HL Deb 16 April 1947 vol 146 cc1041-50

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, we meet to-day with one accord and with sadness in our hearts to support the Motion that is on the Order Paper. We were so accustomed to seeing Lord Salisbury in our midst and taking an active interest in all that was going on in the House, and sometimes giving us most valuable guidance, that it is difficult to think we shall not see him here again. For more than forty years he was an active and distinguished member of your Lordships— House. He was a Leader of the House and occupied many high offices in the State. In addition, for seventeen years before that, he was a member of another place. It is a wonderful record, but, from many friendly conversations with him, I think that the place he loved most of all was this House, with its associations, its customs and its high standards of courtesy and debate. One cannot wonder that, notwithstanding that he was so distinguished a member of one great Party, noble Lords of all Parties in this House are deeply sensible of the debt we owe to Lord Salisbury.

In this connexion, a few days ago I looked up what was said of the third Marquess of Salisbury after his death, and I saw that at the assembly of the House after the recess, on February 2, 1904, the Marquess of Lansdowne said, amongst other things, this: No one ever took a more prominent part in upholding the best traditions of this Assembly. When I read that, I thought that if we desired to pay a tribute to the fourth Marquess of Salisbury we could not choose better words. It is a remarkable succession, and I am sure that I may interpose here an expression of a thought which must be in the minds of all of us—that in him whom we have known so long and with such affection as Viscount Cranborne, we know we have one who will continue that distinguished record. It is a wonderful family tradition of service. I do not think it is excelled by any British family, and it makes our sense of obligation the deeper.

But it was not only in this House that the late Marquess was so helpful to many of us. May I recall an experience of my own, twenty-seven years ago? At that time, I was Minister of Reconstruction and the late Marquess undertook the chairmanship of a Committee to inquire into the condition of the housing of the people. As I have re-read his remarkable Report I have often thought what a pity it is that, in the turmoil of the subsequent years, that great document has not received the notice it should; because it set aside preconceived traditions and approached the great problem—the new problem as it was then—from the point of view of national responsibility. It is an historic and inspiring document and, as I know, it represents only one of the very many debts that we owe to the late Marquess of Salisbury.

Perhaps, too, I might be allowed to say that there is an added sorrow to-day because all your Lordships, members of all Parties in this House, were looking forward to participating on May 17 in what we hoped would be a united tribute to the Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury on the occasion of their diamond wedding. It makes our sympathy with Lady Salisbury the deeper to realize that that occasion will not now occur. But it also makes us appreciate the more deeply what that long and devoted comradeship must have meant during all those years. To sum up, I think we can say, with all our hearts, that we have lost one whose fine character and whose high standard of courtesy, of integrity and of public service, provided an out- standing illustration of something that is best and strongest in British public life. It is by such examples that, with all the differences in the matter of policy that divide us, we are able to work together with good will and with mutual respect for the common good.

Moved, That, as a mark of respect for the memory of the late Marquess of Salisbury, and in appreciation of his long and distinguished public service, this House do now adjourn."—(Viscount Addison.)

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, it is my privilege on behalf of my friends on this side of the House to join in the tribute so movingly paid by the Leader of the House. As he has said, it is a tribute to one who for more than forty years was a leading figure in this place. Lord Salisbury's speeches in this House, whether as titular Leader or as elder statesman and wise counsellor, were known to all. Less widely known was his work as a Minister, and particularly his work upon the Committee of Imperial Defence. The latter could only be fully appreciated by those who worked with him. He was always deeply interested in military matters, and I think it was perhaps upon the Committee of Imperial Defence that he made his most valuable and enduring contribution. As we pay this tribute, there is in all our hearts a deep personal feeling; for each one of us, whatever his age and whatever his Party, has lost a friend. The epithet "unique" is often misused, but I think it may be truly said that Lord Salisbury—s position in the House of Lords was unique. It can never be easy for a son to follow a famous father in the same role and in the same place. Lord Salisbury followed such a father, yet I doubt whether he whom men called "the great Lord Salisbury" at the height of his power as Prime Minister and Leader of the House exercised a greater influence here than did his son.

What was it that gave him that outstanding influence? I think it was a combination of qualities—his sincerity, his unfailing courtesy, and his wise and fair judgment. Though he was a man of deep convictions, and tenacious of his opinion once his mind was made up, particularly on any subject which he felt raised a moral issue, he was the most approachable of men, always open to argument and always anxious to decide, without prejudice, on the facts and on the merits. All those characteristics were with him to the last. In old age, most men tend to become set in their ideas. It was never so with Lord Salisbury. There was in him all that most appeals to Englishmen. His family life was as happy as his public life was distinguished. His great possessions he treated as a trust. Our sympathy goes out to the members of that united family, and this we express to them through his son, who has won for himself the place which his father enjoyed in our esteem and in our hearts. But for him who has passed over, nothing is here for tears. After a long life, devoted to the service of his country, he died in the full vigour of his mental power, on active service to the end. His course finished, he lies at rest in the place that he loved. He was, indeed, what every man in public life would wish to be.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords in this quarter of the House desire to associate themselves in full measure in the tribute of the House of Lords to Lord Salisbury. During his long life he served the country in many capacities—in the Army in two wars, for many years as a member of another place, in the Cabinet, in the innermost councils of a great political Party, in the affairs of his own county, but, longest of all and perhaps most devotedly of all, through service in this House. He was its Leader for a number of years, and always he was ready to give the closest attention to matters of its procedure and the management of its concerns.

