HC Deb 08 December 1955 vol 547 cc562-5
The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

May I ask your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, to say a few words about the personal regret which hon. Members in all parts of the House sincerely feel at the departure from our midst of the right hon. Gentleman who was recently Leader of the Opposition? These are occasions when personal friendships far transcend political differences and the right hon. Gentleman, in the thirty-three years in which he sat in this House, certainly never made a personal enemy. I know that many sincere attachments and respect for his gifts were made and felt by hon. and right hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House.

Thirty-three years is a rather long span in the life of anybody. In that period the right hon. Gentleman was sometimes on these benches and sometimes on the benches opposite, sometimes with many companions and sometimes with few. That is the lot of political life which we all endure, but however that fell out he was a good House of Commons man and his translation to another place can never really change that.

There are only one or two other sentences I should like to add. If I may say so in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), they are about the war years under the guidance of my right hon. Friend in the War Cabinet. For nearly five years I sat with the right hon. Gentleman in the Cabinet and those times were more often stern than smooth. This is not a day for obituary, but there are three qualities of the right hon. Gentleman which come to my mind from those years—his courage, his patience and his tenacity. We would like to feel that in another place health will be given him for many years to come to continue to serve his party and the nation.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I am very grateful for the opportunity of adding my tribute to one whom I have had the honour of knowing for more than a quarter of a century and, if I may say so, of knowing as a friend.

Mr. Attlee was not ambitious. Events, combined with a high sense of duty and sterling character, called on him to fill in succession posts of increasing responsibility which he so honourably and successfully undertook. Events called him from a comfortable home and the Bar of England to live and work in the East End, enter local councils and become a mayor of Stepney. Events led him to this House and to office in the first two Labour Governments. Differences in his party and the Election of 1931 led him first to be deputy-leader and then leader of his party.

We remember well his tenacity, his courage—his quiet, steady courage—night after night as he battled during that period from 1931 onwards for the cause in which he so sincerely believed. Then came the war, and his partnership with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), when his loyalty, his devotion to duty, his wisdom and his sound judgment won and commanded the respect of all. With the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, he made history.

Nineteen forty-five brought him to the position of First Minister. History again will record his great work in the establishment of the welfare society in this country. His name will ever be associated with the freedom and independence of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Burma.

Men are complex in their natures. Each of us has many facets. Clement Attlee has many qualities. Had I to choose the outstanding quality which we all recognise to be his. I should say it is integrity—integrity coupled with great modesty and a complete, unselfish, unremitting devotion to duty. He never sought power. He sought rather to serve his fellow men and found ample opportunities for that service, which he readily undertook. For that service, all can and should be grateful, and all will be grateful.

To Mrs. Attlee, who has stood so courageously alongside him in sickness and in health, through all the vicissitudes of a political life, who won all hearts by her charm and sweetness, we extend our warm and sincere greetings. To both of them we wish many years of joy, happiness and good health.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

On behalf of Members who sit on this side of the House, I should like, first, to thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Liberal Party for the kind things they have said about Mr. Attlee, who has now left this House. It was nice of them to do so and we much appreciate it. These are occasions when the House of Commons can rise above partisan and party political considerations and talk about men as we knew them on a man-to-man basis.

It is true, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has said, that Mr. Attlee began his life in social work in Limehouse—a famous and good liberal name. He graduated into local government in the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney and became quite an authority on electricity. In due course he came to Parliament, and I think everybody will agree that he mastered the business of the House of Commons and became essentially a Parliamentarian. Perhaps one of his greatest capacities was to make a speech which covered the subject with extraordinary brevity—with greater brevity almost than anybody else—and yet not much was left out.

I know from my personal contacts with him, as my hon. Friends will agree, that Mr. Attlee loved the House of Commons. Whether Members agreed with the speech he made on the 14-day rule last week or whether they disagreed with it, I think they would all agree that the motive of that speech was the motive of protecting the House of Commons in a way which he thought was right and other people may have thought was wrong.

He was a Prime Minister of a type who was quiet and persuasive, an excellent chairman, giving to the Departmental Ministers their heads. He had a great belief in the delegation of duties to various Ministers, even at the cost of his own work as Prime Minister. That was a very great quality. The system of Cabinet committee organisation in the Governments of 1945 to 1951 was largely creditable to himself.

Mr. Attlee has now gone to another place and we must gradually get used to referring to him by a somewhat different name. We hope that he will have a happy time there. So far as we of the official Opposition are concerned, we owe him an especial debt for the services he has rendered to us over that long period of twenty years as leader and a number of years before that. I think the House will agree, also, that he not only served his party, but served his country and the world, too, to the best of his ability.

It would be the sincere desire of all the House that both he and Mrs. Attlee, whom we knew well, will enjoy health and happiness in the years to come. They may both be sure that we shall remember with respect and pride the association of all of us, in all quarters of the House, with a mart who served Parliament with great distinction and ability.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.