HL Deb 15 April 1902 vol 106 cc259-66

My Lords, before we go to the business I think it is proper that I should say a few words to note the very great loss which this House has undergone since we parted for the holidays. The death of the Earl of Kimberley is a sad mark in the annals of this House. His position here was very peculiar He enjoyed great influence, and had a power in this House more than he perhaps had in other parts of the country, but his loss is a very great one because of the peculiar position which he occupied and the great influence he enjoyed here. One of the great peculiarities of his position was that he wholly belonged in a public sense to the House of Lords. I have been trying to think, but I cannot remember any other case of a Leader of this House who was never in the House of Commons.


The Earl of Rosebery.


I forgot Lord Rosebery. Lord Kimberley was a man marked out by great qualities of a peculiar kind. He was a man of great intellect, great learning, great knowledge of public affairs, and almost unequalled experience, and he invited intercourse with all men by the kindness and affability of his manners and his great personal popularity. I think, however, his marked peculiarity was his singular impartiality in public affairs. I do not say that he was absolutely impartial—under our system of government that is impossible, and I suppose that a man who is absolutely impartial can bear no leading part in the administration of our form of government—but if he was not absolutely free from all bias, he came as near it as. I think, any man whom we have listened to and followed in this House. He could not have been absolutely free from bias; if he had been, he would have been like some public men who lost their influence simply because they were never for a long time on one side or another. That is not the way our system of politics works. But the peculiarity of Lord Kimberley was that, while he was sufficiently a Party man always to be faithful to his Party, and regarded and followed by them with great devotion, he never allowed it to be seen, either in his conduct or his public utterances, that any bias of any kind governed him. He had the art of maintaining the appearance and the reality of great impartiality; and the reality was greater than the appearance, because he always could select the point on which it was possible to lean without appearance of bias or partiality, and yet that would be the point which brought him into close connection and harmony with the school of thought to which during the whole of his life he was devoted.

Lord Kimberley was a Whig, and in the presence of the noble Lord opposite I dare not say the last of the Whigs, but he had all the peculiarity and all the honour which attaches to fidelity to that school. He consequently enjoyed an influence out of all proportion to the more brilliant qualities which have given predominance in this House or the other. He was followed not only by those on whom he could have called for a partisan vote, but he always had an influence largely in excess of that given by his Party position. Again and again I have by experience noticed how powerful his influence in argument and in division was in this House, even on questions and at times when the predominance of his Party was not assured. We cannot part from him without a deep regret at the ability, the character, and the honour we have lost, and without feeling that if our somewhat inexplicable system of Party government is to succeed, it can only be because there shall be from time to time in this House, and in the other, men whose fidelity to Party ties and to the Party school of thought is yet so tempered by fairness, impartiality, and honour, that they will always enjoy an influence considerably in excess of that which their natural political position would confer on them. I feel that we have suffered a very serious loss, and I trust that in the future we may from time to time have men whom we shall regard with the same feelings of affection and the same trust with which on all sides of the House we have regarded the Earl of Kimberley.


My Lords, I rise to follow the noble Marquess in the very admirable remarks which he has just made with regard to our friend Lord Kimberley. We must all rejoice when we find that the traditions of this country with regard to Party controversy have been maintained and exemplified. I refer to that feeling in Party politics which, after a bitter contest may have occurred, enables all acrimony to disappear, and opponents who may from time to time have been in active controversy admit with generosity the good qualities of their opponents, and state them frankly in this House. Long may that state of things last! It is a thing we are proud of in this country; and we thank the noble Marquess for having so generously and clearly expressed those views in what he has said about one with whom he has often been in active conflict, and with whom he has had argument, always fearlessly expressed by Lord Kimberley, but in a way not to rouse feeling on this side in this House. We approach the subject possibly from a somewhat different standpoint. We knew Lord Kimberley not only as a great Parliamentary figure, but also as a private and political friend, and with more knowledge than possibly the noble Marquess or those opposite had. We have had a terrible loss. We have lost an able counsellor, a tearless Liberal. Whether he is the last of the Whigs or whether he was only a strong Liberal I do not know, but he was one who never advanced views of whose justice he was not convinced, or views which he thought would not conduce to the benefit of his fellow countrymen. No doubt he often differed from the noble Marquess and noble Lords opposite, and sometimes he ex pressed those views in strong terms, but I doubt whether he ever did so in a manner which gave offence to your Lordships.

The noble Marquess truly said that we very rarely have had in this House a man of such great Parliamentary experience. The whole of that experience was connected with your Lordships' House. He had a very long experience in administration. Fifty years ago he was a member of Her Majesty's Government, and from that time to the last few days before his death he took the deepest interest in politics and public affairs. I heard the other day from his son that up to within a few days of his death Lord Kimberley, with that keenness and clearness of mind which always characterised him, followed not only the debates in Parliament on public measures, but actually had the debate on the last public measure of the Government—namely, the Education Bill—read to him in extenso, and he discussed the measure. I mention this to show his deep interest in public affairs, and how his whole life was surrounded and imbued with a devotion to public duty. We have probably had more eloquent men in this House; but his learning and classical education were always conspicuous in the language he used and in the sentences with which he adorned his speeches. He was singularly clear-minded, and he had an extraordinary talent for mastering details. That gave him a power of mastering Bills in Parliament which few in this House or in the country are aware of. He was a typical Englishman in many ways. I need not refer to his love for sport. He was a very keen sportsman, an excellent shot, and in his last days he referred with the greatest possible affection to his hunting when he was young. He was a bold and fearless rider. In country affairs he was an exemplary landlord. He took an intelligent interest in agricultural questions, and was not only a liberal, but a critical, landlord. He was beloved by his tenantry; he took part in all county business. For many years he was Chairman of the Board of Guardians in his district of Norfolk, and I believe he was Chairman of the County Council. His great power and ability were bestowed on these local affairs just as much as they were on public affairs. This knowledge and experience gained in local and county affairs added greatly to his weight, influence, and ability when he faced what may be called the higher duties of public administration Lord Kimberley occupied nearly every great office in the State, and, from what I have heard, he left behind him, at each office which he filled, the highest possible reputation as an administrator. His own people admired his activity, assiduity, and loyalty to all interests, and, whether at the India Office, the Colonial or Foreign Office, all those remarkable qualities were eminently shown.

