Maurice Foley -2002

Labour Member of Parliament for West Bromwich 1963-1973, died in February 2002, aged 76.

Maurice Foley, Labour Member of Parliament for West Bromwich 1963-1973, died in February 2002, aged 76.

Maurice Foley was born in Billingham, County Durham in 1925. He came from an Irish working class family who had found work in the Durham coalfields. He was brought up a staunch Roman Catholic and after elementary school was sent to St Mary’s College, Middlesborough. Leaving school at 16 he trained as an electrical fitter, at ICI, and became heavily involved in the Electricians Union. He was a member of the Catholic faction in a union then dominated by Communists, and it was in that context that he first learned and practised his political skills. After the war he left the ETU for the Transport and General Workers Union and pursued his political aspirations through the union and through his membership of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society.

He entered Parliament in a by-election at West Bromwich in 1963, having previously unsuccessfully contested Bedford, in 1959. He quickly established himself as a rising star, and was sometimes spoken of as a possible future Leader. He was particularly interested in the problems of young people in finding suitable employment, particularly members of ethnic minorities, and his early speeches in Parliament demonstrated his passion for addressing these issues. After the General Election victory of 1964 he became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the newly formed Department of Economic Affairs, with special responsibility for matters relating to the education and employment of young people. After the 1966 election he was moved to the Home Office, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary with responsibility for immigration; then, as now, one of the most delicate portfolios a Labour Government can offer. In 1967 he was moved again, this time to the Ministry of Defence, as the Navy Minister and in 1968 to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with responsibility for Africa.

In Opposition after 1970 he found himself increasingly at odds with he Party over the issue of Europe. He was very strongly pro-European, at a time when the tide in the Party was strongly against. He voted for entry into the EEC in 1971, against the Party Whip, and was the only T&G sponsored Member to do so. In 1973 he quit Westminster, thereby bringing about the by-election which saw the election to Parliament of Betty Boothroyd. The remainder of his life’s work, combining his Europeanism with his deep interest in Africa, was carried out in work for the European Commission. From 1973 to 1986 he served as Deputy Director General of DG8 – the Directorate for International Development. In this capacity he was one of the main architects of the Lome Convention, which brought together trade and development issues for the Carribean and Pacific States as well as Africa, and which presaged the full-scale European development policy which was finally written into the Maastricht Treaty. He had extensive contacts in Africa from his time as the Africa Minister at the FCO, and was a particularly respected champion of the anti-apartheid movement, within the Brussels bureaucracy. His services to European diplomacy were recognised with a CMG, awarded on his retirement from the Commission.