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Sir Winston Churchill

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 28 July 1964

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3.40 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House desires to take this opportunity of marking the forthcoming retirement of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Woodford by putting on record its unbounded admiration and gratitude for his services to Parliament, to the nation and to the world; remembers, above all, his inspiration of the British people when they stood alone, and his leadership until victory was won; and offers its grateful thanks to the right honourable Gentleman for these outstanding services to this House and to the nation.
I move this Motion in the full confidence that it will be supported by every right hon. and hon. Member of the House, and in the knowledge that all who have ever served here with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford will feel that they share at once in the sadness and in the grandeur of this essentially parliamentary occasion, sadness because the right hon. Gentleman's long membership of the House is coming to an end, and grandeur because of the honour and the lustre which the parliamentary career of the right hon. Gentleman has brought to the House of Commons. Not least of the honours of which we are sensible is that it has so evidently remained a pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman in recent days to attend our sittings. Hon. Members may imagine how difficult it was to decide how adequately to record our thanks for this lifetime of service, but those of all parties who met to consult together were soon agreed that whatever was to be done must be something in keeping with the history of the House and in keeping with its character as the representative forum of the nation and as the House of Commons. We have chosen, by common consent, a method of trying to convey our thanks adopted by the House on 1st July, 1814, in respect of the Duke of Wellington. I feel that this precedent in itself will give the right hon. Gentleman pleasure, appealing to his vivid sense of the sweep of history. Today is not the occasion to review the services of the right hon. Gentleman, those which he has given both to the House and to the nation. For anyone at any time that would be a daunting task. If I were to begin to undertake the tale of when the right hon. Gentleman was first elected to the House I should be intimidated, for it is from the year 1900, with only but a short interval, that he has been a Member of the House throughout the progress of this century. I myself first remember his speeches from his place in the corner seat below the Gangway in the 1930s when he was seeking to catch the ear of Parliament and the country and to give urgency to the preparations for the war which he himself had long foreseen was due to come. Then we knew him as the Prime Minister in war, exercising the unparalleled authority with which he commanded the House at that time through all the adversities and through the triumphs of the battle until victory was ours and his. At all times we remember him, whether as back bencher. as Minister, or as Prime Minister, for the inimitable style with which he has always adorned our debates and our proceedings, with that extraordinary gift of words, compelling in their simplicity, which made an appeal to the hearts of millions and gave them leadership which was inspired.

In this place the right hon. Gentleman went through and took us through the whole range of the emotions. He has loved the parliamentary fight and I think that his opponents would concede that he has won most of them. I never remember an occasion, though, however dramatic and alarming—as was sometimes the case—the parliamentary storm might be, when the magnanimity and humanity of the right hon. Gentleman has not taken charge. Time and again I have seen that ferocious frown turn to the smile with which he has acknowledged the quality of a worthy opponent, and time and again it was like the sun coming out from behind the thunder cloud, with all its healing power.

The right hon. Gentleman is a man of the strongest principles and holds very strong ideas, but he is essentially broad minded, and everybody has felt and known that he has felt the people with his heart. He said on one occasion:
"My views represent a continual process of adjustment to changing events".
It may be that the right hon. Gentleman has found the ultimate wisdom which so often eludes lesser men.

But today it is enough and it suffices to unite in saluting one of the most famous personalities that this House has ever known and one of its most faithful servants. Therefore, when a few of us are selected by the House to go and convey the respect and the gratitude of every right hon. and hon. Member in it, I hope that we may say that everybody in the House today will always be filled with pride that we have had the right to call the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford our colleague and our friend.

3.47 p.m.

The terms in which the right hon. Gentleman has moved this Motion are acceptable to the whole House and will be welcomed by all of us. Although occasion demands that this Motion should be commended to the House by the three party leaders and by two other very senior Members of the House, we are speaking today not as representatives of parties, but as Members of the House united by a common bond of admiration and affection for the most distinguished and best-loved of our fellow Members.

Winston Churchill—and I do not fear to be ruled out of order, Mr. Speaker, because in this last week of this Parliament I am relying on the quality of selective deafness of which you informed us in the first week of this Parliament—is a man who, in his own lifetime, has become a legend. By far our oldest colleague in years and in terms of service to the House, he has deservedly earned the unique tribute which the House unites to pay him today.

When, last March, some of us proposed that the House owed a duty, not to the right hon. Gentleman but to itself, to mark his retirement in a special manner, all of us received countless letters from all over the country, from members of all parties and of none, welcoming the idea and many of them suggesting means which this tribute might take. Some, proposing a national tribute not related specifically to Parliament, might well be considered separately. It is our privilege today, as fellow parliamentarians, to commemorate what he has done in Parliament and for Parliament and here in Parliament for the nation.

