HL Deb 19 January 1954 vol 185 cc261-76

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, before we proceed to the Business of the Day, there are some words which I should like to speak to your Lordships. The Parliamentary Recess which comes to an end to-day has been a very grievous one for your Lordships' House: we have lost many figures in all parts of the House whom we and the country can ill spare. It would be contrary to our usual custom for me to speak individually of some who are, nevertheless, very much in our minds, such as Lord Norwich and Lord Morrison, but there are two, Lord Simon and Lord Wavell, to whom the House will, I am sure, wish me to pay a special tribute.

There is, first, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, of whom I would speak, not as a lawyer—I am not competent to do that—but as a political figure. There is every reason why we should honour his memory here in this House, for he was Lord Chancellor in the great days of the war, and he has played a leading part in our affairs ever since. Lord Simon was, I imagine, a man of almost unrivalled political experience. In the space of his long political life he occupied, either in another place or here, all the greatest offices in the State with the exception of the Prime Ministership. He was, in turn, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor. That is a record that can rarely, if ever, have been equalled; and he owed that great career pre-eminently to his own outstanding abilities. One had oily to hear Lord Simon speak and expound a case to appreciate immediately how brilliant were his intellectual attainments. The supreme skill with which his facts were marshalled, so that, if I may use such a phrase, they dripped out in a crystal clear argument, was a lesson to any aspiring speaker; and, what is extremely rare, these remarkable powers were equally effective in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. He was, of course, by training, an experienced lawyer. For that reason it was perhaps natural that his greatest successes were achieved in such positions as that of Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor, rather than that of Foreign Secretary. But his intellectual distinction was apparent in all his work.

In politics Lord Simon was a life-long Liberal. During his hoer years it is true he worked closely with the Conservative Party, but (I think this will be generally agreed) that was only because he had formed the conclusion—it is not for me to say whether rightly or wrongly—that it was on close collaboration between Liberals and Conservatives that the best hope rested of preserving free institutions; and free institutions were to him more than anything else on earth. He never could have become a Conservative. Liberalism was his creed, and he never swerved from it. Now Lord Simon has left us. Those of us who lived with him and worked with him day by day in this House, which he came to love so deeply, will feel that a great figure has gone from amongst us. Those who, like myself, have received many kindnesses from him, will feel that they have suffered a more intimate loss. All of us, I know, will wish to express our most sincere sympathy with his family in their sorrow.

There is one other noble Lord of whom I would say a word to the House to-day. I refer to the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, who, as the House knows, was killed on Christmas Eve, gallantly leading his men against the Mau Mau in East Africa. If Lord Simon died full of years and achievement, Lord Wavell died young and rich in promise. The son of a man whose nobility of character and military genius had earned him the devoted affection of his fellow countrymen, one might have expected that the young Lord Wavell would have been overshadowed by his father's fame. But, my Lords, he never was overshadowed. He came to this House with an independence of mind and a freshness of outlook that was all his own and which, I know, deeply impressed us all in every part of the House. His speeches were always thoughtful and always original; and they were inspired by that sense of complete devotion to the service of his country with which we were so familiar in his father and which is to be found, I think, above all, in the old military families of this country. He had already in him, I firmly believe, the seeds of future greatness, and we are all the poorer for his death. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his mother and his family, whose sorrow we share.

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all my colleagues on this side of the House desire to be associated completely with the eloquent tributes which the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, has just uttered. So far as Lord Simon is concerned, my own learned Leader, but for his absence in South Africa, would have been by far the most appropriate person to speak of his great career, especially as a lawyer. However, I had the advantage of knowing Lord Simon for some thirty years. Like the noble Marquess, I can speak more of matters other than the law, except to say this: that when I was in trade I had experience of Lord Simon as a preeminent consulting counsel. He acted in that capacity in many matters with which I was connected: and in this field he had no real equal. It is true, of course, to say that, not only in law but in everything else he touched, he was the type of man who earned the admiration of everyone—he was so eminent.

