HL Deb 16 March 1938 vol 108 cc121-8

My Lords, it is a great privilege to me to be the first speaker in your Lordships' House who welcomes to the Woolsack our new Lord Chancellor. I only know the Lord Chancellor as a great lawyer and as a judge—not that I have appeared before him in his official capacity. I do not pretend to know the noble Lord's political opinions, but I assume they are those of an untainted orthodoxy, and if that is so I am happy in not being called upon to oppose them at this juncture. It is my privilege, however, to offer to him on behalf of my noble friends a very hearty welcome to the high and dignified position that he has assumed and to assure him, for whatever that may be worth, of whatever co-operation and help we can give him in his high office. I should like to take this opportunity, too, of offering on behalf of my noble friends our very hearty thanks to the late Lord Chancellor for all the courtesies that he has extended to us during his time of office. The noble Viscount is known as a person of robust controversial nature who always enjoyed, in an almost unseemly degree, the dust of the arena. That side of him is not known to your Lordships quite so well as it is known to me and to others who sit on this side of the House; but it was a great blow to us when we heard of his resignation.

I would like at this point to say that there appears to be almost an epidemic of resignations going on at the present time. It is a form of self-indulgence of which I do not always approve, and I want to say that I, personally, have not the slightest intention of resigning from anything whatever. It is always a great pleasure, and a matter of intellectual interest, to hear Lord Hailsham erect a tower of unassailable virtue on behalf of the cause that he espouses, while at the same time digging a pit into which his opponents, if they have their merits, ought instantly to be passed. We shall miss the noble Viscount from the Woolsack, but we are glad that on occasions—and we hope they will be many—we shall see him in his place and hear him take part in our debates. Let me assure him on behalf of my noble friends, for whom alone I have the privilege to speak, that he takes with him our very deep respect and our most hearty thanks and good wishes.

I should also like, if I may, to extend a cordial welcome to the new Leader of your Lordships' House. I am sure that we can extend those good wishes in all sincerity. It is a dignified position that he has to fill, full of difficulties, and difficulties that may not be made easier for him by the fact that I, being relieved from other duties, may be in a position in which my nuisance capacity may be increased. But we are sure that the noble Earl has the good will of us all and we have some experience of his fluency, his cogency and, above all, his courtesy in debate. We all wish him success in his new office.

My last desire would be, again on behalf of my friends, to say how very sorry we are to lose the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, as Leader of your Lordships' House. We owe him very many thanks for many courtesies and much consideration. He has always been as reserved in his censure as the circumstances would allow him to be, and he has sometimes not been ungenerous in his praise. In one respect he has not been an easy person to work with, or rather against. When I have wished to say something particularly pungent the pain on the noble Viscount's face has been so keen as immediately to disarm me, with the result that I have not been able to say many of the things that he ought to have heard. But in his new capacity as Foreign Secretary we wish him all success and health and strength for his great position. It is an arduous, a most responsible, and most thankless task that he has assumed, and upon him at this time perhaps more than upon any other person falls the greatest responsibility. I wish him, as I say, health and strength, and I express our hope that his labours will be blessed by a greater promise of peace and good will among men.


My Lords, may I for a moment echo the last sentences with which the noble Lord who leads the Opposition has so much gratified the House. He alluded to the fact that he no longer holds the great place in the government of London which he formerly held, and we are the gainers by that, because we know that the noble Lord will be able to attend debates here oftener than has been possible in the past. We can none of us, I think, feel any surprise, although we feel a great deal of regret, that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has found it impossible to continue as Leader here that place which he has filled with so much distinction and with such general acceptance. But we know that, though many offices are busy, there is none at which, like the Foreign Office, the Minister is liable to be disturbed by alarms and excursions at any hour of the day or night, which practically makes it impossible for him to attend rigidly to the duties of leadership here. I would wish also to extend a warm welcome to the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope. He has had experience of a number of offices—the War Office, the Foreign Office, the Office of Works, and he now presides over the Board of Education. He bears a great historical name dating from his ancestor who was the trusted lieutenant of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, and whose activities, by a coincidence almost painful to-day, were largely exercised in the Peninsula of Spain.

