HL Deb 20 March 1930 vol 76 cc934-40

My Lords, we meet this afternoon in order, in the first place, to pay a tribute and, I hope I may say on behalf of the whole House, an affectionate tribute to the memory of the late Earl of Balfour. The late Earl had been for many years an outstanding figure in our national life, owing to his multiple national activities in many fields over more than half a century of time. No one would dispute his claim to take a high place in the story of our nation and Empire. We who knew him, both here and in the House of Commons, will not forget the appeal of his personal charm, his literary power of clarity in classical expression, his refinement in political repartee, his contempt for vulgarity in political debate, his sympathy with all new phases of philosophic thought, his successful effort to keep abreast of many branches of modern scientific investigation and research and his very real love for music. His whole life is a living answer, as I think, to those critics who are too ready to deplore what they ask us to regard as the lowered level of political action and debate. I confess that I profoundly differ from those critics, and the disproof is to be found in the life of such a man as the late Earl of Balfour.

The wide generality of the interests of the late Earl implied no lack of vigour and determination. These qualities, as many of us will remember, were notably conspicuous in his first great administra- tive office. The late Earl entered political life as Member of Parliament for Hertford no less than fifty-six years ago, and fifty-two years ago, as private secretary to the late Marquess of Salisbury, then Foreign Secretary, he went with Lord Salisbury to the Berlin Conference, a first apprenticeship in the arena of diplomacy in which he was destined to become one of the most conspicuous figures in his later life.

This is not an occasion to trace, or attempt to trace in any detail, the later steps of the political life of the late Earl, but we cannot forget, especially those who were in the House of Commons with him, that for ten years he was Leader of the House of Commons, and Prime Minister from July, 1902, to November, 1905. Great public and patriotic services were rendered by him as First Lord of the Admiralty and Foreign Secretary at a critical period during the Great War. Subsequently, he went as our Second Plenipotentiary to the Peace Conference in Paris. I would desire, however, to give special testimony to the great part which the late Earl took as chief British Delegate at the First Assembly of the League of Nations in 1920, and to state what I know to be true, that he well and truly laid the original foundation stone at Geneva, on which in later times a goodly and permanent structure has been reared. In addition, we remember that he was the chief Delegate of this country at the great International Conference at Washington in the winter of 1921–22, the precursor of so large and important a chapter in subsequent history, and in pushing forward a growing friendliness between our country and the United States of America.

When the late Earl retired from active political life in 1929 he held the office of Lord President of the Council, an office endeared to him as head of the Government Department for scientific inquiry and research. May I add, as his successor in that office, testimony to the deep appreciation of the value of his services held by all the scientific people so closely associated with him during the period of his office? Outside the area of political activities the late Earl held numerous offices of great honour. He was President of the British Association in 1904. He was President of the British Academy, President of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, and Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. This is no time, nor is there now opportunity, to attempt any final estimate of the influence of the late Earl. We are, however, in this House, rightly and justly proud that for many years he was one of our members, bringing into our debates his unrivalled experience and unique distinction in debating power. We bid him farewell with a deep sense of our loss—a loss that we share with the peoples of the whole Empire which he did so much to link together in Imperial unity under a loyal allegiance to the common and much-beloved Sovereign.


My Lords, I am sure that you will appreciate the sympathy with which the noble and learned Lord has spoken of Lord Balfour. To me it is, as you may well believe, somewhat difficult to follow him. I cannot hope to do justice to the great public reputation which Lord Balfour has left behind, and I naturally shrink from touching, in more than a sentence or two, upon that more intimate life with which I was most especially acquainted, and the incomparable charm of Lord Balfour's character. The noble and learned Lord has spoken of Lord Balfour's career. I will ask your Lordships to forgive me if I do not follow him in that historical survey, which has been well-treated in other places as well. It is more Lord Balfour as we knew him that I would recall to your Lordships' minds—his immense wealth of qualities, which shone from so many different facets of his character. It was not merely that he was a statesman but, as the noble and learned Lord has reminded you, he was an authority upon philosophy and science and music and literature. He wrote in a style whose force and purity are a model for all others. He was held in the highest honour in the great University to which he belonged—nay, in many Universities—and he was also the leader and patron wherever men or women were gathered together in mental or physical pursuits to compete with himself.

Those were great qualities; and yet, speaking in this place, they were as it were only subsidiary to the reputation which he held, for to us he was primarily a Parliamentarian and a statesman, a past-master in the Parliamentary art. He only reached your Lordships' House comparatively late in his life, but we were witnesses whilst he was here of the weight and acuteness of his intellect. But in the Commons, where, like the noble and learned Lord, I so well remember him, he was a master of debate, with a marvellous power with the rapier, which glittered but never left a lasting wound. And to those who, like myself, had the great privilege of working under him, the wonder was the subtlety of the mind, the discriminating subtlety, and the extraordinary rapidity of apprehension, so that after a few minutes' conversation in his room, or even a word or two to his companions on the Bench, he was able to deliver a considerable speech which had great weight in the debate.

And, above all, what I carry away in my recollection is the loyalty of Lord Balfour. He never gave away a friend, he never abandoned a subordinate, and he was at his best when defending a difficult case. Then as a statesman. It would be impossible for me to go through his qualities in that respect, but he was pre-eminently an expert in foreign affairs, with unrivalled experience, unrivalled historical knowledge. And then in all that pertained to national defence, if not the author of the Committee of Imperial Defence he was certainly the man who, more than any other statesman, made its working efficient. And behind his deep interest in that subject there was a glowing patriotism; under the apparently smooth polish of the man there was that deep sentiment, a national and Imperial sentiment, which appeared so convincingly at the time of the War.

