HL Deb 14 July 1902 vol 111 cc71-7

My Lords, although the announcement which I have to make to your Lordships has been anticipated by the information which you have already received through other channels, it is my duty formally to announce to your Lordships' House the resignation of Lord Salisbury of the office of Prime Minister and Leader of this House, and the acceptance of the office of Prime Minister by my right hon. friend Mr. Arthur Balfour. Although this event has come somewhat suddenly upon us, I do not conceive that it can have taken any of your Lordships entirely by surprise. When Lord Salisbury, now nearly a year and a half ago, reigned the office of Foreign Secretary, which he had filled with such conspicuous ability, and in which he had taken so deep an interest, it must have been obvious to all of us that the diminution of his strength which induced him to take that step would probably be followed by a desire to be relieved of the still more arduous responsibility of the office of Prime Minister. I have reason to think that, but for the unexpected prolongation of the war, during the continuance of which his retirement might have given rise to unfounded suppositions, it is highly probable that he would have sought the repose to which he is so justly entitled at an earlier period than the present. I have already had occasion in another place to express—I am afraid most feebly and imperfectly—my sense of the great loss which the country sustains through the resignation of Lord Salisbury—through the retirement of a public servant who possessed the uncommon and remarkable powers of statesmanship with which Lord Salisbury wasendowed. I need not attempt to repeat those expressions; but I may remind your Lordships that Lord Salisbury retires not only from the office of Prime Minister, but from the leadership of your Lordships' House. I could have wished that it had fallen to some Member of that great majority of the Members of this House, who have now for a long series of years followed the leadership of Lord Salisbury, with implicit and undoubting confidence, to express our sense of his qualities as a Parliamentary leader not less than as a statesman. I myself have, I trust, fully recognised those qualities, both when it was my fate to be in opposition to him, and, in recent years, as a colleague. But it would be scarcely fitting that I should attempt to give expression to those feelings of attachment which the great Conservative Party must feel to their late leader; and I am not without hope even now, although many of Lord Salisbury's oldest and most trusted colleagues are not present with us to-day, that some one of his more immediate adherents may do justice to that subject. But, my Lords, in the name of that smaller portion of your Lordships' House, who, as Liberal Unionists, have in recent years contributed to form what is now the Unionist party, I may venture to express our deep sense of the forbearance, the courtesy, and the strict impartiality of the whole of his conduct in his relations towards ourselves. I have no declaration of policy to make to your Lordships in consequence of this change. Mr. Balfour has been able to assure his followers that, with one exception—an exception deeply to be regretted —he has been able to secure the promise of the assistance of the greater number of his present colleagues. Inasmuch as that one exception is not, as I understand it, to be followed by an immediate resignation, there is still room for hope that it may yet be averted. But in the statement which has already been made at the Foreign Office, and in the statement which has already been made in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister has given to his followers no reason to suppose that this change of Ministers will be followed by any change of the policy which has already been announced to both, Houses of Parliament. It only remains for me to say that— as has been indicated to your Lordships by the fact that I am the person to make this announcement to your Lordships—it is the wish of the Prime Minister that I should undertake the duties of the leadership of this House. I am aware that the task which I am thus undertaking is a difficult one, and that I cannot expect to fill the position in this House which has been filled by its late leaders But the experience which I have been able to gain on more than one occasion, when it has been my duty in the temporary absence of Lord Salisbury to fill his place, leaves me not without hope that I may look in all quarters of the House—as well among those who sit opposite to me as those who sit beside me—to receive, not, indeed, complete acquiescence or approval on all occasions, but, at all events, forbearance and good will. I trust, with the assistance of the House, to be able to carry on the business of the Government in this House in a manner which may be consistent with the great traditions of the House and with the best interests of the country.


My Lords, I rise at once to offer some remarks to your Lordships on the momentous and important statement which we saw this morning in the public Press, and which the noble Duke has made your Lordships acquainted with. It is a momentous and important event when a man of the great ability and influence of Lord Salisbury retires from the office of Prime Minister. But in this House there is special reason to note it and to take account of this great change; for in this House for many years Lord Salisbury has exercised a predominant and powerful influence. I am sure your Lordships will have heard with great regret the announcement that Lord Salisbury's resignation has been accepted by the King and that he is no longer Prime Minister of this country. I do not propose tonight to return to the political aspect of the position or to what the noble Duke has said in regard to the continuance of the same policy by the Government over which Mr. Balfour will preside. I shall confine myself especially to the effect which this great change must have on your Lordships' House. On this side of the House we have differed and do differ from the principles which Lord Salisbury has inculcated and carried out during his Prime Ministership; and in many debates we have argued against the policy with which the noble Marquess was identified. I think that we may congratulate ourselves in this country, however, that the admiration of a man of high ability and great character is not confined to his own adherents and followers. We who have been opposed to Lord Salisbury are able to admire the very high qualities which he has displayed, not only as Foreign Minister, but as Prime Minister. The incidents of his brilliant career, not only in the House of Commons, but also in this House, are well known to the world; and I will venture to say that his reputation stands high among the statesmen, not only of this country, but of the world. My Lords, I cannot but revert to our relations with Lord Salisbury in this House; and I venture to say that he has always treated his opponents with the most complete courtesy. I cannot recall any occasion in debate when Lord Salisbury used an unfair expression or words against those with whom he differed. He differed, no doubt, constantly in strong and emphatic words, but he never transgressed the line where fairness to opponents is concerned. We acknowledge and are grateful for this generous attitude, which Lord Salisbury has always occupied, and we thank him for it. I am sure the country, and the Liberals who oppose and have opposed the policy of Lord Salisbury, will deeply regret that a man of such influence, of such power, and of such high character is no longer at the head of His Majesty's Government. We here, especially, deeply regret that we shall not hear again from him as Prime Minister, or as Leader of the Opposition, those speeches which in times gone by we have always greatly admired, not only for their ability, but for the singular spontaneous excellence of his words and expressions. Few spoke like him. I venture to think that few of your Lordships have failed in years gone by to have been gratified and delighted with the splendid effort of intelligence and ability which his speeches always contained. I will say no more with regard to Lord Salisbury. But I will venture to congratulate the noble Duke on the position which he is to occupy. In old days the noble Duke and I have been intimately connected, and I think few, even amongst his present colleagues, can speak with greater authority than I can with regard to him. I can say with complete knowledge, and with the utmost sincerity, that your Lordships will have as Leader of this House not only one of great capacity and experience, but one in whose high honour every Member of the House can completely rely.


