HL Deb 10 June 1964 vol 258 cc877-80

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, if your Lordships will allow me, to pay a tribute to the distinguished Member of your Lordships' House whose death occurred yesterday. For most of my life he occupied a prominent position in the public affairs of this country. Always a controversial figure and always ready to engage in controversy, it was to be expected that in the course of his activities he would arouse some enmity and opposition. However that may be, no one can doubt the great value to this country of the part he played as Minister of Aircraft Production in the critical days of 1940. Even then, he was a controversial figure. Lethargy and Lord Beaverbrook did not go together. Wherever he was and whatever he did, some turbulence was to be expected.

Many of your Lordships knew him far better than I did, and it is many years since I last spoke to him. But in the 1940s, after I had become a Member of another place, I met him on a number of occasions. I do not think that anyone who got to know him at all could fail to be impressed by his great personal charm and his friendliness to those younger than himself. He had a tremendous zest for life and a great sense of fun—some might even say of mischief. He was indeed a colourful character, and in these days such characters are rare.

I am glad, and I am sure that your Lordships are, that he was able to celebrate his 85th birthday, for I am sure that the presence on that occasion of so many of his friends—and he had a very great many friends—and the messages of congratulation he received, brought great pleasure and happiness to him.

My Lords, I would wish, on your Lordships' behalf, to extend our sympathy to his family.

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for the manner in which he has opened this tribute to-day. He has given a clear picture of the variety of qualities, and of the fine character behind so much of them, in the life of Lord Beaverbrook. There will always be those, I expect, who will criticise the things which he did at this or that point in his career. I have memories of the strong political controversy between a former Prime Minister and Lord Beaverbrook at a critical stage of political events.

It is unfortunate that I never had an opportunity of listening to Lord Beaverbrook in this House. I am certain that he must have been a valuable Member of the House during the war. According to himself, he had unfortunate experiences on a previous occasion and quite recently he said that he thought that politically he had been a failure. However, I had this experience. For nearly twenty years in the Daily Express he was a great enemy to the movement to which I had given my life—the Co-operative Movement—but when we met in the Committee of Ministers in the last week of May, 1940, after we had all given our views about what we wanted in aircraft, Lord Beaverbrook said (I am paraphrasing, of course): "Hurricanes are coming off in line production and Spitfires will soon be increasing in number. Wellingtons are coming and we have some Blenheims already. But there is one thing, it seems to me, Mr. Prime Minister, that we have to learn. We are evacuating France. Is there to be an air war, a Battle of Britain? If so, we have to change some of the things that I have found. We cannot afford to hold up planes from going to the fighting squadrons if an air battle for Britain is going to supervene. So we must make perhaps less spares for the present and avoid the delay in sending to our fighting squadrons the planes as they appear. For every aircraft shot down in the Battle of Britain we must have a new one to go up in its place."

Lord Beaverbrook was greatly criticised in some quarters for the policy he put into operation, but in my view he was right when he said, "Spares will not save us in the Battle of Britain; only new planes". We owe him a great debt for that. I sent him a note across the table—I had never met him in all our years of controversy—saying, "Thank you for what you have said. Perhaps we might bury the hatchet for the period of the war, and perhaps after the war we might not be able to find it". And we had been friends ever since.

His contribution to building up the kind of organisation needed for the defence of Britain afterwards was not at all difficult to trace, for in conversations at Cherkley one could always expect to find Harry Hopkins or Averell Harriman or others who could give us the direct tendencies of the United States, and those of us who had a part in building up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation know that many of the views originated by the genius of Lord Beaverbrook were proved by events to be true. Do not let us think at this time of the things with which we did not agree in earlier years. Mark Antony said: The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones. From my personal experience of Lord Beaverbrook, after twenty years, I have a great tribute to pay to him, to his devotion to this nation and especially to his native land, Canada. I have great sympathy with his family.

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, by the death of Lord Beaverbrook in the fullness of his years both Britain and Canada are deprived of a colourful and prominent personality whose vitality and enterprise have earned for him a secure place in contemporary history. Many of us, as the noble Earl has just said, have at times disagreed with his views and his objectives. But nobody, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, will underrate his very high value as a powerful and effective lieutenant to our great war-time leader, Sir Winston Churchill. We all regret that we did not see him more in your Lordships' House; but he had a very full life in other spheres, and we sincerely hope that this may be some solace to his wife and family, to whom we offer our deep sympathy in their present sorrow.

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will allow for a few moments one to speak from these Benches who was for many years a personal friend of Lord Beaverbrook and also a colleague during the war. In 1940, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, then Sir Archibald Sinclair, and myself were at the Air Ministry, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production was born, with some resentment. But Lord Beaverbrook's basic drive and ruthless determination to achieve his purpose, which was a purpose of a matter of a few weeks only, justified all the policies and actions which he pursued, unconventional and unusual as some of them may have been.

I then saw Lord Beaverbrook at work in the Moscow Mission in October, 1941, with Mr. Averell Harriman and Lord Ismay. You get to know a man well when you go to Moscow and the Germans are almost at the gates of the city. On the way out, on the cruiser, Lord Beaverbrook said to us: "Will you play the hand my way?". We naturally said, "Yes". The first thing I remember he said was: "Never stay in a place more than one week or you lose your influence." At the end of six days we were about to leave, having failed to come to an agreement. On the seventh day an agreement was come to which was pleasing both to the Russians and to ourselves, in so far as we were aiming to help Russia at that time.

Friendship once given by Lord Beaverbrook was given in full measure; and his generosity was great, though often hidden from the outside world. I have thought how he would wish those who were his friends to remember him. I think he would like us to remember him, first, as a defiant man: he defied customs, authorities, men and events. Next, I believe he would like us to remember him as a determined man: storms or calm, he never deserted his purposes. Finally, I believe he would wish us to remember him as a Canadian —one who gave back to his land of birth and upbringing all that he took, and more.

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