HC Deb 28 March 1955 vol 539 cc40-8

3.42 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)

I beg to move, That this House will, Tomorrow, resolve itself into a Committee to consider an humble Address to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected at the public charge to the memory of the late Right Honourable the Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, 0.M., with an inscription expressive of the high sense entertained by this House of the eminent services rendered by him to the Country and to the Commonwealth and Empire in Parliament, and in great Offices of State. There is, I believe, general agreement that the House made a wise rule when it prohibited the introduction of a Motion of this character for ten years after the death of the statesman concerned. This rule is comparatively new, and has been used only once, in 1938, in the case of that honoured figure Lord Oxford and Asquith.

Ten years is long enough to allow partisan passions, whether of hatred or of enthusiasm, to cool, and not too long to quench the testimony of contemporary witnesses. We combine by this method the memories and feelings of men who knew David Lloyd George long and well with that sense of sober proportion and perspective which ever changing time alone can give and keep on giving.

I had originally drafted this Motion to include the phrase, within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, but because of the views which were expressed to me by the Leaders of the Labour and Liberal Parties—and, may I say, I much regret the absence and the cause of the absence of the Leader of the Liberal Party—I shall not ask the House to prejudge this matter. Some may prefer Parliament Square to the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. At any rate, it is better to leave the question open for much longer consideration than would be possible this afternoon.

I will not, however, conceal my personal opinion. David Lloyd George was a House of Commons man. He sat here for one constituency for fifty-five years. He gave sparkle to our debates. He guided the House through some of its most critical years, and without the fame and authority of the Mother of Parliaments he could never have rendered his services to the nation.

The Committee which this Motion will set up will no doubt wish those who were nearest him to express their opinion as to where he would have chosen his monument to be. He might have liked it to be as near this Chamber as possible.

The duty that falls to me this afternoon strikes a curious coincidence. It is exactly ten years ago to the day, 28th March, since I stood at this Box, in my present office, and, at the first opportunity after Lloyd George's death, addressed the House on his career. The discussion that followed is well worth re-reading. There will be seen the unanimity and the fervour of the testimony given to his work from all parts of the House.

I was perplexed, I admit, when I was thinking of how to commend this Motion to you, Mr. Speaker, to find, on looking back, that I had already said much that I now wish to say. My friendship for this remarkable man covered more than forty years of House of Commons life, including long periods during which I served with and under him as his Cabinet colleague. Whether in or out of office, our intimate and agreeable companionship was never darkened, so far as I can recall, by any serious spell of even political hostility.

As a first-hand witness, as I may claim to be, I wish to reaffirm the tribute I paid to his memory on his death. I feel that what was said then has only grown and strengthened and mellowed in the intervening decade. There were two great spheres of his activity and achievements. He launched the Liberal and Radical forces of this country effectively into the broad stream of social betterment and social security along which all modern parties now steer.

His warm heart was stirred by the many perils which beset the cottage homes, the health of the bread winner, the fate of his widow, the nourishment and upbringing of his children, the meagre and haphazard provision of medical treatment and sanatoria, and the lack of any organised accessible medical service from which the mass of the wage earners and the poor in those days suffered so severely. All this excited his wrath. Pity and compassion lent their powerful wings.

He knew the terror with which old age threatened the toiler—that after a life of exertion he could be no more than a burden at the fireside and in the family of a struggling son.

When I first became Lloyd George's friend and active associate, more than fifty years ago, this deep love of the people, the profound knowledge of their lives and of the undue and needless pressures under which they lived, impressed themselves indelibly upon my mind. Most people are unconscious today of how much of their lives have been shaped by the laws for which Lloyd George was responsible. Health insurance, and old-age pensions, were the first large-scale State-conscious efforts to fasten a lid over the abyss without pulling down the structures of civilised society.

Now we move forward confidently into larger and more far-reaching applications of these ideas. I was his lieutenant in those bygone days, and shared, in a minor way, in the work. He was indeed a champion of the weak and the poor and I am sure that as time passes his name will not only live but shine on account of the grand, laborious, constructive work he did for the social and domestic life of our country.

