HL Deb 12 January 1987 vol 483 cc357-62
The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the memory of Lord Stockton, who died on 29th December. We shall recollect vividly his contribution to public life as a Member in another place, as a Minister, and finally as Prime Minister.

I do not think that on this occasion it would be appropriate for me to add in detail to the many tributes that have already been made. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, who succeeded him as Prime Minister, will have his own special memories, as will my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor as the only prominent Member of both this Cabinet and that of the late Lord Stockton. Others of my noble friends were close colleagues of his in government. For myself, I can speak only as a very humble member of his team.

Some of your Lordships, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, will remember him rather as a formidable opponent; and the whole House will have reason to appreciate the fact that Lord Stockton, as Prime Minister, was responsible for the introduction of the Life Peerages Act, which has had an enormous influence on this House.

All of us, from our own special positions, will have felt the impact of a remarkable personality. I am sure that your Lordships will particularly cherish the memories of his contributions here after his most welcome decision to accept an Earldom. I suggest (and for once without fear of contradiction from any quarter) that his maiden speech in this House was one of the most memorable occasions of recent and perhaps not so recent history.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, personally I shall treasure the memory of his determination to play his part in this House, even to the extent of staying to the early hours of the morning to the end of a debate in which we had both spoken—an example perhaps to us all and an example of a great parliamentarian.

Above all, I am sure that we can all join in a tribute to the life of a most remarkable character who did so much as Prime Minister and latterly as an elder statesman to enrich the political and parliamentary life of our nation. I am sure, too, that all noble Lords would wish me to express on behalf of the whole House their sympathy to his grandson and the other members of his family.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, it is a privilege to join with the noble Viscount and others in this tribute to the late Lord Stockton, whom we shall remember as Harold Macmillan, a great peacetime Prime Minister and an outstanding parliamentarian. As the noble Viscount has just said, much has been written about him since he died and assessments have been made of his long and notable career. It is not possible, however, to make a final or a rounded judgment so soon after his death. That will be a task for historians of the future.

He was an enigmatic statesman and there were ways in which he bore a resemblance to Lloyd George, though some have recently compared him with Stanley Baldwin. That he can be compared to such diverse former Prime Ministers in itself shows him to have been an enigma. On the one hand, he was an intellectual, witty and urbane, and, as we know, unfailingly courteous. On the other, he was aware of his roots in western Scotland. He never forgot the rock from which he was hewn.

On the one hand, again, in high office of state he appeared cool and detached, and, as was said at the time, unflappable. On the other, he was, beneath it all, sensitive and even nervous before he rose to make a speech. He was a very independent Back-Bencher who believed in the middle way. Here I think the resemblance to Lloyd George and also to Winston Churchill is valid. They were all rebels who became Prime Ministers.

Harold Macmillan presided over great events with skill and discernment. At home, he revived the fortunes of his party after 1957 and his stature in international affairs was undisputed. If the last period of his premiership was less happy, his own integrity remained beyond doubt.

We must all regret that it took so long for him to enter this House, because I think his place was in Parliament. When he came here at the age of 90 he enlivened our proceedings and delighted us all. The power to cast a spell was still there when he made his maiden speech a little over two years ago. I think the House will agree that he was still walking the middle way then. The humour was there, too, when he described himself as a political Rip Van Winkle.

He was a man of great qualities and of infinite variety, and beneath it all of deep religious conviction. He will be remembered with high regard and affection.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, the death of the head of the family whenever it happens, inevitably causes great sadness to the members of that family. It is to them that we on these Benches first of all offer our deep sympathy. That sadness is shared by the many friends of the late Lord Stockton. Indeed the whole House sorrows at the passing of a great man. In the course of one memorable speech he was able to earn the admiration of us all and to regenerate to the full his reputation as a great statesman. We are glad that after some hesitation he came to the view that as an ex-Prime Minister he should accept membership of this House. We all know what a substantial contribution he was able to make in spite of severe personal difficulties.

