HC Deb 07 November 1944 vol 404 cc1269-72
The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

Parliament and the nation have suffered a very heavy loss in the death of Lord Moyne, who died at the hands of foul assassins in Cairo last night. We have as yet received no official information which fixes the authorship of the crime or gives us a clue to its motives. The murderers themselves narrowly escaped lynching at the hands of Egyptian passers-by, and the Egyptian Government have stated that they were not Egyptian subjects. Very searching inquiries will be made into the origins and associations of these strangers to Egypt, and the House will doubtless require the fullest information as soon as it has been obtained.

This morning I speak only a few words of Walter Moyne and of the grief which all who knew him feel at his loss. I have known him almost all his life. For over 30 years, mostly in this House, we were intimate friends. Very young indeed did he succeed in getting out to the South African war, where he proved his courage and shed his blood. The bitter party strife which preceded the last world war made no difference to our relations, or to his relations with many of his opponents. He fought in the first world war with distinguished courage, rising to the command of a battalion and passing through the very worst of the fighting year after year, both on Gallipoli and in France and Flanders.

It was a great pleasure to me when I went to the Exchequer to find him appointed as Financial Secretary. He served more than 20 years in the House of Commons before going to the Lords. When the present Government was formed at the beginning of the war he accepted without the slightest hesitation or demur the post of Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, although he had formerly for several years been its chief. This was characteristic of his whole conduct towards the public. Everyone must help wherever it was thought that he could help the best, and all service was equally honourable. His work as Secretary of State for the Colonies was admirable, and only the exigencies of political change led to his leaving the Government for a short while.

At the beginning of this year he became Resident Minister in the Middle East, and this I must describe as the great period of his life. During this present year a press of the most difficult, tangled, anxious and urgent problems was thrust upon him, often forcing him to take decisions at the shortest notice and without reference home. These affairs affected not only matters in the Middle East, but the relations with Allied Governments and enemy Governments seeking to surrender, and were of a most complex character.

The despatches and telegrams which he wrote were a model of clarity and vigour. I was deeply impressed by the expansion of his mind under the stress of responsibility and events. Certainly I can testify, and so can my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, to the marked impoverishment of our affairs in this theatre resulting from his removal and to the very great difficulty that will be found in filling the gap. In particular, Lord Moyne devoted himself this year to the solution of the Zionist problem, and I can assure the House that the Jews in Palestine have rarely lost a better or more well-informed friend. I feel sure the House will wish to express its sympathy with the children and relations he has left behind him, and also may I add, even in this time of cruel sacrifice darkening so many homes, that even those who did not know him will share the pain felt by all his friends at the passing of a charming personality and a good and faithful servant of the State.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

I would like to associate myself in just a few sentences with what the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has said. Although we do not know the perpetrators of this das- tardly crime—for political assassination is the worst form of crime—and although we do not know who inspired it, the fact remains that Britain has lost the services of a man not of my political faith, but who has proved himself over many years a faithful servant of the public interest. The crime may lead to political repercussions, but that is not our problem this morning. It is our duty at the earliest opportunity to express our detestation of the crime and especially to express our deep regret at the loss which Lord Moyne's family have suffered. Our hearts go out to them. In this House of Commons, which is a generous-hearted institution, political differences do not affect personal relationships, and if a man dies in the service of his country, whatever his party, he will always be honoured. I hope that Lord Moyne's family will take from me our heartfelt expression of regret on behalf of all those for whom I speak in this House.

Sir Percy Harris

May I be allowed, both personally—and particularly personally—and on behalf of my hon. Friends, to associate myself with the moving tribute to a great public man of whose services we have been deprived? The war has blunted some of our senses, yet all of us in this House were moved when we heard this morning of the appalling crime. Assassination is a brutal, senseless and wicked crime and cannot be too much condemned, but in this particular case we have lost a man who could ill be spared at a time like the present. He was in such a situation that he could have enjoyed a life of leisure, particularly with his taste for art and science, justified by many years of public work. But he chose otherwise. He chose in the difficult period of the nation to give his services ungrudgingly to the Government and to the nation. I do not think that I knew Walter Guinness in this House as long as the Prime Minister, but as long as 30 years ago, in his first appearance in public life on the London County Council, I was associated with him. He did some fine work for London in housing, where he developed his administrative gifts. It is a sad day for his family. It is a great loss to the nation, and it is right and proper to take the earliest opportunity to express our sentiments.

Earl Winterton

I share with the Prime Minister the privilege of having been one of the oldest and greatest friends of the late Lord Moyne in this Assembly, and therefore it is appropriate that I should say a word, and, like the Prime Minister, I feel a heavy burden of private sorrow upon my shoulders in standing at this Box to-day. I was associated with Lord Moyne in this House for nearly 30 years. We worked together once in a private group. We were colleagues in the same Government. And at one time in the last war I served in the same Division as he did. It may be of interest to the House to recall a conversation which I had back in Gallipoli in the year 1915 with the General of the Division. He said: It is a pity that Walter Guinness is not a regular soldier. I have never seen a man who shows greater courage, coolness and capacity in a difficult situation than he does, and had he been a regular soldier I think he would have ended his military career as a full general. I said that I remembered the time when he was called to follow the profession of politics and statesmanship, and that I believed the days would come very soon, when he would become a Cabinet Minister. I think that no more worthy epitaph could be given to Lord Moyne than to say, "Most worthily he served his country in peace and war".