HC Deb 15 December 1947 vol 445 cc1466-74
The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House will have learned with great regret of the death of Lord Baldwin, and will, I am sure, desire to have the opportunity of paying tribute to one who served in this House for nearly 30 years and occupied three times the position of First Minister of the Crown. Lord Baldwin had been a member of another place for the last 10 years, and his active political life closed in 1937, yet many of us thought of him still as Stanley Baldwin, pre-eminently the House of Commons man. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is, indeed, difficult for many of us to realise that it is so long since he was with us, but this House so changed its composition during these years that fewer than 200 of our number sat in this House with him, and only three remember him as an unobtrusive, quiet, back bench Member. Yet such he was for more than eight years. It was only in 1917 that he took office as Financial Secretary and, after only two years as a Cabinet Minister, he was called to the position of Prime Minister.

Our Parliamentary history shows few examples of such a rapid rise from comparative obscurity to the leading position. It is hard to explain why, for so long, he neither sought nor gained prominence. It is not difficult to understand why, for nearly 15 years, he was, whether in Government or in Opposition, an outstanding political figure. First of all, he was a great lover of this House and a great believer in Parliamentary Government. Of all the Prime Ministers whom I have known, he was the most assiduous in his attendance. He spent long hours in the Chamber listening to our Debates; he was a familiar figure in the precincts of the House, in the Library, in the Dining Room and on the Terrace; he delighted to talk with Members of all parties; he steeped himself in the atmosphere of the House. It followed from this that he had a remarkable knowledge of the Members, not only of the party which he led for so many years, but of other parties as well.

I always felt myself, when he was speaking, that although he disagreed with us, he understood better than any man on the other side, the reasons and emotions that inspired our actions. In this understanding I think his earlier experience helped. On the one hand, his family connections with a circle that included William Morris, on the other, his work as one of the heads of a great industrial enterprise, gave him a broad outlook. To this understanding of men's views he added a gift of persuasive speech. He did not indulge in rhetoric, which he described as "the harlot of the arts." He seldom adopted a controversial tone. He always appeared to be putting his point of view in a disarming spirit of reasonableness, which is much more difficult to controvert than any amount of invective; yet in fact no one more shrewdly judged the temper of the House or selected with more skill the most effective line of argument for his purpose. It was, I think, this quiet manner of speech which made him such an effective speaker when broadcasting. He was, indeed, the first statesman to realise the particular technique required by this new means of approach to the electorate. But he could, on occasions, be both moving and eloquent. He was a great lover of the English language and he was deeply versed in our literature.

But political finesse and the gift of speech will not carry a man far without character and vision, and Lord Baldwin had both. He had a keen sense of duty to the country that he loved so well. He had a high sense of social obligation. We remember how, in the first world war, he set an example of public spirit by handing over to the State a large part of his private fortune. He was loyal to his friends and chivalrous to his political opponents. I remember the tribute that he paid to my colleagues for the fight they put up in this House when they were but a small minority. He had a vision of the Britain he wanted to see. He was, I think, nostalgic for the past; he looked back with regret to the past when relationships between employer and worker were more personal than is generally the case today. I recall him telling me once that when his men were on strike, he took care that the women and children should have food.

He was a lover of the English countryside. Here again I think he looked back with regret to the old England that was passing away. Although partly of Scottish descent, he appeared to be in many ways a typical Englishman alike in his virtues and his failings. I was for many years his political opponent, but I always regarded him not only with respect but with affection, and I enjoyed those friendly personal relations which we cherish in our political life. This is not the time nor the occasion to appraise his work. That is a matter for the historian. We are too close to those events to pass a fair judgment. A statesman must be judged, not only by what he accomplished, but what he strove to achieve. Account must be taken of the conditions in which he worked and the possibilities of the situation as it appeared to him at the time.

Lord Baldwin was Prime Minister when the aftermath of a great war brought many difficult and baffling problems to be solved, but that he sought earnestly for the right solution no one can doubt. His last years were saddened by the loss of his wife and by a growing infirmity of body. I last saw him when, with a characteristic sense of duty, he attended the unveiling of the Memorial to King George V, the King he had served for so long. I marked then how frail he seemed. To his eldest son, who was only last week our colleague in this House, and to all the other members of the family, we shall wish to express our sincere sympathy in their bereavement. I think it is fitting that, in accordance with precedent, we should adjourn today, as a mark of respect to the memory of the late Earl Baldwin, and should not transact any Business.

Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)

I think that the whole House will share the sense of grief and of individual personal loss which the Prime Minister has just expressed in such moving and appropriate terms. I agree with the Prime Minister that it is too early yet to attempt anything like a final judgment on Earl Baldwin's life work. It will probably be many years before any historian can hope to do this with anything like impartiality. So many facts have to be weighed; the legacy of the first world war, with its aftermath of unsettled issues and shaken values, the ground swell of international unrest—we feel it still—the limitations set to all human endeavour. These things a later generation will be able to judge in trues perspective than we can today.