I also remember with pleasure that he was struck by the great advance made by your Lordships' House since the period of his premiership towards a better balance in our bicameral system of government. What can I choose, what can I select, to say of Harold Macmillan, the politician? He was a remarkable man by any standards. He combined an almost light-hearted manner with deep seriousness, penetrating thought and decisiveness in action. His affability, moderation and lack of dogmatism made for easy relations with the opposition of the day. An extremely skilful politician, he was the master of British understatement and his capacity to coin the right phrase gave wings to many a simple home truth.

I have seen it suggested that his affection for things Edwardian not only moulded his thought patterns but imprisoned them to the extent that he was unable fully to comprehend contemporary thought. I think the phrase used was "keeping up with the times". I regard that analysis as both superficial and wholly mistaken. He never stopped growing, and the truths on which he constructed his philosophy were not the fashion of any one period: they were timeless verities. All in all, Harold Macmillan was good for the Conservative Party and good for Britain.

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, this is of course one of those occasions when the Cross-Bench Peers wish to be associated with the sympathy and tributes to the late Lord Stockton and to his family which have already been so eloquently expressed. Perhaps we could just add how remarkable it is that one of the giants of the 20th century in British politics was always so approachable, showing care and consideration for individuals both personally and as a Member of Parliament for his constituents, despite all the burdens that he had to carry in high office.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, a tribute from these Benches to the late Lord Stockton is both appropriate and heartfelt. It is appropriate because he was not only a person of religious sensibilities but throughout his life a staunch churchman. It was not a part of him that he paraded. Indeed it was a part largely concealed from public gaze, perhaps by shyness, perhaps by his humorous detachment from the oddities and absurdities of ecclesiastical vitality which he combined with a reticent reverence for the sacred mysteries of the heart of divine providence and human tragedy.

On the surface he did not deny that his responsibility for nominating religious leaders had benefited from his life-long devotion to the works of Anthony Trollope. He rather enjoyed the surprising appointment of an allegedly Left-wing enfant terrible to the diocese of Southwark; but he had thought long and knew what they needed when he gave them someone of the character of Mervyn Stockwood. His final nomination to the Bench of Bishops is now the senior among us and it is fair to say that few have taken their responsibilities in this House as seriously and as constructively as the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Rochester.

There are certainly many local churches and clergy of all denominations to whom he gave generously of his time, even when he held the highest offices. This was far from being simply the performance of a good constituency man. A superficial opinion might think him someone with inherited faith and a private observance of it. But I firmly believe that it was never taken for granted, and it coloured his courage in combat, his compassion for the distressed and his broad and international sympathies in handling the changes coming over the world.

I said that my tribute was heartfelt. Of course my stock of anecdote is modest in such a company as this, but memorable for all that. I am unlikely to forget the two weeks I spent in his company on a Hellenic cruise. It fell to me to lecture on many sites which drew out of him the most marvellous recollections both historical and contemporary. His store of experience to mark the passing days seemed inexhaustible.

As we passed Mount Athos he told me that in 1912 he had been drawn up in a basket to the highest monastery of Simonas Petros, perched Tibetan-like on a peak. On arrival there the abbot had greeted him and presented him with a book which he still possessed, [...] The Case Against Darwin. It was, he said, part of his experience of Byzantine culture which had helped him in his long and fraught negotiations with Archibishop Makarios. Only as we passed Gallipoli were his thoughts too deep for words.

His wit and style never seemed to me malevolent. He certainly thought that people without humour lacked judgment and it was dangerous to put them in charge of anything. He believed in religious education, but he thought that fanaticism should be taught as a disease.

We all know that the effortless style of the communicator was carefully cultivated. He was not taken in by himself on that score. However, we should remember the remarks of Arnold Bennett about style. It is not a trick. A clear idea is expressed clearly and a vague idea vaguely. When you cannot express yourself depend upon it you have nothing precise to express and that what incommodes you is not the vain desire to express yourself better, but the vain desire to think more clearly and to feel more deeply". The Earl of Stockton thought clearly and felt deeply. If, in later days, changes in the life of the Church and some exponents of the Christian faith were disappointments to him, he never underestimated their difficulties or used their folly as an excuse for withdrawing his membership, challenging their sincerity or scoring cheap points at their expense.