Of course, one often disagreed with him. Few political characters of recent days and generations have been so much the centre of controversy as was Lord Simon in some of the things for which he was responsible. But none can deny his public spirit, and none can deny the great gifts which he brought to everything that required his attention. The Leader of the House has already spoken in feeling terms of the range of his work in the political sphere. From the way in which my colleagues in my Party used to talk, not only here but in another place and in the public at large, I know that they regarded him as exhibiting a certain coldness in his expositions of particular subjects. I must say, however, from my own personal experience of him, that behind all that apparent coldness was one of the most human and feeling personalities it would be possible to meet. For example, that beautiful little book, Portrait of my Mother, which no doubt most of us have read, surely was an indication of the real individuality, which was expressing itself in such human and emotional terms.

I should like to mention one other personal experience which I am sure will be fresh in the mind of the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton. I do not remember any great, outstanding financial reforms in Lord Simon's service at the Exchequer, but, as one who had to take joint responsibility in the war afterwards, I know that we owed an enormous debt to Lord Simon for the stimulation he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave to the building up of war food stocks. Some of his operations, in which I and colleagues of mine in other sections of the trade had some share, made all the difference to the subsequent operations of the Food Ministry in enabling us to face our great tasks in the war. In spite of the controversies which arose during his lifetime, I join with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in paying my tribute and the tribute of my Party to a great figure, for whom we shall find it exceedingly difficult to provide an adequate successor. I would add just one personal note, and that is that my noble friend Lord Stansgate, who had a long personal friendship with Lord Simon, desired to come and pay a personal tribute to him to-day, but he is kept away by a temporary indisposition and by a family bereavement.

I am glad that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House decided to include in his presentation to the House the name of the late Lord Wavell, who passed away on Christmas Eve. I agree with everything the noble Marquess said about him. It was, not my privilege to know Lord Wavell for so long as some of your Lordships, but I met him first during my visit to India in 1946 as a member of the Cabinet Delegation responsible for drawing up the Statement of May 16. From then onwards I met him frequently from time to time. We watched with some interest and almost some anxiety what would happen when he entered this House. I am sure the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is right in his appraisement of him. Those of us who are interested in progress in certain directions will never forget his remarkable thought, first for the education and secondly for the welfare of the Army; bat in his speeches and in his studies he never hesitated to take a wide view of the general good of the nation. We mourn his departure at such an early age, although I do not believe that either he or his father would have wished a more noble end than the one which fate brought to him. I associate myself and my colleagues with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in offering our deepest sympathy to his mother, to whom he had been such a comfort and support since the passing of his distinguished father.

I am grateful to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for including, despite the usual practice, a brief reference to other Peers who have passed away, and I should like to crave the indulgence of the House for perhaps breaking a tradition by saying a few words about the death of our dear friend on this side of the House, Lord Morrison. He was a unique personality. He was an Aberdonian, and sometimes that led to all sorts of comments; but Lord Morrison was certainly not lacking in humour. He was a great colleague, because he could speak to us on anything, even when reproving us, with great good humour. It made him a very popular man. He had, great ability acquired originally from his scholastic career, and he gave himself to the people. He gave himself to the movement with which I have associated myself all my life, the Co-operative movement. He was one of four members of the movement who were elected with me to the House of Commons in 1922; and we have worked together ever since. His services to the State were given in a particular degree in his later life. Certainly when he came into this House in 1945 he soon became a valuable Member, and I do not think that any Scot would complain of the way in which Scottish affairs were handled whilst he spoke for the Scottish Office in this House. Nor do I think any technician would hesitate to pay some tribute to him for his handling of Ministry of Works interests. I would also pay a tribute to the great success which he achieved in avoiding difficulties during the war by promoting the campaign for the avoidance of food wastage, and for the widespread development of alternative animal feeding-stuffs, for which he was largely personally responsible. He was a great public servant and a lovable colleague, and I should like to send our deepest sympathy to his widow and family.