But the second phase of his life's work, upon which his fame will rest with equal and even greater firmness, is his guidance of the nation in the First World War. Here I will venture to quote directly what I said ten years ago: Although unacquainted with the military arts, although by public repute a pugnacious pacifist, when the life of our country was in peril he rallied to the war effort and cast aside all other thoughts or aims. He was the first to discern the fearful shortages of ammunition and artillery and all the other appliances of war which would so soon affect, and in the case of Imperial Russia mortally affect, the warring nations on both sides. He saw it before anyone. He presented the facts to the Cabinet even before he went to the Ministry of Munitions. Here he hurled himself into the mobilisation of British industry. In 1915, he was building great war factories that could not come into operation for two years. There was the usual talk about the war being over in a few months, but he did not hesitate to plan on a vast scale for two years ahead. It was my fortune to inherit the enormous overflowing output of those factories. When he became the head of the Government in the political convulsions of 1916, He imparted immediately a new surge of strength, of impulse, far stronger than anything that had been known up to that time, and extending over the whole field of war-time Government…All this was illustrated by the successful development of the war; by the adoption of the convoy system, which he enforced upon the Admiralty and by which the U-boats were defeated; by the unified command on the Western Front which gave Marshal Foch the power to lead us all to victory… In these and in many other matters which form a part of the story of those sombre and tremendous years we can observe and measure the depth we owe him. As a man of action, resource and creative energy he stood, when at his zenith, without a rival."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1379–80.] There is one further episode which I will mention. It fell to the lot of most of us who are here today to have to face a second world war. Lloyd George had been long out of office. Nearly a generation had passed since he ceased to be Prime Minister, but upon 3rd September, in the solemn debate which marked our entry into the new struggle, he spoke words which gave confidence to many and comfort to all. I will read them to the House: I have been through this before, and there is only one word I want to say about that. We had very bad moments, moments when brave men were rather quailing and doubting, but the nation was firm right through, from beginning to end. One thing that struck me then was that it was in moments of disaster, and in some of the worst disasters with which we were confronted in the war, that I found the greatest union among all classes, the greatest disappearance of discontent and disaffection, and of the grabbing for right and privileges. The nation closed its ranks then. By that means we went through right to the end, and after 4½ years, terrible years, we won a victory for right. We will do it again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd September, 1939; Vol. 351, c. 299–300.] That is what he said of this occasion, and I am glad to read it to the House again.

In supporting the Motion which is on the Order Paper the House will, I believe, be acting in harmony with its traditions, and it will also strengthen the national faith in the wisdom and propriety of its judgment and the guidance which it gives. When the history of Britain for the first quarter of the twentieth century is written it will be seen how great a part of our fortunes in peace and in war was shaped by this one man.

3.57 p.m.

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

On behalf of my colleagues upon this side of the House I desire to support the Motion which has been moved so eloquently by the Prime Minister. I should like to thank him for widening the terms of the Motion to give us a variety of choice. I was a member of a committee which considered certain rearrangements in Parliament Square, and we had contemplated the possibility that upon one side of the Square, alongside the statue of Field Marshal Smuts and others, there might be a statue of David Lloyd George, but that is eminently a matter for consideration. He was a very, very great Parliamentarian, and also a very, very great statesman upon the world stage.

Ten years ago I listened to the Prime Minister—being then one of his supporters —moving the Motion upon the death of David Lloyd George. My colleague, Arthur Greenwood, then spoke for the Labour Party. It is a wise dispensation that ten years should elapse in order that the dust of controversy may settle and one may view a statesman in perspective. Lloyd George had a very long life. It is 33 years since he left office—one might almost say that it is almost 40 years since he was one of the most controversial figures upon the political scene—and a new generation has since grown up. Now, perhaps, we can look at him in perspective as one of the most illustrous in the long line of Prime Ministers.

He was the first man to come from a cottage to 10, Downing Street. He symbolised in himself one of the peaceful revolutions of our time; the entry into the seats of power of the underprivileged. He was the architect of his own fortunes. I shall not speak today at any length of those early struggles, but we all recall, as the Prime Minister has recalled, that he was one of the chief initiators of the great schemes of social security that have now eventuated in the Welfare State. We of the older generation can look back to the fierce controversy of that time, yet I think that the younger generation, of whatever political opinions, now view what he then initiated as the essential basis of our modern society. We owe a great tribute to the courage and vision of the initiator of those schemes.

Lloyd George was a very great Welshman. I regret very much that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) is striken down with illness and unable to pay the tribute which we know he would wish to do. I hope that we shall have some words from another Welshman, the Father of the House.

The Prime Minister was a colleague in peace and war of David Lloyd George, and he has rightly stressed the great service that he did not only to this country but to the cause of democracy all over the world. He brought that drive that was so necessary in the urgencies of war. My personal contacts with him were only during the last 19 years of his long life. I never heard him on the platform where he could sway immense audiences with his unrivalled eloquence, but I recall him in this House as a wonderful debater. I recall those brilliant and pungent phrases of his, his beautiful voice and his expressive gestures.

I recall how, right to the end of his life, he was always a pioneer of new causes. Above all, I would recall his courage, which led him from very small beginnings, amid great difficulties, to a position of eminence in the State; and, secondly, his power of interpreting the desires of the common people. I think that he never forgot his origins; he never forgot the humble folk from whom he was drawn, and throughout his long life always he kept close to the beating heart of the people.

