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Tribute To The Late Earl Of Halsbury

Volume 48: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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My Lords, before the House passes to the grave affairs which engage our attention to-day, it seems to me fitting, and I hope that I shall express the general opinion of your Lordships, that we should not allow the death of Lord Halsbury to pass without mention in this House. He was, I think, the oldest living Peer. For eighteen years he sat in the seat which I occupy to-day, and if you throw your minds back over all the illustrious men who have occupied the Woolsack—and the names of Cairns, Brougham, Lyndhurst, and of fifty others will occur to the memories of those who have had occasion to study the records of my predecessors—it will not, I think, be an exaggeration to say that hardly one of them had occupied over so long a period a position of such supreme authority as that which, by the general judgment of this House, was conceded to Lord Halsbury.

I could not expect that the majority of this House would be very well acquainted with the technical qualities which Lord Halsbury contributed to the arduous duties of his position. It has been my task and my privilege, it has been part of my legal education, to study the judgments which, over so long a period, Lord Halsbury delivered in this House, and I hardly exaggerate when I say that in the last one hundred years there has not been one Lord Chancellor who has possessed a greater mastery of the English Common Law, who has moved with such easy and confident strides in a field of law in which clarity of view and complete clarity of expression are conceded only to very few.

There was, however, a side of this great Judge which is better known to the majority of your Lordships than the technical one. Your Lordships know well the opinions which this great man held and so freely expressed upon public events. It was at one time said that Lord Eldon was the last of the Tories. Those of us who lived with Lord Halsbury, who knew his views and who listened in this House and elsewhere to the expression of those views, know well that Lord Eldon was not the last of the Tories. Whether the noble and learned Lord who has so recently passed away was the last of all it would, perhaps, be presumptuous of us to declare a final opinion in the light of that which I have already said. But no one in this country, whether Ire agreed with Lord Halsbury or did not agree with him, can withhold from him a meed of warm admiration as a man who had formed, as the result of deep reflection, sure and certain convictions and who never in a long life to the slightest degree deviated from them either in act or in thought. Here in this Assembly of which he was an ornament, over which for so many years he presided, may I presume to make myself the instrument for expressing the regret which all of your Lordships feel for his death and the sense of personal loss which must be experienced by every one of us? I would venture also, if I may be so bold, on your Lordships' behalf to tender our sympathy to his family at the bereavement which has overtaken them.

My Lords, I could wish that one more competent than myself to speak of those technical accomplishments of Lord Halsbury of which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack spoke could have taken my place in saying a word from this bench of regret and sorrow at his loss. I, of course, speak only as an old member of this House to whom Lord Halsbury's figure on either front bench, and formerly on the Woolsack, was so familiar for many years. As the noble and learned Lord has said, he was a Tory of the Tories, but those of us who were opposed to him in politics always found him a most courteous, if sometimes a very trenchant, opponent, and in all the personal relations that we were permitted to have with him we found him a most kind and considerate friend. It will be long before Lord Halsbury is forgotten in this House, not only from those great legal qualifications of which the Lord Chancellor has spoken but also from the personal part he took in debate. He was a man greatly loved by his friends, of many accomplishments beyond that professional distinction of which we have heard, and the whole House will feel, I am sure, that he is one who will not easily be replaced here.

I do not know whether Lord Halsbury, with that love for ancient things which so distinguished him, ever took any personal pride in the fact that he belonged to one of the oldest houses in England, one of the few which could claim as its founder one of the very small number of Earls of the Norman and early Plantagenet days. If Lord Halsbury had any family pride of that kind he certainly never showed it in his bearing or demeanour, but it is, I think, an interesting fact to associate with one who in a sense was the architect of his own fortunes, that he should have been by descent in a position which perhaps not more than ten or a dozen of your Lordships' House can claim. I desire to associate myself with the Lord Chancellor in his expression of regret and of sincere sympathy with the family to which Lord Halsbury was so deeply attached.