HL Deb 26 November 1957 vol 206 cc477-83

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, we meet to-day under the shadow of what is almost a personal loss to each one of us in this House, for Henry Drogheda, our Lord Chairman of Committees, who died on Friday, after a very brief illness, was, as is proper to a Lord Chairman, a friend and counsellor to us all. There have been many great Chairmen of Committees, but greatness alone does not necessarily guarantee that success in personal relations which Lord Drogheda had. I know of none who had that priceless gift of sympathy in such full measure as he: it allowed him to put himself in the other man's place before he gave advice or passed judgment upon him. It was one of the daily delights of this House to see him moving informally, happily and naturally amongst us, with a smile, a cheerful word and a pleasantry for everybody, and, of course, wise advice whenever it was asked. He knew full well, in the last two years, what it cost him in health as he drove himself to fulfil the duties of your Lordships' House. And so, my Lords, did we. But we also knew that it was useless to try to deflect him, because this frail figure, who was so familiar to us, had within him the spirit of a very gallant fighter. So it was that he carried on serving your Lordships' House to the very end of his strength and of his life.

This morning a friend of his, and one who had known him long in the service of this House, received a letter, and it so exactly expresses my feelings, and I have no doubt the feelings of your Lordships, about Henry Drogheda, that I should like to read—and I have permission to do so—a short extract from it. The writer says: How very sad is the death of Lord Drogheda. Never did I see in anyone so perfect a blend of courtesy and firmness, patience and the power to decide, modesty and independence; his knowledge always greater than he was willing to admit, and his wisdom infinite. Your House is lucky to have had him and will be fortunate to find another such. I think that exactly describes what we all feel in our sadness to-day, and the House would. I know, wish me to extend to his son and to his family the sympathy of all your Lordships.


My Lords, I have the painful duty of rising to support the great tribute which the noble Earl the Leader of the House has paid to our friend who has passed away—because he was a friend to all of us. As the noble Earl has said, we were used to him moving quietly about the House and amongst us, having a chat here and there. I have sometimes felt that he knew a little more about us than perhaps we thought he did, because he was so careful in all his work to find out exactly not only what we were thinking but almost what we were likely to think upon a particular issue. It was his mastery of all the detail that was to come before the House, which, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House indicated, must have involved such a stupendous amount of individual work and study, that enabled him to deal, in a smooth and completely satisfactory way, with the matters which had to be considered by your Lordships.

We entirely agree with the noble Earl when he talks of the gallantry of spirit of Lord Drogheda; and there are noble Lords in many parts of the House who know that that gallantry of spirit was not confined to his self-sacrificing and devoted work in your Lordships' House but was evinced in other ways. Those of us who were connected with the conduct of the war will not forget his self-sacrificing work in departments which were not much talked about at that time, but whose work received great help from Lord Drogheda. Perhaps his sympathies were indicated by the fact that he was to have sponsored a Motion in your Lordships' House on a social question, which has given his friends, including the great Margery Fry (still with us), a good deal of anxiety and concern. The fact that he took up that Motion indicated once more his broad social views, and especially his outlook upon humanitarian affairs. We regret his passing. We agree with the noble Earl the Leader of the House that it would be difficult to say at present who can fill this great and onerous position with all the courtesy, as well as the efficiency, evinced by the late Lord Drogheda. We should like to be associated fully with the suggestion of the noble Earl the Leader of the House that we should send our sympathy to Lord Drogheda's son and family on his passing.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, after such eloquent tributes I find it difficult to add worthily to our expressions of the great loss which this House has suffered by the death of the noble Earl. Lord Drogheda. I follow the spokesmen of the two bigger political Parties, and I ask leave to speak not only for these Benches but for those of your Lordships who are not so intimately and fully concerned with the business of Government or official Opposition. Apart from the political responsibilities of us all here, we are, I suppose, a rather complex organisation, with an individual relationship between us which does not obtain in any other Parliamentary Assembly in the world, and which is incapable either of analysis or explanation. That is a thing which, unfortunately, no new legislation about your Lordships' House can take into account.

It is, I think, this most valuable atmosphere of tolerance and objectivity in the House of Lords, based on a semi-personal rather than an institutional groundwork, which Lord Drogheda particularly represented, both in his official duties and in his unobtrusive way of getting things done. His eye was always on the maintenance and the improvement of the value of this Chamber which he served so devotedly, and his mind was always open to suggestion and criticism, however shallow or thoughtful those criticisms and suggestions might seem. Those of us who worked with him closely, both in Committees in this House and in many other ways, will indeed find that the gap which his death has caused is a very wide and a very deep hurt in the functioning of your Lordships' Chamber.

