HL Deb 18 October 1984 vol 455 cc1075-83
The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, many of your Lordships were present a little earlier today when we met in the Royal Gallery to honour the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, but I am sure that none of your Lordships would wish this unique event to pass without the opportunity for us to pay tribute to the noble Lord in the House itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has been a Member of your Lordships' House since 1970. Before that he had a distinguished career in another place, stretching back as far as 1922, when he was first elected as Member for Linlithgow. There are those of us in this House who may have been alive at that time, and there are those of us in this House who may remember that year, but there are many who will not.

During his time in another place the noble Lord served for many years as a Government Minister, notably as Minister of Fuel and Power, Secretary of State for War, and later Minister of Defence between 1945 and 1951.

When he came to this House, at the age of 85, he began a second career as a parliamentarian. He has become known as an orator who, speaking without any notes, can still hold your Lordships spellbound. The warmth of the affection in which the noble Lord is held in all parts of your Lordships' House is clearly shown by the number of your Lordships who are present here this afternoon to pay tribute to him, and who were present earlier in the Royal Gallery.

It is particularly fortunate that the noble Lord's birthday falls on a day when this House is sitting, so that he has been able to mark the occasion by taking his usual seat in the House. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the noble Lord is the first Member of either House of Parliament to have sat in Parliament on his 100th birthday. Indeed, so far as I have been able to discover, only two other Peers have lived to be 100 and neither of them ever took their seat in this House.

It is fitting that this week we are sitting for the first time under the newly restored ceiling of this Chamber. It was, I am told, the boss above the seat of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, whose dramatic fall demonstrated the urgent need for the ceiling to be restored. I am delighted that the noble Lord is in his place today, but not nearly as delighted as I am that he was not in his place on the occasion of the fall. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to continue to sit in greater safety under the new ceiling, and that we shall continue to hear his inimitable contributions to your Lordships' debates.

As Leader of your Lordships' House for a very short time, I have learnt that I have many privileges as well as duties, but none of my privileges could ever give me greater pleasure, nor any of my duties greater satisfaction, than this opportunity to pay this tribute to a great parliamentarian on what is a most remarkable occasion.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, it is a privilege to endorse the felicitous tribute paid by the noble Viscount to my noble friend. On behalf of the Opposition, I should like to congratulate my noble friend upon yet another significant achievement. From his very earliest days—and they were days of hardship and struggle and self-education—my noble friend has been engaged in the give and take of political life in this country. As the House knows so well, he is still capable of making the perceptive contribution and, if he feels like it, delivering the shrewd blow.

My noble friend's long life spans the most fascinating period in our history. In the year of his birth, in 1884, Queen Victoria ruled securely, Mr. Gladstone was Prime Minister, and the Fabian Society was founded, Karl Marx also died in that year. I make no connection between the two events, but I know that my noble friend does not see eye-to-eye with everything that great man said.

Within the broad framework of the British Labour tradition my noble friend has exercised a great deal of independence, and this has been one of his most notable characteristics, although it has not always pleased everybody. But that has never deterred my noble friend.

I know that my noble friend was never a Methodist, but he has seemed to stand for the proposition that Labour owes more to Methodism than it does to Marxism. As he himself has said, he chose Parliament, not the barricades. I note that the great political issue of 1884 was Gladstone's Representation of the People Act and that The Times reported that, The Conservatives have shifted their ground so often that it is difficult to discard the suspicion that this constitutional objection is only one more phase of a fundamental distaste for all enlargement of the electorate". Be that as it may, I know that noble Lords opposite are glad that the electorate was enlarged to include my noble friend and to enable him to become a Member of another place in 1922.

My noble friend came in as one of a group of remarkable men and he has been in the forefront of British political life for 62 years. It is, by any standards, a remarkable achievement and one we are right to celebrate. That group of Clydesiders, as they were called, was controversial and politically aggressive. My noble friend could at that time be said to have a "militant tendency" but, notwithstanding their conviction and their crusading zeal, my noble friend and his colleagues developed and retained their respect for parliamentary democracy. I do not think that my noble friend would wish for a greater tribute today than to be called a great parliamentarian.