My Lords, it is only because of the appeal which was made by the noble Duke who is now Leader of the House that I venture in one word to trespass on your attention. It is, I suppose, impossible for any one not to recognise the fact that a very great loss has been incurred by the loss of Lord Salisbury's counsels; and, speaking for the moment on behalf of those with whom his life has been associated—I mean that wing of the great Unionist Party with which he was more intimately associated—I think I can say, besides that reputation for sagacity and genius, which is not confined to any Party, indeed, I think I might say is not confined to any country, the feeling of those of whom he was for so many years the representative, is such that it would be impossible in adequate words to describe their sense of his loss and their admiration of the career which is now closed. It is difficult, indeed, for one who has enjoyed, as I have, the honour of being for at least seventeen years in the closest personal friendship with Lord Salisbury to say anything adequate to such an occasion as this. All I will say, on behalf of that great Party in whose name I venture to speak, is that he has ever enjoyed their complete and entire confidence, that he has carried out their views as if they had been his views in everything he has done, and that from first to last he has been loyal to those great traditions under which that Party exists.


My Lords, these are scenes which are, I think, peculiar to the British Parliament. I think it should be our pride to reflect that, on the disappearance from official ife of a great figure like Lord Salisbury, Party lines disappear, and the public feeling finds a common voice in the speakers on all Benches. In reference to that point, may I express momentary surprise at the stress which the noble Duke laid on the line, which has become imperceptible to the unpractised eye, which seems yet to divide the two wings of the Unionist Party. My Lords, in the first place, allow me to congratulate the noble Duke on the position which he has assumed, I venture to say, with the general consent and approval of this House. Speaking on behalf of those who are less bound by Party ties than my noble friend behind me, I am quite certain there is no Member of your Lordships' House that will not gladly agree with the noble Duke on every occasion on which it is possible to do so, and that when they have the misfortune to differ from him, they will differ from him loyally, and knowing that he differs from them with equal honesty. But, my Lords, that is not what is in all our minds today. It is the disappearance from official life of that great figure, which has for more than twenty years been the dominant figure in this House, and, indeed, since the resignation of Mr. Gladstone, the prominent figure in the life of this country. I cannot but say that, whoever may rise up to succeed Lord Salisbury, the House for long indeed, will have been shorn of much of its interest, and we shall feel, as we felt when Lord Beaconsfield and Mr. Glad stone disappeared from the scene, that Parliamentary life had lost more than half its interest. He was privileged to be the adviser of the later years of our Elizabeth, as his great ancestor had been the adviser of the first Elizabeth; and, though we had occasion often to differ from him, none of those who opposed him, still less those who had occasion sometimes to cross swords with him in unequal combat, but must have admired the rich eloquence, delivered in those organ tones, the epigrammatic and literary form of his discourse, and the authority with which he spoke, not merely to Great Britain, but to the world. That is a figure which we cannot in a moment replace. Sometimes a great forest tree has been cut down, and has allowed the younger shoots to rise to the sun and receive new vigour and development from the absence of the overshadowing tree. And I hope it may be so here, and that, though we cannot hope to see Lord Salisbury constantly in his place, a generation may yet arise, not unworthy of his character, of his eloquence, and of his ability, to fill in some degree the place he has left vacant.


My Lords, may I be allowed to say a few words on the great loss which this House has sustained by the resignation of Lord Salisbury? We shall miss him on many occasions. He is a great statesman, of the highest order and the highest capability. He led his Party not with a rod of iron, but by the wand of ability, and I may also say, of affection. He never in any speech he made intentionally hurt the feelings of his opponents. But what I should like especially to say on this occasion is with regard to the noble Duke who has taken Lord Salisbury's place. The noble Duke, with his usual modesty, stated that it might have been wished that some one of the large majority on this side of the House might take the place of the late Premier. I venture to say that everyone on this side rejoices that one of the great house of Cavendish is their Leader in this House.


My Lords, as one of the oldest Members of your Lordships' House and one who has followed the noble Marquess, the late Prime Minister, ever since the resignation of Lord Beaconsfield, and who was present at the meeting at which the noble Marquess was selected Leader of the Party in, this House, I wish to express my very sincere regret at the great loss which the Party and the country have sustained in the resignation of Lord Salisbury. The distinguished abilities of Lord Salisbury, and the long brilliant services which he has given to his country, have already been referred to in eloquent terms by the noble Duke and other noble Lords who have spoken. I only wish, as an old Member and supporter of that great Party to which the noble Duke has properly alluded, to say how much we lament the loss which has been sustained, and how much we agree with every tribute of admiration which has been expressed. I think we are fortunate in obtaining the services of the noble Duke as the successor of the noble Marquess, and I, for one, believe that we are all ready to offer to him the support which we were always glad to give to his predecessor.