HL Deb 08 May 1986 vol 474 cc817-9
The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, it is with regret that Members of the House will have heard of the death last night of Lord Shinwell. He was elevated to the peerage in 1970 after a long and distinguished career as a Member in another place which stretched right back to 1922, when he was first elected as Member for Linlithgow. He was a junior Minister under Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929, and became Secretary for Mines in the troubled years of 1930 and 1931. He returned as the Minister of Fuel and Power in 1945, and served as Secretary of State for War in 1947 and Minister of Defence in 1950 and 1951.

He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1945 and a Companion of Honour in 1965. He was, as so many of your Lordships would testify, a very considerable orator who in his day could sway audiences in a most remarkable way. He was also, of course—and I think this should be recognised as something which I very much admired from a rather different standpoint—an impassioned believer in his own party, the Labour Party.

But our memories of Lord Shinwell in this House are more recent. He was active among us until a matter of months ago, and it was a great pleasure to all Members of the House when, in October 1984, many of us gathered in the Royal Gallery to celebrate his 100th birthday. I shall always count it a great privilege to have made the presentation to him on your Lordships' behalf. We all remember his very remarkable speech on that occasion.

His contributions from the Back Benches were always entertaining; his interventions timely, and his views heartfelt. He made us all feel encouragingly young, not just by his own longevity but by his own example. We shall miss him very much, and we extend our condolences to his family.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we on this side of the House greatly appreciate the opportunity to pay tribute to Emanuel Shinwell. He bridged the century during which the Labour Party developed from the Labour Representation Committee and the Independent Labour Party into one of the great parties of state, and he played an important part in that historic process. We recalled when he celebrated his 100th birthday that when he was born in 1884 Queen Victoria occupied the Throne and Mr. Gladstone was in No. 10 Downing Street. He played an active part in the early political struggles out of which subsequent Labour Governments emerged—Governments in which he himself was a distinguished if occasionally controversial Minister.

In the United States they speak of "the journey from log cabin to White House." "Manny" Shinwell's career was in this tradition. He was the archetypal rebel who became the respected parliamentarian. He was the anti-establishment figure who became a pillar of the establishment. He was the pugnacious Clydesider who became a great Minister of Defence. He will be remembered as one of the great parliamentary debaters of his time, as the noble Viscount has just said. It is said that he came here with certain views about the future of this House; but he mellowed, and I think he enjoyed his time here. He certainly enhanced the qualities of our debates. None of us ceased to wonder at his capacity to the very end to deliver cogent and articulate speeches without a note in his hand.

He was not always an easy man to deal with, and he could be caustic in argument. He never accepted anything on its face value, and he would take a contrary view and become extremely angry at times. He could also be very kind and helpful, as the noble Viscount has just said, especially to young Members. I recall that after answering Questions for the first time in another place he came to see me and said that I had done quite well. I asked him whether he had any advice to give me. He said, "As a matter of fact, I have. You gave them far too much information".

He never forgot the rock from which he was hewn. He had the great qualities of his remarkable race. He had wit and resilience, and tenacity, too; and he was a great champion of Israel. When he responded in this House to the tributes paid to him on his 100th birthday he made a characteristic speech which, as the noble Viscount has said, we all much enjoyed. I recall that he ended by saying I look forward, Members of the House of Lords, to a civilised society". This, my Lords, notwithstanding all the argument, all the struggle, all the confrontation, is what he fought for in his political life, and there can be no greater tribute to a statesman than that.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, we, too, on these Benches would like to pay our tribute, and I would start by echoing everything that has been said so far so felicitously by both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Labour Party. It is very difficult indeed—nigh impossible—to pay anything like an adequate tribute to such a great man in the time which your Lordships consider would be appropriate When his lifespan was so enormous, his experience so varied and his qualities so great. It really is only possible to pick out one or two things, and to remember him by those. If I were asked one thing by which I would remember him, it was his doggedness in fighting for fairness for his fellow man throughout his life, from the beginning, in very difficult circumstances in the East End of London, through Scotland and back to England—fighting the whole time.

I was privileged to know "Manny" Shinwell and to work with him for over 40 years. I am very proud to have enjoyed his friendship during more recent years in this House. He continued to the very end to be able to think clearly and constructively on his feet, and to be helpful in every way he could in terms of personal relationships and to brave through some of his personal domestic difficulties. Indeed, if I may trouble your Lordships with a fairly recent personal connection, it was when, not many months ago, we were in the Tea Room together discussing the problems which beset one at home when one has lived to that great age. He said to me, "You will find that out yourself, Jack. I dismissed this and said, "That is very kind of you, but I shall not be here to experience that". He said, "Oh, yes, you will"—and we had a bet on it—"and, moreover, so will I, and I will come and collect". That would have meant him collecting in something like his 125th year! Alas, he will not be able to collect his bet, but he had that spirit until the very end.

We send our deepest sympathy to his family, but at the same time we rejoice that "Manny" Shinwell was able to continue his fighting for his fellow man and his service to the country right into his 102nd year.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, we on the Cross-Benches should like to be associated with the remarks already expressed about our friendly neighbour, and with the sympathy extended to his family. Lord Shinwell was a great patriot, and his going marks the end of an era.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, Bishops were not the natural companions of our dear friend "Manny" Shinwell, but we on these Benches should all like to associate ourselves with what has been said so finely about one who I think of as a splendid Member of this House. He taught us many things about the way in which this House should conduct its business, and we always listened to him with the greatest pleasure.

It seems only a very short time ago that we heard him holding forth from the Cross-Benches with great eloquence and a very powerful voice. That I shall not forget; and I am sure that there will be others, too, who will be thankful for his great contribution to this House—over which he always had a very typical question mark.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, this House will never seem the same now "Manny" is no longer here sitting beside me. He is pictured as the bare-knuckle fighter, but there was in him an extraordinary kindness and sympathy. We had a very great friendliness, and I certainly shall be among the many who miss him tremendously. One moment I shall always remember, and that was when the reception committee assembled to receive him for his 100th birthday—and could not find him. He had beaten them to it. He was in a nook just outside, watching them with glee as they searched.

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