HC Deb 17 May 1904 vol 135 cc49-57

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]


I rise with, I believe, the general concurrence of hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House to move this national recognition to a man who held the office of Prime Minister, I believe, for a longer time than any one who has served the Crown in that capacity since the great Reform Bill. When a vote similar to this was; proposed on the last two occasions it was proposed by a Leader of the House differing in politics and often brought into political conflict with the statesmen to whom it was desired to do honour. That position was not without difficulty to the mover, yet I am not sure it was not easier than the one which falls to me; for I am perhaps hampered in saying all that comes into my thoughts on such a subject not merely by political agreement, but by personal relationship, and by a connection, a close connection, in politics which dates from my earliest political experience; since, indeed, I do not think that I should ever have been a Member of this House had it not been for Lord Salisbury's advice and influence. That does not make it easier for me to attempt with that impartiality of spirit which befits the occasion to recommend this Vote to the House.

The task, difficult in itself, difficult from its accompanying circumstances, is certainly not made easier for any man who desires to give a portrait of the late Lord Salisbury by the difficulties inherent in the subject. The three great statesmen, Lord Beaconsfield, Mr. Gladstone, and Lord Salisbury, who have within living memory been the subject of such a Vote as this, not only differed from each other to a degree which it is difficult to exaggerate, but were in themselves, I think, men very hard to classify. It may be that the perspective of time makes a difference; but I should not have said the same, for instance, of Sir Robert Peel, of Lord Palmerston, or of Lord Russell. They seem to fall more easily into the ordinary categories of description and criticism—That is no condemnation of them, far from it; but Lord Beaconsfield, Mr. Gladstone, and Lord Salisbury were all men struck in so particular and special a mould that it is very difficult for any of the great artists, even with unlimited opportunities before him, to present to his fellow-countrymen a living portrait of the manner of men they were. And perhaps it is most difficult in the case of Lord Salisbury, because Lord Salisbury was by nature reticent. I have never known him to speak of himself. He seldom, even in practical life, gave a reason for or against any course of action which went beyond the actual needs of the moment; and where other men revealed themselves in easy generalities, he was apt to illuminate the subject with, but to shroud himself behind, some brilliant epigram. There was also a peculiarity which I think he possessed more than any man I have ever known—a certain self-contained simplicity which made it not easy for other men quite to understand him. It would be most unfair, I think, to say of Lord Beacons field that he was theatrical; but it would not be unfair to say that he had no objection to a picturesque or dramatic situation in which he was an important figure. It would be most unfair to say of Mr. Gladstone that he was greedy of popular applause; yet, rightly, I think, he I am sure was moved by the fervour of popular admiration which his genius was so eminently fitted to elicit. Lord Salisbury was, I believe, absolutely without any feelings of that kind at all. For good or for evil—and I do not say that it was wholly for good—he was completely indifferent to popular applause, or to applause of any kind, popular or otherwise; and that is so apart from the ordinary feelings, or it may sometimes be the weaknesses, of humanity that it makes his portraiture very difficult to draw.

