§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, I have no doubt that your Lordships will think it right, before we proceed to our ordinary business, that we should take the opportunity of paying such tribute as we may desire to the memory of one who has recently passed away, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, a former Prime Minister and member of the other House. Three weeks ago it fell to me, presiding at a meeting of one of the political Parties of the State, to express the hope that he might have many years in which to enjoy well-earned leisure, and that hope when it was expressed was not one that there was any reason to suppose was impossible. It has, however, been willed otherwise.
I then said that there were two things that had particularly impressed me who had, I suppose worked with Mr. Chamberlain as closely as any of his colleagues by virtue of the office that I held. The first thing was the unfaltering courage and tenacity that he constantly 654 displayed when he thought a thing was right—a courage and tenacity that were proof against all rebuffs and obstacles that might have disheartened other men. The second thing was the complete disinterestedness that he constantly showed and the disregard in a matter that he thought right of any lesser thoughts of himself. When there was something to be done he never spared himself, and once he was convinced that a certain course of action was pointed out for him he never found room for careful calculation as to how that action might affect his own personal fortunes. I venture to think that those things are no mean contribution to be made by any leader in a modern democratic State.
The record of Mr. Chamberlain as Member of Parliament, politician, Departmental Minister at the Ministry of Health and at the Exchequer, Party Leader, Prime Minister and, last of all, as National Leader in times of great emergency, stands for all men to judge. On some sides of his work which excited, and indeed still excite, sharp difference of opinion, it may be that the final judgment of his fellow countrymen at some future time will strike a more true balance than is always possible to be struck to-day. Certainly no one of us here would have any desire on such an occasion as this to rake the embers of old controversies; but it is, I think, due to Mr. Chamberlain to say that in those matters that incurred the principal weight of criticism, much of that criticism was directed against an interpretation of policy that was never his.
The fact that he did everything in his power to avoid war never meant that for one moment he relaxed any efforts to prepare for war should war come. But it did mean that in his attempt to save Europe from catastrophe he refused to acknowledge defeat; and it also meant that he knew, better, perhaps, than any, not only how ill-prepared for war this country was in 1938 but also how dangerous were the weaknesses both in public opinion and in material of those by whose side we should have been engaged. He also realised—and again no one more clearly—while he was working for peace how great was the value of time gained, even if it amounted to no more. One great thing that he was able to accomplish and to assure was that when war 655 finally came it came to a country united within itself and convinced to the foundation of its soul and its conscience that every effort had been made to guide Europe into another and more excellent way.
Of the man himself, it is not easy for me to speak, for the Neville Chamberlain that I knew, and with whom I worked as colleague and intimate friend, was curiously different, I think, from the Neville Chamberlain that many seemed to picture. He was, I think, a shy man, and I dare say did not make friends as easily as some; and this made those who did not know him well think him reserved. For it was not, indeed, easy for him to speak of the things that he felt most deeply and that did most truly constitute the background of his life and of his thoughts. He was impatient of criticism that he judged factious or superficial or partisan, and against such criticism was not careful to explain himself, and so was by some misjudged; but, contrary to what often appeared, he was by no means insensitive to such attacks, and for this reason, perhaps, was sometimes disposed to judge those making them more hardly than they in fact deserved.
But, if he thus incurred criticism, he had also the capacity, as many of us know, to attach to himself the unswerving loyalty of those who were able to appreciate the real fibre and quality of the man; and those who sat with him in the Cabinet soon learnt the value of his power of shrewd and penetrating analysis of a problem and the power of, as it were, disentangling the essential elements on which decision was required. I have no doubt at all that the present Prime Minister and those of his colleagues drawn from other political Parties than that which Mr. Chamberlain served would not differ from me at all in feeling that by his death the nation has lost a counsellor of singular wisdom, whose particular gifts will not be easily replaced.
Few men were more keenly appreciative of beauty in all its forms, whether of nature or in the manifold arts that man has mastered. Few people had a wider range of interests to which to turn for enjoyment and for refreshment; and no judgment could be more astray from the facts than to suppose that one who touched life at so many points was lack- 656 ing in what is commonly called imagination. Indeed, I suppose that the most controversial action of his career, when he flew to Germany, could hardly have been undertaken by one in whom imagination was not powerful.