4.3 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

In the absence through illness of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), I should like to support this Motion on behalf of the Liberal Party. We are very proud that Lloyd George lived and died a Liberal. We are very proud of the things which, as a Liberal, he was able to do for his country. We are proud of his leadership, and we are proud of his achievements.

He was, as we have been told, a great wartime Prime Minister. He was the founder of the social services, and he was the father of a great many ideas in political economy which have passed into common practice. All these things are a living memorial to him today. We have also been told that his strength and his attraction lay in the sympathy which he felt for the hopes and the fears of the ordinary people.

I should like to think that perhaps he would have had some sympathy for the position in which I find myself today. because I am a very ordinary person, and I, of course, have no personal knowledge of Lloyd George. But his name and his fame have come down to my generation. We know the inspiration that he was and the inspiration that he remains. I am a little sorry that his daughter, as well as his son, is not in the House today. Apart from that slight regret, I have nothing but pleasure that the Liberal Party can be linked with all that has been said, both by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the Opposition, about a great man.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

I am very happy at being allowed to say a few words in support of this Motion. If the right hon. Gentleman who was the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs were alive today, I would say to him in Welsh, Ti wyddost beth ddywed fy nghalon— Thou knoweth what my heart says.

I am very proud indeed, as a fellow Welshman, younger than Mr. Lloyd George, to join in expressing my gratitude at the great march which he initiated for social progress. I am very proud to stand here today to say how much I admire this great Welshman. He had extraordinary qualities: genius, if genius does walk the ways of men. Lloyd George was a political genius.

He started at the very bottom of the ladder, living in a small village in a remote part of Wales, at a time when there were many injustices of which the people complained. He always lent a ready ear to the grievances of the poor, the orphans and the widows for whom no provision had been made—no thought of provision had been made—by any previous school of politics.

Mr. Lloyd George came to this House young—I think he came here about 55 years ago. I was a very small boy, and his name was then, as it is today, well-known throughout every corner of every parish in Wales. I was a Liberal then.

Mr. Speaker, and I apologise to the House for saying this. Lloyd George, too, was a radical Liberal, and he had the most amazing gift of speech. I think that of all the gifts, the " giftie gie us " in Lloyd George's case was the gift of speech not only to enable people to understand but to agree with him when the presumption was entirely against him. I remember that as a young boy I came to admire very much the personality, the gifts, the marvellous skill, the instincts which this man possessed to a superlative degree.

I support the provision of an appropriate memorial to the late David Lloyd George. He was a gifted orator, but he had the happy advantage of being so close to his fellow countrymen in Wales, whose language he spoke with so much eloquence, and whose ancient wisdom so much helped him in assessing the feelings and sentiments of other nations. He was far better as a politician because he was a good Welshman. In a special way it marked his career right through. He had an ear for the invisible; he understood the instincts, and what the heart sayeth, very often before the tongue had spoken.

The present Prime Minister joined the Liberal Administration—I cannot remember the date, but when he was quite young —and I remember hearing very much of him in those days. But he suffered from one disadvantage—he was not a Welshman. I do not know how soon it had been arranged, but very soon Lloyd George and he had acquired a perfect understanding. That was evident to everyone, particularly to a Welshman who looked on. I think that that will live long as a record of a great political partnership. No two men had been given so much authority over such a long and difficult period in the history of the nation and the British Commonwealth.

Lloyd George did not start his political career as an imperialist, but I am convinced that he sensed the importance of widening the chain of relationship which had not been fully linked in the days when he appeared in politics. Lloyd George and the present Prime Minister formed the almost ideal partnership for that and similar operations. The trend of religious, educational and social developments was greatly influenced by the work done in the first half of the century by their partnership. The House today does honour to itself in finding permanent standing room for a memorial to the former village boy from Wales whose name and fame are rightly known throughout the world.

4.11 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I should like to follow a remark made by the Prime Minister. He raised the question whether the memorial to Lloyd George should be in this building or elsewhere. Personally, I hope that the monument will be put up in this building, as he was a great House of Commons man, but it raises the question not only of future statues but of those we already have in this building.

If we look around the Palace of Westminster we find a rather odd lot of statues. [HON. MEMBERS: " No."] If we look in the Lobby, we find that we have Asquith, who was a worthy Prime Minister, but we also have there a number of other people, such as Harcourt, whom nobody now would remember. [HON. MEMBERS: " 0h."] On the other hand, people like Balfour—

Mr. Speaker

I do not think what the hon. Member is saying is strictly germane to the Motion before the House. Perhaps it will receive consideration at another time.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House will. Tomorrow, resolve itself into a Committee to consider an humble Address to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected at the public charge to the memory of the late Right Honourable the Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, 0.M., with an inscription expressive of the high sense entertained by this House of the eminent services rendered by him to the Country and to the Commonwealth and Empire in Parliament, and in great Offices of State.