HC Deb 08 May 1940 vol 360 cc1233-7
The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

I feel sure, even on this day when we are debating matters of high national importance, that the House will not grudge me a minute or two in order, on behalf of myself and my friends, to pay a tribute to the memory of one who had been so long among us that he seemed to be a part of this House, and to offer our respectful sympathy to the relatives whom he has left behind. The passing of Mr. Lansbury will be sincerely regretted in all parts of the House, for there was no Member who was more highly respected or who had a more universal affection. He entered this House 30 years ago. After an interval of a number of years, he came back again in 1922, and I myself was then a new Member of Mr. Bonar Law's Administration. In my office as Minister of Health, then and afterwards, I found in him my most determined and formidable critic. Perhaps we judged one another rather harshly in those days, but I am glad to think that any feeling of that kind has long since passed away. When he became Leader of the Labour party in 1932 I, in common, I think, with all of my friends on this side, was profoundly impressed not only by his intense sincerity, but also by the dignity, broad-mindedness and the natural good sense with which he led his party.

In his later years Mr. Lansbury's intense hatred of war became more and more the leading feature o f his political creed. I dare say there were not many hon. Members who felt convinced of the practicability of the methods which he advocated for the preservation of peace, but there was no one who did not realise his intense conviction, which arose out of his deep humanitarianism. He has perhaps been spared much that would have given him pain. He has left behind him the memory of a man who was deeply loved by all who knew him best, on account of his passionate devotion to the cause of the poor and helpless and his unselfish and kindly nature. I feel sure that in the Angel's Book his name will be found to be written like that of Abou ben Adhem as one who loved his fellow man.

Another death, very unexpected, of a much younger Member of the House, has profoundly shocked and grieved all of us. Sir Terence O'Connor seemed to have many years of useful and vigorous life before him. He came to the House in 1924 and, after losing his seat and being absent for about a year, became the Member for Central Nottingham and represented that seat ever since. In his early days he made his mark as a forcible and original speaker in this House. In 1936 he was made Solicitor-General, an office which he held with great distinction, and both in this House and in the courts he showed not only unusual ability but qualities of character which, I am sure, were realised and appreciated by all Members in the House. He had a wide circle of friends in all parties here and outside the House; they will miss him sorely, and I know that the House will desire to express sympathy with the widow and daughters who have been so seriously bereaved.

Mr. Attlee (Limehouse)

I desire to say a few words on the two losses which the House has sustained, one a Member full of years at the end of a long career, and the other one who, we hoped, would be with us for many years. In George Lansbury we lose a Member of this House who, as the Prime Minister has just said, had the affection and respect of us all. We on this side have lost as a colleague one of the pioneers and apostles of our creed, one who in most difficult days was our leader and, above all, one who was our close and dear friend. It is difficult for me to speak of him without emotion. For more than 30 years in East London I knew him as a colleague and for four years in this House I worked with him as his first lieutenant in very close association. We shared the same room, we went about together all day and I can never recall a single instance of receiving from him any unkindness. He was always helpful, unselfish and tolerant.

George Lansbury was filled with the burning zeal of the prophet. He hated cruelty, injustice and wrongs, and felt deeply for all who suffered. In the course of his long life he was ever the champion of the weak, and with that immense vitality of his, sustained right to the end of his life, he strove for that in which he believed. His active political life and interest stretched over more than half a century. I remember how he told me that sitting in the Gallery of this House he heard the great Debates between Disraeli and Gladstone, and I recall him saying how he went on a deputation to the present Prime Minister's father when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was a Radical Minister in Gladstone's Government.

For many years he devoted himself to Poor Law administration. People sneered at what they called "Poplarism," but it was largely due to the practical work of George Lansbury and Will Crooks that the Poor Law was humanised and poverty ceased to be considered a crime. He was one of the signatories of the famous Minority Report on the Poor Law. There are thousands in East London and else- where who owe a debt to him for his public work, and there are very many thousands who owe to him a debt for his acts of unremembered kindness, little personal actions. He will be deeply mourned throughout East London. He was never afraid of taking a stand and showed devotion to the cause of women's suffrage by resigning his seat in this House. He went to prison in order to redress the injustice of the London rating system. His wide sympathies did not stop short of our shores. He was deeply interested in the Indian problem; years and years ago he migrated to Australia, and ever since that time he was deeply concerned with the problems of the Commonwealth and the overseas Dominions and their people. He was one of the founders of the Commonwealth group of the Empire Parliamentary Association.

It was characteristic of him that during his short period as a Minister, as First Commissioner of Works, he did work, which will be remembered, on behalf of thousands of children in London. It seemed to him a simple thing to bring green spaces and children in the streets together and he cut through all red tape to do it. When it was done it was applauded, and "Lansbury's Lido" gave happiness to many. A moving orator, I think he was at his happiest on the platform, but when duty called him he took up the work of leading our small party in this House—not a congenial task to him, but he did it with dignity, wisdom and sagacity, and was a tower of strength to all his colleagues. He did great service to our Parliamentary institutions.

The Prime Minister said that most of us could not follow him in his views with regard to measures that could be taken to preserve peace, but no one ever doubted his sincerity. He was a great Londoner, a great Englishman and a Socialist who practised, as well as preached, the brotherhood of man. He was a sincere and devoted Christian who strove to follow the steps of his Master, but in all this he was simple and human, not a Pharisee. In all he did he had the largest charity to all men; he was cheery and warm-hearted and the friend of all. To all members of his family to whom he was bound by the closest ties of affection we offer our deepest sympathy.

I heard only just now, in the Chamber, of the death of Sir Terence O'Connor. It has come as a great shock to all of us. We shall miss him deeply and would like to offer our most sincere sympathy to Lady O'Connor and her daughters. He was a distinguished lawyer and a fine Member of this House. What always struck me about him was his courage. I remember how so often, as a private Member, he took a line which was not very easy and not very popular. He had a great sense of the need for preserving our free institutions. To many and to me he was much more than a colleague in the House; he was a very dear friend. We shall all miss him and mourn his early death, which has taken away one who might have been doing great things for his country for many years.

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Caithness and Sutherland)

I would like to say a few words to associate my hon. Friends and myself with the tributes paid by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to Mr. Lansbury and Sir Terence O'Connor. Ever since I entered this House Mr. Lansbury has been one of its leading and most respected figures. Although I have listened to many of his speeches and heard him say many things with which, rightly or wrongly, I have disagreed, I think I have never heard him say anything unkind, ungenerous or unfair. His earnestness, dignity and sincerity and his faithful and even passionate devotion to the people whom he served commanded our admiration while he lived and will now enrich the traditions of Parliament.

It came as a great shock to me, as it did to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the Opposition, and, I am sure, to all Members of this House, to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Sir Terence O'Connor. His service in the House had been much shorter than Mr. Lansbury's, but he had given abundant and impressive proof of character and ability in the service of the State and was held in affection and high regard by all those who knew him well. Grief at the passing of these two friends and colleagues, and sympathy with their families who mourn them, unite at this moment every Member of the House.