HL Deb 10 February 1948 vol 153 cc903-8

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure it is in accord with the wishes of the whole House that at the opening of our proceedings to-day we should pay a tribute to the late Earl of Derby. He was an illustrious member of this; House. We know that he was at one time, and at a very difficult time, one of our most successful Ambassadors. On two occasions, also, he held the office of Secretary of State for War. Though he was born in affluence, he recognized—as we all know—that his great privileges involved great responsibilities. He never shirked the duties and self-sacrifices which his high position involved and it is fair to say of him that he was, above all, a servant of his country. Your Lordships will have seen from the Press notices something of the immense variety of his interests. I will not attempt to recapitulate them; their extent is well known to your Lordships. Both in national affairs and in local affairs he was always active. I myself am quite unable to assess, or even to express an appreciation of, the great influence which he exercised in the field of sport. I do know, however, as we all know, that here again he recognized the responsibility of his position. He devoted his knowledge and opportunities to the improvement of British livestock.

I knew him—and it is natural that one should think of him in that way—because for about a year during the First World War, I was Minister of Munitions while he was Secretary of State for War. Our conferences were held almost daily. It was then that I came to know at first-hand, and to appreciate, his shrewd penetration, his downrightness, his scorn of every from of pretence and, above all, his real friendliness. He was a colleague with whom it was a joy to work. I cannot recall any occasion when an arrangement made with Lord Derby was not sustained with a rocklike steadfastness. He was, moreover, extraordinarily approachable to the whole of his staff. His kindliness and his sense of humour were appreciated throughout the whole of that great Department. To many people, and certainly in the North of England, he was best known and best remembered as a great son of Lancashire. There seems to have been scarcely any considerable public activity in that county, from the Lord Mayoralty of Liverpool to the directorship of all manner of concerns, in which he did not engage. One thing is quite evident, that throughout that great county, which is highly critical of persons, he gained to an unusual degree the confidence and affection of people of all grades. I surmise that in that part of England that degree of affection and complete trust is not easy to obtain, but Lord Derby attained it in a remarkable degree.

Above all, he impressed those of us who knew him as a great Englishman; he was characteristically English, without any sort of pretence. He was possessed of stalwart common sense. He invariably displayed that appreciation of the point of view of the other man which has made Englishmen so powerful in the world. He was always very fair in his judgments. I think it is a true summary to say that in his life and in his personal character he embodied those qualities of the British people—particularly, if I may I say so in an insular sense, of the English people—which have made them so trusted from one end of the world to the other. He was a great nobleman who entertained kings and princes with the same ease and happiness as that with which he entertained ordinary people. He worked with them and talked with them, always with a friendly ease and without any trace of affectation. In a very exceptional degree Lord Derby combined those qualities of our race which have made us great in the world. At all times, with whomsoever he was mixing, he showed by his action and his conduct that he realized and recognised that we are all members of the community, one with another.

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, in the eloquent and charming tribute which the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, has just paid to the late Earl of Derby, whose death we mourn to-day, he referred to Lord Derby's great public services in politics and outside. As your Lordships know, those services were indeed outstanding. Lord Derby served his country with distinction in many capacities and he was universally regarded, both here and abroad, as an example of the finest type of Englishman. However, I should like, if I may, to add one word of a more personal character. For some months during the First World War, when he was at the War Office, it was my good fortune to work under him as his Private Secretary, and I came to know him well, as a Private Secretary inevitably gets to know his chief. The two things that most struck me about him were his inflexible sense of public duty and, even more, his overflowing kindness of heart. That is, I think, a rather unusual combination of qualities. Too often a stern sense of duty leads to an impatience and intolerance of the weaknesses of others. That was never so with Lord Derby. He really loved his fellow men and he was genuinely delighted to be with them.