It so happened that he asked to see me just forty-eight hours before he died, and I found him, as your Lordships would naturally conclude, weak—very weak. We had a little talk about the war of which he had so hoped to see the victorious end. Then he told me how greatly touched he had been by all the letters he had received from friends in Parliament, many friends outside, and many strangers whose names even he did not know. Especially touched had he been by letters from friends in the House of Commons who had said how much they have learnt from his example. And that, he said was something he could not understand because he was not conscious of having set one, and all that he had done was to try to do what he thought right. He was too weak for prolonged talk and I left feeling, of course, certain, that it was good-bye, but also feeling happy that the parting was one of friends in full understanding who went to different duties.
He faced death with the same courage that he had faced life and for him I do not think there can be any shadow of regret. But each can form his own judgment of the great void that his going must have left in the lives of those nearest to him and especially that of Mrs. Chamberlain, who shared with him all his successes, all his failures, all his hopes and all his disappointments. Only Neville Chamberlain knew how much he owed to her courage and to her companionship, and I am quite sure that the deep sympathy of this House and of all individuals in it will go out to her and to hers on whom the burden of his loss must weigh most heavily.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, we shall all wish to associate ourselves with the noble Viscount in what he has said and in his expression of sympathy with Mrs. Chamberlain and Mr. Chamberlain's family. Every one of us who has taken an active part in British political life has been asked, I suspect, at different times how it is that, despite strong differences of opinion, men of opposing Parties often 657 hold one another in such high esteem. It is true that it is so and it is, I think, the strong cement in our free Parliamentary institutions. It is Inevitable, indeed it is desirable, that we should differ, often strongly differ, in our views on public policy, but I believe there is no place in the world where regard for character is more potent or where character is more freely recognised than in the British Parliament. It is on this account that we are truly united to-day in paying tribute to Mr. Chamberlain. He was resolute in what he believed to be right and he was fearless in its advocacy, as many of us have known for years.
There were few men who had a more intimate knowledge of English public administration, and, whatever else the judgment of time may determine, I believe that Mr. Chamberlain's resolution as Minister of Health of many of the century-old difficulties that related to the Poor Law will stand out as an exceptional administrative achievement. Beyond this, however, and of far greater moment, there is not one of us who does not appreciate Mr. Chamberlain's high standard of sincerity and personal integrity. In these enduring things he gave distinction to our Parliamentary life and to British standards of personal probity and worth in public life that are of lasting importance.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Crewe greatly regrets that he is unable to be in this House today in order to join in the tributes that are being paid to the statesman whose loss we deplore, and he has invited me to say a few words on his behalf and on behalf of those who sit in this quarter of the House on this occasion. There will be universal agreement that Neville Chamberlain in his private character and his devotion to the public service maintained the highest tradition of our public life and of the great office—the greatest under the Crown—which he so lately held. He had a full share in the controversies of our time, controversies which are inevitable in a democracy and, when not carried to extremes, are wholesome; and my political friends and I were almost always on a different side from himself; yet for a year in the Coalition Government that was formed after the 658 economic crisis of 1931 I had the privilege of serving with him in the same Cabinet. Those of your Lordships who were members of that Cabinet will agree that it was a very difficult Cabinet. We had to resort, indeed, to expedients—I can use no other word—which were unprecedented in our constitutional history. In those acute discussions Mr. Chamberlain showed those qualities which marked his whole career—that tenacity of which the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, has spoken, a tenacity in pursuance of his own policy, combined with a markedly conciliatory spirit towards those who differed from him.
He commanded the good will of all his colleagues—that feeling of good will that comes from respect. It was those qualities which enabled him to achieve the successes of his career. But added to them was another, not less important and perhaps rarer among us, the quality of initiative and of the power to get things done. In his early days that led to his fruitful work in Birmingham. He, like his father before him, realised the duty of the members of the leading families of our great towns and cities to accept the burden of service in municipal office. In Parliament, where he engaged for some years in those measures of social reform on which his heart was really set, those qualities enabled him to secure results which will for ever connect his name with some of the chief measures of social progress of that time. Then, drawn by events into international affairs, his action, as we all know, led often to keen and sometimes bitter argument, particularly at the climax of his career, the Munich settlement, from which so much was hoped, but which, unhappily, proved so ephemeral. Now he has passed from controversy into history, but I would hazard the guess that posterity, when it comes to survey that Munich settlement in the light of the situation as it was at that moment, will take a less critical view than many of his contemporaries. The deepest sympathy of this House will be addressed to Mrs. Chamberlain, who had so great a part in his triumphs and whose devoted care and unfailing support in the conflicts and disappointments which are inevitable in public life were his constant stay.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I should wish to say a word associating the Bishops who occupy these seats with the expressions of deep sympathy and regret which have already been heard from the speakers who have addressed the House. We admired Mr. Chamberlain on account of his great love of peace. There was no public man who could have made greater efforts in the cause of peace than he made, and although these efforts, through no fault of his own, were unsuccessful, yet he made it plain to the world that this nation was deeply attached to the cause of peace.
