HL Deb 17 February 1942 vol 121 cc847-51

My Lords, before we pass to public business I am sure you will wish me to make some reference to the loss of the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, one of the four survivors among our numbers of Queen Victoria's Cabinet Ministers. Although lately he took little part in our debates he was still, in spite of his eighty-five years and growing infirmities, a very familiar and loved figure among us. It is thirty-five years since he held high Government office. His administration of the Army and of the India Office fell in very stormy times, when Party controversy ran high and gave him great scope in another place for his debating power and fighting gifts.

He succeeded to your Lordships' House at the time of the great Conservative debacle in 1906, or shortly after that, and, owing to the chances of political life, he did not again serve as a Minister; but for many years from 1907 onwards he was the trusted leader of the Southern Unionists. His political life was passed in days of strong Party controversy on that subject as well, which laid him open to much misrepresentation from those with an imperfect knowledge of his work and character. In the long negotiations for an Irish settlement he earned the trust and respect of all Parties with which he had to deal. I was privileged to count him as a friend since my boyhood, and I am sure many others besides myself will have experienced when they were young members of the House of Commons, his kindly and generous interest in the younger generation. The intractable field of Irish relations perhaps gave the widest scope to his wisdom in council and his courage in responsibility. I am sure we all feel that a great and long-to-be-regretted figure has passed from among us.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I should like to associate myself with the tribute which the Leader of the House has paid to the noble Earl, Lord Midleton. He was an active figure in politics some years before I was elected to the House of Commons, but I well remember, having a lively interest in these things in those days, the controversies and struggles in which he played a very prominent part, and particularly the part that he played at the War Office about the time of the South African war. He adds another to the long list of those about whom I myself, in earlier days when I knew more than I know now about human physiology, remarked that they afforded conspicuous examples of the longevity which sometimes seems to accompany those who hold high political office. It would be interesting to speculate upon the explanation of this vitality that attaches sometimes to Ministers of State. Of that vitality, long prolonged, the Earl of Midleton was a signal example, and he will I am sure be long remembered and respected in the circles of the Party to which he rendered such distinguished service.


My Lords, may I add a few words to what has already been said on behalf of my noble friends here and also in respect of a personal friendship with the late Lord Midleton which, though it did not begin either at school or at college, covered a period of more than sixty years? It is one of the pleasant features of our English life that friendships of that kind are altogether independent of political association or agreement. St. John Brodrick, as he then was, belonged to a generation of Oxford men who, as the custom was in those days—a custom which I suppose is gradually being extinguished—were brought up for public life without any question of their undertaking any other kind of profession or existence. He and many of his contemporaries achieved no small distinction in that arrangement. As has been said, he filled two great offices—as Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for India. In neither of these offices was he called on to exercise a mere humdrum routine existence. At the War Office he found himself in an age of military reform in which he took a most keen and active part, and he also, as we know, came in for the South African War which proved so clearly the necessity for these reforms. Then again, at the India Office, he did not have an altogether peaceful career, and he showed that he could hold his own in a difficult controversy with the Government of India.

As the Leader of the House has mentioned, after coming to this House he took a prominent part in an attempt to settle the Irish controversy. He unhappily failed. In spite of the fact that the most prominent figures on both sides, such as Lord Carson and John Redmond, would have done all they could to bring about a pacification of the Irish question, that attempt was not destined to succeed, and we are now lamenting the results of that Failure. It would have been indeed a pleasure to Lord Midleton—and a pride—if he could have been associated with the start of a peaceful era in Ireland. In his private capacity, as both noble Lords have said, he was a beloved and acceptable figure. There must be many, I am sure, who served in the Army at Aldershot and who recollect the genial hospitality and the pleasant humour which greeted them at his delightful home in Surrey. But he will be most of all remembered as a man who gave the best of his talents and his energies to the service of his country.


My Lords, may I just add one word to the tributes that have been paid to Lord Midleton as one to whom he was an old and valued friend? I always admired in him the combination of two qualities not always found together—entire courage and frankness both in the opinions he held and the way in which he expressed them, and complete absence of any bitterness. He was a man of very wise and generous sympathies, which he showed, as the noble Marquess has just indicated, in his attitude towards Ireland—a country which, though it brought him many disappointments, had always a very warm place in his heart. He was much distressed by his increasing infirmities of deafness and lameness, though he bore them with characteristic fortitude. Perhaps it is well that he should have passed from us while the memory of his vigour and ability is still fresh and clear.


My Lords, I should like to be allowed to add my humble tribute to what has been said with regard to our deceased friend. It was my privilege to be closely associated with him for many years. I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary at the War Office, at the India Office, and at the Foreign Office. He was a most attractive personality to work with—a man with a keen sense of humour which made things run smoothly when everything was going right, but he also had a very stern sense of duty which compelled attention to important problems when they come up for consideration. I am glad to be able to recall a conversation I once had with the late Lord Balfour, the late Lord Curzon, and the late Mr. Asquith, as he then was. Somehow or other the question of the late Lord Midleton's qualifications for public service came up. All three were unanimous in saying that the two outstanding qualities he possessed for public service were intense industry and a very considerable debating power. I am glad to be able to mention this because, after all, these three whom I have mentioned were, in the main, critics, and all were personally associated with the late Lord Midleton in his public life in the House of Commons. They were, further, as I submit, very good judges.

With regard to Lord Midleton's connexion with Ireland, I should like to say this. He had no residence in Ireland, but he had an estate there, and he was most punctilious in the attention he paid to it. He was no absentee landlord. Two or three times a year, or more, he would go over to Ireland, and consider the position of his tenants. He always took the greatest interest in them and in his estate. I should also like to mention his association with the reform of the Army Medical Service after the South African war. I do not say that he started that reform, but it would not have been carried out unless he had taken it up, as he did, most warmly. The result is what we see now on the Embankment near the Tate Gallery, a building which has done great work in connexion with the Army Medical Service. He set us a very noble example of hard work, and your Lordships are well advised, if I may say so, to pay this tribute to his memory and to express our sympathy with his bereaved widow in her distress.