HC Deb 13 December 1950 vol 482 cc1171-5
The Prime Minister

This week the House has lost one of its most distinguished and well-loved Members, Oliver Stanley, and I believe that we should all wish to express our sorrow and our sense of loss. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We in this House feel that we belong to a community and the bonds of friendship extend beyond the bounds of party, and when death takes any one of our Members we feel the loss and you. Mr. Speaker, express that on behalf of us all. But it is a well recognised practice that when Members who have held high positions in this House die, an opportunity should be given for tribute to be paid.

On occasions there are Members who, without having been leaders of parties or without being Ministers actually in office, have won such high esteem and affection that special respect is paid to them. I can recall the case of James Maxton and, in earlier days, there was the case of Mr. Alfred Lyttelton. I feel that Oliver Stanley commanded esteem and affection on all sides in this House and that we would wish to pay our tribute to him today.

I recall very well when he entered as a young Member. He was one of the survivors of the war-time generation. He had distinguished himself in the field. He was, I know well, loved by the men whom he commanded. He came here with a great family tradition of service to the State, and it was soon evident to all of us that he would fully sustain the reputation of his family. He was clearly marked out for office, and, in due course, at a comparatively early age, he entered the Government; and then, for the greater part of 14 years, he filled many high offices, many of them very difficult offices.

His last office was, I think, perhaps the most congenial to him—that of Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was my privilege to be a colleague of his in that Government when he held that office, and I had an opportunity of knowing something of his work. I think he brought to that high office great diligence, high intellectual gifts, wide vision, and a great sympathy.

But I think that, most of all, the House will remember him as one of our foremost debaters. Quite early in his career he showed an exceptional quality, and year by year his powers grew, and in these last few years, in Opposition, he was certainly one of the outstanding debaters in the House. His speeches were cogent, well argued, well informed, fair, and spiced with wit—and it was a wit that did not smell of the lamp: it seemed to come spontaneously. And we, against whom his shafts were often directed, shared in the appreciation of his dexterity. There was not malice in his wit: we were all able to laugh together.

We had all hoped that he might have had a long career of service to this House and of service to his country, and it is a tragic thing that he should be struck down now in the plentitude of his powers. We all mourn him as a statesman, as a great public figure; but many of us who have been long in the House with him will also mourn him as a personal friend, as a man of delightful personality. We have lost a well loved Member, a great public servant, a distinguished ornament of this House, and I should like, on behalf of all of us on this side, to offer to his children and to his family our most sincere sympathy in their great loss.

Mr. Churchill

On this side of the House we are greatly obliged to the Prime Minister for his kindly tribute which he has paid to our late colleague. We are all also very glad that the Government in this matter have not been bound by a narrow view of the precedents for such a tribute. There have been exceptions, and they have been made in accordance with the general feeling of the House, which, in such matters, is probably the safest of guides. The Prime Minister has mentioned two outstanding cases where the exact forms were not observed, but where the feelings of the House desired an opportunity of corporate expression. Oliver Stanley may well be another of these exceptions.

The appreciations published in the newspapers of every hue show how widely understood and admired were his exceptional and outstanding gifts and qualities. Reading them must have been a comfort to his many friends in the House of Commons and throughout the land. He served at the front in the line as a regimental officer through many of the severities of the First World War. He filled great offices of State in peace and war.

I regretted very much that I could not persuade him to accept the Dominions Office at the time of the formation of the National Government. He preferred to rejoin his regiment. It was not until two years later that I was able to persuade him to allow me to submit his name as Secretary of State for the Colonies. This delay was not due to any breach in our personal friendship or in our political relations.

Oliver Stanley always set the interests of his country, as he conceived them, far above his personal fortunes or career. In the year before the war he wrote to Mr. Chamberlain advising him that the Government should be widened and strengthened in composition, and placing his own office at the Prime Minister's disposal in order to help such a process. I did not know about this for several years afterwards, but it is a remarkable example of his bearing and relationship to public life, and a proof of the high level upon which his actions proceeded.

He was indeed, as so many of us know, a delightful companion. His conversation never lost its dignity, even in casual talk, and he always preserved in it the spark of the unexpected. His memory will long be cherished, and cherished most dearly by those who knew him best. Our keen sympathy, as the Prime Minister has said, goes out to his family and the children he has left behind him.

Oliver Stanley's career has been cut short in its prime. None the less, it is not lacking in the sense of completeness, because we have the presentation in an integral and matured form of his personality, of his gifts, and of his record that endures with us. On this side we have suffered a heavy party loss, and, many of us, a keen personal loss; but, as the Prime Minister has said, the House of Commons as a whole is conscious that Parliament is definitely and seriously the poorer by the untimely removal of this capable, experienced and attractive figure, who adorned our debates with a happy combination of wit and wisdom, and enriched our public life by high character, by disinterested public service, and by a commanding view of wide horizons.

Mr. Clement Davies

In this House where we differ in our views, and often differ very strongly, we learn, neverthless, to respect one another; and sometimes there arises amongst us a Member who not only commands the respect and admiration but who wins the affection of Members on every side of the House. Such was Oliver Stanley—shy, diffident, modest, conscientious, a brilliant debater, with wit which, as the Prime Minister has said, never hurt, and was certainly not intended to hurt. Even those of us who have quite often been his victims could chuckle with him. He was a gentle and perfect knight whose passing everyone of us will mourn, and we deeply sympathise with his family.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

May I, in three sentences, add to the eloquent tributes which have been paid by the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies)? Oliver Stanley was my only colleague on this side of the House in the representation of the City of Bristol, and he was a personal friend of many years' standing. I always found him both a wise counsellor and a good comrade. In him, Bristol has lost a distinguished Member of Parliament, this House a brilliant debater; and the nation a high-minded statesman and a very fine gentleman.