It is a peculiar characteristic of your Lordships' House that it is self-regulating. It is, I believe, the only legislative assembly in the world which has no President authorized to give rulings, to maintain order, to select speakers, and generally to govern its proceedings. All these things are kept in the hands of the whole membership. It is the one House of Parliament in the world which maintains its Constitution substantially unchanged from the Middle Ages; but there is none in which prevails more of the spirit of liberty, of equality and, one may add, of fraternity. Its self-dependence involves, however, that when occasion requires there must be some one ready to come forward, on behalf of the members in general, to give leadership.

For many years that function devolved by universal consent upon Lord Salisbury. The prestige of his past career, his intimate knowledge of our rules and customs, his reputation for unfailing fairness, and his deep concern for the honour and the dignity of this House, made him our natural guide in procedure and our arbiter of debate.

The private life of national leaders is their own concern, and yet it is also a matter of public concern. There is no influence greater than that of example in setting the tone of national life. Here, the standard set by Lord Salisbury and his life-long partner—now so sorrowfully bereaved on the very eve of her diamond wedding—and the example set also by their family and by their environment, command universal admiration and respect; and nowhere more than in this House which, for three generations, has looked to that family for leadership, and which to-day offers to the memory of Lord Salisbury a tribute of affection and of gratitude.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is fitting that some tribute should be paid from these Benches. As the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is unavoidably prevented from paying that tribute, it falls to me (although I have never before had the temerity to address your Lordships and I am entirely unworthy to perform such a function) to try to pay some tribute to so great a Churchman and citizen. I was told only just before we entered the House that almost the last act in Lord Salisbury's life was that, a week before he died, and against the doctor's orders, he attended at Lambeth a conference summoned by the Archbishop, in which the subject was to consider how best to meet the spiritual crisis of these days. On that occasion Lord Salisbury made a most moving statement. That last public act of his, I think, was symbolic of his whole career, devoted to Church and State.

We in the Church owed a great deal to him, for he was for many years Chairman of the House of Laity of the Province of Canterbury, and later was a leading member of the new Church Assembly. To his counsel and witness we owe a debt which can never be repaid. I should like also to mention, out of my own personal experience, the meticulous care with which he used to discharge his wide responsibility of patronage of the churches. The tributes which have been paid to his virtues by your Lordships were really the outcome of a simple Christian faith. Lord Salisbury has shown once again how fruitful to the State, and how fragrant, may be the life of a devoted Churchman and a simple Christian.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, as the Leader of the House suggested, the fact that it feels somewhat strange to come into this House and not see Lord Salisbury here is the best testimony to the fact that surely in no other place could tributes such as those to which we have just listened more properly be paid to him. Lord Salisbury loved this House with a great love that was the child of long knowledge (for who was ever able, in my experience at least, to play upon the heartstrings of the House as he could?) and a love born of great reverence for something of which the roots stretch far back into the past. What has been said this afternoon—and well said—is a remarkable recognition of what Lord Salisbury was, and of the place that he held in all our affections.

I have little to add but, as I look back over many years of association and friendship, one or two things come to mind. I recall that after the last war I happened to be one of several young Members of Parliament whom Lord Salisbury got together to exchange thoughts and to consider various aspects of post-war policy. In those meetings, his courtesy, to which reference has been made, was always evident, a courtesy distributed equally to opinions that were raw and immature and to opinions that were wiser and more securely founded. But what I thought made an indelible impression on young minds was the appreciation of his judgment as to the imperative duty and rare privilege of public service. That is something I have never forgotten.

