HL Deb 25 November 1963 vol 253 cc569-76

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to express to the President of the United States of America the shock and deep sorrow with which this House has learned of the death of President Kennedy; and to convey their sense of the loss which this country and the Commonwealth have sustained, and their profound sympathy with Mrs. Kennedy and the family of the late President, and with the Government and people of the United States of America.

It so happened that I was motoring back home on Friday evening when the B.B.C. broadcast the news flash that President Kennedy had been shot. At that time no one knew whether or not he was alive, and for the next half-hour we were left uncertain of the outcome. The possibility that President Kennedy was still alive focused in my mind what would be the consequences of his death, and when the news finally came through one felt almost a sense of despair that a man who had so singularly served his country and the Free World should have been so cruelly and brutally murdered. It is not for us to judge his standing or his achievements in his own country. It is in the field of foreign affairs and the leadership of the West that we can make our judgment and pay our tribute.

My Lords, no doubt you will remember, as I remember, the very striking Inaugural Address that President Kennedy made in January, 1961. I recollect that he used this vivid phrase: Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. And this is the policy he followed bravely and consistently in the three short years of his Presidency. He was faced with the most critical problems, the most vital of decisions. Upon him depended, as upon no other man in the Free World, the future of every one of us. He did not flinch from taking these decisions, nor did he cease from trying to solve these problems. During the Cuban crisis he showed himself to be firm and wise. At the same time he worked continuously to achieve a world in which men, though divided in ideology, could live together in peace. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which came towards the end of his life was proof of his determination and evidence of his success.

It has rightly been said, my Lords, that no man is indispensable. But if ever there was a man who, in the interests of every one of us, both Communist and non-Communist, should have remained at the head of affairs in the United States, it was President Kennedy. To his wife and family, to the Government and to the people of the United States, we would all of us send our deepest sympathy, and particularly to Mrs. Kennedy in the frightful ordeal which she has had to endure. We should, too, my Lords, to-day think of the man who has succeeded President Kennedy. He can be sure that our prayers are with him in the great tasks which lie before him.

President Kennedy, at the age of 46, was a young man so far as statesmen go. He had many years of useful public life and service before him. Perhaps he himself felt that what he had done so far was only a beginning and that he had it in him to achieve greater things. But, my Lords, it may well be that in the years to come we shall look back and say that the three years of Mr. Kennedy's Presidency were the turning point in our relations with the Soviet Union and the Communist world, and that this man, by his leadership, by his example, by his resolution, and by his wisdom, was the man perhaps more than any other who helped to bring this about. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to express to the President of the United States of America the shock and deep sorrow with which this House has learned of the death of President Kennedy; and to convey their sense of the loss which this country and the Commonwealth has sustained, and their profound sympathy with Mrs. Kennedy and the family of the late President, and with the Government and people of the United States of America.—(Lord Carrington.)

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having arranged this special Sitting. I am sure I speak for the whole of my noble colleagues on these Benches when I say how much they appreciate the terms in which the Motion before the House has been moved by him. We have all suffered a sense of tremendous shock by the violent death which was meted out to such a great person as John Kennedy. Many of us, perhaps, would not have agreed with every one of his political views. But we can all admire a man of such courage; of such tenacity in crisis; of such good feeling to men, to whom perhaps he owed little but whom he desired to move in the right direction; and a man who came to wonderful, quite wonderful, decisions in very grave hours in the last three years.

The character of the man must have been there years before he began his great Presidency. Character building begins before the age of 43, and he must have owed a great deal to his family, to his religious upbringing and to his general education and association. But, as I think of his character and of what his life was, I am tempted once more to go back to my favourite essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was an American and who says in his essay on character: Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. I feel that, whatever Mr. Kennedy had to face, when dealing with matters of great principle he dealt with them on a pure analysis of the facts and got as near as he possibly could on every occasion to what he, as a man of good character, felt to be right; and, whatever was said about it at the time, he nevertheless adhered to the decisions he made in such circumstances. That also had a great effect in leadership upon a nation which, as Bishop Bayne said last night, was greatly divided on very important questions.

I do not wish to say more, except to refer to two other matters which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has mentioned in his remarks. First, our hearts go out to Mrs. Kennedy. We mourn not only for all the trouble that she has been through already, but for the great responsibilities in her family life that still remain with her in her loneliness. We sympathise very greatly with the children, who loved their father so much. We send our heartfelt sympathy and good wishes to Mrs. Kennedy and her children.