But there are some facts of which his contemporaries can speak. There was never any doubt in the mind of any one of us who knew him of the sincerity with which Stanley Baldwin pursued the ideals he set himself, the first of which can best be expressed in his own words: I want a truce of God in this country, that we may compose our differences, that we may join all our strengths together to see if we cannot pull the country into a better and happier condition. Many here will remember that speech, and its occasion.

Today, we in this House speak of the man as we knew him. We speak of one who was to many of us a close personal friend. The Prime Minister has well said that Stanley Baldwin was essentially a House of Commons man. He liked to listen to debate. I remember one habit h[...] had which those who were in the House when he led it will recall. In those days Wednesdays were given over to Private Members' Motions and the second Motion would begin about the time of the dinner hour. To introduce that Motion or to second it was an ordeal for any young Member. I was never sure whether the fact that the then Prime Minister was almost invariably present was an encouragement or a further ordeal, but present he almost always contrived to be. Some, I know, thought he spent too much time in this House, but he considered it a main part of his duty to know the men he led and the men he faced across the Floor of the House. It was perhaps this patience which gave him a power of discernment to appreciate qualities not only in those he led, but amongst his opponents also, as the Prime Minister has said just now.

If there was one issue above all others about which Stanley Baldwin cared deeply, it was understanding in industry. It was his life ambition to try to make a contribution in this sphere, and I think that he achieved it. Some here will recall the "Peace in our Time" speech of 1925; but there was another occasion which is still fresher in my mind and which, I am sure, the Prime Minister will remember, the last speech that Stanley Baldwin ever made in this House. It was on 5th May, 1937. Negotiations in the coalfields were not going well; there was tension which was reflected in a Debate in this House. Stanley Baldwin felt that this was a situation to which he could make his last contribution as a Member of this House, and he did so simply, sincerely and successfully. When I saw Lord Baldwin last, only a few weeks ago, it was of that speech he spoke to me. It was for speeches like these, and actions like these that he would, I am sure, wish to be remembered, and without doubt they played their part in promoting national unity for the ordeal which lay ahead.

Perhaps his sense of service cannot be better expressed than in his own words, which he spoke as long ago as 1923. He said this: It makes very little difference whether a man is driving a tramcar, or sweeping streets, or being Prime Minister, if he only brin[...] to that service everything that is in him and performs it for the sake of mankind. This same temper which those of us who knew him knew so well, was shown in the type of advice he used to give to his younger supporters. "Never, never," he would say, "presume upon any technical information you may have been fortunate enough to acquire. You may think you know all about Rhodesia, or Bulgaria, but you will find that others know, much more about unemployment insurance."

Stanley Baldwin was a patient and tolerant man of wide human sympathies. He knew his fellow countrymen and found friends among them in every walk of life. Anything in the nature of class consciousness or snobbery was anathema to him. He was incapable of vindictiveness or rancour and rarely showed resentment even at the harshest sayings of his critics. His strength as a Parliamentarian—and it was a formidable strength—lay rather in the reserve and reasonableness with which he would state his case. Stanley Baldwin's love of the classics was no pose, nor his admiration for what he called "the little parcel of novels by Mary Webb," nor is this surprising, for he was in all things essentially, characteristically English an Englishman who worked in industry and who loved the countryside.

In these later years he bore much physical suffering with no word of complaint, much criticism without a word of recrimination. Today, it is the prayer of all of us who are his friends, the prayer, I think, of this House of Commons that he loved so well, that he has found "the peace to which all hearts do strive."

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

Both on behalf of my colleagues, and per- sonally on my own behalf, I desire to pay tribute to the memory of the late Lord Baldwin. Stanley Baldwin embodied many of the characteristic qualities of the people of this country. He had an intense love of his country and its traditions and its literature, but, above all, he admired its sanity, steadfastness, courage and leadership during all the upheavals and storms that have beset the world. His greatest attribute was tolerance. He hated quarrels and disputes and was ever concerned to bring about and foster a better understanding and good will between all peoples. So anxious was he for peace and good will, that his actions as mediator were often misunderstood during his lifetime, and may, indeed, be misunderstood when history comes to be written.

He was called upon to lead this country and bear the heavy burdens of the high office of Prime Minister on occasions of great difficulty, but he was guided throughout by his own sturdy common sense and his passionate devotion to his country. His supreme aim was to maintain the position of Britain in the Commonwealth of Nations—as mediator and friendly arbiter and, above all, as moral leader and guide. He was a master of English, and many of his speeches reached the high level which places good prose on the same lofty plane as good poetry. Many of his speeches are fresh in our memory. They made a deep impression upon this House at the time. They made, however, a more than immediate-impression. They were so lofty in ideal and couched in such fine and noble language, that already they have passed into the rich store of English classics.

