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Labour MP Jim Sutton's retirement from politics, effective from August 1, was confirmed this afternoon.

The move is the first sign of the Labour Party's planned rejuvenation before the next election.

Lawyer Charles Chauvel, Labour's Ohariu Belmont candidate last year and the next candidate on the Labour list, will replace Mr Sutton.

Mr Sutton will take up two new roles, as a roving "trade ambassador" and chairman of state entity Landcorp.

The change was informally signalled at a function at Premier House in Wellington yesterday celebrating the 20 year anniversary of homosexual law reform, where Mr Chauvel was introduced as Labour's new gay MP.

The function was co-hosted by gay professional group GAP and Rainbow Labour, Labour's gay and lesbian group of which Mr Chauvel is a member.

Prime Minister Helen Clark flew to Britain on Saturday because of a family illness and the Herald understands consideration was given to delaying the announcement. But it was confirmed today.

Mr Sutton, a farmer, entered politics as the MP for Waitaki in 1984 and became the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in 1990.

When Labour won the 1999 election he was again made a member of the Labour Cabinet and held portfolios in agriculture, rural affairs and trade.

He won wide respect for his trade negotiations work, but became offside with sectors of the farming community with his proposals for walking access reforms, which he was forced to back down and admit would have to be modified before the last election.

He lost his Aoraki seat at the election, one of a number of provincial Labour MPs to lose their seats.

He was then dealt a blow by Helen Clark, who re-appointed him to Cabinet only until the end of the year.

At the time she said the party was looking for "exits with dignity" from long-serving MPs.

In late December Mr Sutton was given a reprieve by the Prime Minister, who appointed him Minister of State with special responsibility for the Doha trade talks.

However in recent months Trade Minister Phil Goff has played the lead role in the talks.

Mr Sutton is believed to have been offered, but turned down at least one diplomatic post since the election.

Mr Chauvel has worked for law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts specialising in human resources and industrial relations, public law and corporate governance.

He was previously a lawyer for Crown Law and the Service Workers Union.

Mr Chauvel lives with his long-term partner in Wellington, and has a son born in 2005.

His website says he is of Pacific Islands (Tahitian), Scots and French ancestry.

- additional reporting NZPA