We also admired him for the very remarkable work which he did at the Ministry of Health, especially in connection with the housing of the people. More than once I came into contact with him in connection with this problem, and I was most deeply struck with the combination of mastery of great schemes and grasp of the smallest details in connection with them. He, more than any one else, laid the sure foundations on which great housing schemes can be carried out, and there are many to-day who are living in healthier and happier surroundings who owe it to the unremitting efforts of Mr. Chamberlain when he was Minister of Health. I would join with those who have already spoken in expressing the deepest sympathy with Mrs. Chamberlain, and I believe she may find some consolation when she hears and reads of the tributes which have been paid to her husband's memory.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SIMON)
My Lords, you will not, I hope, think it out of place if I intervene to add a few words. I hesitate to do so, for the discriminating presentation of Mr. Neville Chamberlain's character and quality made by the Leader of the House stands in itself as a very sufficient account of the feelings of us who served with him over a long period of years. None the less I may be excused, for, as it happens, I believe I am the one amongst us who served with him for a longer continuous time than anyone else. For nearly the whole of that time I was in the House of Commons, and his immediate colleague and assistant; I was his next-door neighbour in Downing Street; and these things gave me probably as 660 great an opportunity of understanding the qualities of the man as anybody could have.
He was undoubtedly a man who did not find it easy to explain himself to those who were critical. He had enormous confidence in his judgment when he had once formed it, and carried through what he thought was right in the public interest based on that confidence. But there were one or two other things about him which it is proper to mention before we pass to our next business. Of course he was one of the very rare cases of the man who has not entered the House of Commons until well on in middle age—rather past ordinary middle age—but none the less in a comparatively short time reaches the highest place. I look back on my own personal memories of Parliament, and that would be true of only one other, Mr. Bonar Law. It was not true of Campbell-Bannerman or Asquith, Balfour, Mr. Lloyd George, or Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. He brought to the House, therefore, a certain freshness derived from the great work he had done in his City of Birmingham, and all of us who had to deal with him knew well this business like directness of his mind, the rapidity with which he was prepared to present you with the real point and the real question as he saw it.
He was the very last to indulge in those Parliamentary periphrases which are at the heart, still, of the Parliamentary tradition, but it was refreshing to see a different kind of mind dealing in a rather different kind of way with the topics as they came before him. Looking back I cannot remember any occasion when he was not in complete command of all necessary knowledge of his subject. He never started making a speech or moving a Bill without being able to answer the questions which came at the end. He showed great patience, but it was a patience which he took great trouble to preserve by controlling a naturally quick judgment. He showed complete and remarkable command of his temper and, as has been said by more than one here to-day, there was in him that resoluteness and courage which carried him through or over many a difficulty.
I am very glad, if I may say so, that the right reverend Prelate, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, also, men- 661 tioned the work which he did in the realm of social reform. The last letter which I had from him—and I kept in fairly close correspondence—was only a matter of a fortnight or three weeks ago, written as usual in his beautiful handwriting, every word as easy to read as if it were print. In writing to him I had happened to speak of the great services which he had rendered and the great place he had earned in social reform, and in his reply this dying man expressed particular pleasure that this should have been mentioned. It was obvious that he looked back, as he was entitled to look back, on what he had done at the Ministry of Health as really the thing in his career in which he felt he had served the people well. He used the expression—I have not the letter here, but I recall it perfectly well—that the reason why he entered Parliamentary life was that he hoped to be able to do something to help the poor and needy, and it is the literal truth to say that of those who have taken great part in social reform since the war the name of Neville Chamberlain, whether in the matter of housing or in the matter of pensions, ought to stand first. There are hundreds of thousands of people to-day who, if they knew from where their blessings came, would know that it was this great social reformer with his practical sense and business drive who did so much to improve the state of the poor of this country.