I would say a word, too, on the other matter to which the noble Lord referred and which I had in mind, and that is the future of the United States as a result of this very heavy loss. I pray very much the thought that was expressed by many of us in the course of the Great War, when we were finally all together in the struggle for freedom: Those whom God hath joined together in war let no man put aside in peace. We expressed that view to each other more than once, those of us who were mixing with the Americans of the day who were here with us in the joint battle for freedom. We saw the passing of President Roosevelt at a very difficult time; and, finally, we had good fellowship and extraordinarily great help, at a time when many of us on this side of the House were in Government, from President Harry Truman.

Now Mr. Kennedy has been succeeded by Mr. L. B. Johnson. I must say that we wish him every possible help and grace in the great task that he has now to perform. I hope that the relationships between our countries and with all the other countries in the world who defend freedom will develop and be blessed by God. Of the general character of John Kennedy, I can never get away from Van Dyke: Four things a man must learn to do If he would make his record true: To think without confusion clearly, To act from honest motives purely, To love his fellow men sincerely, To trust in God and Heaven securely. I think Mr. Kennedy was very near that standard.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rea, unfortunately, cannot, for reasons of health, be in his place this afternoon, and he has asked me to say a few words in support of the Motion which has been so ably moved by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and so well seconded by the noble Earl who leads the Labour Party.

My Lords, it seems to me a very sobering thought at this time that during the past 100 years four Presidents of the United States of America have been assassinated: it shows that, even now, at the present time, such great responsibility carries with it a considerable amount of danger. That, I think, was one of President Kennedy's great features: he took no heed of that, but, with considerable courage, charm and gaiety, went his way among the people, with this sad and tragic result that we are mourning this afternoon.

I have no wish further to elaborate what has already been said a great deal better than I could say it, but I would just say that I feel that the future for us and for the rest of the world is considerably darker and more gloomy than it was last Friday. Finally, my Lords, I would associate noble Lords on these Benches with the deep sympathy which has been expressed to President Kennedy's widow and his two young children, and, indeed, to the whole population of the United States of America, and couple with it our good wishes for his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, who has taken over at such an appallingly difficult time.


My Lords, the shock of this tragedy has shown how President Kennedy, despite all divisions and differences, touched something universal in the human heart. Yesterday I met some schoolboys who had been putting their pocket money together to send a wreath, or a gift to some good cause, to show their own grief and admiration. The shock has given to people of every country and every kind a new and vivid realisation of what sort of man they admire, and the sort of causes they care for. Kennedy: youthful, courageous, firm as a rock and infinitely patient, with a lovely family life around him—this was their man. Peace, freedom, partnership of races—these are their longings.

And so, my Lords, this tragedy, evoking in so many a new sense of our common humanity, can, by God's providence, bring new resolves to go on with the task to which this great man gave himself. Would he wish for us anything other than that we should pay heed to Lincoln's words, spoken at the time of another tragedy in the world's history?—I alter one phrase from the plural to the singular: It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that he has thus far so nobly advanced. With these resolves, my Lords, we mourn one who has gone to be nearer the God in whom he believed, who served humanity in his life, and serves it still by the example that he has left.


My Lords, I should like to add just a few words in support of what has been said by noble Lords opposite and on this side of the House regarding this terrible tragedy. We all feel it to be a double tragedy: first, a domestic tragedy to Mr. Kennedy's family and to his country; and, secondly, a world tragedy; because in the state of the world to-day it matters enormously who is the President of the United States of America. He is bound to have a leading part; and Mr. Kennedy nobly played that leading part. I recall a year or two ago having a long talk with him on world affairs. I admired his courage; I admired his broad humanity and his understanding. I felt that here we had a man fit to be a world leader in a world crisis. He has now gone from us, but he has left a great memory. I would only add my feeling, and the feeling of all of us, for the man who has had this burden thrown upon him suddenly, Mr. Lyndon Johnson: we all wish him well and that he may give the leadership needed, both to the United States of America and to the world.


My Lords, I desire only to add a few sentences to the eloquent tributes that have already been paid. I suppose that what makes this tragedy so poignant to each one of us is that the President's life and service should have been cut off in this way, in mid-career. It is not for us to estimate the work he was doing for his own people at home; but any observer of the international field could note that he was already putting the stamp of his own ideas and courage upon world events. When the crisis came he showed a firmness which was always tinged with moderation, and he was able, without weakness, to encourage tension between the nations to relax. These are very rare gifts of statesmanship, and it was reasonable for us to suppose that, as experience grew and his years advanced, he would be able increasingly to make that contribution to the service of mankind. Now, most unhappily for us, all that is not to be. We can only join in the world mourning and most fervently wish to his successor God's guidance in his task.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente: The said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: House adjourned accordingly at four minutes before three o'clock.

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