HL Deb 17 December 1940 vol 118 cc104-11

My Lords, before we pass to the business on our Paper I think that we should wish to make some reference to Lord Lothian, whose tragic and untimely death has robbed this country and the Empire of one who had it in his power to give such exceptional service to them. That death came with dramatic suddenness at the very moment that the world was reading the last speech that he made, a speech which to-day we all have the opportunity of reading at its full length, and which I venture to think furnishes a most remarkable example of the depth and quality of Lord Lothian's thought. He passed as a young man naturally into work which brought him into touch with many Imperial problems and developments. That no doubt exercised a great effect on his mind and largely set the direction of his later occupations. No one that I have known seemed to combine better a devotion to great purposes with ability to measure the actual steps that at any given time were practicable to realise them. No one was ever less prone to the temptation of thinking wishfully, or of underrating difficulties. He habitually looked at politics on a large-scale map, and his mind ranged widely over it. His perspective, I think, was seldom at fault, so that he naturally placed any problem to which he addressed himself in its right relation to the whole setting.

I do not know whether your Lordships have read a lecture of his which seems to me as outstanding an example of his thought as any other of his public speeches, a lecture that he delivered at Nottingham some years ago on the Cust Foundation, entitled "Patriotism is not enough, nor pacificism either." It was, I think, a remarkable examination of many of the problems which have constantly engaged the attention of your Lordships in this House. For my own part I have read and re-read it and constantly found it stimulating. Your Lordships will of course remember many speeches that he made to us in this House from the Benches opposite, logical, closely reasoned, the argument moving constantly not on what he wished to believe but on what he believed to be true, and never making any confusion between points which were important and points which were subsidiary. It was, I suppose, that quality of refusing to turn his eyes away from difficulties, coupled with a whimsical sense of humour and supported by his great faith in the spiritual realities of life, that sometimes led those who did not understand him, or whose judgment was less widely based, to term him cynical. There could be no judgment more misleading or more false.

Being himself completely natural and wholly devoid of insincerity, he was at ease with all people, and all people were at ease with him. That is equally true of his cosmopolitan relations in the field of politics, using that word in its widest sense, and in his private affairs, the management of his own estates. Whomever he was with and whatever the business, there was no embarrassment at all in finding common ground; and to all his public and semi-public work in South Africa, as confidential adviser to a great Prime Minister in very critical times, to his work for and in India, to the problems of which his mind was particularly attuned and where his loss will be felt as keenly as in any other part of the world, and to his work for the Rhodes Trust, he brought the qualities that made him in private life so shrewd, understanding and invaluable a counsellor. And not the least of these gifts was his capacity to extract from an argument the broad material on which men might be fundamentally agreed, instead of spending their energies on minor disagreement.

It may be that we can now see that all that he had done before was the natural process of leading up to his achievement of the last eighteen months As His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington, he occupied a post for which few could have been better equipped, both by interest and practical experience of men and things, gained over many years. He had an instinctive sense and sureness of touch on all questions that arose, which were equally invaluable on both sides of the Atlantic. No one, I think, has ever served this country at Washington more wisely, or more frankly and courageously; nor has any British Ambassador made known with wider sympathy what was the feeling of the American people to his own compatriots here. When he went to America he rightly interpreted his mission as that of showing to the United States in its true light the cause for which the British Commonwealth had again taken up the sword—the cause of human freedom. It was his duty, so he conceived it, to leave the people of that great sister democracy free to make their choice as to the precise nature of the contribution they would make to that cause, once he had proved it to be their own. The work that he has done will remain and will not be undone. It may well be that he has served his country not less in his death than in his life; and if a man is to be accounted fortunate who ends his life on a high level of a task well mastered, certainly we may so think of Philip Lothian.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I should like to associate myself with the tribute which the Foreign Secretary has paid to one who was the friend of many of us on every side for many years. His death at this moment appears to be a calamity of exceptional magnitude, but it may well be, as the noble Viscount indicated in the closing words of his speech, that the circumstances of his death, the magnitude of the opportunity that was his, and the services that he rendered may themselves as time passes prove to be the most enduring memorial to him. I myself had known him well for many years, and many of us are aware that in the last war his services behind the scenes, with the quiet combination of qualities which the noble Viscount so skilfully sketched for us, were of great value on many occasions. There are few men, I should think, who by strange paths have been able to acquire that combination of personal qualities and experience and long training which fitted him for a great opportunity. His last speech to the American people, in its frankness, its force and its sincerity, from the beginning to the end, expressed his personality and his qualities. The noble Viscount especially, seeing the office that he holds, must know better than any one of us and at first hand how great a loss the nation has experienced. But for all that, we pay tribute to his high qualities, to his splendid services; and I for one, and I am sure all of us, feel the certainty that his work will long live after him.