He was the soul of honour; honest, generous and loyal. He was modest, he was shy, but, when once he had extended his friendship to anyone it was an abiding friendship which never faltered, and was always most warm when it was most needed. Those of us who were fortunate in possessing that friendship will always cherish it, and particularly shall we recall his kindliness and his encouragement to those of a younger generation than his own. In paying our tribute to Lord Baldwin we salute a great democrat, a true Englishman and a constant lover of peace and concord.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

With my colleagues of the Liberal National Party in this House I, too, would join in paying tribute to a great Englishman. Lord Baldwin's qualities have already been extolled, and we in our party subscribe with the utmost sincerity to everything that has been said. I would only add that to many of us who were not privileged to hear him but who have read his speeches, these will remain an inspiration. Their simple English and perfect clarity of form so often gave expression to some of the finest feelings of our country which, but for him, would have remained unspoken and only partly understood. In this as in so many other things, he leaves us a great legacy. Our sympathy, too, we would extend to all his family.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

It used to be the custom for those who occupied my position as the senior Member in length of service in this House, always to speak on these solemn or ceremonial occasions. I have availed myself of the privilege—because it is a privilege and not a right—only on certain occasions. I feel I must do so now because I am one of the few Members of the House who was here when Stanley Baldwin entered it, remained during all the time he was in it, and was here when he left. Also, over the last 27 years there had been between us a lasting and abiding friendship, which was in no way affected by the many differences of opinion which I, in my humble position and he, in his great position, had on questions of politics. I therefore, stand today to mourn for a great friend.

I hope that the Prime Minister will not think me impertinent if I thank him and the other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken for what they have said about Lord Baldwin. I think their words could not have been bettered. I entirely agree with the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend that it is far too early to assess Lord Baldwin's qualities as a statesman. Therefore, although perhaps it is inevitable, I personally regret that outside this House, and in some sections of the Press, so far from the locks of criticism having been closed by his death, they seem to have been opened full wide. I should have thought that it was not until many years have passed, and then only in a three-volume biography, that one could truly analyse and assess the lights and shades in Lord Baldwin's career. I would suggest, with respect—and I think that no one will think that this is a controversial state- ment—that, even so, whatever political views one may hold, one can only do so, in his case and that of every other great statesman who between the wars held office in this or other democratic countries, whether he was on the Right, on the Left or in the Centre, in the light of the storm-racked world which they had somehow to control.

I am visibly and forcibly reminded this afternoon, thinking of Lord Baldwin's career, of those words of another great statesman, one of the most honoured I ever saw in this House, the late Sir Edward Grey, who said, on 4th August, 1914, that the lights of Europe had gone out. He might have added that they would never be lit again in the lifetime of any person then alive, and that the lights of the world would go out soon afterwards. In an age in which there was neither tolerable nor tolerant relationship between countries—and there has been no such relationship since 1914—it is difficult to analyse and assess the position of any individual statesman in world affairs.

In all the eloquent tributes which have been paid to Lord Baldwin this afternoon, none is more true than what was said of him, with a slight alteration, which I venture to make, in the closing line of the leading article in "The Times" of today: There will be lasting gratitude for very much that he gave to public life.

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

I hope that the House will not think superfluous one sentence from a representative of one of the universities of which Lord Baldwin was Chancellor. There were few places and few institutions dearer to Lord Baldwin's heart than Cambridge, and none where his qualities and services were more widely and gratefully appreciated.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Stanley Baldwin was the leader of the Conservative Party: I am a leader of the Communist Party. There was not what might be called much of a political bond between us, but I remember meeting him one night by the tape machine. He appeared to be in a sentimental mood. He commented on some of my Scottish characteristics. Then he told me that he had a Scottish mother and a Welsh father. I told him that I had a Scottish mother and an Irish father. That seemed to create, at least, a human bond between us. History will judge him and his life work. Some may praise, some may blame, but here today nothing should be said that could disturb his rest or the minds of those near and dear to him who are mourning his passing. In the quiet countryside beside his Scottish mother and his Welsh father, let him sleep in everlasting peace.

Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)

I think it right that as a Worcestershire man I should make some small contribution. I was privileged to know the late Lord Baldwin long before he entered the House of Commons. I remember a time when he was in business at Wilden and Stour Vale, and he walked morning and evening to and from those works. All the employees were known to him by their Christian names and he was loved, admired and respected by all. At that time it was not thought that he would ever turn his mind to politics. It was a strange thing when suddenly we found Stanley Baldwin launching forth in the great fight in the Kidderminster Division, which he lost.

Then, when his father died, he was elected for the Bewdley Division, a constituency which he represented until he went to the House of Lords. Throughout all that time I knew him. I lived not very far away from the ancestral home of the Baldwins at Astley Hall. I have been privileged to visit him on many occasions. There I came into contact with this great human personality whose greatest love of all was love of the English countryside and of his beloved Worcestershire. I have listened to him as a politician and as a great human orator away from politics on a more lofty platform where the great ideals for which he came to be known best were expressed in words of admiration and praise. It was a privilege to be allowed to listen to him.

Worcestershire has lost a great personal friend. The country has lost a great personal ambassador. England is the poorer by his death; but may his name live long in our memory.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Three Minutes past Four o'Clock.