I am sure we all wish the noble Earl the greatest success in his task, and he will have beside him the noble Viscount whose departure from the Woolsack we all so much regret. He has gone down only one or two steps in the official hierarchy, and now is Lord President of the Council, an office which is less laborious than some but is not always the complete sinecure which it is sometimes apt to be called. It has been my fortune since I came into the House to sit in the august presence of ten Lord Chancellors. From all of them I have received much personal kindness, and with several of them I have been on terms of close friendship. Some of them, before they came here, had been distinguished in political life, and some in other outside walks of life, but all of them without, I think, any exception, cer- tainly in my time, were men of the first distinction in different branches of their great profession and, therefore, in welcoming the noble and learned Lord who is now on the Woolsack we are glad to know that he has achieved the greatest pre-eminence in his profession and added lustre in that respect to the list of Lord Chancellors.

If I might indulge in a few further personal reminiscences, my first recollections of anybody who sat on the Woolsack go back to the days of my boyhood when my father introduced a Motion in the House on the subject of a famous religious work, Essays and Reviews. That discussion led to a verbal duel between two very distinguished men, Lord Westbury, who at that time sat on the Woolsack, and Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford, and that discussion was enlivened by an amount of personal allusion and recrimination to which your Lordships' House has been little accustomed. I merely mention this in order to state my full conviction that the noble and learned Lord who now adorns the Woolsack is not at all likely to come into collision with the right reverend Bench in the manner in which his brilliant but singular predecessor did.


My Lords, I rise to say only a word on behalf of the Lords Spiritual, and to express our very great regret that the late Lord Chancellor has been obliged to give up the office which he so greatly adorned. The relations between the Lord Chancellor and the Bishops are varied, manifold, important, and, in the case of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, have always been most cordial. Indeed, in some respects the Lord Chancellor is a partner of the Bishops, because it sometimes falls to him to read the Prayers, which perhaps are more valued by your Lordships than attended. earnestly hope that our relations with the new Lord Chancellor, whom I warmly welcome, may be equally cordial, but I cannot promise him those opportunities of controversial discussion with the Lords Spiritual to which the noble Marquess has alluded. I need scarcely say also that we most cordially welcome the noble Earl who has attained the high dignity of Leader of the House, and I trust that he will find us always ready to obey his injunctions.


My Lords, I rise only first of all to thank the speakers who have referred to me in such friendly and flattering terms, and to thank the whole of your Lordships' House for the way in which they have received those expressions. It is ten years this month that I reached the dignity of being introduced into your Lordships' House, and I have spent those ten years practically continuausly in the service of your Lordships' House—first of all as Lord Chancellor, then as Deputy Leader and Leader of the Opposition, then as Leader of the House of Lords, and then as Lord Chancellor again. I desire to acknowledge the unfailing kindness and loyal co-operation of all the members of your Lordships' House, and also of the officials at the Table. I desire also to thank my noble friend, if he will permit me to call him so, the Leader of the Opposition, for his friendly words. He has been my political adversary for more years than he and I care to remember, but that makes no difference to his private friendliness, and I think it is a distinctive and distinguished characteristic of the political life of this country that political differences, however acute, make no difference to private esteem.

I also wish to thank the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Liberal Party, for his very gracious words. He had built up a distinguished reputation in public life before I thought of entering politics, and I therefore value his expressions the more. To the most reverend Primate I desire to tender my grateful thanks for his continued co-operation and help. I know him as a valued colleague and wise counsellor, whether I was on the Woolsack or in private life. I desire to congratulate the new Lord Chancellor, and I am glad that the office has passed into such safe and distinguished keeping. I wish him every success in the high and responsible office, and I know he will enjoy the same confidence, the same sympathy and the same ready support as your Lordships' House always extended to me in that place.


My Lords, although the main purpose of those who have made speeches this afternoon has been, as is right, to extend a welcome to the highest officer in this House, a welcome in which I, if I may, would sincerely like to join, I would like, with your Lordships' permission, to say a few words in acknowledgment of and thanks for the kind expressions in my own regard that fell from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, and from the noble Marquess opposite. I am still left in doubt as to what may be or might have been those things which the noble Lord opposite, under the influence of some telepathic influence, has left unsaid. We shall never know, but all I certainly know is that during the two years I have had the honour of leading this House I have owed much to the unfailing courtesy and consideration with which he has constantly treated me. The same is true of the noble Marquess opposite, of the most reverend Primate, and of those for whom he speaks, and of every member of your Lordships' House. With the late Lord Chancellor I have owed much to them, and much also to the assistance and the unfailing helpfulness and advice of those who sit at this Table.