I shall not embroider on the theme of Mr. Chamberlain's later policies. They have been spoken of with great judgment and discretion here to-day. I only reiterate this about him which all of us must feel—I felt it most deeply in some conversations I had with him alone—that there was no man of our generation who was more utterly devoted in a practical sense to peace. He had very little patience, I think, with the theorists or perhaps the philosophers. He cared nothing, or very little, for ideals vaguely expressed, but he had a most tremendous conviction that his duty to this country was to strive for peace to the uttermost and to the last. It is no good anticipating the future, but there are two things I think which sensible men and women can say about that effort of his to-day. One is that we owe to him perhaps more than to anybody else the revelation of the real character and motives of the rulers of 662 Germany, for he treated Hitler as one gentleman might treat another and he thereby disclosed to this country and to the world, as things worked out, what was the real nature of the man with whom we had to deal. The other thing, which is no small thing, is that we can look back and say that our country came into this terrible war unitedly, without dissension, and every man, consulting his heart, will know how much that blessed consequence may be attributed to Neville, Chamberlain. He passes into history. We can but mourn our loss and give these expressions to our feelings. As we part from him we are all of us able to feel that here is another case of an upright man who thought his duty lay in giving his best services to his country, and his country will not be ungrateful for the service he has rendered it.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I trust I shall be forgiven for adding one word to the eloquent speeches which have been so far delivered, because I think I am almost the oldest of Neville Chamberlain's political colleagues in this House. From 1922 to 1938 we worked together in the closest association, and I had almost a unique opportunity of judging his merits and services. I agree that this is not the time to appraise his place in history. That must be left to posterity, but I personally think that place will be a very high one when the time comes to judge it. I agree with all that the Leader of the House has said about Neville Chamberlain's absolute fearless-ness and absolute single-mindedness. I think those were the most characteristic features of his public career, and I also was very glad to hear from the Leader of the Opposition his references to Neville's enthusiasm for social reform, because I know that was one of the guiding influences in his life. I should like only to refer to one other aspect of his public career—his faith in, and his devotion to, the cause of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the British Empire. He was always an enthusiastic believer in and worker for it. I do not want to take up your Lordships' time but only wish to add my tribute to a man for whose loss the whole nation is the poorer and whose friends will feel that the world is a poorer place.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, many of Mr. Chamberlain's colleagues in 663 national and civic life have borne witness to his ability as an administrator, to his thoroughness and to his singleness of purpose. He had a remarkable way of getting to the heart of a problem and a capacity for work which I have seldom seen equalled, and he never spared himself. But there was another side of Neville Chamberlain's character which was less known but equally real—his love of the English countryside. He knew every flower and the note of every bird, and he was at home with country folk in a way which sometimes surprised those who only knew him in public life. From his love of country things I think he drew not only strength and happiness but also in no small measure that love of England which made him a devoted servant of his country and a very human friend.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, it is appropriate and perhaps desirable that I, who have so often been called upon to comment upon events with which Mr. Chamberlain's name was associated, should say a very brief word on this occasion. One of the most admired and envied graces of our public life, one of the rarely disturbed principles of our voluntary association in a common task, is that Party duty and deep political conviction do not often unsettle those personal relationships that unite us all in a great fellowship of service. Here, as I see it, there is no occasion for tears or for lamentation, indeed scarcely for grief. It is not, as is sometimes the case, when a young life has been ended with its promises unfulfilled, or when a life has missed its duties and neglected its opportunities. After a long and notable career Mr. Chamberlain's work was done, and he welcomed the end which he quite clearly foresaw. It is no part of our task to-day finally to estimate the significance of his career or to measure the results of his work. That will be done by history with less emotion and with greater insight than we to-day possess. We feel only this sorrow for the passing of a Parliamentary colleague and a distinguished Englishman whose fellow countrymen have a proper pride in his capacity and his character.
I cannot speak so much of Mr. Chamberlain as a man. He was a difficult man to know. He had the natural 664 reserve of a shy personality, and the resultant detachment of the preoccupied mind of a constant worker; but let us remember that his type is one of rare significance and helpfulness in our work. Some human beings chatter and smile and babble like shallow waters running over stones in narrow places, but they can carry no burdens. On the other hand, there are others who represent the deep and silent waters. They make no noise but upon their bosoms are borne those cargoes upon which the welfare of the world may depend. It is with that thought that I take leave of the late Mr. Chamberlain, and, as such, we are united in our desire to pay honour to his memory.