HL Deb 23 February 1972 vol 328 cc503-10

My Lords, I rise with a heavy heart this afternoon to pay tribute to the memory of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who, as many of your Lordships will have heard with regret, died this morning.

My Lords, we mourn to-day the distinguished descendant of one of our families—and luckily they are numerous—who have throughout the centuries served our country and our State so well. My noble friend Lord Salisbury entered our House in 1941 by Writ of Acceleration. From 1942 until 1957 he was either Leader of your Lordships' House or Leader of the Opposition in it. He had, moreover, the unique distinction of leading your Lordships during the lifetime of his father, who was himself a former Leader of your Lordships' House. But not only was Lord Salisbury's father Leader of this House: so also was his grandfather, the great Prime Minister at the end of the last century, This, in its way, typifies the continuity of service to Parliament and to the State of the Cecil family—a continuity which reaches from the first Elizabethan Age to our present, second Elizabethan Age.

We also mourn a distinguished statesman. This is perhaps not the occasion on which to speak at any length about my noble friend's political career. Its range is familiar to most of us. We know the role which he played at the Foreign Office in the years before the war; and we know, too, that, typically, my noble friend took the course of principle when he resigned with his chief, my noble friend Lord Avon, in 1938.

My Lords, we know, too, of the great contribution that he made to the Commonwealth. He became Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in 1940, and from that time onwards, until 1957, when he resigned from the Government, and except for a period in Opposition he always had some responsibility for the Commonwealth, as it now is. There may be some Members of your Lordships' House who may have had cause to disagree from time to time with policies which my noble friend pursued, but no noble Lord, I venture to think, would have sought to question the sincerity and the single-mindedness with which he pursued those policies, or the extent to which the development of the Commonwealth was close to my noble friend's heart. He believed—and he believed implicitly—that the Commonwealth was a force for peace and a force for good in this troubled world.

My Lords, there is one other aspect of my noble friend's life and interest to which I should like briefly to refer. When he was Lord President of the Council he was Minister in charge of science policy, and the Research Councils which we shall be discussing in a day or two came under his authority. In recognition of his services to science, the Royal Society elected him a Fellow. He was also, as your Lordships know, deeply interested in learning and in the humanities, and as such was Chancellor of Liverpool University, a Trustee of the National Gallery and Chairman of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments; and I know from my personal experience how much that Commission meant to him.

We mourn equally a great former Leader of your Lordships' House. All your Lordships who recall my noble friend's period of office is Leader know that he was, above all, ready and eager to help any Member of your Lordships' House, on whichever side of the House he might be sitting, and whether he was a new Member or an old and distinguished one. My noble friend served your Lordships no less well (and this is perhaps what many of us will most closely remember him for in his political career) as Leader of the Opposition in this House between 1940 and 1951. He had himself been in office for ten years when the Labour Government came into power under Mr. Attlee in 1945; and with his distinguished deputy, my noble friend Lord Swinton, he led a Party here which then had an overwhelming majority in your Lordships' House. I think that most of your Lordships who remember this House at that time will recognise the immense debt which we all owe to him for the control, the patience and the wisdom which he then exercised, and for the harmonious relationship—and this was very important—which he established with the then Leader of your Lordships' House, the late Lord Addison.

My Lords, we mourn a very great House of Lords man. I think all of us know how deeply my noble friend had the interests of this House at heart. Many of us will recall not only the important part that he played in Opposition but also that my noble friend, who was in many things a conservative, was above all radical in his belief that this House would be better for radical reform. My Lords, it is not only the descendant of a great political family, it is not only the distinguished statesman, it is not only this pre-eminent House of Lords man whom we mourn to-day: it is, above all, the man himself. We know the kindness—and I have spoken of it—and the courtesy which he was invariably ready to extend to all Members of your Lordships' House. We have all relished his wit from time to time. I have always had in mind one famous shaft of his: it was to do with my noble friend Lord Dundee. Lord Dundee had made a long maiden speech about myxomatosis, and at the conclusion of that speech Lord Salisbury turned to his colleagues on the Front Bench and said, "Bunny Dundee".

My Lords, I have spoken of the House of Lords man, I have spoken of the statesman, I have spoken of the man himself. What I should like to say in conclusion about the man himself is this. I believe—and I know that this will be recognised by all Members of your Lordships' House—that my noble friend was above all a man of the very deepest humanity. Despite the great gifts with which he was endowed by birth and intellect, he was fundamentally a very humble man. It is with gratitude that I say to your Lordships how well my noble friend served this country and this House, and his fellow countrymen. I am sure that I carry all Members of your Lordships' House with me when I express our sympathies to Lady Salisbury and to the family.

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate all my noble friends on this side of the House with the quite moving tributes which the noble Earl has just paid to the life and service of the late Lord Salisbury. When I earned a very short while ago that Lord Salisbury was dead and I realised that I should not again see him sitting on that seat just below the gangway, I felt immediately and spontaneously a sense of personal loss—and I say that although I speak as a comparatively new Member in this House and as one who had not the privilege of any intimate personal connection with him. Nevertheless, such was the strength of the noble Marquess's character and such was the personal position he held in this House that I am sure that the more senior Members, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and others, will accept that we, too, can share with them this sense of loss.

I believe that the House is the poorer for the passing of one who embodied so much of those values that we should like to feel are associated with this House. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as the noble Earl has said, advocated political causes different from those for which my noble friends and I on this side have worked. But I would say this in all sincerity: unless the society to which we evolve recognises, includes and pays tribute and respect to men of the character of Lord Salisbury it will be the poorer. A profound sense of duty, unblemished honour—and I think too of those days before the war—a true kindness, a quite special blend of humility and pride and a complete feeling of integrity: these are the qualities that I associate with the late Lord Salisbury and why I am sure we are all saddened by the news of his passing.


