HC Deb 25 November 1963 vol 685 cc35-44

3.32 p.m.

The Secretary State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. A. Batter)

May I have your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to move a manuscript Motion, a copy of which has been made available to you, Mr. Speaker, and which I will now read to the House in the following terms: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to express to the President of the United States of America the shock and deep sorrow with which this House has learned of the death of President Kennedy; and to convey their sense of the loss which this country and the Commonwealth have sustained, and their profound sympathy with Mrs. Kennedy and the family of the late President, and with the Government and people of the United States of America.

Mr. Speaker

As the House is aware, the Motion which the Foreign Secretary asks leave to move is a substantive one. According to the rules which bind me as well as the House, this Motion should have been placed on the Order Paper today to enable it to be moved tomorrow. On this occasion, however, I felt convinced that hon. Members would not wish to proceed with the ordinary businessof the week without passing, at the earliest possible moment, an Address expressing our sympathy and to waive the Rules of the House to enable this to be done.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

Being confident that this course is acceptable to the House, I call Mr. Butler.

Mr. Butler

I feel sure that in moving this Motion in the absence of the Prime Minister, I shall have the support of all sections of opinion in the House. After the Motion has been disposed of, we propose to move the Adjournment of the House for today out of respect for the memory of the late President.

I seek to express the sense of sorrow, of shock and of personal grief which is, I know, shared by hon. Members and by the whole nation. The element of personal tragedy in this terrible calamity has moved the hearts of our people. Our first thoughts are with the late President's courageous widow, her children and the members of his family. We send them our heartfelt sympathy. That a life so vital and so young should be cut short seems harsh beyond the ordinary lot of man. But, at this moment, I invite the House to remember the qualities of one whose example is an inspiration to his successor and to all statesmen.

I refer to his zest for life, his grasp of public affairs, his steadiness of judgment, his constancy of will, his enthusiasm for high ideals, matched by a practical sense of the possible, and his persistent devotion to the duties of his high office. These talents, combined with other qualities of personality and character, gave him what seems, in retrospect, an almost natural supremacy over others. These, Sir, are attributes manifest to us all, even to those of us like myself who did not know him so well as, for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), who, I am sure we are glad to see, is in the House and was one of his most intimate collaborators.

It is not only horror at the act and the passing of a great President that move us; but also the sense of grave loss which the world has sustained. I deliberately describe John Kennedy as great, for he was, above all, a man whose beliefs and actions had their effect everywhere. This is, of course, true in some measure of all American Presidents in recent times. But under the leadership of President Kennedy, the American nation achieved a position of beneficent authority and influence which has never been surpassed. By his' stature, he gave the United States a position in the councils of the world which was not only far-reaching in power, but dedicated in purpose and altruistic in direction.

We grieve at his death because in all his purpose he strove for a world free of discord and at peace with itself to which men everywhere aspire, and none more fervently than the British people. I stress this above all, because his resolution and judgment, in that supreme crisis just over a year ago kept the peace for the free nations.

President Kennedy's ideals were never better expressed than in his inaugural address. He spoke thus of the need to create a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved for ever. It is, perhaps, prophetic that the next words in that address were these: All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet But", he went on, let us begin. In this speech, the late President showed that his power of oratory could compare with the grandeur and immortal simplicity of the Gettysburg address.

But he was cut off in his prime and before he was able to fulfil many of his most cherished dreams in home policy or in the field of foreign affairs. Yet, as the Psalmist said, though young "he fulfilled long years. "His ascent to power in the United States brought promise not only for that great country, but for the world. It seemed as if a new chapter of hope was opening for the American Continent as well as for mankind.

We are inspired, in considering this Motion, by a man of physical and moral courage, a man of exceptional intellectual capacity and drive, a man who brought the excitement of adventure into the life of his own nation and that of the world. He realised the necessity for the two divisions of the world to live together and that a situation dominated by nuclear power demands the vision and patience of real statesmanship. For our part, we must remain a constant friend and partner and do all in our power to maintain the strength of the Alliance. We must press on to achieve the ideals which animated him and thus show that he has not lived in vain.

After this tragic loss, we who are parliamentarians, both here and in other countries of the world, must see that this promise is not lost, that the light is not dimmed and that our sense of purpose is not stunned. We pray for the good health and sense of mission of the new President and pledge ourselves, with him, to the task of making life safer and better far our generation and those still to come.

I beg to move the Motion.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

In the absence in Washington of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, it falls to me to second the Motion. We are still so numbed by grief and sorrow at the murder of the man whom we mourn today that we cannot yet even begin to measure or weigh the great consequences that may or will flow from President Kennedy's dreadful death. The void that has been left by his abrupt absence leaves us conscious only that we and the whole world have lost a leader.

