HL Deb 22 August 1945 vol 137 cc99-103

2.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that now, at the first convenient moment after the conclusion of the debate on the Address, we should express our sense of the loss which this House as well as the nation has sustained by the death of the Marquess of Crewe. He died, as we know, full of years and full of honour. He has bequeathed to as the example of a long life of public service which will be difficult to emulate, but of which we are justly proud.

It is, I find, more than sixty years ago that the Marquess of Crewe first held a Government appointment, and fifty years ago, under the Liberal Government of that time, he served as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. It is difficult nowadays to project our minds back to the bitterness of political feeling that prevailed in those days; but I know that at that time, as Lord-Lieutenant, the Marquess of Crewe experienced many difficulties, due to the exacerbation of political feeling which then existed. He overcame them—or, shall I say, wore them down—with that courtesy and consideration which have always characterized him. Forty years or so ago the Marquess of Crewe was Lord President of the Council, and not long afterwards Leader of this House. I think that he must have entertained in his later years a feeling of especial satisfaction that as Leader of this House he was privileged to move the Second Reading of one of the most fruitful Acts of Parliament that has characterized the growth of the British Commonwealth—the South Africa Act. There are few examples, I should think, of more far-sighted statesmanship than that Act embodied, and few which have more rapidly been attended by fruitful and beneficent results. Subsequently, the Marquess of Crewe was Secretary of State, first for the Colonies and then for India. Later, between 1922 and 1928, he was our Ambassador in Paris, and we all know well what a difficult period that was. It is agreed, by common consent, that during that period Lord Crewe's handling of the many difficult problems which beset us was attended with conspicuous success. His tenure of that office was acclaimed by all who knew it as an unqualified success.

He had, indeed, a crowded life with a succession of high offices, and I believe that if we allow for the Lord-Lieutenancies which he held, he had what must be a unique record in that he served under five successive British Sovereigns. But, as we know, he was not immersed only in national politics. He took an active interest also in municipal government, and was at one time Chairman of the London County Council. There cannot have been many, I think, who made better use than he did of the advantages of birth and fortune which fell to his lot. Instead of using his leisure for lighter things, he devoted it to the public service; and we know that at all times he abhorred ostentation and was never obtrusive. I, myself, on many occasions, found him a most kindly helper. He devoted a considerable part of his leisure to writing, and I confess that I have many times read and re-read his articles because of the clear English which distinguished them. He was a slow and deliberate speaker, but those of us who have read his speeches find that they are examples of clarity of thought and expression. He was always resolute in his convictions and loyal to the Liberal traditions which inspired him, but I think it is true to say—and every one of your Lordships will agree with me—that he was in all his life a devoted public servant, and he was a splendid example of a great English gentleman.

2.23 p.m.


My Lords, should like to add a few words to the tribute which has been paid to Lord Crewe by the Leader of the House. I do not suppose that there was anyone in your Lordships' House who was more universally respected, indeed beloved, than Lord Crewe, nor anyone whose place it will be more impossible to fill. Unhappily, we do not breed men like him to-day. He belonged to an earlier and in every sense a more liberal age. Gifted, charming and kindly, he was a Whig, perhaps the last of the Whig statesmen. His interests were immensely wide, If I may give one personal example, I remember once a good many years ago staying with him at Crewe when he stir, lived there. I have never seen a house so full of books on every subject. They lined the walls not only of the rooms but of the passages as well. As he took round the house I remember him saying, in his quiet, kindly way, that he never read a book he did not buy and he never bought a book he did not read.

With his love of literature and beauty, and with his manifold interests both outdoor and indoor, it would have been natural if he had devoted himself to a life of leisure, travel or scholarship. But with his other qualities he combined, as the Leader of the House has said, an inflexible sense of public duty. Indeed, the whole of his long life was spent in the service of the State. At a very early age he became a member of Mr. Gladstone's Government and from that moment he was never far from public affairs, either national or municipal. He held many offices of State, he acted as Leader of your Lordships' House, and he served his country in many other spheres. As he grew older, his courage and integrity and his complete selflessness made him more and more sought out by men of all Parties. He became an elder statesman in the high sense of the term. He was like those wise men described in Ecclesiasticus: Men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding and declaring prophecies: leaders of the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions. That is how Lord Crewe appeared to us of the younger generation.

I remember well the last time I ever saw him, only a few weeks before his death. I had gone down to the country where he was then living, and I was taken up to his room. He was lying on a sofa close to the window. He was an old man, his sight had almost gone, and I believe he was in constant pain. One might have expected that even his great spirit would have showed signs of weakening. But he was entirely serene. He talked with the greatest interest of the affairs of the day, of the latest developments of the war and of the last debates in your Lordships' House. His mind was as fresh and receptive as that of a young man. I thought I had never seen so magnificent an example of the triumph of the spirit over the infirmities of the flesh. My Lords, what is the supreme test of greatness? It is not that it should be said of a man that he did this or that, but that one should say, "I should like to have been that man." Few of us who have known him would not like to have been Lord Crewe. He has been taken from us in the fullness of his years and he leaves an irreplaceable gap in the ranks of this House. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Lady Crewe and his family in a loss which is almost as much ours as it is theirs.

2.30 p.m.


My Lords, how long a time it is since Lord Crewe entered the House in 1885 until his death in the present year! How many great movements and events in English history did he take part in during those years, whether as Minister of the Crown in great offices of State or in other capacities mentioned to-day by the Leader of the House! It was his leadership of the House of Lords that opened to him the door for those opportunities, and he was devoted to its service. He was constant in his attendance and at times he had the privilege of acting as its Leader. The whole House will feel a sense of loss at his death. Most of all, perhaps, and most intimately will those feel it who sit on the Liberal Benches, for it was, from beginning to end unswervingly, through the Liberal Party that he sought to serve the country.

Lord Crewe had a great sense of history. He always saw the present in its setting between the past and the future, and he valued the past, not only for its own sake, but as a guide to the present in its march into the future. He was always forward-looking, even to the end. He possessed an unusual combination of qualities. Not sparing himself for any public duties, he never undervalued the graces of life nor, in proper proportion, its enjoyments. He had, too, a great sense of style, shown in his writings, in the phrasing of his speeches, in his air and manner, and he seemed to bring into the everyday world of modern times a flavour of our Augustan Age. But outstanding among his qualities was a ripeness and soundness of judgment for which he was especially famous. In Cabinet he spoke seldom, but what he said was always wise. It is well known that Mr. Asquith, when Prime Minister, when he was faced by some problem of special difficulty—and there were plenty of them—would turn to Lord Crewe rather to any other colleague for his opinion. So did the other members of that and other Governments, and many more as well, and seldom indeed it happened that Lord Crewe's opinion was not justified by the event. It might be said of him, as was said of a great Englishman in an earlier century:" He was a perpetual fountain of good sense."

By chance a few days ago, in an anthology, I came across a poem which Lord Crewe had written on one who fell in Flanders in 1915, in which he mentioned some of the good things of life that were sacrificed by those young men. Among them he speaks of "friendship at will," "service to the State," "benignant age "—those good things which he ranked so high and was fortunate to enjoy. There were indeed troops of friends—and one cannot imagine any man who could think of Lord Crewe as his enemy. "Service to the State "—indeed he gave it in full measure." Benignant age"—kindly, tolerant and helpful and far prolonged. Honours followed him, but were never sought. He found his satisfaction in his work for the country, and his countrymen will remember him with gratitude.