I would refer to one particular point which always struck me very much in considering Lord Kimberley's character. It may not be known that naturally Lord Kimberley was an exceedingly impulsive man; but, though he might take an impulsive view of any subject brought before him, he never allowed that view to prevail until he had tested it by his common sense and acuteness of mind, and no one will say that Lord Kimberley ever rashly undertook anything or rashly supported any policy with which he was connected. Another point in his character was one which we all admire and must remember—and that was his determination to do his duty even at personal risk. I would allude to two occasions, which, probably, are familiar to some of your Lordships, and which will illustrate this point in his character. In January of 1894 the Government of Mr. Gladstone had carried through in another place a very important measure of local government, which is generally known as the Parish Councils Act. At the time when it came to this House, early in January, Lord Kimberley was ill, and my noble friend behind me, the Marquess of Ripon, was entrusted with the management of that Bill. He introduced that Bill, and it got the Second Reading, I think, on January 25th, and the Bill went into Committee on February 1st. On February 1st Lord Kimberley undertook the charge of the Bill. Perhaps it is not known to your Lordships that a very few days before—I have this on the highest authority, namely, that of the physician who was called in—as late as January 16th in that year, Lord Kimberley was in a most dangerous state of health. He had had a violent attack of pneumonia; his temperature was abnormally high, and there was a good deal of difficulty in controlling him, because he was delirious, and the doctor considered that he was in considerable danger of his life. A few days after this, Lord Kimberley declared that it was his duty, and that he must come to London to take charge of the Bill. The physician said to him, "Well, I do not know how to control you, but if you were a poor patient of mine, in hospital, I would say that you must not rise from your bed for a month." But so determined was he, and so convinced that it was his duty to be here, that he came to this House, as your Lordships know, and conducted, in a most master ul way, one of the most complicated measures that ever came before your Lordships.

Another occasion was, I think, a very pathetic one, for it was the last occasion on which my noble friend ever appeared in this House. I believe it was on February 14th, 1901, when he was here for the last time and made his last speech. It was on the occasion of the debate on the Address to the King after the death of Queen Victoria, and those who had seen my noble friend a few days before were perfectly aware of the state of his health. He was exceedingly ill, and he was exceedingly emotional, and those who had seen him before he came to the House felt the greatest anxiety. Personally, I never went through greater anxiety than when I sat by him listening to him on that occasion. But, owing to I his determination and his mastery over himself, he was able to get through that duty, which was one that few men in the state of health he was in would have undertaken, and it was done at great risk of his life. I might dwell on other points of the noble Earl's character, but I have, I think, said enough to show: how great, in my opinion, is the loss of Lord Kimberley to this House. We have lost not only a great friend, we have lost an able and experienced counsellor. We hope that his memory will long remain before the country, and that others may, from that memory, be urged to emulate his high honour, his great industry, and his great toleration, combined with fearlessness. I feel that when we are alluding to him tonight we may say with perfect truth that we have lost not only a very great statesman, but that we shall with difficulty find his equal—one who shall be such an honour to the country and of such assistance and credit to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I need scarcely tell your Lordships that I do not rise under any belief that I could add anything to what has been said so admirably by the Prime Minister and by my noble friend who has just sat down. But, as I believe that I have been associated with the late Lord Kimberley for a longer continuous period in political and private friendship than anyone now living in this House, I cannot resist adding a few words by which I may express how cordially I agree with all that has been said by those who have preceded me. There is but one further remark I would desire to make, because it points to a characteristic of Lord Kimberley to which, I think, allusion has not yet been made, and which, I think, was very remarkable, and very well known to those who enjoyed his intimate friendship. I have never known, in a long life, any man so perfectly free from all taint of self-seeking as was Lord Kimberley. He bad a natural ambition—an ambition which it was proper and right a man of his powers should feel—to attain a position in which those powers might be exercised for the benefit of his country; but I venture to say that throughout the long course of my connection with Lord Kimberley I never recollect—indeed, I may say I know-there never was a single occasion upon which, in considering any complicated public question that came before him, he thought for one moment of how the course which he was likely to take would affect his own personal position. He looked to the public interest, and to that alone. It may be partly, perhaps, owing to this that he enjoyed, as the noble Marquess has said, in this House for some period a greater reputation than he did in the country, for he never sought popularity, and he never resorted to the means too common for attaining that object. He looked to the public interest. He was content to do his duty. He grew, I think, in the estimation of the public down to the day of his death, and I doubt not that hereafter men will look up to him as one of the brightest examples of an English statesman.