HL Deb 26 November 1958 vol 212 cc837-42

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, it is one of the privileges of this House to be adorned from time to time by the accession of rare minds and natures to its deliberations, and Lord Cecil of Chelwood was such a one. With his father a great Prime Minister, and one of his brothers, whom many of your Lordships will remember, one of the most brilliant Parliamentary debaters of our day, Lord Robert Cecil carved out for himself a successful Parliamentary career and made his mark on our administration both in peace and in war. But it was as a public figure outside Parliament that he reached his highest stature in the public mind.

He was one of the first people, perhaps, in the modern world, in the world of this century, to foresee the absolute need for nations to meet round the table in discussion of their national affairs in the interests of peace. He was one of the architects of the League of Nations. And your Lordships will recall the unflagging enthusiasm with which he pursued the cause of peace wherever he went. His vision of a world disarmed, where conciliation would hold the day, was time and again disappointed; but since he was active in politics, purposely, patiently and deliberately, Governments have persevered in trying to devise a system which would give the world, first, collective security, and finally, a situation in which force would be renounced as an instrument of national policy. Lord Robert Cecil was the pioneer of these great thoughts, ideals and practical movements. And all since have been convinced of the rightness of his ideal, although the world has not proved itself yet great enough to match his great conception. In the United Nations, which was the successor of the League of Nations, there is many a living monument to Lord Cecil. Many of the committees which do great work in the international field were the result of his conception and are daily drawing people closer and closer together in interdependence.

I, myself, because my father was very keen and with him did much in the League of Nations field, remember Lord Robert Cecil coming to stay at home; and many a time at dinner, when I was a comparatively young man, I would watch him, with his long figure, slide more and more under the table, until only the distinguished head was left above his plate, and he would tell us of all his plans for the future peace of the world. Ever since then I have felt that so long as he was alive there was one among us who, however bitter the strife and however blind the world, never despaired of finding peace in our time.

Your Lordships will wish to send to his widow, that gracious lady, the survivor of a very long and happy life, all our sympathy and our pride that he was a Minister in this House and one of ourselves.

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to associate the whole of my Party on this side of the House with the full and worthy tribute which has just been paid to the late Lord Cecil of Chelwood by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. No one could have covered the ground more ably in paying such a tribute than he has done this afternoon, and we are grateful to him for it. I do not intend to speak for more than a few moments, because, though I had personal relations with the noble Viscount at one time, there are others of my noble friends who would like to speak —both my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence, who was associated with Lord Robert Cecil in friendship for many years, and my noble friend Lord Attlee.

For my part, I always received inspiration from my contact with Lord Robert Cecil. For some years I had the good fortune to be closely associated with him as Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and at that time he impressed me by his complete devotion to the cause which ought to be, if it is not, the main cause in all our lives—to try to secure peace and to establish the brotherhood of man. I culled from Lord Robert Cecil a quotation from Tennyson's The Dawn which I shall never forget: Red of the Dawn! Is it turning a fainter red? so be it, but when shall we lay The Ghost of the Brute that is walking and haunting us yet, and be free? In a hundred, a thousand winters? Ah, what will our children be …? I am sure that the whole nation mourns the loss of a great public figure, to whom and to whose work we are all greatly indebted.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate the noble Lords on the Liberal Benches with the tributes already paid. It seems almost inappropriate that we should divide ourselves into political Parties to pay this tribute to such a great man who, though technically a Conservative, was indeed a Liberal Socialist Conservative in all his outlook. In this British Parliament it seems that we are particularly blessed, through either historical tradition or perhaps some national characteristic, in the fact that the political stage is never bereft of some great figure of noble stature and personal integrity who typifies the sort of elder statesman whom we should like other parts of the world to regard as the typical elder statesman of our Parliament. The late Lord Cecil of Chelwood fully fulfilled that stature.

He was, of course, of a generation older than many of us in your Lordships' House, and some of your Lordships who have recently joined this Chamber may remember only the less important matters with which he occasionally dealt. I believe the last speech that I heard him make was to the effect that the rate of a running horse was the safe speed for all moving traffic in this country.

But, as your Lordships well know, Lord Cecil dealt with other things on a higher plane. I am given to understand that it was he, together with the late Duke of Montrose, who sat on these Benches, who was largely instrumental in getting put into the Health Services aid for those who suffer from the same affliction of deafness from which he suffered and which, from his personal experience, he knew caused such loneliness and suffering. It was typical of him that he should put his own experience, with his usual vigour, into action and get alleviation for those similarly afflicted.