My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches and for myself I should like to be associated very closely with the tributes which have been paid by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. Of course we had political differences with Lord Salisbury; but it was a real pleasure to work with someone who was so genuinely friendly and who, above all, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has said, had the interests of this House at heart. I believe that his will go down in history as one of the outstanding contributions to British politics.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I saw the problem of the 1945–50 Parliament from the Benches of another place, although we were sitting in this Chamber here. It is, I think, a tremendous thing that any man should have been faced with the problem of having to control his own Party, in Opposition, with a great majority, a traditional hereditary majority, while confronted with a reforming Government which was bringing in legislation that must in many cases have been anathema to the vast majority of people in this House. It was only, I believe, through having a man of his calibre and with the influence which he commanded over his own Party that the House of Lords was saved from a head-on collision with another place. That collision could have been one from which the House of Lords would have emerged only in name—without power and without prestige. I believe that we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to what Lord Salisbury did on that occasion in particular. We associate ourselves sincerely with the expressions of grief and sympathy to his family.


My Lords, as one of his oldest colleagues in this House and as a very close friend I should like to join in the tributes which have been so movingly and so justly paid to my noble friend who has passed over. We were together as Leader and Deputy Leader in office and in Opposition. It was a perfect partnership. I do not think that we ever disagreed either on policy or on the handling of policy. I entirely agree with what has been said: that we owe an enormous amount to him and to his extraordinarily able handling of affairs when the Party to which we belonged had a vast majority here but were in Opposition. But to-day I think that we all particularly wish to remember the man himself. When men are greatly loved, they get pet names, or nicknames, as we call them. To all in this House and in another place, young or old, Lord Salisbury was "Bobbety": "Bobbety", always accessible; "Bobbety", always friendly; "Bobbety", always helpful. A great man, and a man greatly loved, has passed to his rest. May he rest in peace!


My Lords, I think it is fitting that someone from these Benches should associate himself with the very eloquent tributes that have been paid to the late Lord Salisbury and to join in the expressions of sympathy to his family. I had the great good fortune to know him for many years and there is no one from whom I feel I learned more about how to lead one's life. Of his qualities I would mention only three—and they are those which have been mentioned already by noble Lords: his humanity, his love of his fellow human beings of all ages, his interest in their ideas and their opinions and his deep consideration for their feelings; his humility (for with all his distinctions and attainments he remained the most humble of men), and, finally, his wit and his sense of humour. My Lords, this House has lost one of its wisest, most respected Members, and many of us have lost a most treasured friend.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might add one personal note to the beautiful tributes that have been paid. I think I knew "Bobbety" longer than any other Member of this House, for we were friends for nearly 70 years. As schoolboys, we went to the same private school in London; at Oxford we were friends at the same college; and we were colleagues in both Houses of Parliament. Of his public qualities I shall say nothing. I merely say that as a friend he was the most civilised man I ever knew.


My Lords, may I associate the Bishops with these tributes to the late Lord Salisbury, remarking especially on his work for learning and the humanities, that intuitive sense he had of the character of this House, his statesmanship and personal qualities. I am sure that we join in the messages of deep sympathy to Lady Salisbury and her family.


My Lords, I hope that you will forgive me for intervening when already somebody from this Bench has spoken. I do so for two reasons. The first is that Lord Salisbury was the Leader of my Party and of the Opposition when I first took my seat in this House immediately after the war—and there are, I think, very few in this House now who were here then. What any of us of my generation know about politics and the House of Lords we learned from him; and his never-failing encouragement and kindness to young men coming into public life for the first time is something we shall always remember and something for which we shall always be abidingly grateful.

Secondly, as I have said, he was at that time in a particularly difficult position. The whole future of the House of Lords depended on his judgment, and on that of my noble friend Lord Swinton, as to how it could operate at a time of an enormous Labour majority in the House of Commons. My Lords, looking back on those years, the position may perhaps seem a good deal easier than in fact it was; but the way in which Lord Salisbury, with Lord Addison, devised a set of rules acceptable to both major Parties and to the House, and the way in which, by his skill and political wisdom, he operated them, are a lesson to any student of politics. I say this in great gratitude only because, almost 20 years later and for six long years, I was the Leader of the Opposition in this House faced with much the same position, and during those years I sought to follow not only the procedures he had laid down but also his example. Without that example I do not believe that we should have got through nearly so well.

My Lords, others have spoken much more eloquently than I can possibly do about his personal characteristics. Let me say only that anyone who met him or heard him or knew him could not fail to have not only a profound respect for his character, his authority and his views, whether or not one agreed with them, but also, and above all, a great affection for him. He was a man who put his loyalties and his principles and his country above everything; and there are not very many about whom that may be said.


My Lords, I rise to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the late Lord Salisbury because there was one aspect of his public life that has not been mentioned this afternoon. Following the death of Lord Wootton and until his retirement from the Government, Lord Salisbury was Lord President of the Council, and during these years I had the honour to be his adviser on scientific matters. Although he was not a scientist, I think we should note that he was a man who had a real appreciation of science and of its importance to this nation and was very responsive indeed to the advice which he was given. I think that science, and indirectly the country as a whole, owes much more to Lord Salisbury in this respect than perhaps it realises; and I feel that this is an occasion when I would wish to emphasise this and to record my own personal appreciation of the friendship which I had with the noble Marquess during that period.

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