HL Deb 06 February 1963 vol 246 cc583-7

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, yesterday there passed away one of the most honoured figures in British public life. Most of your Lordships had not yet been born, and Mr. Gladstone had not yet died, when Lord Samuel first stood as a Parliamentary candidate in the General Election of 1895. He was four years older than Sir Winston Churchill, and I think he entered the House of Commons a year or two before him, in a by-election after the General Election of 1900.

Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for reminding you that Lord Samuel was a Balliol man. For a very large time he had been Visitor of the College. He took his First-Class Honours Degree in the year in which Benjamin Jowett died, in 1893, and although he attained great political eminence, I have always thought of Lord Samuel as an outstanding example of those qualities which Balliol honours and inculcates more highly than political success: that is, a vigorous, intellectual integrity which does not scorn to apply itself to any department of human knowledge or of human life.

My noble friend the Leader of the House particularly regrets that he cannot be here today to pay tribute to Lord Samuel, but he has been in communication with me this morning and has conveyed a note of what he would have liked to say, and what he would like me, with your Lordships' permission, to read to you. He says: My Lords, the House will wish to remember in gratitude the long life and work of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, whom we shall not see again, and to condole with those—and they are many in many spheres—who mourn his loss with pain at parting, but without sorrow at the ending of a life well spent and full of honour. In particular, in this House we think of the Liberal Party, whose Leader here he had been and on whose Benches he used to sit. He was one of the very few remaining links with the Governments preceding the First World War, and it is something which marks the immense progress of modern technology to remember that the Postmaster-General who was responsible for the actual introduction of wireless telegraphy to this country has only recently passed from amongst us. The noble Viscount brought to his public life immense gifts of intellect and character, marked by several works of learning and scholarship he contributed to the subject of religion and morality. Speaking as a Christian, I found it immensely encouraging to read these weighty volumes, coming from one whose steadfast Jewish faith throughout the years bore witness to his loyalty to his own people, and which so honourably corresponds in so many respects to the view of the universe and the nature of man that we ourselves maintain. The noble Viscount's loyalty was also shown in his retention through thick and thin of the Liberal allegiance with which he had begun his life. This does all the more honour to him, because he was so clearly a man of Cabinet timber that, but for this circumstance, he must have held high office in the Governments of whichever Party he selected. The great value of having such a man so deeply dedicated to public life outside Her Majesty's Government is clearly manifested by the râles he did play in the Parliamentary and public life of his time. Apart from twice holding the office of Home Secretary, he held with distinction the High Commissionship of Palestine, the Presidency of numerous learned bodies, and of many societies, including that connected with Oxford, for which he spoke in a most remarkable speech which many of us still remember. When he was awarded the Order of Merit by Her Majesty immediately after a Privy Council which I attended, and to which he was invited as a special mark of his fiftieth anniversary of his Privy Counsellorship, I think we all rejoiced at the honour done to a great Englishman, a great member of the Jewish faith and an honourable and worthy man. Many of us will always carry his memory with us. Grave, weighty, serious, industrious, virtuous, solidly and unshakably on the side of light against darkness, yet not without shafts of wit, courteous to opponents, effective in debate, studious and kind, he will always be with us in our hearts at once a pattern to ourselves and an example of the finest flower of the Jewish religion. Thinking of him, I am tempted to repeat the consoling words of the Book of Solomon: 'The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. Though they may be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality'. That is what my noble friend the Leader of the House has wished me to repeat to your Lordships, which he has communicated to me this morning.

I have only this one more thing to add. We all here remember these great services which Lord Samuel rendered to his country in politics, in literature and in many other ways. Perhaps we in your Lordships' House particularly like to remember Lord Samuel sitting there on that Bench in the last few years, leaning back with his earphone to his ear, listening, always attentively and sometimes with a tolerant smile, to all the things, both wise and foolish, which your Lordships were saying. Then he would rise to his feet, with difficulty but with composure, make his way to this Box, adjust his notes, and deliver to your Lordships a speech of the most coherent, well-marshalled, excellent, reasonable argument which anybody in either House of Parliament has ever enjoyed. Your Lordships will remember them far better than I do, I expect.

