europe—Churchill, Paul Reynaud, Paul-Henri Spaak, Bidault and many others—and occasionally being allowed to join in. We listened to them and watched in those days immediately after the war. There was the historic day when the doors were thrown open and we watched the German delegates march into the Chamber for the first time—a great day of reconciliation which those of us who were present will never forget. Tony Crosland and I shared many of the delights of exploring Alsace. We drank wine in great quantities and walked together in the mountains around Strasbourg.

A few years later, in 1956, he produced the book by which he is best known, "The Future of Socialism", on which much comment has been made in the last few days. It was a major work, and it was no surprise that it was wide-ranging, controversial, and pungent—all the things that he was. It was discussed and argued about by young people in the Labour Party and beyond for many years. The arguments were fierce, but they never descended into personal attacks on him, because, truth to tell, he was as much at home with those with whom he disagreed as with his friends.

He combined physical courage, mental toughness and great personal charm, and, although he always carried the aura of the university don even into his local Labour club, it was never resented. On the contrary, this characteristic was greeted with rather affectionate amusement, because in Grimsby they knew him for what he was. They knew that he was not a humbug and that when he insisted on watching "Match of the Day" every Saturday, no matter how busy he was, it was not a pose; he genuinely enjoyed it. His charm and his bump of irreverence were as much a part of his private life as they were part of his public personality.

I believe that he was really writing about himself in his book when he said of those who call themselves Socialists: There should always run a trace of the anarchist and the libertarian and not too much of the prig and the prude. He lived by that, and so the company was always rather more gay, certainly more irreverent, and much more cheerful when he met with his friends.

But beneath that, and beyond his dislike of humbug and pretence, there lay a man of deep conviction and earnestness—an earnestness that he did not always parade. He was as willing to apply himself to the humdrum task of a small meeting somewhere in the provinces and to the unglamorous research as he was to the more exciting and public aspects of politics. He conducted a fundamental inquiry into the work of the co-operative movement. Later, he occupied, among others, the posts of Secretary of State for Education, President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Local Government.

During the last 10 months he applied himself with ever-increasing zest to the great issues of foreign affairs and only a month ago, in his capacity as President of the Council of Ministers, he made what has been generally acknowledged to be an outstanding speech to the European Assembly, setting out his view on how the European Community should develop and how Britain would try to conduct the period of the Presidency.

As we have read, when the blow which has taken him from us fell, he was working on the problem of the next steps to be taken to achieve a peaceful settlement based on majority rule in Rhodesia while trying to secure a future for the minority.

For me personally, I have lost a deeply valued friend. For his wife, the loss is infinitely greater. All his friends felt that it was fortunate that he met and married her when he did. Their marriage has been a true partnership of loyalty and affection. All of us here, immersed as we are in political life, know more than others can how much each of us needs the support of a devoted partner. The House will join me in sending to Susan Crosland and her family our sympathy, and also our especial thanks to her for her support to him.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

3.38 p.m.

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

First, I wish to apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. She much regrets her absence today, but, as the Prime Minister knows, it would have been difficult to change the special plans which had been made for her.

On my right hon. Friend's behalf, I should like to associate all my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tribute which the Prime Minister has so movingly and understandingly paid to the late Anthony Crosland. On occasions such as this, the House shows that valuable spirit of corporate unity which lies behind all our arguments and disagreements. We all feel that we have lost an outstanding colleague who, particularly through his intellectual qualities and perhaps his style, made a great contribution to our affairs.

We all know—the country, the Government and the Labour Party—that we have suffered one of those tragic losses of which perhaps we have had all too many in recent years. The Prime Minister has generously referred to the death of Iain Macleod—an event closely related to the occasion which we are discussing —which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and I remember particularly acutely.

A leading statesman and politician has been taken suddenly from us at a time when he had much still to give in the service of the nation. No doubt we all feel that such acts of fate are thoroughly perverse. But we also know that they are the inevitable hazards of our mortal lives which we have to endure. Tony Crosland himself gave us a clear example of the quality of resilience which is required on such occasions.

So we go forward now to face the tasks ahead encouraged by the memory of his achievements. But, as we do so, we pause for a moment to express our own sense of loss and to offer to his wife our very real sympathy in the desperately sudden tragedy that she has faced with such obvious dedication and courage.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Without question, the death of Anthony Crosland is a grievous loss to the Government and to the whole of politics. He had shown that he was an exceptional Minister in all four Departments over which he held sway. The House of Commons and public life as a whole has lost someone with quite exceptional skill, wit, vision and, I would say, impact.