And there was another reason which must stand in the way of any man moving this Vote. It is that to the present generation his House of Commons life is now merely a matter of history. A few there are, but a very few, who knew him in the culminating period of his House of Commons career, when by dint of sheer debating ability he had won his way to the very forefront of Parliamentary statesmen. But he was almost immediately carried away by what he regarded as an unhappy accident of birth to another place; and he so profoundly felt the loss that, if the story that we have always believed be true, although there was many a notable battle fought across the floor of this House in which his opinions, his convictions, and his Government were at stake, never once could be bring himself to watch from that gallery the contest in which he was born to be a protagonist. And yet, Mr. Speaker, it is a singular reflection to make that had Lord Salisbury been able to have his way, had he indeed remained what he was born to be, an ornament of the debates of this House, it would have been quite impossible for him to have been Foreign Minister through all the long and troubled years during which he directed our foreign policy: for that most laborious Department can never be filled, in my judgment, by any man who does his work both n his office and in this House. I think, therefore, that, however great the loss may have been to him, the gain to the nation from the change was great. I admit that it is impossible to form a full and fair judgment of the foreign policy of any statesman until his career be run and until the secret documents by which alone he can be judged become common property. There are bold individuals who write the history of their own time. But those histories, however great their literary skill, can, unless the writer have access to special information, have but little interest for posterity; and what is true of domestic history is doubly true of the history of international relations. It is not until the Chancelleries of Europe have given up to future historians their secrets, it is not until the controversies in which we have been engaged have lost all living interest and have become the property of the student and the historian, that our children will be able to judge how great was the part played by Lord Salisbury, and how beneficent was the part he played in the foreign history of this country. And yet, Sir, I think it is by a sound instinct that men of all Parties, though they have differed, and may yet differ, from this or that action of Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister and as Foreign Secretary—it is by a sound instinct that both the House and the country regarded him with great confidence as a man earnestly desirous of maintaining the honour of his country, and not less desirous of maintaining the peace of the world, zealously bent on combining those two surely not antagonistic interests. Therefore, it is, Sir, that with some confidence I ask the House, in the traditional terms which time has consecrated to occasions like this, to express the national gratitude for Lord Salisbury's services. Certainly this I will say, with universal concurrence, that never did any man bring to the service of his country an intellect of greater distinction, and never did any man spend himself in that service with more single-minded and whole-hearted devotion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that His Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected in the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, to the memory of the late right hon. the Marquess of Salisbury, with an inscription expressive of the high sense entertained by the House of his rare and splendid gifts and of his devoted labours in Parliament and in great Offices of State; and to assure His Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same." (Mr. A. J. Balfour.)


Sir, so eloquent, so full, and so deeply interesting has been the speech with which the Prime Minister has commended this Resolution to the House, that if I obeyed my natural instinct I should say nothing except formally to express my concurrence in the Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken with the fulness of knowledge derived, as he said, not only from close political connection, but from still closer personal association with Lord Salisbury, and the tribute he has paid to the character of Lord Salisbury, I think, will remain a treasured possession of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the two previous occasions of recent years when a similar Motion was made in this House. In the case of Lord Beaconsfield, and again in that of Mr. Gladstone, the monument proposed was to be erected in order to perpetuate the memory, or to assist in perpetuating the memory, of a House of Commons man, of a statesman who had passed the greater part or the whole of his career in this House, whose personality was familiar to its Members, and who in each case had through many years earned a title not only to our admiration and gratitude, but to our personal regard, and I would almost say affection. It is not so, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, with Lord Salisbury. He quitted his place in this Chamber thirty-six years ago, and the greater and more prominent and more brilliant part of his public life was spent in the other House. In fact, to most Members of this House he was personally unknown. Not the less on that account are we able and willing to recognise the greatness of his services and of his qualities. Sir, Lord Salisbury's exalted character, his honesty of purpose, his independence of thought, his broad views, and his steadfast devotion to duty won him the regard and the confidence of men of all shades of opinion. Even those of us—in my humble way I am speaking for them—who on proper occasion differed from him in policy were always proud of him. High as the position was which he occupied in this country and in the world, we knew and had perfect confidence that its lustre would not be dimmed or its power for good misused in the hands of Lord Salisbury. The House of Commons, Sir, does well now to seek; to give outward form to a feeling which we all share, and therefore I cordially support the Resolution.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

