HC Deb 06 March 1918 vol 103 cc1988-95
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

The House, I am sure, has been profoundly shocked by the unexpected news of the death of one of its oldest, most respected, and eminent Members. The usual procedure when a distinguished Member of this House passes away is that a tribute of respect to his memory should be paid two or three days after the news of his death arrives. Unfortunately, it was impossible to follow that procedure on the present occasion, as, I understand, that Members from Ireland preferred that it should be done immediately. I mention that fact because I heard of it a very, very short time ago—about half-an-hour ago—and I only put it forward as a plea for the inadequacy of the tribute which I pay to the memory of so distinguished and eminent a statesman. The Government would have taken the responsibility of moving the Adjournment of the House, out of respect to the memory of the late Mr. John Redmond had it not been for the fact that the urgent necessities of the War rendered it absolutely necessary that we should carry through certain business.

Mr. Redmond had been a member of this House for thirty-seven years. I remember—it is one of my earliest memories in this House—about twenty-six or twenty-seven years ago an old Member of the House said to me, pointing to Mr. John Redmond, "There goes one of the most respected Members in this House." That is twenty-six or twenty-seven years ago, and since that date I am sure it will be the universal feeling of all who are present, and of every Member of the House, that Mr. Redmond has grown in the esteem and affection, the admiration and the trust, of all parties. That is a great thing to say for any Member of the House, but it certainly is a great thing to say for a man who, during the whole of that period, has been engaged incessantly in one of the fiercest controversies of our time—a controversy which aroused the deepest passions of all men who took part in that controversy—with the most inflexible purpose, because, if he won the respect and esteem of this House, he never did it by deviating one hairs-breadth from the principle which was the dominant principle of his career. There may be—there undoubtedly is, possibly even now—a difference of opinion as to the policy for which he stood and fought. There is absolutely no difference of opinion as to the ability, the genius, the eloquence, the judgment, the dignity, and the honourableness with which he advocated that policy. Above all, there is no one, either in this House or out of it, who would for a moment question the complete disinterestedness with which he gave his life to his country.

There was no office or position in the British Empire to which his great Parliamentary talents could not have entitled Him to aspire. There was, in my judgment, no position to which he could not have attained. He gave all his great gifts, not merely of Parliamentary oratory—which were almost unrivalled— but his gifts of real statesmanship, he gave them all—his time, his opportunity, his strength, his health, and even his life —he gave them all to the service of Ireland. And it is one of the tragedies of a land of many tragedies that he was not afforded the opportunity to use to the full those great powers of leadership and wise and sagacious statesmanship for the benefit of his native land. Another of its many tragedies is that he was struck down before he had achieved the great purpose of his life. His attitude in the War has given him a great place in the affections of Britain, and there is no man of British race throughout the world, wherever he is, who will read of his death to-day except with unfailing sorrow, and with a feeling that it is a blow and a loss, not merely to Ireland, but to Britain as well. He was a man of real breadth of view. He knew when to fight; he knew when to make peace. He was a man of real courage. He had the courage not merely to face foes; he had the more difficult and trying courage to know when to face friends, and to face misconception among friends. He yearned for conciliation—for the reconciliation of the feuds of centuries; he yearned passionately for it. He yearned as a man who wanted to see conciliation before his hour struck; he laboured for it.

Unionists have told me with enthusiasm and with pride of his work in the Convention—the respect and confidence he won there by some of the greatest speeches of his career. They trusted him, they believed in him. Their hopes rested upon him—-upon his integrity as well as his sagacity. They spoke with feeling of a man they had spent a life in fighting. He went there bowed with sorrow. We know now even the physical tortures he endured when he was serving his country in that trying position. The last time I saw him was only a few days ago. He was a broken man, and death was already written on his face. But his last word to me was a plea for concord—concord between the two races that Providence has decided shall work together for the common ends of humanity as neighbours. He has passed away. We can only here in this House extend sympathy to his sorrowing family and his friends—yea, and to the sorrowing country which is bereft of his wise leadership at the greatest crisis of its fate.


The sudden and unexpected news of the death of Mr. Redmond came upon us all, as the Prime Minister has said, with an indescribable shock, and though it is right and fitting that the House should take as early an opportunity as may be of expressing its sense of bereavement, I could have wished, like my right hon. Friend, that we could have had a little more time to collect our thoughts and our words, so as to pay to his memory a worthier and a more adequate tribute. After close Parliamentary and, of late years, personal association with him, which has now lasted the lifetime of a generation, I find it, myself, difficult to speak, except in the fewest and simplest words. He was called upon after an interval to succeed one of the greatest of Irishmen, Mr. Parnell, in the leadership of the Irish party, which he held, by an unchallenged title, from the day of his election to the day of his death. We here in this House, even those who differed most deeply and acutely from him, join with a whole heart and without reserve or qualification in the judgment that he was at once a great Parliamentarian and a true patriot.

In the varying vicissitudes of political fortune he never faltered for a moment in the trust which ho felt was committed to him. He saw the Home Rule Bill at last embodied in statutory form, and, during these last months, as my right hon. Friend has said, he laboured hard at the Convention, with all the personal and representative power that he possessed, to bring about concord in Ireland. Few but those who, like myself, were closely engaged in that prolonged struggle, can know or appreciate the ceaseless assiduity and unwearying patience, the unfailing tact, the immense knowledge both of principle and of detail, the measured judgment, the sustained enthusiasm which he contributed to his cause. They were qualities rare in themselves, and, in their combination, invaluable. He was a master, as many of us have seen for years, of all the resources, whether of strategy or attack, which our Parliamentary campaigns demand of those who are called upon to lead. Nor did he ever—no better tribute can be paid to the memory of any man who has spent his life in this House—in the strain and stress of constant and most embittered controversy, fail to con form to the highest standards and traditions of which this House is the proud custodian and the jealous trustee. Of his personal qualities, even if I could trust. myself in this House, this is not the time or place to speak. It is sufficient for to day to say that the House, Ireland, Great Britain, the whole Empire, is impoverished by his loss.