He and I often met, and often differed, about India. But however much one differed from him, one was never in any doubt as to the utter single-mindedness of his judgment, of how the only test in his mind was what was right and in what way this country might best discharge obligations honourably accepted and incurred. The right reverend Prelate has spoken of what I believe was the last meeting Lord Salisbury attended, at Lambeth, when he was concerned with the Archbishop to examine ways and means by which his fellow-countrymen, as he hoped, might be recalled to a deeper recognition of those eternal values by which in his thought great nations stand or fall. I suppose by all the rules of ordinary human wisdom Lord Salisbury ought not to have attended that meeting, and yet I cannot think of anything more typical than that it should have been in such a cause that he finally overstrained his energies. Certainly I think no one more than he has earned, in its widest sense, the honourable title of a great Christian gentleman. So it is that we take leave of him, gratefully honouring an example of those qualities to which reference has been so well made this afternoon, an example which everybody who was privileged to experience it in any degree will always wish to remember.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I would ask your Lordships' indulgence this afternoon to enable me to add my humble tribute of admiration and affection for the late Lord Salisbury to those to which your Lordships have already had the privilege of listening. My associations with Lord Salisbury date from my earliest youth. Some years ago I had the privilege and honour of serving with him in the Government, and later on, like so many noble Lords in this House, I had the advantage of working under his forceful leadership. The tributes which have been so eloquently paid to Lord Salisbury's memory arc in no sense exaggerated. They fully express the great life which he led, and they justify the admiration which we all felt for him. He was courageous; he was straightforward; he was honourable in every word and action; and he had also that inestimable quality of a generous and sympathetic understanding for the difficulties of other people. The Empire has indeed lost a fine and notable figure and a statesman of a very high order. However, while Lord Salisbury maintained the Cecil tradition, and indeed added to it, we can feel confident that the splendid record of that illustrious family in its present representatives is indeed in safe keeping.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I feel bound to say a word in honour of one who was my oldest political friend, and in one great controversy my leader. Adopting a quotation which I imperfectly remember, I would say of him that he had qualities each rare in the degree of its separate excellence, and most rare in their combination. His religion was deep, his patriotism unbounded, his judgment of the soundest, his industry unflagging, and his modesty unfeigned; indeed, I often thought that he was not sufficiently conscious of his own position and abilities. He scorned the lesser things of politics, the conventional trimmings, the conventional platitudes, the shallowness of publicity and popular applause; and through every action of his life ran the profound and abiding sense of his duty to God and man. No verse could have been sung at a funeral service more fitting than the one I heard this morning: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. Happily we are not forced to say, as so often on these occasions we are, that there is no one to succeed him. For those of us who are left of the generation next after his, his loss at once creates a void, but it bequeaths an example and inspiration to work on to the end.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with great trepidation but I cannot remain silent this afternoon, for memory holds the door. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, referred to the youthful minds that came in contact with the late Marquess. Mine was one of those minds. The late Marquess of Salisbury taught me many things, and not least that of Christian courtesy in political controversy. He represented the City of Rochester for many years before I did, and when later I followed in his footsteps as the Member for that constituency I saw something of his example and his influence, and what they had meant to that city. I desire on behalf of every one of its citizens, irrespective of Party, to pay tribute to his life and work. He was essentially one of God's gentlemen, and I desire to lay my wreath upon that vacant seat at the corner of the Bench opposite.

Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I, too, was struck with that Psalm we sang in the Memorial Service in the Abbey just now: Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle: or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill? Even he, that leadeth an uncorrupt life: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. On his eighty-fifth birthday, on October 23 last, Lord Salisbury was sitting in that corner seat, and I scribbled a note of warm congratulation and birthday wishes and passed it across to him. He nodded, and the episode passed from my mind. But a few clays afterwards I received from him a letter so characteristic of his grace and charm that I shall value it as no words can express. I thank God upon every remembrance of him.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I for one moment refer to the wonderful work of the late Marquess of Salisbury on a lesser stage for very many years? Like all those who lived in his neighbourhood, I have been filled with admiration of the manner in which he devoted himself to every form of public service. A fact which I think may not generally be known to all your Lordships is that when he was out of office for periods of time he immediately resumed his duty as a great leader in an English county, devoting himself to such work as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and adviser on all county affairs. And in matters of national defence he was always a great inspirer to duty amongst everyone in that county. He gave a great part of his life to building up the efficiency of the Hertfordshire Militia over many years, and when that Regiment was selected for active service in South Africa, he, as its Commanding Officer, took the Regiment out, endured an exacting campaign and won great distinction. When he returned to this country one might have imagined that he would rest on his laurels, with all his great responsibilities and burdens. But, from the moment he came back, he resumed the control and guidance of that Regiment, right up to the First World War, when he was promoted. He ultimately ended his military career as an honorary Major-General.

I think everyone who has had the privilege of living near that great man will agree with me when I say that he was an ideal land owner, a father to all who knew him, and an adviser whose worth could rarely be equalled. But, above all, I think your Lordships will agree that in this rough-and-tumble world, where sometimes we find a lack of grace, he stood out above almost any one else we can think of for the exquisite manners he displayed in every section of society and in every place. If one had to offer advice to any young British citizen who asked, "What example can I follow?", I somehow feel that we could unhesitatingly say: "Follow the life and example of the fourth Marquess of Salisbury," because he was, indeed, not only most noble but a perfect, gallant, gentle man.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.