HC Deb 27 January 1887 vol 310 cc73-7
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

Sir, I may, perhaps, be allowed to solicit the indulgence of the House for one single moment. I believe that in doing so I am acting almost without precedent; but the circumstance—the occurrence itself—is almost without precedent, if not altogether unprecedented. I refer, Sir, to the death of the late Earl of Iddesleigh, who was far better known in this House as Sir Stafford Northcote, and whose long tenure of a seat in this House entitled and obtained for him the affection and respect of all of those who had the honour of sitting with him. I think I may be permitted to express the feeling, not alone of personal sorrow at the personal loss I have sustained, but also of the sorrow which my Friends and Colleagues also feel at the loss they have sustained in the death of one of the best and noblest public servants who ever held Office under the Crown. But I prefer rather to base these remarks upon the services which he rendered to his country and to his Queen—those conscientious, devoted, and painstaking services, which extended over a long period of time. He parted from us scarcely a year ago, and about a fortnight ago he fell, while still in the possession of intellect, in the possession of all the powers of his mind, and devoted, up to the last moment, to the discharge of the public duties in which he was engaged. I venture to think, Sir, that no one who has sat with him in this House, as I have had the honour of doing for 17 years, over failed to remark the vast stores of information which he possessed, the readiness with which they were reproduced, and the admirable use to which a most retentive memory enabled him to put them, and still more the gentleness and kindliness which were exorcised in the discharge of duties which required sudden determination, and very frequently a decision which must be painful or disagreeable to the persons whom they concerned. But there is no one in this House who can say that, at any period, an unguarded, hasty, or unkind word ever passed his lips. He did his duty by his Queen and by his country, and I think I may say with perfect truth that his widow and family are solaced in their deep affliction by the consciousness that the Sovereign and the people enter into their sorrow, and deeply feel with them the heavy loss they have sustained.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

I do not intend, Sir, to offer a single word upon the subject which has been treated between the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) and the right, hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House; because I believe that an opportunity will be legitimately afforded for that purpose in the debate which may arise on the Speech from the Throne. But I think that the House will, perhaps, consider it to be becoming on my part to say a few words upon the subject of the death of the late Earl of Iddesleigh, seeing that I had the privilege of a very long and very early friendship with that noble Earl. My knowledge of him commenced in 1843. I had the honour—and it was a great honour—of introducing him into public life, and I had the advantage of profiting largely by his personal services and aid, and of observing that rich and abundant promise of his early life which was so well fulfilled in the after years of his career. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken with excellent feeling, and with admirable propriety, of the character and services of Lord Iddesleigh. We must all, I think, have observed—and I wish to bear my testimony upon it, as in some sense it will be the completion of the testimony of the right hon. Gentleman—that the sentiment upon the death of Lord Iddesleigh which was expressed by the country was not partial, but universal. It was universal, and it was uniform. No distinction could be traced between Party and Party in the feelings that were expressed upon that lamentable event. There were, Sir, no doubt, tragic circumstances; so sudden and appalling a removal would do something to stir, in an unusual manner, the sympathies of the nation. But there was more in the character and the expression of those sympathies than could be accounted for by a mere reference to those momentary and incidental circumstances. As has been said by the right hon. Gentleman, it was known and felt that the country had lost a man of very large experience, of great accumulative knowledge, of remarkable power in instituting and applying that knowledge, and of admirable capacity to render public service to the country. But even that, I think, and the sense of the loss of such a man as I have described, by no means account for the depth of the feeling that has been excited in regard to Lord Iddesleigh. I think there was a sentiment that we had lost, not only that knowledge and that experience and that ability which, thank God, are not rare in this country, but that we had lost a man of qualities not easily to be replaced. The courtesy of Lord Iddesleigh was not only an unvarying courtesy, but it was a courtesy immediately connected with the foundation of his character. And the same remark may be made with respect to his admirable temper. There is no school of temper like the House of Commons. A man, not happily gifted in that respect by nature, may acquire by self-discipline that self-control which is necessary in the transaction of the Business of the House. And so with respect to the courtesy which flowed out from Lord Iddesleigh. On all hands there is the courtesy—and the delightful courtesy—of the man of the world, founded upon his knowledge of society, and upon his knowledge of what is necessary to social intercourse. But the temper and the courtesy of Lord Iddesleigh were based upon a gentleness which was at the very foundation of his character. He seemed to be a man incapable of resenting an injury; a man in whom it was the fixed habit of his life to put himself wholly out of view when he had before him what he deemed to be the attainment of great public objects. And these qualities, Sir, permit me to say, are qualities which are even more valuable than any of the signal intellectual gifts which he expended so freely in the service of his native land. Sir, I join with the right hon. Gentleman in hoping that his widow and his family may both have access to those sources of consolation which are higher than any we can offer; and I trust that they may likewise be greatly aided in enduring the bereavement which they have been called upon to suffer by the assurance of that sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman has so well expressed, and which, if I may presume to do so on the part of many who sit on this side of the House, I may say we entirely share and re-echo—by the assurance that in this Assembly, where, far beyond all other spheres, Lord Iddesleigh was well and thoroughly known—that here it is that the sympathy felt universally for him throughout the country is even more lively and more profound. Sir, it is not for me to speak of Lord Iddesleigh in relation to the political Party to which he belonged. Yet one thing I may venture to say—that, as far as an external observer may feel entitled to speak, I may venture to judge that as that Party has but rarely in its history had in its service a man of greater intellectual gifts, so it has never had one who was more entirely loyal and devoted to its aims. This unanimity of feeling prevails among us, I believe, without distinction or difference of any kind, for, happily, we are not so far gone in the extremes of our great contentions that we cannot, upon occasions such as these, lay aside the recollection of them, and fall back upon that which is broadly human between us; and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will believe in my perfect sincerity, when I express my conviction with him that the distinguished man whom we have lost will long retain an honoured place in the respect and affection of the nation.