Indeed, my noble friends principles were apparent in his maiden speech on 23rd November 1922 when he said that, working people… are determined to bring pressure on the Government in a constitutional way to do the kind of things which are absolutely essential for national and individual wellbeing. Throughout his long and distinguished career my noble friend has not departed from that principle; he has not forgotten the rock from whence he was hewn, and he is a worthy representative of that generation which brought the Labour Party to Government in Britain.

My noble friends and I value him and wish him well. I can do no better than quote from his own biography. My noble friend wrote: there are a great many features of society that are encouraging. And there is nature itself to look at, to think about, to explore—books to be read, stories to be heard— and, above all, there are the arguments and differences of opinion, honestly expressed". We hope that he will have more time to do all these things, and we wish him many happy returns of the day.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches join wholeheartedly in saluting the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and congratulating him most sincerely on his long parliamentary career and on his 100th birthday. Speaking for myself, I did not have the honour or the opportunity to work with him in another place, either as a colleague or as an opponent, but I did share one experience with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, which showed the nature of the man and the appreciation of his qualities, which I should like today to reveal to your Lordships.

It was at the time of the Yom Kippur war. There was a great meeting in Trafalgar Square because of that war. As it was a Sunday afternoon, I had been delegated by my party to represent the Liberals on that occasion. As representatives of various parties we said our piece, and then the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, took the rostrum. There was a crowded audience filling Trafalgar Square. The whole of that audience of Jewish people from London, the Home Counties and far beyond were plainly electrified by his appearance and his voice. As he spoke he gave them his courage and his leadership, as he has given them to his party and his supporters for so very long, and they gave him, as we give him today, their admiration and their love.

3.10 p.m.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Diamond, who regrettably is unable to be here today, I wish to extend to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, our felicitations and happy wishes on his achieving the age of 100 years. I speak in a dual capacity: on behalf of a party which had nine members in the House in which he served at one time who are now in this party; and as his Whip for 15 years. For nine of those 15 years I was his Chief Whip. If anyone thinks that it is easy to be Chief Whip to "Manny" Shinwell, I respectfully suggest that he thinks again. He was always very loyal; he frequently disagreed, but finally one could rely on his accepting the discipline that existed in the party.

May I be permitted one short anecdote of those days? In the 1950s—probably about 1952 or 1953–the National Executive of the Labour Party was conscious of the fact that there were many people trying to get on the list of prospective parliamentary candidates, and it was worried about some of them. It set up a small committee to decide whether this name or that name should be put on the list and whether those people should be interviewed. That small committee of three comprised of a lady whose name will be remembered by very many—the late Mrs. Bessie Braddock—myself and the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, or "Manny" as we called him in those days and still do. What I am never quite sure of these days, "Manny", is whether we did a good job—that is to say, whether we let people in who we should have kept out and kept people out whom we should have let in. We shall never know. It was one of the little chores that one does for any political party from time to time.

On these Benches, we hope that the noble Lord will live for very many years and that he will join us in the House to regale us with his experiences and to contribute honestly, as he always does, to what is probably one of the most important of all our subjects—defence. It is a pleasure to be here and to speak in praise of "Manny".

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, today is one of the occasions when we on the Cross-Benches can be united in joining the congratulations and celebrations on this happy and memorable occasion of the noble Lord's centenary. A wise man said that the art of living is the art of using experience—one's own and other people's. This noble Lord, who is a very independent thinking patriot, has confirmed that in full measure.

Last Sunday a friend reminded me of the occasion when two colleges were playing rugby— St. John's and Emmanuel Colleges. St. John's were winning, and at half time the Salvation Army band came onto the ground and played, "O come, O come, Emmanuel". Emmanuel then won, and the crowd roared. We on the Cross-Benches hope that the noble Lord will come, and come again, and give the House the benefit of his vast experience.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and at his request, may I have the privilege of speaking from our Benches for a brief moment to add our congratulations to Lord Shinwell on his centenary —his first century? To get this remarkable event into perspective I have done some ecclesiastical research. Lord Shinwell was born on St. Luke's day, and for 100 years has been the despair of the doctors, most of whom have had to go into bankruptcy because he just goes on and on—although he was kind enough to speak warmly of them in the Royal Chamber. It is a very proper day for him to start, at the centre of what my grandmother called, "St. Luke's little summer with the sun shining in these days".