I need scarcely say I am sure that it would be a very pleasant task to join with the two right hon. Gentlemen in commending this Vote to the House, and on the other hand, to raise a discordant note upon an occasion such as this must be distasteful to any man. But I feel that I should not be fulfilling my duty, in fact I feel that I should be guilty of cowardice, if I did not in a few words, and with as much consideration as possible for the natural feelings of hon. Members on both sides of this House, give expression to what I believe to be the view entertained by the Nationalist representatives of Ireland on this occasion. If I were a British Member of the House of Commons I would join heartily in supporting this Vote. It is, I think, one of the glorious traditions of this House that British Members of various Parties, notwithstanding bitter differences over political questions, can all unite to do honour to those who are the great men of their race; and I admit to the full that Lord Salisbury was one of the great men of the British race. Intellectually he was undoubtedly a great man, and by his statesmanship and his labour undoubtedly he has earned the respect and honour of the British people. But, Sir, this is another instance, if I may be allowed to say so, of how wide a chasm there is between the Nationalist representatives of Ireland and the rest of the House of Commons. We are in this House, but not of this House. We are here against our will. We are here for the purpose of making an hourly protest against the abolition of our own legislative liberties We have never felt ourselves really as a part of the House of Commons; and on an occasion such as this we are bound, therefore, to give expression, as moderately as possible and with as little desire to give offence as possible—we are bound to give expression to the views we entertain, I can quite understand the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Lord Salisbury is to him, just as to Members on the other side of the House, a great figure in British history. What was he for us? He was a man, Sir, who all through his career was the consistent and the vehement opponent of every extension of the liberties of the Irish people. He opposed the concession of the franchise to the Irish people; he opposed the land policy, the Land Act of 1881, which undoubtedly brought safety to the property of the Irish tenant and peace to a large portion of the country: he opposed during many long years any extension of local government in Ireland, and in discussing that very question of local government in Ireland he used a phrase which still rankles in our minds, when he compared the Irish race, and their fitness for self-government, to the race of the Hottentots. Now, in these circumstances we, I think, will not be misunderstood if we say, as I say on behalf of my colleagues, that we do not, that we cannot, associate ourselves with the project in this Resolution. Mr. Chairman, I think that it is but the least that we can do to make this concession to the feeling on both sides of the House—we will not divide against this Motion. But I must be allowed, in the name of my colleagues, to say that we dissociate ourselves altogether from this project, that we do not share in what the Prime Minister called the national gratitude to Lord Salisbury, and that we cannot by our silence allow this Vote to be represented hereafter as the unanimous wish of an Assembly which contains against their will a number of representatives of the Nationalist feeling of the Irish people.

SIR ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorganshire, E.)

Mr. Chairman, on behalf of my colleagues, I beg to join my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition in the sentiments which he has expressed with so much grace and felicity. We Welsh people are very fond of triads; and that may be one reason why I always associate the names of Gladstone, Beaconsfield, and Salisbury, as the three giants of the later Victorian Era. It is hardly necessary for me to say that the political views of the late illustrious statesman did not accord with those of our people, from whom he claimed origin and ancestry; yet I question whether in any part of this vast Empire his memory will be held in higher regard and esteem than in Wales. In common with all, we know how much we were indebted to him when at a grave crisis he succeeded in soothing the wounded susceptibilities of a highly susceptible nation. Lord Salisbury was a man who neither feared contumely nor courted applause. He was a great personality and a highly-minded Christian gentleman.


The hon. and learned Member for Waterford spoke in the name of the Irish race.


No, in the name of the Nationalist representatives in this House.


I wish to say that there is another Ireland—in whose name I claim to speak. The memory of Lord Salisbury to us is an; Imperial memory, a memory which, of course, does not appeal to the hon. Member for Waterford. To us Lord Salisbury was a great Englishman, a great Imperialist; and he did more, in our estimation, to consolidate the British Empire than, perhaps, any other statesman of the last generation. I can only say, on behalf of those I represent in Ireland, who are not a very small fraction of the Irish people—I know that I am speaking in their name—that we revere Lord Salisbury's memory and look back upon his political action as connected with the welfare not only of the Empire at large, but of Ireland as well. My views and those of hon. Gentlemen opposite undoubtedly are different. The hon. Member for Waterford says there is a chasm which separates us. Well, I believe that Lord Salisbury hoped that the day might come when that chasm might be bridged. I can only say for my part, and on behalf of my colleagues, that we also look forward to the day when that chasm spoken of by the hon. Member for Waterford may no longer exist, and when Irishmen of all classes and creeds may unite with me and those I represent in connecting Ireland with the great Empire of which it forms a part. It is not simply as an Irishman, but as something higher still to my view than even an Irishman, and that is as a subject of the head of this great Empire, connected as we are with the Empire, without which we should be but a miserable waif among the nations of the world, that I revere Lord Salisbury's memory and heartily endorse the proposal to erect a monument to his name.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that His Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected in the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, to the memory of the late Right Honourable the Marquess of Salisbury, with an Inscription expressive of the high sense entertained by the House of his rare and splendid gifts and of his devoted labours in Parliament and in great Offices of State; and to assure His Majesty that this House will make good the Expenses attending the same.—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.

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