I must try to say, if your Lordships will bear with me, one word upon a more intimate subject, upon what I have called his unexampled charm. It was not merely that in conversation everything he said was interesting, showing the interest of a, very able man, but that, as your Lordships know, it was illumined at every moment by an ever-ready penetrating sense of humour and wit. He had the rare quality that in talking with others he was able at once to soothe and to stimulate, to place men at their ease and at their best. That was the man as we knew him. And I think we shall not merely remember, or so much remember, his statesmanship, his dialectic, or his manifold talents; we shall think of something different, of something higher. My Lords, he was lovable. We shall remember while he lived the abiding pleasure of his presence, and now that he is dead the memory will remain to us of a beloved companion and friend.


My Lords, I venture on behalf of my noble friends who sit in this part of the House to join in the tributes which have been paid to the late Lord Balfour by the noble and learned Lord who leads the House and by the noble Marquess who has just spoken. It is my misfortune that I never had the advantage of sitting in the House of Commons during the time when Mr. Balfour, as he then was, exercised a great influence over its deliberations. I suppose that we should all agree that in the course of centuries different nations have made different contributions to the history of the world. Greece and Rome and France in their turn have made their contributions; but the great contribution of the Anglo-Saxons has been representative institutions; and during the time that he was in the House of Commons there was no man so great in the management of that great representative institution, and in the respect which he inspired there as Lord Balfour. Indeed, in his day he was supreme in his management and influence of, and in his authority over, the House of Commons. It is not for me to speak of what he has done for his Party, but I think we would all of us say that in the House of Commons, than which I suppose there is no juster or more critical audience in the world, he was felt to be a supreme master of that Assembly.

I cannot speak, as the noble Marquess who has just sat down has done, of the more intimate aspect of his character; I can only venture to say something of what he has done nationally and internationally, and of the lasting value of his work. I doubt very much whether there ever was so severe a test of greatness as the immense success which he made of his visits to America, not only of the visit in 1921 to which the noble and learned Lord has referred but also the visit he made in 1917 as the leader of the deputation which went over at the time when America joined in the War. I suppose that few statesmen had a more difficult task than he had to perform and the not unnatural suspicion of what he might have had to say was entirely overcome by what he said and what he did. The personal success of Lord Balfour upon that occasion was of national value to this country. He laid the foundations of the co-operation between that great nation and our own to which many of us look forward as the best hope for the future progress of the world. In laying that foundation he did a great national service to this country. As we have been reminded already this afternoon, he was an enthusiast for the League of Nations and amongst the founders, to his own lasting honour and reputation, he will always rank high. I will venture to say, in conclusion, that he did great things for his country and in return he deserves from us a high tribute of admiration and respect.


My Lords, may I be permitted in a few words on behalf of that section of your Lordships' House which I may represent, to add to the sincere and eloquent tributes which have been paid, and most fitly paid, to the great man who has vanished from our sight. It might have been more fitting that these words should have been spoken by my revered predecessor so long associated in public life with Lord Balfour, and it is his great regret that a passing indisposition has made it impossible for him to be present this afternoon.

It is very difficult for any of us thus swiftly to analyse or describe the impression made upon our own lives and the life of the country by Lord Balfour. When a great tree falls in a garden we all feel that something sad and irrevocable has happened. But it is impossible, when we see something so dear and familiar laid low, to analyse or even record the associations which spring up in our minds. I suppose when we think of Lord Balfour we think at once of the singular independence of his mind and character. Like his great uncle he won in a singular measure, precisely because he took no pains to seek, the esteem and admiration of the people. In his case he won, I suppose we should all agree, perhaps more completely than any public man in our immediate memory, not only admiration but affection. Again and again he recalled to our minds the philosopher-king whom Plato thought to be the ideal ruler. Science and philosophy were the sphere of his own intellectual and inward life, and they gave him a most impressive detachment of mind and spirit. No man, it is true, threw himself with greater zest into Party struggle. No man ever enjoyed more fully or wielded more skilfully the sword-play of debate. But into Party struggle and debate he brought no trace of rancour. Friend and foe alike received his large-hearted courtesy and felt the magic of his incomparable personal charm. But these philosophic studies gave him a great sense of patience and a great sense of proportion in public affairs.

In his later life, as we all know, he devoted himself mainly to the larger issues of the life of his country. As we have just been reminded, with his clear mind he foresaw, with his special eloquence he vindicated, the new stage in international life which was marked by the League of Nations. He foresaw the importance for the whole future of the world of the closer understanding and fellowship of the great English-speaking nations. I followed him in the United States in 1917, and I cannot sufficiently express how everyone in the United States with one accord acclaimed him as the most impressive public man who had ever entered that country from the older life of Europe. No words can describe the immediacy and the depth of the impression which Lord Balfour made upon the imagination of the United States.

Nor shall we ever forget the way in which in 1926, with his incomparable clearness and force he made plain for the whole of the future history of the world the outlines of that unique political achievement which he had himself done so much to foster—the British Commonwealth of free and independent nations. Again and again he proved the truth of the words of Burke that magnanimity in politics is the truest wisdom. There is something strangely solemn and moving in the passage from our midst of so great and conspicuous a figure. As he passes all Parties lay at his feet the homage of their gratitude and their admiration. As we think of him now are there any words which can better describe our thoughts of him than the words of Socrates?—"Having zealously applied himself to understanding and having adorned his soul not with any foreign ornament but with her own proper jewels—temperance, justice, courage, nobility and truth he awaits, thus prepared, his journey to the unseen world."

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