The leadership of this House is a great position and brings great honour, and no one can surrender it without great regret. I think it was Lord Rosebery, and it may have been the noble Marquess who reminded us of it, who said there were only two happy days in the life of a Prime Minister—one when he succeeded to office, and the other when he left it. In my own case, if one may humbly compare the smaller things with the greater, I can say that the day on which I succeeded to the leadership of this House was not necessarily a happy one, because I was more conscious of the responsibilities than of the privileges, and the day on which I leave it is tinged with a greater element of regret. It is indeed one element in the mixed feelings with which I succeeded to the office which I at present have the honour to bear, that it did involve, for reasons which the noble Marquess gave, the surrender of that office of leadership in your Lordships' House which I had come greatly to value. I have said that I have constantly received at all hands universal consideration and kindness, and I am constantly tempted to remind myself of how often your Lordships' instinct of charity and generosity has overtaken your strict regard for justice in the judgment you have formed of what I have here tried to do. I therefore thank all your Lordships from the bottom of my heart, and for myself and for those of us who sit on this Bench I can only console myself by the feeling that the exchange of leadership that is involved is one that is wholly to the advantage of your Lordships' House. My noble friend is assured of a warm welcome in a place where he has only friends and no enemies, and he will also be fortunate in re-enlisting to himself one who can now give full vent to his robust controversial nature.


My Lords, I can say with great truth that I feel a little embarrassment in acknowledging what your Lordships have said on this occasion; none the less because I have spent the greater part of my life in a profession in which embarrassment is generally avoided and always disguised. There are two things in particular which cause my difficulty. The first is that I cannot hope to emulate the felicitous and, if I may say so, charming words of the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in performing his duty this afternoon, and the second one is that I share very fully the regret that every member of your Lordships' House must feel that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has thought it necessary to retire from the post which I now shall fill, at any rate for a time. My Lords, even a lawyer may be sincere, and I ask your Lordships to believe that I regret exceedingly the circumstances that have rendered it necessary for me to occupy the Woolsack.

It has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, that he entertains the belief that I shall prove myself to be a person of undoubted and unblemished orthodoxy. While I occupy the Woolsack nobody will be, at least in endeavour, more orthodox than I as compared with my predecessors in that post. When I stand, in accordance I think with Standings Orders, two paces to the left of the Woolsack to address your Lordships on other topics than those which fall strictly to the business of the Lord Chancellor, I shall be orthodox according to my lights, though there may be occasions on which Lord Snell will doubt whether my opinions are as orthodox as he could wish. But however that may he, I should like on this occasion, before I have spoken upon any controversial matter, to express my firm conviction that in your Lordships' House the controversies which arise are predominantly those which everybody in this House will approach in the same spirit. There are comparative trifles, as I think, in which people take opposite views, but I do believe that on almost every occasion of real importance the members of your Lordships' House, whether they sit on the right hand side or on the left hand side of the House, will be animated by precisely the same feeling—namely, that they are desirous of doing their best for the common weal in the true interest of the country.


My Lords, I find it difficult to express the gratitude which I feel for the very kind words which have fallen from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Marquess, and the most reverend Primate and others of your Lordships on my selection as Leader of your Lordships' House. I am conscious of the great responsibility and of the great honour of that office, but I am conscious also of the great qualities both of mind and of speech which distinguished many of my predecessors. It happens that there are an exceptional number of those who have either been Leaders of your Lordships' House or have been Deputy Leaders present here to-day. I am, therefore, all the more conscious of my own shortcomings. I can, however, say that I will endeavour to serve your Lordships' House to the very best of my ability. It is a House for which I have long had, not only a great respect, but also a great affection, and if in any way I can lighten the work either of your Lordships, or of the officers of the House, or of those who for the benefit of this House and the public make known our proceedings, then I shall feel that my steps are on the right road and that I am in part fulfilling the high duties which have been laid upon me. I can only say that I shall welcome suggestions from whatever quarter they may come. I do not necessarily say that I will adopt those suggestions, but I can at any rate say that my services will be available to any member of your Lordships' House that asks for them, and I will endeavour to serve the House as faithfully as my predecessors have done in the past.

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