I feel that in saying this I speak also for the loyal officials of your Lordships' House, with whom and through whom he worked so assiduously, to the great benefit of us all. I have spoken of him as a personality. To that I would add a short tribute as a person. Any of us would be fortunate indeed to have such a wide circle of friends of such varying interests and such varying backgrounds. His death is a loss to the State and to Parliament. It is at the same time a sorrow and a deep regret to many men and women who valued and appreciated Henry Drogheda.

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, as a very old friend, and one who worked, I was going to say in an earlier generation, with Lord Drogheda, to add my tribute. No one could have said better or more truly than the Leader of the House all that Henry Drogheda was to every Member of this House. But I think what made him so extraordinarily successful a Chairman of Committees was all that had gone before in his life, as well as all that he was himself. He did very good work in the Foreign Office in his early days. He tried hard to get away from it to join the Army in the First World War. He could not be spared because, I think I am right in saying, he was doing invaluable work with Sir Eyre Crowe. He did get away in the end, through his insistence, and before the war was over he joined the Brigade of Guards. He did not go back after the war to the easy pastures of the Civil Service, but struck out a line for himself at the Bar, where he was equally successful.

Then in the last War, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has said, those of us who knew Lord Drogheda's work in some of the more secret ventures, where discretion, wisdom, power of quick decision, judgment of men and things were all alike equally important, knew that his work there was as valuable as was his work in this House. Of what he was to us here others have spoken. I endorse it all. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, spoke of his capacity of friendship. It was indeed outstanding. He gave so much. It did not matter how ill he was, he never varied; and there was one quality about his friendship that I shall always remember: and that was that right up to the end of his life he was the most charming, the most considerate and the most inspiring friend of the young.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should be grateful if your Lordships would permit me to add a word to what has been so justifiably said by those who preceded rue in tributes to the noble Earl. Your Lordships will know that a great many matters have to be done by agreement between, the two Houses. When I had the honour of being Chairman of Ways and Means in another place, and the noble Earl was Chairman of Committees here, there were often occasions on which we had to meet and come to agreement on a number of matters. I should like to pay a tribute to the noble Earl and to say how courteous, kindly and helpful he was on many of those occasions, when circumstances were not always easy. If I may say so, I think the noble Earl rendered a great service to Parliament and this House by his helpful and happy way of dealing with all those matters. I am sure that during the time of my successor he will have been equally courteous and helpful. I should like to add that slight tribute to his memory.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I would not trespass on your Lordships' time were it not that I feel that some expression should be made of the particular debt owed to Lord Drogheda by those who have the honour to sit Speaker in your Lordships' House. His friendship, his help and his unequalled knowledge of the procedure and the work of the House were assets, not only to me but to my predecessors, which we valued immensely and can ill spare. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, will remember that it is almost exactly forty years since Lord Drogheda, Lord Rea and myself served in the same battalion. That is a long time, but it is the present loss of a friendship, which means so much to us all, which is, my Lords, in some measure the sign of the sympathy which we now join in sending to his son and his family.

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, it is often said that a person's good qualities are seldom recognised and certainly never acclaimed until he is dead. Such a saying is certainly not applicable to Henry Drogheda. Here in your Lordships' House we all, in whatever quarter of the House we sit, recognised his outstanding and unusual character. And here from the Back Benches I should like, as an old friend and as a recently recruited acolyte of his in the Chair, to pay my very humble tribute. I do not suppose that Henry Drogheda had a single enemy in the world. He was one of those rare characters: who I do not think had it in him to be angry or to be out of temper, but went through life with a smile and was a friend to all.

His courage was proverbial. There was something heroic about his stoicism. He met adversity serenely. As his body visibly failed, his spirit seemed to soar. He would never admit defeat. There was, if I may put it so, a sort of heartbreaking humility about the man and something, intangible, on a spiritual plane, that always seemed to elude one. We shall not forget that peculiarly sweet smile of his, that gentle courtesy. The House will not be the same without him. As he passes to his rest and we take leave of a very noble, lovable character, we feel thankful and grateful for the privilege of having known and loved him, and we are sure that "the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."