HL Deb 08 November 1944 vol 133 cc905-11

12.10 p.m.


My Lords, during recent months it has been my melancholy duty to express the sorrow of your Lordships on the death of many distinguished members of this House. But in other cases, with the exception of those Peers who have fallen in action, those of whom I have spoken have all been men who have died full of age and honour. To-day, we mourn one who has met his death, in the plenitude of his powers, at the hand of an assassin. The fate of Lord Moyne is not unparalleled in our history, but such events are fortunately rare, and when they occur they come on us with a, sense of horror and shock.

I do net intend to speak this morning of the detestable crime which ended his life, its occasion and its motive. This is not the time for that. To-day, we think of Lord Moyne himself, the loyal and courageous colleague whom we have lost. He was a man, I think, of very uncommon qualities. It is not merely that he was brave. Many men are brave; but Lord Moyne was more. He had, in the highest degree, that spirit of daring which delights in danger. And, what is even rarer, he combined this adventurous spirit with a wide scientific outlook, and a mature and sober judgment on public affairs. These are qualities which, in modern times, are seldom seen in combination. When one thinks of him one is reminded of one of those soldier statesmen who made the Elizabethan era one of the shining periods of our history. Finally, he was, in the fullest sense of the word, a modest man. With all his outstanding and varied abilities he never thought highly of himself. As the Prime Minister said in another place yesterday, when he was asked, early in the present war, to return to the Government as Under-Secretary in the Department in which he had been the Minister, he did not hesitate. He put himself at the disposal of his country, in whatever position he might be useful. This, my Lords, was typical of his whole life.

Many of us came to know Lord Moyne best as Leader of your Lordships' House. We shall not forget his quiet thoughtful speeches and his constant courtesy and kindliness to all who came to him with their problems. He was a brave and patriotic Englishman, an able and devoted public servant, who has been taken from us at a time when he was doing work of vital importance for his country. These things are difficult to understand. But at any rate we can be sure that he died as he would have wished to die. He leaves to us a gracious memory and a glowing example. We shall not forget him, and we send to his family our heartfelt sympathy in their irreparable loss.

12.15 p.m.


My Lords, I feel myself in the same difficulty as that mentioned by the noble Leader of the House, in his opening sentences, in rendering a fitting tribute to our colleague in this House who has been the victim of this senseless assassination. As the noble Viscount said, on different occasions, during recent weeks or months, we have had to pay tribute to those of our colleagues who have either died fighting in action or, as he says, have died full of years and honour. In this case we are paying tribute to one whom many of us have known personally as a friend for many years; one who gave an example, I think, of self-denying public service which was consistent and conspicuous all his life. He was a man to whom his wealth made no difference, except that it provided for him fuller opportunities of service.

I would like to associate myself with what the noble Leader of the House has said of his modesty and his retiring disposition. I remember very well his record of bravery in the last war on many occasions. The noble Leader has also mentioned a fact which I myself have noted: that was the conspicuous example of the quality of Lord Moyne's character which was manifested when he took, at the beginning of the war, the post of Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, where he had previously served as Minister. We all remember, too, how, when he was Leader of this House, he continually extended to us his tactful and friendly help, and I know that he was a Leader who had the respect and, I may say, the affection of members of all Parties. To all of them, as I have said, he was ever helpful.

There was another side of Lord Moyne which some of us knew—I myself knew it fairly well—and that was his great interest in natural things, which he extended as a traveller. In between the periods of his public service he seemed to welcome opportunities for extending his travels, and improving his very great contributions to knowledge of natural things. He might have had leisure, but he continually denied it to himself. I always had the impression, when talking to Lord Moyne, that behind his quiet exterior he had in his conscience a feeling that it was his duty to render public service. He rendered it without intermission, and he used every opportunity of doing so. As the noble Leader of the House has said, he lived and died in the service of his country.

12.19 p.m.


My Lords, as the Leader of the House has said, sadly too often, in these years of war, have we had the melancholy occasion to pay our tribute of respect and gratitude to men of leadership who have passed from among us, but never before to one who has met so tragic an end as Lord Moyne. He was at the height of his powers. He had spent his life in a succession of services to the State and to the public. He occupied a key position of great importance in the world situation with conspicuous success. He had the right to look forward to a future prospect of further usefulness. And now he has been suddenly cut off by the hand of murderers. It was indeed a wicked and a dreadful crime.

