HL Deb 17 June 1958 vol 209 cc979-83

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I believe the House would like to know that my noble friend Lord Onslow, who particularly wished to be associated with what I have to say this afternoon about the late Lord Fortescue, has gone to Lord Fortescue's funeral. In consultation with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, the Leader of the Liberal Party, I have arranged that a wreath shall be sent from the whole of the House to Lord Fortescue's funeral.

The roots of Lord Fortescue's family go deep into the history of England, and it is significant that when I recall "Tim" Fortescue's life and my association with him the first quality in him which springs to my mind is loyalty, and perhaps that is the greatest of all the human virtues. There was his loyalty to his wife, who was his beloved partner and gay companion, and made, with him, a wonderful home—indeed, it was the long drawn out sorrow of her illness and death which penetrated even his fortitude, and really left him with no will to live. Loyalty to his County of Devonshire, to which he would return, whenever his duties allowed, with all the countryman's excitement and satisfaction in Nature and in the land, in his farming and his forestry, in which he was so expert; back to the country sports and pursuits in which he delighted in the rare times which he had free for recreation. Loyalty, too, to the West Country, where he was, of course, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Devon and a member of the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall, where he had commitments with the Royal Agricultural Society and where he and Lady Fortescue were ready to serve a multitude of local causes. There they will be remembered with particularly deep affection because there were few activities which they did not inspire with their interest and enliven with their presence; and they were both vivid personalities. Loyalty to his regiment, to his country and to his Queen—and, we know, to this House in which he served many what I like to think were to him happy years.

He used rather to laugh at himself as a politician and a Parliamentarian and wonder how he drifted into politics. Perhaps it is true that this debonair, brave, direct cavalry soldier, rather slow to collect his thoughts and slow to express them, perhaps was not on the face of it of the stuff of which conventional politicians are made. But for twenty-one years he pursued his duties here with punctuality and with acceptance to everybody, as Whip and as Chief Whip, and gave to this House unstinted devotion. In doing so he gained the affection of everybody and had a success which was a personal triumph; and he achieved that triumph by methods peculiarly his own.

I remember that once during a debate in this House, when the House was in a somewhat "edgy" mood, a late Sitting was required. I told "Tim" Fortescue that I hoped he would go into the House and explain the necessity for this late Sitting, and I said I had no doubt that he would use his whole tact in persuading your Lordships to sit late. I happened to be in the House when he made his announcement. It went like this: "My Lords, I have an announcement to make. Your Lordships will not like it. You have to sit after dinner." After that, of course, the whole House would cheerfully have sat until early the following morning if need be. We all have a thousand memories of his humour and good temper and his kindness. Here was a man whose character was pure gold; and when we find such a person perhaps the simplest words are most faithful to his memory. I can only say that none of us could ever have known a nicer man or a more loyal friend.

2.42 p.m.


I rise to associate my friends and myself with the tribute which the noble Earl the Leader of the House has paid to the memory of Lord Fortescue. In Lord Fortescue—or "Tim" as we all knew him—the whole House has lost a friend. It is not the case that we are paying a tribute to an official of one Party for we on this side all looked upon him as belonging to us as well as to noble Lords opposite. My noble friend and Leader yesterday used the term "imperturbable" and I feel that that is probably as good a description of Lord Fortescue's character, together with the loyalty of which the noble Earl spoke, as one could find. I have myself never known him to be put out, even though there must have been times when it would have been perhaps justifiable for him to be excited or upset by the conduct of certain people who shall be nameless. I have never known him lose his temper or even be put out in the slightest, degree.

He was invariably kind and courteous and, rather strange for one who had been a military man, gentle. He was a person to whom one could go to talk about one's difficulties, and he would always give a sympathetic ear. My own personal memory of him—and we all have special memories—is of repeated conversations about pigs. He was tremendously interested in my pig-keeping, as I was in his, and we were frequently exchanging views on the subject, on which he held some very good ideas. We shall mourn his loss. It seems hardly credible that he is no longer with us. His memory will remain for a long time with all of us in this House; and we deeply mourn his passing.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I, as a former Leader of the House, re-echo all that has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Home and Lord Silkin, about Lord Fortescue. I do not suppose there is anyone in this House to whom the news of Lord Fortescue's death has not come with a sense of severe shock. It was only a few days ago that he was here in this Chamber, his own quiet, unobtrusive self, a part—one might almost, I think, say an essential part—of our lives. And now that he has left us it seems almost impossible to believe that he is not here still, so great a place had he carved for himself in all our hearts.

It was my good fortune to work with him from the time he became Chief Whip of the Conservative Party in this House until my retirement from the Leadership last year, and I do not think I ever remember a happier relationship, at any rate on my part. I hardly knew him when he took over; but soon came to appreciate his rare qualities. Humble he was—I do not think there ever was a humbler man; but his counsel was always wise and he had an unerring instinct about men. That, and his complete integrity and, as the Leader of the House has said, loyalty combined with a natural goodness and kindness, were, I think, the secret of his remarkable success as Chief Whip. He liked everybody and everybody liked him: and so he came to have, to a marked degree, if I may use the phrase in this context, the confidence of the House.

He was, of course, as has been said, pre-eminently a countryman, with that robust common sense which is the hallmark of the true countryman; and it was in the countryside, and especially in his own County of Devon, that he was happiest. It was the occupations of the countryside, and in particular the care of his own estate, that gave him, I think, the keenest pleasure. Indeed, if one had to find one single word which would accurately describe him, I think that that word would be "Squire"—and in its best sense that is a pretty good word.

Such, my Lords, was "Tim" Fortescue, whom we have lost. We cannot, I think, in one sense, wish him to have lived longer, for without his wife, to whom he was so deeply devoted, life could have held little for him. But we are all the poorer for his death, and I am very glad that there has been this opportunity to-day to record our respect and deep affection for one who, as Lord Silkin has said, was a friend to us all and to whom the House, and much more than the House, owe so much.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I make no apology for entering into these tributes. As the first Chief Whip of the former Labour Government, I succeeded Earl Fortescue. I want only to be allowed to say how much I was indebted to him both for helping me to feel at home and for showing me all the ropes. He became a close personal friend. It is more than four years since I have been able to raise my voice in this House, but I thought that I had to get here somehow to-day to pay my respects and gratitude to Lord Fortescue.


My Lords, I should like to rise to express my opinion in the same way. I have known Hugh Fortescue, I think, longer than any of you—since he was 13. I was a great friend of both Lord Fortescue and his wife, who in my County of Devon could not have done more. They worked hard together, and I could not conceive his living without his wife.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I think that to anybody of my generation in this House it will be very difficult to imagine the Front Bench opposite without Lord Fortescue, because he used to sit there, I think, for longer than many of us care to remember. I remember twenty years ago my father telling me how helpful, kind and courteous he always found Lord Fortescue, although their views must have been poles apart. When I myself came to your Lordships' House I also experienced a great deal of his kindness and courtesy. I think one of the great qualities of Lord Fortescue was the fact that he never bore personal rancour, although he could not have agreed with many of the views expressed from this side of the House. Yet in all one's dealings with him one found underneath what I might perhaps describe as superficially the somewhat gruff manner was the merry twinkle of the eyes which betrayed the inner kindliness and innate goodness of the man. I think that on this side of the House he will be greatly missed.

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