My Lords, we on these Benches share the general sense of the House and of the nation in the loss of a great public servant, but many of us who have been for long years in close political association with Lord Lothian and on terms of closest friendship with him feel a deep and especial sorrow at his early and sudden death. He had a mind of first-rate ability, which went strictly to the essence of things and formed clear-cut opinions. Always of independent and often of original views, he sometimes seemed a little impetuous in judgment, but he had that readiness to modify his views in discussion, if it were shown that that was requisite, which is of the essence of political wisdom. His interests ranged widely. He was an omnivorous reader of books, but it was in the political field that he was most at home. He was a convinced Liberal in the widest sense of that term, and understood its full meaning and all its implications. Your Lordships will remember his speeches in this House in earlier years in which he made such valuable contributions to our debates.

He was in Ministerial office for only one year, in the National Government of 1931–32, when he held first the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for a short time and then that of Under-Secretary of State for India, a sphere that attracted him greatly. He was keenly interested in his work at that office, but when the moment came that a division on a great matter of principle led us to withdraw from the Government, without a moment's hesitation he made the sacrifice of the office that he held. He became Chairman of the Commission on the Franchise under the Constitution of India Act, and made intimate acquaintance with all parts of the Indian Empire. I happened to meet him in India when we were both there three years ago, and I heard much at that time of the impression which his personality had made on the Indian people in that land where the personal touch counts for so much. His sympathy, his understanding, his friendly accessibility had won him a great reputation there, and if in earlier years the course of events had brought him to the seat of the Viceroy, I believe that affairs might possibly from then have taken a somewhat different turn.

His embassy to the United States gave him a great opportunity at one of the focal points of world affairs, and he was able to render momentous service in forwarding co-operation between the British Empire and the American Union, in a cause which was also the cause of the whole world. When "nation speaks unto nation" much depends upon the voice, the tone, and the words. Lord Lothian was an admirable spokesman, as his speech, published in full to-day, to which reference has already been made, clearly shows. He was able to express in moving terms a powerful statement of fundamental issues. As in the case of Lord Bryce, sometimes and in some countries a man may be the best Ambassador if he has had a political rather than a diplomatic training and background. He is able to make a public appeal, not cramped by diplomatic tradition and restrictions. Although he died in the fulness of his powers, Lord Lothian had behind him a career of many years of successful achievement, especially in the field of the Commonwealth. We had hoped for him even greater opportunities in the future. Now we can only express our grief at his passing and our gratitude for his work.


My Lords, I should like to associate those who usually sit on these Benches with the tributes of honour and gratitude which have just been paid to the memory of Lord Lothian. He was one of the speakers in this House whom we were always anxious to hear, and I can remember no occasion when his speech did not throw some new, often some original, light on the problem he was discussing. He was a man of the widest knowledge, interested in all sorts and kinds of learning and affairs. The last conversation I had with him was just before I paid a short visit to India, when he was kind enough to come and speak to me about the Assyrian Churches, a small community of whom most people know nothing, but of whom he, apparently, had a. very full knowledge and with whom he had sympathy.