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches would wish to join in the tributes which have just been paid by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House to two of our Members—Lord Wavell, whom, in accordance with our custom, we would commemorate as having fallen in action, and Lord Simon. When one who is full of years passes away, we think, "Well, that is in the nature of things"—and so it is; and it must be so accepted. But when one is suddenly killed in the prime of life, then that is a very great grief and sorrow. Lord Wavell was an exceptional man. He had wide cultural interests, whilst being a very gallant soldier. He was of an original cast of mind and had much charm of mariner, and many of us thought he would have a great future in your Lordships' House. Well, that cannot be.

As to Lord Simon, those of us who are accustomed to take an active part in the proceedings here will miss him greatly, He often intervened: the last Motion that we debated before this Christmas Recess was on his initiation, and dealt with an important matter in our judicial system. Fie had been in public life, well known, for nearly fifty years; and, as the noble Marquess said, he had filled many high offices of the State—almost all of them, except the Premiership. He had been Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and he was the only man in the long political history of this country to have held both the great Chancellorships, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons and Chancellor on the Woolsack in your Lordships' House. His deepest and most abiding interest was in the law. He was endowed by nature with a most remarkable memory, and he had great powers of exposition against a background of scholarly distinction. It is no wonder that he should have very early achieved pre-eminence at the Bar.

When he went to India as Chairman of the Statutory Commission in 1927, on account of the long absence which that necessitated he retired from the Bar, and left to successors what was undoubtedly the leading practice there. I remember that someone aptly said, quoting the famous lines of Tennyson, slightly adapted: And there will be no moaning at the Bar When I put out to sea. His legal professional connections and his connection with Oxford gave him, I think, more satisfaction than any others. He was resident Fellow of All Souls for fifty-six years, and he appreciated the honour conferred upon him in being appointed High Steward of the University of Oxford.

For myself, I enjoyed his friendship for more than sixty years. In my last year at Oxford he came up as a freshman, and for a long period we were colleagues in Liberal political activities. It was only the other day that he recalled that his first speech at a public meeting was made on a village green in Oxfordshire at the General Election of 1895, when he was speaking in my support in my first Parliamentary candidature. We were colleagues in the House of Commons and in the Asquith Government; but during the confused period in the 1930's both the Liberal Party and the Labour Party were deeply divided and our paths diverged. Happily, in the full spirit of British political traditions, differences over public policy, if they are honestly entertained, do not impair private friendships. I am happy to say that it was so in our case. He was a man of very great abilities, freely devoted from early youth to late old age to the service of the community and the State.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, may I be permitted to add just a few words about Lord Simon, as one who has been associated with him since the time when he became the Lord Chancellor and as one concerned with the legal matters of this House? Noble Lords have spoken of him both in his personal capacity and in his capacity as a politician: I want to confine myself to speaking of him in his capacity as a lawyer. Reference has been made to his surprising ability of exposition. That ability he carried with him into all the matters of law with which he was concerned, and so far as is humanly possible he always left the subject of his speeches absolutely clear and their meaning unmistakable. But more than that: his care in penetrating into the intricacies of the matter under discussion and his courtesy and consideration for his colleagues and the advocates who appeared before him will not readily be forgotten.

Most of all, however, I should like to put on record the assistance which he gave in matters of law not only when he was seated on the Woolsack but after he had ceased to be Lord Chancellor. After his retirement, and well after his seventieth year, he gave constant assistance wherever his help was needed. Indeed, from time to time and frequently of late it has been possible to grapple with judicial business before the House and in the Privy Council only by calling upon the noble and learned Viscount to join those sitting in one or other body. In such an emergency, Lord Simon would always, if he could, often at short notice and sometimes under great difficulty, be ready to take part in the work to be done. As late as the latter part of last Term, I remember he came in to take the place of one of our members who was indisposed. He never spared himself from the moment he became a Member of the House until his death. Whatever debt an ex-Lord Chancellor may feel that he has incurred to help in judicial work, Lord Simon paid it in full, and far beyond even the most stringent obligations which anyone could suppose him to owe. If the duty of a judge is to make certain that he has followed and appreciated an argument, given it due weight and felicitously expressed the reasons for his decision, Lord Simon will stand high in the ranks of those who sit to clarify the law.