In my research I discovered that Lord Shinwell has lived through the reigns (if that is the right term to use) of nine Archbishops of Canterbury, 10 Archbishops of York, nine Bishops of London and five Bishops of Norwich in East Anglia, where I come from. We are rather a long living lot in that glorious part of the world, with it wide skies, and so on and so forth—but not for now a constituency speech. The noble Lord appears to have lived a very long time in relation to our work in the church. As Bishop of Norwich I am, of course, an hereditary abbot, so that counts for two, making 10 from our part of the world!

During Lord Shinwell's lifetime he appears to have matched and outlived 33 Prelates and Primates of these four ancient sees, among many other sees such as Lincoln and Derby, which are represented here today. I think that Lord Shinwell is so knowledgeable that he knows that when I seek to link my faltering words from these Benches with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am speaking for the Primate not only of England—who is the Archbishop of York—but of All England, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The difference is that the Primate of All England may wear a yellow protective helmet in Canterbury cathedral, where bosses sometimes drop from ceilings, and he may wear a protective yellow helmet in York Minster, where unidentified theological thunderbolts occur at times, as seen from the press; so there is a sense in which we from these Benches have a very broad outreach of affection towards Lord Shinwell.

The noble Lord's name, Emanuel, has been mentioned. It spans both the Old Testament and the New Testament and speaks with the great phrase, "God is with us". From these Benches, with affection and admiration, we say to him, "God bless you and may God be with you into your second century.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, may I say a few words to "Manny" Shinwell, who I have known since 1922? I first chaired a meeting in South Shields when he came to support William Lawther, who afterwards became Sir William Lawther. I spoke with him in the 1926 miners' strike. I was with him for two weeks in his election when he fought Ramsay MacDonald, when he beat him by over 20,000 and Ramsay MacDonald did not turn up to the count. He supported me in 1945 when I was made a Member of Parliament, and I sat on the committee when he nationalised the mines. Over forty years in Parliament I have been a close associate of our great friend Manny Shinwell.

He helped to form the Labour Party and in all the ups and downs of politics he has stood by the party all the way. All I can say to him as a friend is this. I say it sincerely, in the words of Rabbie Burns: He was a poor man's friend, One of the greatest and the best. If there's another world, He'll live in bliss. And if there's not, He did his best in this". I hope he lives for many years.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I think it is fitting that someone from these Benches also should pay a short tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, on this historic occasion and that I should try to express the admiration and affection that those of us on these Benches hold for the noble Lord. We admire his capacity for hard-hitting, for fighting hard for the causes in which he believes. We also feel an affection for one of the most lovable characters in this House.

My noble friend the Leader of the House mentioned, among other things, Lord Shinwell's years as Secretary of State for War. I know that throughout the Army, though there was perhaps a little surprise at his appointment, there grew a deep gratitude to him for the way he was prepared, in the far from easy circumstances at the time, to fight hard for the Army and all it stood for. That belief and faith in our defence services has, as those of us who have heard his most recent speeches know, remained with him all through these long years.

I recall standing alongside the noble Lord in Palace Yard on the occasion of the wedding of Her present Majesty. When the Household Cavalry appeared out of the November mists wearing full dress uniform, for the first time for eight or nine years, nothing could restrain the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for that sight and the pleasure that I think he felt at having seen to it that those pre-war splendours were returned to that splendid Regiment.

