HC Deb 22 April 1952 vol 499 cc219-24
The Prime Minister (Mr. Winston Churchill)

Since we met here yesterday, we have learned of the death of a statesman of national pre-eminence who has long served with distinction in the House of Commons, and it is in accordance with recent precedents that I should attempt to pay some tribute, necessarily brief and inadequate, to his memory.

Stafford Cripps was a man of force and fire. His intellectual and moral passions were so strong that they not only inspired but not seldom dominated his actions. They were strengthened and also governed by the workings of a powerful, lucid intelligence, and by a deep and lively Christian faith. He strode through life with a remarkable indifference to material satisfactions or worldly advantages. I suppose there are few hon. Members in any part of the House who have not differed violently from him at this time or that, and yet there is none who did not regard him with respect and with admiration, not only for his abilities, but for his character.

His friends—and they were many—among whom I am proud to take my place, were conscious, in addition to his public gifts, of the charm of his personality and of the wit and gaiety with which he enlivened not only the mellow hours but also the hard discharge of laborious business in anxious or perilous times. In all his complicated political career he was the soul of honour, and his courage was proof against every test which the terrible years through which we have passed could bring.

Having sat with him in the war-time Cabinet, which he joined in 1942 and of which he was always a member, or, as we called it in those days, a "constant attender," I can testify to the immense value of his contributions to our discussions. There was no topic I can remember—and no doubt right hon. Gentlemen opposite have longer experiences of their own—on which he did not throw a clarifying light and to which he did not often bring a convenient and apt solution.

Most of us have in our memories the distinction with which he filled the great office of the Exchequer and how easily he explained and interpreted the problems of finance. We could not always all agree with his policy, but everyone was grateful for its exposition. Though a master of words and dialectic both in the law and in Parliament, he had also a most practical and organising side to his nature. During the First World War he managed a small arms factory and its excellence and efficiency was brought to my notice when I was Minister of Munitions.

It was this that prompted me to offer him the most complex business of the Ministry of Aircraft Production in the Second World War after he ceased to lead this House, and I have very little doubt that his conduct of it was not only most helpful to our interests but highly congenial to his nature. His was a mind that fastened itself as easily upon small as upon great things and to whom detail was no burden but often almost a relief.

One of the most recent precedents for the intervention I am making today was when the House paid its tribute to Oliver Stanley who, like Stafford Cripps, was in our own time a Member for Bristol. Both had qualities which will long be cherished in that famous city where they were so well-known.

It is not for me, in these few words, to attempt to epitomise the place which Stafford Cripps will bear in the history of our life and times, or of his contribution to their politcal philosophy; but that, as a man, he had few his equals in ability or virtue will be generally affirmed by his contemporaries; and that he brought an unfailing flow of courage, honour and faith to bear upon our toils and torments will be attested by all who knew him and most of all by those who knew him best.

Our hearts go out to the noble woman, his devoted wife, who, through these long months of agony, mocked by false dawns, has been his greatest comfort on earth. To her we express profound sympathy this afternoon, and we trust that she may find some solace in the fact that Stafford's memory shines so brightly among us all.

Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)

I desire, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House and myself, to try to add something to the very fine and generous tribute which the Prime Minister has paid to the late Sir Stafford Cripps, whose untimely loss we mourn today. He was a man the greatness of whose intellectual and practical abilities was matched by his nobility of character and high idealism.

He came from a remarkable family with a high tradition of public and social service. When he entered this House he had already become a leading figure at the Bar. He united high scientific attainments with a mastery of detail and a power of clear exposition and incisive argument. Many great barristers have failed in this House. Stafford Cripps succeeded at once.

I recall how he had immediately to take part in piloting a difficult Budget and how well he succeeded. In the years that followed he was one of the mainstays of the very small Labour Opposition of those years. Later his enthusiasm, his eagerness and his impatience led him into paths which the majority of us could not follow, but there was never any breach of friendship, and there was never any doubt of his sincerity.

Experience, I think, led him to maturer views without in any way impairing his fervent Socialist faith. The Prime Minister has spoken of his work in the war-time Government, when he led this House and when later he ran a great Department. It was a great pleasure to me when he rejoined our party and took office as President of the Board of Trade. Later he became Chancellor of the Exchequer and most hon. and right hon. Members will remember his lucid speeches when he introduced his Budgets and when he dealt with economic issues. He took a major share in dealing with the very difficult economic and financial problems of the post-war period and in planning the economy of the country.

His high sense of duty drove him to tax his physical resources to the utmost. He worked intolerably long hours, yet retained his serenity. He took his full share in every kind of work of Government and he faced his problems with the same courage with which he met criticism. He was never afraid of the unpopular course if he held it to be right. I believe he did immense service to this country.

But foreign affairs and economics are so closely linked in these days that he worked also in the international field. Here he and his fellow Westcountryman, Ernest Bevin, two Gloucester men coming from such very different social environments, worked closely and harmoniously together. He was largely responsible for setting up the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. Despite the strong views which he held so tenaciously he was an admirable colleague, always ready to help others. In particular, he took infinite pains to encourage and bring forward younger colleagues.

He and Lady Cripps were both deeply interested in China and India. His mission to India during the war and his leadership of the Cabinet mission later paved the way for the ultimate settlement of the problem of Indian self-Government. Here his close friendship with leading Indians was a great help.

I think that everyone who was brought in contact with Stafford Cripps realised that he was a man of high principle. He was deeply religious, a devout member of the Church of England, and brought to his work the inspiration of high purpose. He was a keen Socialist; his Christianity and Socialism were the guiding forces of his life. I think few men have been so little regardful of self. And he was no cold intellectual. On the contrary, he was a very warm-hearted, generous and lovable man with great personal charm. His interests were wide and his capabilities in many fields were manifold. He suffered constantly from ill-health and during the last two years of his life when this became serious he met it with unflinching courage, and it was only the positive orders of his doctors that forced him to retire from active life.

I had the privilege of his friendship and worked closely with him for many years. I was bound to him by affection, and I had very many acts of kindness from him. When I saw him for the last time, prior to his leaving for Switzerland, he was still full of hope that a complete cure could be effected, with a further opportunity of service. His strong will and his faith had carried him so far. But it was not to be.

The country has lost a great men, and I mourn a dear friend. I know that I am expressing the feelings of us all in sending our deepest sympathy to his family, especially to Lady Cripps who shared so much of his work and cared for him so devotedly in his long illness.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I had the high privilege and the true honour of knowing Stafford Cripps before either of us entered this House. We were both members of that unique and generous brotherhood, the Bar of England. There we knew, admired and respected him as a brilliant, persuasive and honourable advocate, as a profound lawyer and as a wise counsellor. We recognised that, had he chosen to remain in his profession, every office on the Bench was open to him. He would have added lustre to the just fame of the Judiciary. He chose otherwise.

He became a great Parliamentarian, an outstanding statesman, an ambassador—an Ambassador to Russia, an Ambassador to India, an ambassador on behalf of peace and better understanding among his fellow men, and, finally, he became a noted and courageous Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was endowed with many talents. He gave of those gifts freely and lavishly to the service of his country and, indeed, to the service of humanity.

We mourn today the passing of a fine Christian knight, a dauntless spirit, a devoted public servant, a noble character whose life, whose integrity, and whose work are an example and an inspiration to us all, whose shining faith never faltered in the face of difficulties, however mountainous. To his devoted wife and to his children, in deep sorrow, we tender our sincere sympathy.