In the talks we had with the Government, and after some painstaking research, we suggested the idea of reviving a very old custom of the House based on a Notice of Motion of a vote of thanks. Until the present century—and the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned a previous case—such Motions were fairly frequent, being for the most part addressed to generals and admirals in respect of military successes. But such Motions addressed to Members of the House are much less frequent and the last of which I can find any record was in 1700. I quote from the Journal of 17th March, when the thanks of the House were given to
"Sir Edward Seymour, Baronet, a Member of this House for the great service he hath done the Publick in detecting the Bribery and Corruption, which hath been practised in the Elections of several Members to serve in this present Parliament."
What we are honouring today is a very much greater and more long-standing service to Parliament and the nation. For this reason, this Motion today is unique—as the man whom we are honouring is unique.

We commemorate on the eve of his retirement the right hon. Gentleman's services in peace and in war. We honour him as a great parliamentarian, a great orator and debater who shares only with David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan, I think, the honour of being one of the three greatest orators of this century. In a life of public service which spans almost two thirds of a century—from his entry as the young Member for Oldham to his retirement now as Father of the House and right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford—he has, as the Prime Minister said, never shirked the controversial or the unpopular. When this House, 20 years ago, debated the reconstruction of this Chamber he drew attention to its oblong, bilateral shape and derisive of mere continental semi-circular constructions, spoke of the awesome journey involved in crosisng the Floor of the House, because he had crossed it twice.

The right hon. Gentleman was a controversial figure and he will want to be remembered as a controversial figure. As a young Liberal he denounced his Conservative opponents in a phrase which to this day remains a classic of anti-Conservative literature. Equally, his financial policies inspired the most savage of Maynard Keynes's satires in "Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill". As a Conservative, he took equal delight in castigating his Liberal and Labour opponents.

As the Prime Minister said, in the late 'thirties he cared not for friends or party loyalties as he spoke frankly of the dangers he saw. Yet in our darkest hour, in 1940, he was the choice of the nation. History may dispute whether it was the courage of those of his own party who registered their own historic vote in that debate of May, 1940, or the refusal of the then Opposition to serve in any Government of national unity headed by another which led to his call to office.

Whatever historians may decide, the choice was the choice of the British people. It was his resolution, his unswerving faith in victory, his historic decision to appeal to our people for the spirit of sacrifice which he knew his leadership could evoke—it was these transcendent qualities which, backed by loyal and dedicated colleagues of all parties, brought up through to victory.

I said that he has become a legend. Many of us were brought up on the legend of his early struggles. My own father was his sub-agent in North-West Manchester in 1908, when, under the barbarous system which required that a newly-appointed Cabinet Minister must resign and seek re-election, the right hon. Gentleman lost his seat. My uncle was his constituency chairman, a strong teetotaller. He recalls how the right hon. Member for Woodford, with tears streaming down his face, sought consolation for his defeat in two large whiskies—which my staunchly teetotal uncle had to pay for.

The war-time years produced a crop of stories about the right hon. Member for Woodford, some of them apocryphal, but all told with endearment. Some are known to be true. There is the one about his famous rebuke of the pedantic civil servant, when he wrote, "This is nonsense up with which I will not put". I remember during our darkest days, as a member of the Cabinet Secretariat, an emergency call in the small hours from President Roosevelt. The President had decided to release the 50 over-age destroyers for our use—given certain conditions. A colleague of mine was duty officer and had to decide whether to awaken the Cabinet Secretary and, after consultation, took the not inconsiderable risk of awakening the Prime Minister.

The President stated his condition—if Britain were defeated in the war the ships were to make for Canada. The Prime Minister, who was barely awake, and not in the best of tempers, produced a ready answer, "Yes, if that happens, the destroyers will sail for Canada, but the contingency of defeat is one more likely to befall our enemies than ourselves." Few at that time would have been so ready, so confident, even in the full light of day.

Inevitably, admiring ingenuity has conferred on the right hon. Gentleman legendary epigrams and aphorisms which, true or not, we would all like to think that he coined. I treasure particularly the story of his remarkable interview with the then General de Gaulle, who had claimed for the Free French Forces the blocked gold held on the French account by the Bank of England, when the General asked the right hon. Gentleman to intervene. The story is that the right hon. Gentleman replied—and I apologise for my French, which is rather like the right hon. Gentleman's, "Mon cher Général, quand je me trouve en face de la vielle dame de Threadneedle Street, je me trouve tout a fait impotent "I know it should have been "impuissant".

As war gave way to peace his single-minded dedication to victory gave place to growing controversy about his views on post-war planning. There is a delightful story about a Cabinet meeting when your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, the then Minister of Town and Country Planning, submitted a learned memorandum on town and country planning, establishing the best of the Scott, Uthwatt and Barlow Reports. It was one o'clock and this was the eleventh item on the agenda. The Prime Minister is reported to have said, "Ah, yes, I know, town planning, densities, broad vistas, open spaces. Give to me the romance of the eighteenth century alley, with its dark corners, where footpads lurk." "Shakes" Morrison, instead of taking this as an endorsement of his paper, which he was entitled to do, wearily took it back for further consideration, and town planning was held up for seven months.