I cannot claim to have known the President well. I met and talked once with him for an hour or two. It was on his 46th birthday, his last birthday. I can vividly remember today everything he said. Fie was a man of immense lucidity. He argued cogently and fairly and he was one of the most persuasive men that I have ever encountered. But it was not the things he said that I most remember, but the man himself, his smile, his alert and probing mind, his electric energy, his assurance and, perhaps above all, his gaiety.

What an incomparable man he was! In only two years and ten months of office, he imposed his personality and his policies upon the entire world. John Kennedy set himself to complete the task that had been begun by Abraham Lincoln, of reconciling the races in America. He showed the same clearsighted courage. He showed the same proud disregard for anxious political calculations. Cut off as he has been in mid-career, President Kennedy's assassination may shock into shamed silence the bitter men who sought to frustrate his race policies.

Like President Lincoln, President Kennedy was a man of healing, but President Kennedy's stage was, of course, immeasurably the larger. Lincoln sought to heal a rent and divided nation, but President Kennedy brought a touch of healing to a rent and divided world. He had the gift, given to few, of embodying in himself the anxieties and the aspirations of a whole generation practically the world over and particularly of the young. He stood for new ideas, for modern art and culture and, above all, for harnessing science to the purposes of society.

Our thoughts and our sympathy, which we cannot find words today to express, go out to his widow, who also gained the love of the world, and to their young children and to the other members of his family. Our heartfelt good wishes go to the new President, on whom has fallen the splendid mantle of John Kennedy. Never before has a man been mourned like this man. While his death has caused anguish in the West, it evoked genuine grief in Russia, too. The reason for this common grief is that President Kennedy became the man whom the world, including, I believe, the Russians, trusted to hold in his hand the thunderbolt of nuclear power.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)

In supporting this Motion, I am very conscious of the fact that it is no easy task for me to add anything new to the tributes which have been paid so movingly and so fittingly by the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker).

This is not an occasion for merely observing the traditional proprieties. If one is to speak at all, one must speak from the heart. But perhaps I might follow the opening words of the Foreign Secretary and put it on record that the depth and sincerity of feeling, which has been so marked during the last three days throughout this country, has been common to people of all parties and of no party.

Like many hon. Members and members of the general public, I was stunned when the news came through on Friday evening. I find it difficult to believe that this outstanding young man should have been struck down in this way. Although he had already reached the pinnacle of power, we assumed that there were still many years of public service ahead of him and much important work still to be done. But it was not to be. His life was snuffed out in a tragedy of wanton violence.

Yet I do not think that John Kennedy would want us to sentimentalise about him. But we can pay tribute to his intellect, his enthusiasm and his courage, for example, his courage in trying to tackle the evils of race discrimination, and his honesty of purpose. He was certainly much more than a very able politician. I believe that it was John Bright who said thatmen were not great statesmen merely because they happened to fill great offices. That is true. High office brings out qualities in a man, but high office does not make those qualities. During the three years of that extremely onerous office, John Kennedy had shown the qualities of statesmanship. More than that, he had shown himself to be a statesman whom the world could least afford to lose.

There is another reason why everyone so genuinely mourns this loss, another reason for this depth and sincerity of feeling. To many people, John Kennedy represented the hope and promise of youth in a world yearning for peace. So we pray that the shock of his assassination will not lead to a diminishing of that hope and that promise, but rather to a greater determination to achieve the aims that he wished to fulfil.

Meanwhile, there is this deep sense of loss, of personal loss, as if one had lost a member of one's family. As this is a personal occasion, perhaps it would not be out of place if I were to recall that on this same day of the assassination two others lost their lives, a policeman and a security man. I know nothing about them. I do not know whether they have left widows and children. I only know that in their humble roles they were doing their duty and that in doing it they became partners in this tragic waste of life.

I am very glad to have had this opportunity of confirming the sympathy of the British people whom we all here represent, the sympathy for Mrs. Kennedy and her family in their deep sorrow and for the people of the United States in their anguish.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)

With the permission of the House I would like to add a few words to the eloquent tributes to the memory of President Kennedy which have been paid on behalf of all the three great parties in our country.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), who followed, have expressed in moving phrases the sympathy which we in the House, aye, and the whole people of Britain, feel with the people of the United States at this tragic moment in their history.

They have also made it abundantly clear that we here, and throughout the Commonwealth, share their sorrow to the full, for we do not merely mourn a grievous loss to the vigour and vitality of American public life; we mourn a world statesman, to whose leadership, in these critical but inspiring days, all the peoples of the world, of whatever race, creed or colour, looked with confidence and hope.