I choose the word "impact" because that was what he had on all of us who had the opportunity for private discussion with him, of listening to him or of reading what he wrote.

I remember coinciding with him a few months ago when he was at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. He conducted there a Press conference lasting about 45 minutes in front of the hard-bitten United Nations and American Press corps with that typical panache, and he left them much better informed and also greatly entertained.

He also made an impact through his book, as the Prime Minister said. I went up to university in 1957, a few months after the publication of "The Future of Socialism". I think that it is true to say that that work had an impact on a whole generation of undergraduates quite outside the confines of the Labour Party. Indeed, looking back over the last 20 years, it is difficult to think of any comparable work which has had a comparable impact on a whole generation of people interested in politics and the future of our country.

Although trained as an economist, he was much concerned about matters other than the material things in life. In the last sentence of his book, he wrote: We do not want to enter the age of abundance only to find that we have lost the values which might teach us how to enjoy it. In the last few days, much has been written and spoken about the strain on the lives of politicians and senior Ministers in particular. I do not want to add to that, but I would say that Susan Crosland, especially in these last few days, set a wonderful and warming example of loyalty and love. To her, whose loss is the greatest, we would all wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

All parties in the House will feel diminished by the passing of Anthony Crosland. I want to associate my hon. Friends and myself with the tribute which has been paid, and I have been asked by right hon. and hon. Members of the Ulster Unionist Party and Plaid Cymru to associate them with these tributes and to extend their condolences to Mrs. Crosland.

3.44 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I wish to add a few words to the eloquent tributes which have been paid to Tony Crosland.

I remember him when he first came to this House—an elegant and debonair figure. At that time, he often spoke rather contemptuously of Parliament and all its affairs. I never knew how much this was a pose. But what is certain is that very soon he acquired all those qualities which turned him into an exceedingly able, efficient, and likeable parliamentarian, and the criticism which had been made of him when he first came here that he was too light-hearted quickly disappeared.

He showed that he was capable, in spite of his apparent ease and disinterest in many things, of an immense industry and a debating skill which, when aroused on matters that he had at heart, were formidable and impressive.

Although he often felt passionately on social issues, his approach to them sometimes appeared to be an intellectual rather than an emotional one. Perhaps the major contribution which he made to public affairs lay outside this House rather than inside it. In my view, it was his book, which has been referred to already, "The Future of Socialism"; it had a profound effect on the thinking of the young and indeed on all Social Democrats. It influenced the political scene more than any other post-war book.

In this, and in all his speeches and lectures at the time, he argued that priority of thought should be given to the human rather than to the economic side of Socialism: how to enable people to enjoy greater freedom; fun—he emphasised fun—and happiness; and how to abolish inequality and injustice. Changes in the ownership of industry he regarded as secondary matters to be carried out only to the extent that they contributed to the social changes which he advocated. In all these matters he spoke very much the same language as Hugh Gaitskell.

In his ministerial posts, which he held with great distinction, Tony Crosland tried as far as possible to transform his ideals into realities.

With his death, Parliament has lost a cultured and civilised man and a political philosopher whose instincts were devoted to radical causes. The nation has lost a great public servant.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack

(Staffordshire, South-West): I come from Grimsby, and I should like to add a few brief words, because I fought Tony Crosland in the 1966 General Election and possibly saw as much of him as anyone in this House during the long period when he was my Member of Parliament. I think that I can possibly presume on the time of the House to speak on behalf of the people of his constituency, where my own family still live.

In his attitudes as a Member of Parliament, he showed that behind the philosopher and the profound intellect there was a man who cared about people. He cared about ordinary people and about ordinary and simple problems. He was greatly loved in Grimsby, especially among those who were not, when he first came into this House with a majority of only 101 votes, of his persuasion. But, by the formidable combination of intellectual stature and caring for ordinary people, he won them over.

Perhaps I saw the measure of the man when I wrote to him at the time of his being appointed Foreign Secretary. He had always cared deeply about the environment, and we had shared this interest and fought for listed buildings and matters of that nature. When he wrote back to me, in his own hand he added a little postcript: On my last day at the Department, I saved a listed building. There was a man who, in the midst of all the great affairs of State, had time not only to look after his constituents but to realise that the quality of life in this country depends upon much more than intellectual grandeur.

Mr. Speaker

The House has paid its tribute. We turn now to public business.