Lord Lothian was both an idealist and a realist. Sometimes a contrast is drawn between the statesman who is an idealist and the statesman who is a realist, but both qualities were to be found in signal degree in Lord Lothian. He was a man of the highest possible ideals, with a vision of a new world order, but at the same time he never disguised from himself or from others the difficulties which stood in the way of the realisation of these ideals, and he was ready to approach their realisation step by step by practical means. Though his passing is to all of us a source of the deepest regret, yet in a very real way he was happy in the hour of his death. He died on the morrow of a speech which has profoundly moved and influenced the people of America. He died at a time when he could feel certain that victory was assured to the country which he had represented so well, and when he had growing confidence that the great sister democracy would give all the help for which he had so eloquently pleaded.


My Lords, I feel I can hardly allow the present occasion to pass without rising in my place to add a few words to the eloquent tributes that have been paid by the noble Lords who have preceded me. While Lord Halifax and other members of the Government had the benefit of recent opportunities for conference with the late Lord Lothian in this country, I had occasion during the summer and early autumn of the year to see him constantly at work in Washington and to enjoy that warm-hearted hospitality which, to my infinite regret, I shall never be able to repay. Of Lord Lothian's work in America I would only say that ht had not only earned and obtained the affection and respect of his own staff at the Embassy, but he had earned both the respect and confidence of the Administration in Washington, and, thirdly and above all, the confidence, and indeed the admiration, of the people of America. To have achieved so much in peace-time would in itself have been a high testimonial to his abilities far greater than any words of mine can express, but to have achieved it in war-time when, from day to day, every turn of the dramatic course of events was a subject of insidious attack on the part of a highly-organised and broadly-founded propaganda weapon, when every slip would have been taken advantage of to foster misunderstanding or to engender suspicion, shows what great qualities and great abilities he had to bring to bear on the task before him.

That success, that respect, that admiration and affection which he had earned were not merely the result of brilliant abilities applied with unflagging zeal. They rested, as the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, has pointed out, on the wide foundations of his own political philosophy which underlay all the considerations of his approach to the business which he was conducting. He understood, as all too few of our statesmen in the past have understood, the essential necessity of Anglo-American co-operation for the future peace and the future progress of the world. His task, depending as it does so much on those considerations, needed someone of his breadth of view and deep understanding. He understood the great and generous spirit of the American people, and the nobility to which it can attain and to which it has in the past attained; a spirit expressed perhaps more precisely and more eloquently than on any other occasion in the famous words of Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, words which when one reads them again seem so painfully appropriate to the present time: Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'. With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in. … That is the true voice of America, a voice that renounces aggression, a voice that vows victory against the tyrant.

Lord Lothian, with his deep appreciation of the American spirit, coupled a true democracy which enabled him not only to understand but to hold in real affection the people of America and that democratic spirit which is the breath of their life. It has been said that it takes an aristocrat really to understand and feel the principles of democracy. That statement may be an exaggeration, but if ever it was true it was true of the late Lord Lothian. He realised that American reactions are slow, as indeed our reactions have been slow, and that the distance by which they were removed from that Europe from which all of them or their ancestors had departed—often in conditions of persecution, often as the result of intolerance or the poverty which followed the ravages of war—was bound to have its effect both upon the extent and the speed with which they realised the import of the course of European events. But he also knew that the essential soundness of the spirit of the American people would always in the end enable it to rise to great heights and to make great decisions; not necessarily those decisions which we here might expect, but those which, when viewed in the light of history, would stand out among the mighty acts of the nations of the world.

I know how much it was his cherished hope to play his part, not only in the events that still lie before us until victory has been consummated, but in those postwar years in which we must hope that the two great English-speaking democracies will be drawn together more closely than ever before to achieve that peace and that progress which we all need. Lord Lothian in his last public utterance placed the issues fairly before the American people. He has been deprived of further opportunity to contribute to that work which he had so deeply at heart, but if we can dedicate ourselves here to-day in this House to the great task which he would have had us undertake, put aside all small and insular prejudices and open our minds and our hearts in our generation to the immense possibilities which that co operation holds out, I feel that then indeed he will neither have lived nor have died in vain. His name will go down to history among those great British statesmen whose vision and whose actions have illuminated the path for the people to follow.

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