HL Deb 02 May 1916 vol 21 cc839-43

My Lords, the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Morley) rose before I had an opportunity of doing what I desire to do, and what I am certain the whole of your Lordships would wish that the House should do—namely, to pay a tribute of a few words to the memory of the noble Earl, so much honoured in this House, who has passed away from us, Lord St. Aldwyn. Lord St. Aldwvn belonged to, and at the time of his death was the most conspicuous member of, a class which, though few Prime Ministers of England have sprung from it since the days of Sir Robert Walpole—the class of country gentlemen of old family and of good though not splendid property—has contributed perhaps more than any other to the number of men who, in official and unofficial capacities, have done good service to the State in Parliament. Lord St. Aldwyn's political career began as long ago as 1868, in Mr. Disraeli's Government of 1874 he was first Secretary for Ireland and afterwards Colonial Secretary, and ever since that time he had been in the forefront of public life. When Lord St. Aldwyn came to this House we all recognised that a most notable and honourable addition had been made to our numbers. If the main purpose of oratory is to persuade, Lord St. Aldwvn was the greatest orator of his time, because in both Houses of Parliament he earned the reputation of being the most persuasive speaker on either side of politics. We all know what his career was as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and though he may not go down to history as one of the most conspicuous of Chancellors of the Exchequer, yet he was exceeded by none in his knowledge of affairs and in his grasp of finance. He was able to place those qualities most conspicuously at the service of the country after the war broke out. As it happened, I was able from personal observation to follow what he did in the double capacity of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and as the representative of one great branch of the banking interest, to assist his successor at the Treasury in conducting the affairs of national finance during the intensely difficult weeks which followed the declaration of war. Lord St. Aldwvn then fulfilled a function which I am certain no other man in England could have exercised with the same authority and with the same capacity, and it is gratifying to reflect that even in his last years he was able to contribute such direct service to his country's cause. In his personal relations, as roost of us feel who had the privilege of being well acquainted with him, he was one of the most gracious and delightful of men, and I am certain that we all feel that this House is much the poorer by the loss of one of its most distinguished and most authoritative figures.


My Lords, in ordinary conditions I should have claimed the right to rise from the Front Bench opposite and to follow the noble Marquess who leads the House with a few words of tribute to the memory of the illustrious Peer whom we have lost; and perhaps even to-day it may not seem out of place that, as an old colleague of Lord St. Aldwyn, I should say a few words. This is not the occasion for passing in review Lord St, Aldwyn's career. It was in many ways a remarkable one. It was a long career, strenuous, and manysided. But ample justice has been done to that part of the subject by those who have written notices of him in the public Press and by what has been said by the noble Marquess just now. The greater part of Lord St. Aldwyn's political life was spent in the House of Commons, where he left a great reputation as an official and as a Parliamentarian. He came to this House at a time of life when many men come here from the other House of Parliament expecting to find in this place a haven of rest, in which they can, comparatively speaking, efface themselves and enjoy a well-earned respite from the harder work of the other Chamber. But Lord St. Aldwyn did not come here with any such idea. He did not lose a moment in finding his place in this House, nor did the House lose a moment in appreciating the great accession of strength which his presence brought. What the secret of his success was it is perhaps not easy to say in a few words. It always struck me that amongst the reasons which led your Lordships always to listen to him with attention were these—that he was always a complete master of the subject with which he was dealing, that his statements and arguments were characterised by a close logical reasoning which one does not always find in public speeches, and, finally, that his language was always clear and concise and entirely devoid of rhetorical artifice. This at any rate may he said with confidence, that, whether your Lordships' House was thin or full, Lord St. Aldwyn never rose to address us without receiving an amount of attention and respect which few Peers in my long experience have ever commanded in an equal degree. I think it may be said of Lord St. Aldwyn that in or out of Parliament there was no harder or more conscientious worker than he was in whatever sphere of life he chose to occupy himself. It might be in high office, it might be as a Member of Parliament, it might be in the City, it might be in the country, where he took a close interest in all the affairs of the neighbourhood in which he lived; but wherever it was, the same energy and conscientiousness characterised his work, and I think it would be true to say that there has never been a case of a public man who has gone down to the grave with fewer wasted moments to be debited to the account of his life. There were times when to some of us Lord St. Aldwyn may have seemed not always easy to approach and somewhat uncompromising in controversy, but those who knew him were not slow to find out that there ran through his character a thread of tenderness, almost of emotion, which was always present and which revealed itself oftener than one would have expected. The circumstances of his death were singularly pathetic. It was preceded by a double tragedy which we must all have deplored, and it is a matter of congratulation that it should have been so ordered that the second portion of that tragedy should not have come to his knowledge before the end of his own life. If it had, we could easily imagine the bitterness and the sorrow which it would have brought to the last moments of his life. We shall all of us miss Lord St. Aldwyn, we shall all of us honour his memory, and we all of us desire, I am sure, to lay our tribute of respect and affection at the feet of those who are sorrowing for his death.


My Lords, it will not, I hope, be unfitting if I add, from a slightly different standpoint, a few words to the eloquent tributes which have been already spoken concerning the late Lord St. Aldwyn. We have heard from those best entitled to speak of Lord St. Aldwyn's eminence as a statesman, of his power as an orator, and of his influence in public affairs. It has fallen to my lot, in the closest association with him in recent years, to have seen something of him in a different capacity—as a Churchman. He had always been an attached member of the Church of England, and circumstances led in recent years to his holding a position among Church laymen of almost unique authority and responsibility and carrying large burdens. It is not merely within what may be called the business affairs of the Church that as a leading Ecclesiastical Commissioner he was the man to whom we looked for counsel and guidance in our affairs; it is not merely that in Church controversies about the Constitutional position of the Church he brought all his wide experience and his clear-headed thoughtfulness to bear; but in other things he rendered valuable service. One who has sat, as I sat, beside him for more than two years on a Royal Commission which was dealing with much deeper questions than the finances of the Church's life, has a right to say what we clergy have learned from him as a layman as regards the aspect in which he viewed some of the larger affairs of public life, upon which he always brought to bear a thoughtfulness of a religious kind. I should like to be allowed thus to-day, on behalf of the Church in which Lord St. Aldwyn held so prominent a position, to say that while we recognise and feel all that has been testified to this afternoon as regards his power in the affairs of the nation, we desire to remember, too, what part he bore in the life of the national Church. What he was in his value as a counsellor, in his straightforwardness and weight as a statesman, was, for every one of us who knew him with intimacy, outweighed, if that be possible, by the value we attached to him as an honoured associate and as an affectionate personal friend.