As the Leader of the House has said, Lord Derby was shrewd, yet bubbling over with kindliness. Generous and open-hearted, he spread an atmosphere of happiness wherever he went. One felt his presence like a benediction. This, I think, was the underlying secret of the immense influence which he held in this country in politics, in Paris as Ambassador, in his private life and, above all, among the people of his native county of Lancashire. They loved him because he loved them. They knew he would never let them down, and he never did. Even in the last years of his life, when he was old, crippled with illness and broken with family sorrow, he would go out attending functions, day after day, almost to the day of his death, not because it was his duty but because it was a genuine delight to him to be with his friends and neighbours. He inherited a great position and, by his own personality, he made it a greater one. My Lords, he is dead, but his memory lives after him. He was a fine and good man, and none of us who had the privilege of knowing him will ever forget him. Our deepest sympathy, I know, goes out to Lady Derby, to whom he owed so much, and to his family in their grievous sorrow.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches would desire to join in the tributes so finely paid to Lord Derby by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. They have spoken of the variety of his interests, his devotion to the public service, and his character, so fully representative of the best national qualities. One of those characteristics was his adaptability, his capacity to conform to the changing circumstances of the time in order to fulfil public duty. Many of the old landed families of this country, as power has passed to the people, have not remained aloof, remote and resentful, and therefore useless, as is so often found on the Continent. The medieval castle gave place to the great mansion, and that now may be obsolescent. The duty of leadership, however, the sense of obligation, made many among them change the manner but not the purpose of their activities. They have taken a part in both Houses of the Legislature, in the councils of our cities and our counties, and a full part in the general life of the people, which gives the greatest scope of all.

In all this Lord Derby was typical and he excelled. The genealogies reveal that the family of Stanleys and their name has endured for a thousand years and more, far back into Saxon times. Many of Lord Derby's forebears held leading places in peace and war all through the centuries. A distinguished American Ambassador, Walter Hines Page, an acute observer, wrote: Good family stocks, kept good through centuries—that is the trick that has made English history. Whatever changes may come about in our formal political Constitution, such influences as those will still prevail, and examples such as Lord Derby gave throughout his life will be cherished, will be followed, and will endure.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I will not try to add to the tributes that have already been paid to Lord Derby, but I wish in the briefest of words to associate myself with them for two reasons in particular. One reason is that for seven years I was Bishop of Chester, and there I had full opportunity of seeing the astonishing depth and range of Lord Derby's influence in the north. I admit that Cheshire is not Lancashire, but we were by no means excluded from the large heart and the deep interests of Lord Derby. In Cheshire, as in Lancashire, we looked to him—and never in vain—for help and encouragement in every form of enterprise for the public good. The other reason which I would mention in a sentence, is that, as a faithful member of the Church of England, he never failed to give every kind of help, support and encouragement to those engaged in the work of the Church in his own county of Lancashire and in Cheshire. He was a great Christian gentleman. He was rich in talents, but he used those talents not only for himself but for the public good, for his Church and for his country. He was indeed, in the truest sense, a man of charity and of generous heart.


My Lords, as one having very close ties with Merseyside, for my home has been there all my life, I would like to add a few brief words to the eloquent tributes which have been paid to Lord Derby. I feel that the whole of that neighbourhood, which, so to speak, was on Lord Derby's doorstep, owes him much for the untiring public service which he rendered to it. Merseyside includes not only the great city of Liverpool, which Lord Derby served for one year in the office of Lord Mayor and of whose University he was, for many years, the much-loved Chancellor, but also all the towns on: he Lancashire side of the river and the towns or boroughs of Birkenhead, Wallasey and Bebington on the Cheshire side. Lord Derby was always ready to cross the river into Cheshire to help in any good cause where his help was needed, and to attend any event which would be furthered by his presence. All of us who belong to Merseyside mourn the passing of a great Englishman. He was the embodiment of common sense, practical wisdom, and, I venture to add, a kindly sense of humour, and Englishmen in all lands were sustained by the example which he set his fellow-countrymen. Reflecting on the influence he wielded, I think that part of his secret, at any rate, lay in his great humanity. He looked for the best in others and seemed instinctively to find it. He had the happy power of bringing out that best and of winning unstinted loyalty.

Back to