We are glad to know that the crime cannot be laid to the account of Egyptians, in whose country it took place. On the contrary, members of the Egyptian Police showed the highest courage and devotion to duty in the face of great danger, and I feel sure that this House would welcome any action which might be taken by His Majesty's Government, with the approval of the Egyptian authorities, to show their appreciation of the courage and efficiency of the members of the Egyptian Police in effecting the arrest of the desperate assassins of a British Minister of the Crown. Those murderers have not yet been identified, but your Lordships will understand the distress that I feel, having given five years of my life, as High Commissioner of Palestine, to the building of a new State there, and to aiding a movement inspired by an intense idealism and hating every kind of violence, priding itself on its humanitarian spirit, to think that it may be possible that these murderers have come from the Jewish Palestinian population. If it should prove to be so, that population, I feel certain, will see that it is vital to extirpate from their midst this hateful group of criminals.

Lord Moyne touched life on many sides. He had interests in science and in art; as a soldier in the last war he was three times mentioned in despatches, and won the Distinguished Service Order and bar. In politics he served for very many years in the House of Commons and in various high offices in the Government. He was active in the service of this House, and attained the highest position in its gift, that of Leader, in which he won a universal popularity. Such is the man whom we mourn, and such is the memory which his family amid their sorrow may always cherish.

12.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like in a word or two to associate myself with the speeches which have just been made. Five years of totalitarian warfare, with a growing record of suffering and cruelty, sometimes threaten to benumb the emotions of indignation and pity; but when we heard of this wicked crime there arose in us a deep sense of indignation against the men who had committed this murder and against those who had instigated it. Even greater was the sense of our sorrow for the loss which this has meant for the nation. Lord Moyne has occupied many positions in the public service; in all of them he has served conscientiously and faithfully. He was a man of many interests and of great personal generosity. At the moment that he was struck down he was holding a post of quite exceptional importance. He has died in the service of his country. To his family—and I understand that his children are now on active service—we tender our deep sympathy in the sudden blow which has fallen upon them. I am sure we also feel deep sympathy with the widow of the young chauffeur who was murdered at the same time.


My Lords, as a very old friend of Walter Moyne, and as his Government partner at the Ministry of Agriculture, I should like to add my humble tribute. Nobody who served with or under him could fail to be deeply impressed by his ability, his modesty, his courage his transparent integrity and his great personal charm. Reference has been made from both sides of the House to his modesty, and it is surely no exaggeration to say that seldom has any man entrusted with tasks of grave responsibility discharged them with greater modesty and self-effacement. He was a great Britisher and a truly white man.


My Lords, I should like to add a short tribute to the words which have been spoken in memory of Lord Moyne. His official activities are well known to your Lordships, but I was associated with him in another capacity. On the death of Lord Lloyd, Lord Moyne, in spite of all his other duties, assumed the Presidency of the Seamen's Hospital Society. He did not allow that to be a sinecure in any way; he attended all our meetings and grasped the problem very quickly, so that in a very short time we had the advantage of his acute and clear mind in solving our problems. He found time during his last visit to England to come to us and refresh his knowledge of what was going on in that hospital, and also in the voluntary hospital world generally. I speak not only for the society to which I belong but also for the whole of the voluntary hospital movement when I say that by the death of Lord Moyne that movement has lost one who would have proved a true friend and a very wise counsellor in the difficult years that lie ahead.

12.27 p.m.


My Lords, I would ask you to allow me in a few sentences to add an observation. I hesitate to do so, because what has been said by the noble Lords who have already spoken has been so admirably said, and I think, taken together, these speeches present a very just picture of the man who has gone. But the relations between the Woolsack and the Leader of the House are necessarily close and special, and I had the experience, when Lord Moyne was our Leader here, of having many opportunities of estimating his real character, his deep and single-minded integrity, and his complete selflessness in any discussions one had with him.

I think that from his life there is a lesson to be learnt, and one which it is right to point out now for the consideration of others. He was a man, as has been said, of great wealth. He was a man who had a wide range of interests and tastes. He was devoted to exploration and travel, and he had the most genuine interest in natural history and nature generally. He was one of those wealthy men who showed a real interest in beautiful architecture. He was devoted to yachting. It would have been very easy for such a man to have abstained from the daily burden of public life; and certainly he never entered public life with any ideas of ambition or personal advancement. Yet here we have a man who deliberately chose to render the service which he was called upon to give with cheerfulness, with modesty and with efficiency, and, as has been pointed out, quite indifferent to whether the duty he was asked to undertake was one which would be regarded in the world as of the greatest importance or not. That has a lesson for us all. Lord Moyne's life is an example of the truth that public spirit is the salt of democracy, and as long as this country contains men who are willing to make that contribution in the spirit in which Lord Moyne made it this country will continue to be respected and loved.