So I join in with other noble Lords who have spoken in wishing the noble Lord many more years of service in this House, good health, hoping that we—and I put this quite selfishly —may have the pleasure of hearing many more of those splendid speeches of his, with hardly a word of which we agree but every word of which we enjoy.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, may I please depart from these Back Benches to make a personal reference to the noble Lord? Some years ago he visited Europe in his capacity as the Secretary for Defence. There was a disturbed state in Europe at that time. My son, then in the Intelligence Corps, was deputed to walk two paces behind the noble Lord, with his hand on his revolver to ensure the noble Lord's safety. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is still here, so I think he did his duty and my son did his.

Baroness Wootton of Abinger

My Lords, I should like to associate myself first of all with all the tributes of affection and admiration that have been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. At the same time, I should like to make a little practical proposition. That is that we should commend the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. to those gentlemen who select the cricketers who defend our skill in that game on foreign soil, because the noble Lord has shown a capacity for centuries which has not been equally conspicuous in cricket.

3.26 p.m.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, the organs of communication in your Lordships' House have always been regarded as highly efficient; even the most critical of Members have been afforded moderate satisfaction. But I must confess that to me something appears to have gone wrong this afternoon. According to the information conveyed to me, speeches were to be regarded as unnecessary on this occasion; possibly there would be a word of commendation—"Aye", "No", or perhaps moderate, on one side, and tendering thanks on the other, as is customary. But I was unaware that some of the most distinguished speakers in your Lordships' House representing all the official parties—some may be regarded as unofficial or semi-official, but let us not go into that—would voice their opinions.

Having listened, I am bound to say this. Although because of my defective hearing I must have missed some of the observations, I shall read them in the pages of Hansard during the night when I do most of my reading, being unable to sleep. I always peruse the official documents because that is where I get most of my information and perhaps occasional wisdom. I was about to say that your Lordships must have been making a mistake; you must have been referring to somebody else, with all those generous words of commendation, retailing the record, irrespective of the facts of life. But it is going a bit too far to assume that there are some individuals of such sanctity that they rarely make mistakes, that errors of judgment are not for them. However, I set that aside. It is a subject for controversy or for thought—but more for thought than for controversy. Much of it if thought about might enable us to be more wise in the future.

However, one thing I must do is to apologise to the Government and to the Opposition for my absence from the House. Nothing pleased me better than to be able to come down in the afternoon and look at the Questions for the possibility of asking supplementary questions, on which I became almost an authority. Not having much knowledge, one becomes an authority —or believes oneself that one becomes an authority; let it pass at that. But I found it a great pleasure and a source of information. Moreover, far ahead of anything I may say in admiration, as a result friendship has been achieved from all quarters of the House.

One feature of this Assembly is that there are Occasions when we can set politics aside, never allowing them to obtrude, and, even when we do venture opinions, to see that they are not accompanied by malice. The term "malice" should never be in our minds. Conservation, yes; disagreement, naturally —they cannot be avoided as part of our democratic character and philosophy; but no malice. Why should there be? The mere fact that somebody disagrees with one, is that a subject for malice or annoyance? Of course not! That is what one expects. If everyone agreed with everyone else, what kind of system would we be living in? We would hardly be civilised. Some people have ventured into Utopias. Sir Thomas More, Samuel Butler, and William Moms in The Unknown Church, and several others whom Members will recall, have ventured to infringe into Utopia. But that sort of system is in the air. It does not really exist. We have to take fights as they are.

I apologise to all quarters of the House for my absence on an occasion when a word might have been useful, if not necessary. Indeed, that is all that I have endeavoured to do. I have never sought, if I may say so, to impose my views on other people. I have preferred to listen to what they have had to say, to debate the matter with them and to prove that I was perhaps a more effective debater than they were. Sometimes that happened, usually by accident. Or perhaps there was an audience behind me. There is nothing like having an audience behind you. I must confess that it is easier to get an audience behind you on the Government side than on the Opposition side. We have our views about people. Some are better not told.