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, for over thirty years I had the honour to be intimately connected politically with my noble friend Lord Simon. There were times when we did not see eye to eye, but that never made the slightest difference to our friendship. With your Lordships' permission, I propose to give the House my appreciation of him as I found him during those years. He was undoubtedly dominated by his conscientious beliefs, to the extent even of resigning office and jeopardising his political career. I have lost someone whom it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace—indeed, I feel, as the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has said, that the House has lost one who contributed constructively to our debates and who was always willing and wise in counsel. He was intensely loyal to what Liberalism meant to him and as he understood it. He thought the great Liberal contributions of the past had become the commonly accepted heritage of the British people and, therefore, that Party strife of the old traditional kind was no longer necessary.

I know that he did many a kindness for which he would have disliked publicity. He never courted publicity, although no one appreciated spontaneous praise more than he did. I feel so glad that the honour done him, at the dinner given by the Bench and Bar and also, in a more humble way, at the dinner I arranged for his Party colleagues to meet him, had taken place on his reaching his eightieth year. As I know, he very much appreciated the regard and affection shown him on these occasions. At times, he appeared to be cold and detached, particularly when he was concentrating on some serious problem which occupied his mind; yet those of us who knew him well found hidden away there a very warm heart which his natural shyness prevented him from showing, sometimes making him seem hard. Many of the faults that were laid at his door were, I have felt, undeserved. He was prominent in office in very dangerous and difficult days. I think I am right in saying that he was the only man who twice occupied Cabinet responsibility for directing the nation's course on the outbreak of a war—in 1914 as Home Secretary, and again a quarter of a century later, in September, 1939, as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should like to ally myself with the expressions of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in my deepest and most sincere sympathy with his family.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, as one having no connection with any organised Party or group, I would crave your Lordships' indulgence for a few moments while I pay my tribute to an old and highly valued colleague and friend. Much has been said, wisely and well, here and elsewhere, about Lord Simon's supreme intellectual equipment. For my part, I would add only this: that throughout a long association what seemed to me most remarkable and most endearing was Lord Simon's willingness, and indeed eagernesss, at all times to put his incomparable gifts and his vast knowledge quite unobtrusively at the service of any colleague less richly endowed. This House and the nation have indeed suffered an irreparable loss.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I also would ask your Lordships' indulgence for a few minutes. I am glad that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has mentioned the young Earl Wavell. His father, who was a friend of mine, introduced me to him, as well as to his mother, and when, in the course of time, the young Lord Wavell came to be a member of this House, I saw him and talked to him often, because we had kindred minds on some subjects.

I also ask your Lordships' indulgence while I, speaking as a layman, add my poor words of appreciation of Lord Simon. I knew him when he was Attorney-General, and I was privileged to stand by him on more than one occasion in speaking on matters in which both of us believed. I remember him in the First World War as Home Secretary when he resigned on a matter of conscience, and it appeared that he had committed what we sometimes term "political suicide." But that did not happen. When he became Home Secretary in the National Government, I had duties to perform in another place and I used to visit especially young men who were in prison. I found one young fellow, an undergraduate, who had been sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment. I hope your Lordships will bear with me because, being a Member in another place, I was able to go to Sir John Simon (as he then was) and tell him the circumstances. He personally inquired into the whole matter. He got a distinguished member of the Church, a Bishop, to visit the boy in prison, as I had done, and then he came to me and said, "I am going to recommend the remittance of his sentence if he can go back to the university. Can that be managed?" I saw there the human side I of a great character.