He coped with personal sorrow with immense dignity and courteous thoughtfulness for the feelings of others. Others who are more qualified will make judgments on his political acumen and his place in history as a statesman. But any complete picture of the man must take account of the strength which he drew from his humanity, from his family and friends and above all from his Christian faith in God.

Two final illustrations distil something of the man. When the Germans sued for peace in 1945, he happened to be in Assisi. After walking in a valley in the moonlight, he wrote this: … Hitler has lasted 12 years with all his powers of evil, his strength, his boasting. St. Francis did not seem to have real power but here, in this lovely place, one realises the immense strength and permanence of goodness". I put this alongside another quotation which he enjoyed. Our cleverness has grown prodigiously—but not our wisdom". Wisdom and goodness were for him an essential and pleasurable part of being alive and that should be remembered as part of the debt we owe to such a civilised and lovable character as the noble Earl, Lord Stockton.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, as Lord Stockton, during his membership of your Lordships' House, occupied the corner seat on this Bench, it is perhaps appropriate that a very brief tribute to him should come from this direction. The fact that he used to sit here does enable me to tell your Lordships two things which I believe throw considerable light on his character and which are perhaps of interest to your Lordships.

In the first place, he greatly enjoyed his membership of your Lordships' House. He found in it an antidote to the loneliness which survival to a great age so often involves. The other matter is that during your Lordships' debates, he would comment satirically, wittily and entertainingly on the speeches made in a voice audible only to his immediate neighbours, giving them immense pleasure as they would undoubtedly have given to your Lordships' House had they been more widely audible. That was indicative of the fact that even when sitting here in absolute quietness he followed your Lordships' debate in the utmost detail. And he always had the point at issue clearly in his mind. That is a remarkable achievement in a man not only of his age but also suffering from his physical disabilities.

Perhaps I may add one other thing as a former member of his Cabinet. One or two of your Lordships will recall the sense of style that he put into government. Government was a great enterprise to be conducted with dignity, with wit and with literary merit. I hope that I do not transgress the 30-year rule if I tell your Lordships that in that era his own Cabinet papers were often garnished with a highly apposite literary quotation. Some of us discovered that if we wished to prevail in Cabinet discussions, our chances of doing so were greatly increased should we find an appropriate quotation from Trollope to put at the beginning of a Cabinet paper.

All of us in your Lordships' House will deeply miss him; but for those of us who, in the last two years, have had the privilege of sitting close to him there will be a gap that can never be filled.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, one matter not mentioned in these great tributes is that it was Lord Stockton who introduced women into the House of Lords. I was one of the first four ladies to be made Peers. I should like to pay tribute to him.

I knew him well from 1924, when he came to Parliament, until the day he died. I should like to say that no one was kinder, more generous or a greater friend. By introducing women into the House of Lords, I think he has done us a great service. I am one of many women who have sat in this House and who, I hope, will continue to come to this House. I believe this to have been one of the great achievements of his career.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, perhaps I may join in the many eloquent and precipient tributes to my late noble friend. There is one point that I should like to make. I worked with him very closely indeed between the years 1957 and 1959. In the capacity which I then occupied, it was my duty to try to understand the enigmatic character to which reference has been made. I think the key was this: he was the last great British statesman there will ever be to have grown to manhood before 1914.

In his public life and particularly in his capacity as leader of my party and as Prime Minister, I am sure that the thing which was constantly in his mind was that he had survived the horrible years of torture in the trenches and on the Western Front when so many of his immediate contemporaries whom he had loved and known had died—and died without fault or blame on their part. I feel quite certain that he would have liked that fact to be recorded in the tributes that have been paid.

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