Perhaps the House will allow me just for one moment, on behalf of myself and the other members of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary party, to say how entirely we associate ourselves with what has fallen from the Prime Minister and the late Prime Minister on the occasion of this tragic, sad, and sorrowful announcement of the death of Mr. John Redmond. I knew the late Mr. Redmond for some thirty-five years. I knew him first as a, barrister on my own circuit in Ireland, and in the contests in the. Forum, and in the contests from day to day of our daily profession he always; exhibited the same courtesy, the same kindness, and the same feeling that every man has experienced in this House. And I shall never forget— indeed, it was the matter that attracted me to him first—the eloquence with which he told me in most difficult circumstances, when Mr. Parnell was ceasing to be the leader of his party, how resolved he was, at all costs to himself, to stand by the fallen leader. That, I think, was one of his great traits, and one of those which, anyone intimate with him will admire most. The Prime Minister has said that he was engaged in one of the fiercest controversies of modern times in this House. For twenty-five years I have been prominently identified with that controversy, and I can say with absolute sincerity that during the whole of that period I cannot recall to mind one single bitter personal word that ever passed between John. Redmond and myself.

Only this morning, when I heard of his, death, I could not help calling to mind two small instances which the House will allow me to state. The House will recollect that just before the outbreak of the War, when the politicial situation in Ire land was most threatening, His Majesty the King summoned us to a conference at Buckingham Palace. The conference lasted two or three days, and then, unfortunately, broke up without any result. I remember John Redmond coming up to me as we passed out of the gates of the Palace, and he said, "For the sake of the old times on the Leinster circuit, let us have a good shake hands," and, Mr. Speaker, we had. Only in 1916, after the rebellion in Ireland, when the present Prime Minister, at the request of the late Prime Minister, tried to effect a settlement, I had several conversations with John Redmond, and, indeed, he and I were not very far apart in our attempts at settlement. The influences which pre vented us it is not for me now to dwell upon, but I remember well his saying to me, "Unless we can settle this interminable business, you and I will be dead before anything has happened to pacify Ireland." That is a very tragic recollection. After all, this is not the occasion on which we can fully appreciate his work. As far as I am concerned, it is enough for me that he was a great Irishman and a most honourable opponent, and as such we mourn his loss.


I want to associate myself with what has been said by the Prime Minister and the two right hon. Gentlemen regarding the late Mr. Redmond. Those of us who have been associated in this House with the late Mr. Redmond have learned to honour and respect him, and I am certain that each of us to-day feels that he has sustained a personal loss. Not only has the House lost a distinguished colleague and friend, but the British Labour movement has lost a friend who on many occasions stood by it. Before the party with which I am associated found a place in this House, the late Irish Leader, and the party with which he was associated, rendered in valuable services to the cause of the working-class movement of this country on many occasions. By his death the Irish nation has sustained a great loss at a time when it could ill afford to lose his valuable counsel. I trust that the example of that noble life will become the centre around which all sections of the Irish people will gather, and that in the near future the British Empire will have the satisfaction of knowing that that life, spent with the great object of settling the Irish question, will not have been lived in vain.


I would like, if I may, to be permitted to associate myself on behalf of Scotland with what has been said respecting my Friend the late Mr. John Redmond. I have known him now intimately for thirty-two years. During that time, without having been on terms of the closest intimacy, I can safely say that we were always friends. In his death Ireland has sustained, I might say, almost an irreparable loss, and I feel that I am speaking not only on behalf of my Scottish Liberal colleagues, but on behalf of all Scotland in extending our sympathy to Ireland in the loss which it has sustained. It was said by the late Sir William Harcourt that the best testimony to a man in this House was that he should stand well with the House of Commons, and no man ever stood higher in the estimation both of his colleagues and his friends and his opponents than did Mr. John Redmond. I can assure our friends from Ireland that we associate ourselves with everything that has been said respecting the noble qualities of their great leader, Mr. Redmond, and we hope with all our hearts that, though he did not live to see the accomplishment of his task, peace will come to that country in the way in which he desired.


I wish to associate myself and all my colleagues from Wales with what has fallen from the Prime Minister and other speakers in reference to the irreparable loss which the nation and the Empire has sustained to-day in the death of Mr. John Redmond. There is no portion of the United Kingdom which will more deeply mourn this loss than Wales. It is impossible for us to value the great qualities of the late Mr. Redmond, with his unrivalled experience and all that he was in this House. All will agree that never was there a moment in our history in which that personality and those great qualities were more precious. It only remains for me in conclusion, if I may, to assure the Irish Nationalist Members, and through them Ireland, that they have our sincere sympathy in this overwhelming blow, that they will have our unabated interest and continued co-operation in the settlement of the great issue to which the distinguished statesman whose loss we mourn to-day devoted his life.


On behalf of my colleagues and myself, as well as on behalf of Mrs. John Redmond and the other relatives of our late leader, I desire to return their thanks and my own for the kind words of sympathy that have been spoken here to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), and those others who have spoken on behalf of their respective parties in this House. They have all alluded to the loss that we have suffered, and we admit that we have indeed suffered a great loss, I might almost say an irreparable loss; but on behalf of those for whom I have risen to speak, I desire to say that the kind words of sympathy that have been spoken here to-day will go very far to assuage our loss, and I desire merely to express what they feel—that is, their deep appreciation of these kind words, and to thank them very sincerely for them.