However, let me say that it is highly embarrassing to have one's record retailed in public. In general, yes, but not in detail. I detect some of the implications. The speeches have been particularly generous this afternoon, anxious to show compassion for an old dodger who is passed his time and who has nothing new to say. Do not be so sure about that! But that is an idea that people have. I would say to you all, why not seek to emulate what I have achieved? I use the term "achieved". There is something wrong there. I have achieved nothing; it just happened. There was no guarantee about it. There was no expectation about it. On the contrary, the expectation, according to my medical advisers and consultants, was that it was going to be the other way round. "Ninety, yes. You have had it." They were nearly right.

I had the notion at the behest of a publisher to do another book, which I dictated from end to end. It sold very well and I made a bit of money. On that subject—making a bit of money—one must be very careful. Some people think it is wrong to make a hit of money. There may be nothing really wrong about it. What is wrong about making a hit of money? It can be very useful. You try it. Look at it the other way round, and if you have no money see what happens. You have problems. No one knows more about problems than I do. Many problems!

I have said to many of my friends who have come to see me during my illness—with all the pain and complications involved in living alone, it is, indeed, a most unpleasant situation—that if one is well, one can tackle almost anything. It can be finance. It can be taxation. It can be domestic issues. It can be the fact of living alone. It can be the fact of losing one's friends and even one's family. All that. That is quite natural and, indeed, inevitable in our life. But if one is well, one can tackle anything. I mention just one thing which I ventured to touch upon earlier today, the services that are rendered to every one of us at times—sometimes more, sometimes less although sometimes it is inevitable—by those in the medical profession. They are rendering a great service to society.

Now just a word about the future, about the House. Nothing wrong with it. I have found it all right. It has been decent to me. I have perhaps not been as decent in return as I should have been, but I have found nothing wrong. When there has been talk of abolishing the House of Lords, my reply, sometimes even at Labour Party conferences, has been: "You should have another election before you do it". Of course, they always say that we are going to have another election and that we shall be successful. But it has not happened. The House of Lords goes on. It has been going on all the time. I admit that during my absence I have watched the House carefully in the pages of Hansard and in the Press. I am bound to say that apart from one or two incidents, not very startling, not very effective, not very troublesome and, indeed, hardly necessary, the House has retained its dignity throughout. Not a single row. Not a complaint. Nothing derived from the football field, from the people in the galleries, nothing of that sort. The House has retained its dignity, and so it must remain.

Now about the future. I look forward, Members of the House of Lords, to a civilised society. When we speak of democracy what do we really mean? Voting, elections, parties and governments? Not at all. We speak of a society that is highly civilised and that is well educated; not highly educated, but educated in general terms so that people are well informed and so that the average person in society can be well enough informed to understand a Member of Parliament when he states his policy and makes his promises. That is the kind of society I mean—a society where there is no pollution, a society where there is the highest form of sanitation, a society where hygiene counts above all else. Policy does not matter so much as these things.

There is one further point—behaviour. I should be the last to boast about behaviour. Many times my behaviour has been. in my thoughts, shocking. It should never have happened. No restraint. Just wanting my own way. Many of us are like that. As we grow older we lose the need for aggression, for attack. We want to listen more and to learn more, to play our part in a civilised society.

I have one final word. If there is anything that I have enjoyed in the last few days, when I have received hundreds and hundreds of cards and messages until my bachelor flat is almost flooded out—there are some very useful gifts, and some gifts which I have not yet opened, and may not find time to open—it is the message from past military friends that I rendered some service to our country in time of need. I can say: "That is true." A patriot? What is wrong with it? Patriotism has been said to be the refuge of the scoundrel. Let them say what they like about it. If one is a citizen of one's country and has an affection for one's country and hopes for the wellbeing of one's country, one seeks to avoid anything in the nature of insecurity. It is entitled to resist aggression. In other words, no surrender. That is my policy. No surrender. Negotiation, yes. Let us talk it out. Let us say to the Russians, "Place your cards on the table and we shall place ours there." Let us see what we are driving at. No interference in domestic affairs. But not Afghanistan. These are matters for the United Nations. That is the sort of policy that is necessary. Behaviour above all else! The House of Lords can pride itself on furnishing the correct behaviour that justifies an institution of our character.

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