HL Deb 02 April 1957 vol 202 cc953-9

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, as your Lordships know, we have no rigid Rules of Procedure in this House and I hope, therefore, that I have sensed the feelings of your Lordships rightly in thinking that, at this break in Lord Salisbury's Leadership of the House, we should simply, and from the heart, express to him our gratitude for the unrivalled distinction with which he has guided us and conducted our business over the years. I should hope that we can leave aside the controversial matters which are raised by his resignation—they can properly be debated on another occasion.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will know better than I the sympathy and the discretion with which Lord Salisbury met the Parliamentary situation when the Socialist Government found themselves, some years ago, in a small minority here. It always seemed to me, looking at it from the outside, that it was then that he laid the foundations of the unquestioned authority and influence which have been so apparent during the years when he has led the House with such acceptance to all Parties and to all individual Members. As the years have gone by, his was the inspiration which has, we believe, enabled your Lordships' House to fulfil its constitutional rôle to the satisfaction of the great majority of the British people.

My Lords, the House would not wish at this time to pay a tribute in the ordinary sense that we pay tributes in this House, because this is in no sense a parting: it is only, we hope, a very brief break in public service, and the noble Marquess remains a Member of your Lordships' House. But I thought your Lordships would like to let him know to-day that the sooner he rejoins our counsels and brings to us again the benefit of his wisdom, the happier we all shall be.

2.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am very willing indeed to associate myself and my colleagues completely with the sentiments that the new Leader of the House has expressed with regard to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. We on this side of the House have great reason to be thankful to him for the consideration which he gave to the business of this House during the period of office of the Labour Government. Over and over again, I have heard tributes from members of my Party—from the late Lord Addison, with whom Lord Salisbury collaborated so closely, to the advantage, I think, of both sides, and from my noble and learned friend Lord Jowitt, who had a great deal to do then with the conduct of our public business—as to how great a help and how sympathetic a collaborator in these matters the noble Marquess was. Lord Salisbury, of course, comes not only from a great family, but from a family of great political and national service tradition. I do not suppose that any family in the whole of the country has quite such an unbroken record of public and State service.

But I am rather constrained to say this: that whilst the noble Earl desires that we should not raise anything controversial to-day, as the noble Marquess left us last Thursday whilst he was Lord President of the Council and Leader of your Lordships' House, and resigned on a question of policy, I should have liked him, if possible (although I recognise it as a matter for his personal decision), to come and tell your Lordships exactly why this had happened. Some people say that there is no precedent for such a case. I have not had time to look up the precedents in detail, but I did look up the case of the Duke of Devonshire, in 1904. I am bound to say, in fairness, that perhaps the noble Marquess has some precedent for not coming to your Lordships to-day, but the noble Duke of Devonshire did come to the House afterwards to make an explanation on the matter. We should rather welcome that on this occasion.

Now let me turn to the noble Marquess's own personality. Those of us who worked with him in the Government during the war, as well as those who have worked with him in your Lordships' House since, recognise what a great service he has given, and we are glad to have this opportunity of putting on record our appreciation of it. On his personal attributes, quite apart from all the erudition and fine philosophical background he possesses, there is something about him, as was evinced in the years between the wars, and especially in the last two years before the Second World War, which showed a personal courage in dealing with public affairs, as well as with his other affairs, which is beyond all doubt worthy of the highest possible admiration and praise. Whether we agree with him in this step or not, the noble Marquess appeals to me on this matter as having acted according to his conviction, and according to what he regards as his conscience and character. And I think it will always be true, as Emerson wrote, that "Character is the conscience of the nation."

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am not only willing but most anxious to support the words that fell from the noble Earl, the new Leader of your Lordships' House, and particularly the last part of what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. As we all know, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was not merely, as Leader of that section of the Government which is represented in your Lordships' House, Leader of his own Party: as Leader of this House, he was Leader of us all. Therefore, we all have a great personal connection with him, a personal regard and, I think I can say, unanimously a personal great admiration. The only criticism we have of him is that sometimes he was almost unreasonably reasonable: he would see the opposite point when sometimes one hoped that he would not. He was always courteous and understanding, and we shall all miss him, but we hope that he will frequently come to give us the benefit of his oratory, which we always enjoy, and his great wisdom. There is one consolation I should like to mention: in his successor, whom we all wish well, we have another statesman of principle and integrity, one whom we all regard with personal admiration and good will and, in many cases, with affection.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, as one who was the lieutenant of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, during the time he led the House, both in Opposition and in office, perhaps I may be allowed to join in what has been called in a sense a tribute; for we may pay a tribute to the long-living as well as to the dead. Although he came here from the House of Commons he was as much as anybody a House of Lords man, with, from the start, the most extraordinary sense of this House. It is not too difficult to lead the House when one is in office, though I hope one always did that with consideration. What was extraordinarily difficult was to do so in the years after the great Labour triumph in the Election of 1945. It was then that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, showed that genius, that knowledge of the spirit of this House, that knowledge and appreciation of England, which was so characteristic of him and which led us all through what might have been a very difficult time to, I believe, the complete satisfaction of everybody in all quarters of the House, and which certainly placed the reputation of this House and its constitutional position in the country in a unique place.