My only purpose in rising is to add a few sentences as a friend and, in a true sense, a colleague. For three years he and I worked in the closest association. Every few months we met—sometimes on British and sometimes on American soil—and in between we interchanged frequent messages and telephone talks. Anyone who knew the President could not fail to realise that behind the captivating charm of manner lay an immense fund of deeply pondered knowledge on a wide range of subjects—political, economic, military. He was one of the best-informed statesmen whom it has ever been my lot to meet, but he was altogether without pedantry or any trace of intellectual arrogance.

The President was very fond of asking questions and trying to find out other people's views. He was chary of giving his own opinion except after much reflection and consideration. Admirably briefed as he always was by his staff, he never stuck slavishly to a brief. Unlike some men with whom discussion is often almost a formality, he was always ready to listen to and to be convinced by argument. In this way he brought to the baffling problems of today a remarkable freshness of mind and flexibility of approach. These were based upon his fundamental moral and mental integrity.

President Kennedy was a man of the highest physical and moral courage, tested and proved in war and in peace. When things were difficult, almost desperate, he was both resourceful and resolute. Wiien things seemed a bit easier, he displayed a boyish and infectious delight which was irresistible. Although his career has been cut short so tragically, he will stand high even among the great names of great American Presidents.

In this country we shall always remember him its a sincere and loyal friend of Britain. To the whole world without distinction his life and words and actions were a constant inspiration. He did not regard it as a statesman's duty to yield to public opinion, but to strive to lead it. Subjected to great pressures on many conflicting issues, he seemed sometimes to be almost a rather lonely figure, but always true to his own integrity and his own faith. What he said, he meant, and he did his best to accomplish. To him the words "peace and progress" were not just a phrase for a peroration, but a living and burning faith.

So it was, as has been said already, that when that terrible news came on Friday everyone in this country—and, I think, in every country—-felt stunned by the shock of what seemed to us—to each one of us—a personal bereavement, and to the whole of humanity, struggling in this world of darkness, the sudden and cruel extinction of a shining light.

We mourn for him and for his bereaved family, to whom we offer our respectful sympathy, and for all the American people; and we mourn him—and this is perhaps the greatest tribute to Jack Kennedy's life and work—for ourselves, for what we and all the world have lost.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

3.56 p.m.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

As our revered Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), will not be with us today, it fall:; to my lot to add a few words, however inadequate, on this so sorrowful occasion. Words are hard to find to deal with the tragedy that has befallen us all. It seemed only the other day that we were commemorating Remembrance Day and listening to the words: They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old", President Kennedy will no longer grow old, but though his body has gone from us his spirit will surely go marching on—that spirit which inspired him to fight with such vigour, gallantry, courage and determination against fear, suspicion and racial intolerance; to fight with such sure and magnificent confidence that he was right, and to gain so much success—more than most of us believed possible.

But there is one other person who is in all our thoughts today—that sweet, lovely and devoted young wife who was so suddenly bereaved, who has been flung from the summit of happiness, although she has had her sorrows already, to the very abyss of sorrow. Every heart in this country will beat in sympathy with her grief. She will be so sad and so lonesome now. There will be that continuous ache in her heart and emptiness in her home which nothing can replace or fill.

What can we do? It seems to me there is only one thing, which is to pray that God will give rest and peace to him who has gone ahead to the home that they will one day share again, and that that same God will be a constant strength to her during the inevitably lonely future she has here.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

By virtue of the fact that there must be many young people in this country who would like a word said today on their behalf, I want to speak because I am a father of an American citizen. This is a cause for much pride to me and to all those who cared for that citizen when he came into the world. I am also one of the hon. Members of this House who sat for a short time in the Senate and passed under the spell of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In fact, I voted in the Senate on that day.

Now, after the shock of his death, as yesterday I can still hear the voices of the choir of Lichfield, in that wonderful cathedral—the Ladies of the Vale. I can only repeat now, and recall, the words of the Bishop: We felt that he was a real friend in all the dangers of the world. John Kennedy had an enchanting quality of attraction. He was a man of religious conviction, and a statesman who toiled unceasingly for freedom and justice. On behalf of my grieved and sorrowing constituency I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to convey to the American Government and to the American people our tragic sense of anguish and regret at the loss of this beloved American.

Sir, in our Churches the people will pray for his family. In our schools and our technical colleges the young people will always remember this day. As our people work in the fields and the coal mines and on the factory floor they will say to themselves, "He struggled against envy, hate and violence. He knew that which was right. He died: Christ's faithful soldier to the end."

I need say no more.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente.

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to express to the President of the United States of America the shock and deep sorrow with which this House has learned of the death of President Kennedy; and to convey their sense of the loss which this country and the Commonwealth have sustained, and their profound sympathy with Mrs. Kennedy and the family of the late President, and with the Government and people of the United States of America.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.

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