Some people said that he was cold; some of us thought that he was a bit shy and diffident. On another occasion, when invited to visit a great school to make a speech, he came down in his gown as an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law of Oxford, a gown which he treasured to the day of his death. He took on the atmosphere of the occasion and was quite full of what we call boyish spirit. Those boys saw another side of him. Some of them, when they became old boys, only a year ago entertained him as their guest at a dinner in this Palace of St. Stephen. That was a side of the man that I treasure. On one occasion he told me, "I should like you to visit the finest school in the British Isles." I said "What school is that?" He said, "Fettes." Some of your Lordships know the school. I said that I would go if I was invited. Of course, I had the time of my life when visiting that college. That is by the way, but there was the pride of this man. He won a scholarship because, as he told those boys quite publicly, "During the course of his life my father never had more than £150 per year."

That is the man that I honour. He had a great passion for personal liberty. One of his last speeches in this House before Christmas had something to do with that subject. On another occasion, some twenty-two years ago—it was in 1932—the cricket team composed of Members of this House and another place held a dinner, and Lord Simon was entrusted with the toast to "Cricket." He described cricket as a symbol of the British way of life in a manner such as I had never heard before. I know that one of your Lordships had that part of the speech printed and circulated. Lord Simon said that the spirit of Britain could be seen on the cricket fields of our villages and small towns.

So, my Lords, as a layman I deplore the passing of Lord Simon. To me he was a very Gamaliel, so far as his knowledge and his outlook upon law were concerned. As one who has known his wife for thirty-five years, I would add my tribute to this now lonely figure towards whom, until a few weeks ago, Lord Simon was proud to act the knightly courtier, when he took her through the Lobby in order to give her a cup of tea. That is the secret of John Simon. You always respected him, even if you did not know him; but the nearer you got to him the more that respect was enlarged into affection. I am grateful to your Lordships for listening to me.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I crave a moment to say a word about Lord Simon, for forty-eight years ago almost to this very day he and I were elected Members of the House of Commons—he for Walthamstow and I for Rochester. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House referred to those of us who have received personal kindness at the hands of Lord Simon; I am one. From those early days he never ceased to be helpful. In the 1914–18 war he and I were in the tiny minority that conscientiously fought against conscription although we both volunteered, and right down the years since, although we have drifted apart politically, he to the Right and I to the Left, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the Liberal Party in your Lordships' House has just said, that did not interfere with our personal relationship. I just want to sound that one note in his memory. So calm, so constant, was his rectitude, that by its loss alone we know his worth.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, to the moving and sincere tributes on Lord Simon's life and work must be added a few words from this Bench. Before I add them, however, I hope I may be allowed to express with very real humility and earnestness my deep apologies to the House in that I was not here earlier, as I should have been, to read Prayers. It was a neglect of duty and a discourtesy to this House for which I sincerely apologise.

I can add no word to the tribute to the great work, legal and political, of Lord Simon, but it does seem right to add a word as from this Bench on Lord Simon's personal character, and therefore the position that he held in the estimation of the people of this country, not so much for what he did as for what he was. It is well known that he was what is now becoming increasingly uncommon in our public life—a great reader and student of the classics. All his life he read and loved Latin literature, and for my part I always had a feeling that in his personal appearance there was something very close to what we picture as the typical Roman statesman. I thought then, and I think now, that Lord Simon might be described as the Cato of this age and country. There were two great qualities the Roman citizens admired more than any other in their public men —the qualities that they calledgravitas and pietas. Those surely were great characteristics of Lord Simon. By "gravitas" I mean his fundamental conviction of the need to maintain the highest possible principles in our public life. He stood for that, and he spurred other men to understand and emulate. His great sense of personal responsibility in whatever position he occupied and whatever work he had to do at the time, his insistence on the same qualities in other people—these were things that counted amongst his generation.