Had the noble Marquess done no more than that he would have been one of the great constitutional figures in history. But, of course, he has much more than that to his credit, as those who were his colleagues in peace and war know so well. In this House one does not have to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds or do any of the odd things which are done in another place. The noble Marquess is still one of us. I hope he will be with us again very soon, commanding in this House an influence equal to that which he has always commanded; indeed, I think he will have the position which his noble father had when he retired from the leadership of the House—the elder statesman of the House and friend and counsellor of every man, young or old, in the House. I believe that that is as true a tribute as can be paid to anyone. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, is indeed what every man in public life would wish to be. At the same time I believe the whole House extends the warmest welcome to his successor, one we already know with respect and with the affection that his predecessor has enjoyed, which he has won entirely on his own merits; and when we do not have to fight over Party things (because this House must exist always; by a mutual tolerance and wisdom and exchange of ideas) we shall give him all that support which it has been our pleasure and our privilege to give to his predecessor

2.47 p.m.


L: My Lords, if I ask leave to add a few words from this Bench it is because for eleven years, as Leader of the Liberal Party in this House. I had the privilege of co-operating with the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in the day-by-day and week-by-week overall decisions on the conduct of the business of the House. We have here no authority equivalent to the Speaker of the House of Commons, but behind the scenes, through what are called "the usual channels," the business of the House is arranged; and the heart of that machinery is the informal meetings of the three Leaders and their Chief Whips, with the attendance of the Clerk of the Parliaments and, sometimes, the Lord Chancellor. Those meetings, which may take place at any time, on any day, in effect direct the procedure of your Lordships' House, with the general assent of the Members. For eleven years, with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and with, for the most part, the late Lord Addison, all these matters were discussed with unanimity. In all that time I have never known any matter of controversy among those which came within the sphere of those deliberations. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, used neither the stick nor the carrot: he led us all simply by the power of tact, amiability and common sense. As the outcome of it all he had himself become almost an institution, and it is no disrespect or lack of good will towards the present Leader of the House if I say that in the opinion of all of us the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as Leader of the House of Lords, was irreplaceable.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I add a word, but from 1945 to 1951, under the late Lord Addison, I played a rather prominent part in the proceedings of this House; and then from 1951 until little more than a year ago I was Leader of the Opposition, so I suppose no one was brought into closer touch with the noble Marquess than I was. I think this House has sustained a very great loss in losing Lord Salisbury as Leader; and that, I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Home, knows, is in no sense to belittle him and his powers. I suppose it was because Lord Salisbury possesses that gift which we call personality, plus charm, plus the most absolute candour—and never throughout the eleven or twelve years during which I was most intimately concerned was there the slightest question about that—that we all so greatly admire him. I wish his successor all good luck. If he will—as I am sure he will—try to mould himself on Lord Salisbury's example, he will surely aim very high. For the rest, I sincerely hope that we shall see Lord Salisbury from time to time. In the course of the eleven or twelve years to which I have referred, though I have very seldom agreed with the views he expressed I have always realised that I was disagreeing with a man who sincerely felt that which he said.

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a word or two in order to show how much I agree with everything that has been said about our former Leader. My position is that of a Back Bencher, but I have been connected with Lord Salisbury for many years, not only in this House but elsewhere as well. And as a sincere National Liberal working with the Conservative Party, I must say that although I have been to him on occasions wondering whether he would say. "Now you are talking nonsense", I always found him very considerate and helpful in the difficulties in which I found myself and in the mixed trouble in which my noble friends of the Liberal Party and I were concerned.

In a way there is one bright spot about this state of affairs. I do not think Lord Salisbury has had any holiday for about two years. This will give him the opportunity of having a rest. Noble Lords who have occupied the position of Leader of this House realise what a tremendous job it is. I think Lord Salisbury deserves a thoroughly good holiday. I am sure that he will come back refreshed and will bring once more to our counsels the great wisdom and knowledge which we have all appreciated for so long.

I think that here is an instance which shows how great men are called on to show great courage on important occasions. And how seldom does it happen! I think this is a lesson to us all to stand by what we believe in, and defend it right up to the hilt. I just want to say one more word before I sit down, and that is how delighted I am that if there has to be a successor to Lord Salisbury it should be my old friend Lord Home. He will find that I will be just as loyal to him as I was to Lord Salisbury. I will do everything I can to ensure that my Party consider very carefully what the Conservative Party are doing and support him whenever we can.

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