I think Lord Samuel was the first man in Parliament to remind us, speaking on the very grave political subject of nuclear weapons, that Nobel, the donor of the Peace Prize, had once expressed the wish that mankind would invent a weapon of such terrible destructive power that war would be impossible. Lord Samuel wondered whether, if we acted wisely and rightly now, that might not happen. We remember, too, that wonderful speech, made only two or three years ago, on the Oxford road system. What a different speech, but how well he did it! We think of the shafts of ridicule which he expended upon the case which lie was seeking to demolish. Perhaps it is significant that the last utterance he made in this House at the end of 1961 was a question about the future of scientific education. I think that is rather symbolic of him, an elder statesman of 91, asking this last question about the future education of children in science. What, I confess, I like to remember perhaps most of all is the happy smile from that Box with which he informed a would-be interrupter of his speech that, owing to his deafness, he enjoyed the exceptional advantage of not being able to hear one single word which your Lordships were saying.

My Lords, to his son and successor, who now holds an honoured place in the administration of Palestine, and to all his other relatives, we extend our sympathy, and we share with them the happy memory of our association with an honourable statesman, a great scholar and a kind-hearted friend.

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, it is due to the courtesy of the noble Earl who leads the Opposition that I am permitted to follow the acting Leader of the House who has given such an eloquent and moving tribute to our old friend, standing as I do in the place where most of you remember him addressing your Lordships. I would crave your Lordships' indulgence in saying only a few words on what, to me, is the very poignant occasion of the death of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I speak for a section of British political life which has to-day lost its most eminent and valued elder statesman. I speak for my colleagues here in your Lordships' House who, like myself, have been privileged and grateful to serve under a wise, understanding and inspiring leader and counsellor. And I speak also for myself and others of Lord Samuel's own friends who have valued with high admiration and real affection, not only his very special qualities, but also his endearing personal character.

In his own words, he looked not upon death as an injury, but upon life as a privilege. I suggest that he took full and unassuming advantage of that privilege. We are grateful to him for his life, and in particular for his contribution to the integrity and the idealism of British politics. Our sympathy goes out to his family, but there remain with us the warm satisfaction and the pleasure of having known him.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of all my colleagues here I wish to join very sincerely in the tributes which have been paid with such eloquence by the noble Earl who is leading the House to-day, and in the full written support of the general Leader of the House and the Leader of the Liberal Party, to a very great man. In view of what the noble Earl has said, he finds in me, perhaps, someone who is old enough to remember the early political life of the noble Viscount we have lost.

My first recollection of Lord Samuel was when I was a young man in Somerset. He came to speak to a meeting of Liberals in the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare, when he was Postmaster-General, towards the latter half of 1910. I marvelled at him that day as a young man—beautifully dressed, long-tailed morning coat, speaking without notes and with a complete hold of his audience. I never forgot that. I met him again and was cross-examined by him when he was Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry. He cross-examined me with a quiet, courteous sympathy which I have always valued ever since. I liked his graciousness to a comparatively uneducated person like myself years and years ago, and occasionally from time to time when he would spare a few minutes to talk a little philosophy to me. Considering his long connection with the Royal Society of Philosophy and the fact that I had only a little smattering of Spencer, a little more of Emerson and so on, what a gracious thing it was to take notice of one who was so much out in the wilderness as I was on the matter!

I thought, as we were praying this afternoon, that he was almost the perfect example to us in Parliament, because he never displayed what I call private interest or prejudice or partial affection; and that sums up the fact that one of the lasting memories to his name and living will be the integrity which is judged of him by all who knew him or all who were interested in his political and philosophical life. I remember also what he left behind him in Palestine, because we had some difficulties there when I was in the Government of 1929–31, and how much we valued at that time going to him for advice.

I should like to say how much I sympathise with his family, in what they must feel: how much they owe to the fatherhood and leadership of their father. He was a great person. I shall miss him, and I am sure that the whole House will, too.

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