His pietas meant that other fundamental respect that he had—the respect that men ought to have one to the other and that all men ought to have to God. That, again, was one of the qualities that seemed to me to come out in all his public work. These were great qualities of spirit, and it was, perhaps, the alliance of them with his superb gifts of intellect and ability that gives the measure of the loss that this country has sustained in his passing.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, may I add from these Benches a short tribute to my noble friend Lord Wavell. He always sat here, and we knew him well and looked forward often to hearing him. I had the pleasure of having known him intimately since he was sixteen years of age. We were old comrades in arms, and I was looking forward to joining him in the next few weeks in Kenya, and to serving again with him. If I were asked to describe Lord Wavell's most outstanding characteristics, I should say that they were these. First, he was the most unselfish and generous of men whom I have ever met. His time was never his own, but was consecrated to the needs of his friends, who were drawn from a wider circle and were spread over a larger area than is usual, especially in the case of one of his age. Secondly, his great love in soldiering was his interest in his men. That is a quality, I am glad to say, which is not rare in the British Army, but it came to full flower in him. The greatest reward, I feel, which we could have wished for his illustrious father was to have had a son such as he proved to be.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to take up a few minutes of your Lordships' time in order to pay a tribute, in the first place, to Lord Geddes, who died during the Recess. Lord Geddes' work for the nation needs no commendation from me, and the wider aspects of it, of course, are known to many of your Lordships much better than to myself. But I did have the great privilege of working with him as one of his deputies for a time during the war, when he bore the great burden of being a Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence. Many great Englishmen carried these heavy burdens during the war years, but I think no one stood out more magnificently for the work which he did—work carried through under very great personal difficulties—than Lord Geddes, first as Regional Commissioner in the South-Eastern Region, and afterwards for a time in the North-West. When the history of that period comes to be studied by the historians, I am sure that his work will stand very high.

I should also like, for a minute, to add my tribute, as, I think, the only teacher of law in your Lordships' House, to what has already been said about Lord Simon. He was, of course, in his early days a teacher of law also, though that was long before my own time. I have heard so much said about the brilliance of his work in that regard that I should like to have it mentioned in your Lordships' House. He continued to take a very great interest in the work of the law schools of the Universities, and from time to time he unstintingly placed his services at their disposal. In a wider way, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Porter, has pointed out, his contributions to the law were not only contributions of practical importance but contributions of the kind which illuminate the law, and which provide the best material on which teachers of the law can work. I suppose that he was among the most versatile men of his time, but though he passed from the teaching of the law into spheres of activity in which his services to the community were much more outstanding, I am sure that among members of his profession his services as a teacher will long be remembered, if only because some of his students have taken their places among the most distinguished lawyers of our time.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, a few days ago, when this House was sitting as the final Court of Appeal, I paid my tribute to the great lawyer who has passed away. To-day, I will add only a few words, choosing from the many aspects of his long life two features which, in all that has been written and said about him, have perhaps been too little recognised. The first is this: that though to him success in his profession came easily and quickly, he never failed to understand and, with understanding, to hold out a helping hand to those who found the path a more difficult one to tread. I think there are many of us now alive—and many more must already have passed away—who recall with gratitude the kindly words of encouragement, and sometimes something more than words of encouragement, that came to them from John Simon. The second feature is this: a long and wide experience in the law, a scholar's passion for accuracy, and a compelling sense of the judicial oath drove him to sustained and unremitting efforts in the preparation of judgments which will, as I said the other day, be his most enduring monument. I sometimes thought that in that work he found his greatest happiness. We, at least, who were his colleagues will not forget his example.

May I add a few words about Lord Wavell, though about him I do not find it easy to speak. A friendship which I had formed in schooldays with his father was renewed, in the same school, by my sons with him whom we now mourn. So it was that I knew him from boyhood; and recently I knew him in circumstances which revealed to me the shining qualities of selflessness and sympathy to which, in many quarters, moving testimony has been given. It is, I think, true to say that he had not fully found himself: it was not yet clear to him, and it was not clear to us, his friends, what part he would play in the world. But of this I am sure: that he was, by his qualities of heart and mind, destined to lead, in whatever the sphere of action he chose for his own. He accomplished much quietly and unostentatiously in his own way, but he died before the full fruit could be borne. Of him those noble and comforting lines might well have been written: In small proportions we just beauties see; And in short measure, life may perfect be.

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