The noble Earl the Leader of the House has mentioned a personal recollection, and I wonder whether I may be allowed one, too. It goes back to the year 1914, forty-four years ago, soon after the out break of the First World War. On that occasion, by chance, I, then a young boy of fourteen, had the privilege of being present at a small informal meeting of five or six people at a house in Westminster, when apparently some people were already thinking of means of possibly avoiding such a terrible catastrophe as a global war in the future. As a young boy, not doing my school prep., as I should have been, I shall never forget sitting at the feet of Gilbert Murray and Lord Cecil. From that remarkable meeting there came a little club which, after some deliberation, they called the League of Nations Society, from which grew that tremendous organisation of which the noble Viscount was a guide, and, indeed, a great personal inspiration.

Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I feel that we should also wish to-day to offer our greatest sympathy to his widow and his distinguished family, and, for ourselves to say that we have indeed lost from this House a very great figure.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add one or two words to what has been so admirably said by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. My acquaintance with Lord Cecil goes back a very long way. Fifty-three years ago I was in Chambers with Lord Cecil before he was an M.P., and I recall many occasions of his kindness to a young barrister. The next thing I recall from the time when I was interested in schoolchildren, is that it was Lord Cecil who carried through the Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons for the inspection of school-children, which revealed such defects that there followed an immense amount of legislation and administrative action. Then, later on, I often saw him in connection with the Legue of Nations and with the United Nations. I think the whole world has lost a very great man and a very great friend. Wherever the cause of peace is mentioned, the name of Lord Cecil will always come up, and the complete devotion that he gave to that cause for so many years. May I add, also, our deep sympathy for this widow.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will permit one who knew Lord Cecil intimately over a very long time to add a humble personal tribute to the delightful personality who has been taken from us. I first came into contact with Lord Cecil some fifty years ago, when Christabel Pankhurst and I prevailed upon him as a barrister to plead the constitutional case for the suffragettes in the courts: and needless to say, with his great ability and wisdom, he acquitted himself nobly. One little humble incident I should like to tell your Lordships, because, though it may seem a small matter to-day, when we had different manners in regard to the different sections of our community. a friend of mine met Lord Cecil at about that time in a London tea-shop and she reported to me, rather with astonishment, and with tremendous appreciation, that he treated the young waitress who served him with the same courtesy that he would have treated any lady in society.

Other noble Lords have spoken of Lord Cecil's great work in connection with the League of Nations, and that was one, if not the principal, feature in his life. But there was another thing which he did which had great effect upon the happiness of large numbers of people. Unless my memory deceives me, it was Lord Cecil who was mainly responsible for carrying the Notification of Births Act, which almost immediately reduced the neo-natal death rate of children in a remarkable way. He was a man of broad sympathies and wide understanding, and though he was a great idealist he was a very practical man. There is one saying of his which I have always cherished through all my life. Someone was using the famous "thin end of the wedge" argument, and he said at a public meeting: The British Constitution is stuck full of the thin ends of wedges which the common sense of the British people has never driven home. I will conclude by saying that I cherish with great pride the memory of this delightful man, whose life was devoted not to self, not to his own aggrandisement or some advantage of a personal kind, but to the well-being of his fellow human beings and the good fortune of this country and the whole world.


My Lords, I was not expecting to speak to-day because, having left my home very early, I did not see the newspapers; but I should like, extemporarily, to add a word or two to the tributes that have already been offered to the memory of Lord Cecil. I myself saw one side of him that has not been mentioned. It was at the Paris Peace Conference where he played a very prominent part Of course, his principal claim to distinction there was that, with Field-Marshal Smuts, he represented the British Empire delegation on President Wilson's Commission which drew up the Covenant of the League of Nations. I saw a good deal of that as I was the British Secretary at the Conference. Later on at the Conference he took up the cause of the suffering peoples of Europe. Central Europe was starving, and, regardless of whether it was friend, neutral or late foe. he took up that cause with great assiduity. The Council of Four, of which I happened to be Secretary at that time, towards the end of the Conference entrusted the whole business to him, and he deserves from all Europe very high tributes for what he did in those days. I associate myself with everything else that has been said.

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