This Motion today honours a fellow hon. Member of wide achievements, the Cavalry officer who escaped from a Boer prison, the author of "Lord Randolph Churchill", of "Marlborough", of the "History of the English-Speaking Peoples"—favourite reading for many of us—a Nobel prize winner for literature, an Academician. It honours a youthful reformer who piloted the Employment Exchanges Act and Unemployment Insurance Act through this House. It honours the warrior of the Dardenelles and of Sidney Street, it honours a controversial ex-Chancellor, a man who could write history and who could make history, a leader who, in his unconquerable faith in our people and in the ultimate victory of our cause, could yet enrich our language with the magic of speeches which will be remembered and treasured for all the years our literary heritage may endure.

For all these things we honour him today, but as parliamentarians we are conscious of something beyond, and I for my part speak as one of many present on both sides of the House who are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the kind, almost old-world courtesies going far beyond the normal calls of parliamentary comradeship. If Winston Churchill could write his own epitaph it would be simply this, "He was a good House of Commons man."

3.59 p.m.

Today, we say goodbye as a Member of Parliament to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). He has played a great many parts in the House of Commons. He has on occasions been very angry with the House of Commons. He has been ignored by the House of Commons. He has been howled at by the House of Commons. He has received almost unparalleled adulation from the House of Commons, and in over 50 years he has held the highest offices and been present on the most august occasions in the House of Commons. He has also had a book thrown at him in the House of Commons, and a point of order has been taken against him for attempting to vote in his pyjamas. But he has never attempted to patronise or belittle the House of Commons.

This is no occasion for sentimentality. We are here to celebrate one of the greatest careers of our history. But few people can have failed to be moved when, day after day, the right hon. Gentleman comes into this House and takes his seat below the Gangway. Few people can fail to be moved by the meticulous care which he takes to pay his respects to this assembly, in which his whole life, almost, has been spent.

At this time, when so many people, with a rather superior or world-weary air, speak contemptuously of the House of Commons, of the whole rough system of party politics on which the House of Commons thrives, it is good that we should praise a famous man who, in the middle of great wars and great crises, has never failed to come here and give an account of his doings before the motley collection of Members of this House who represent the people of Britain. In no other assembly that I know of do those who wield the highest power come to it and answer Questions in person, Questions sometimes wounding, often petty, but which are collectively one of the great foundations of our liberties.

The right hon. Gentleman was not only a Member of the House of Commons and a great statesman. He was through and through a politician. Here again, let those who, for one reason or another, deride politics and refuse to dirty their hands with what they consider a frustrating or dishonourable service, consider the career of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford. We are told that when vast projects are undertaken democratic politics must go by the board. Yet the right hon. Gentleman led this country through one of its toughest crises by commanding the assent of the people and by making no inroads on the democratic rights of the people other than those which they accepted themselves. At the highest point of his career he accepted summary dismissal at the nod of the people.

The right hon. Gentleman has had an enthusiasm for politics which, with characteristic magnanimity, he has showered upon two of the older established parties and one of his own invention. What has made him so great a politician is not only this enthusiasm, his thirst for power and his appetite for the rancour and the asperity of political debate and, indeed, his humour, but his capacity to derive arguments, even on minor matters, from his view of great and enduring principles. He points the whole of his immense ability on whatever he has in hand.

Lastly, he has always wanted Britain to be not only great, but happy, and he wanted everyone to share his pleasure and his triumphs. The tribute that we shall pass today is, as has been said, of a type often offered to great captains like Marlborough and Wellington, and today, surely, we salute a great captain at the end of a long and glorious political campaign.

4.4 p.m.

Many honours have come to me in my time. Possibly a few of them have been earned, although I must confess that I think the vast majority have been completely unearned and undeserved. But the greatest honour of them all is the one that I receive today, in being allowed to participate, on behalf of my fellow back benchers, in the tribute to our greatest of men. That is something that I shall treasure during the remaining years of my life.

Greatness, strength, high purpose and magnanimity are rare to come by, but as this is a special occasion may I say that we have come by them all in our right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). It has always been an excitement to hear him, it has been a constant joy, especially for the Strangers' Gallery, to watch him. It has been a terrific inspiration to all those of us who have been privileged to serve with him in this House—myself for 40 full years. That inspiration will be with us always. Now the House will seem strangely empty. Indeed, I think that the country will feel sort of empty, too, and that the people will miss hearing that reassuring voice which always gave them comfort in times of trouble.

But there is another to whom our thoughts turn today, that gracious lady who has been his inspiration and who has so loved and cherished him through all their years together. So I would include her in these final words: may God continue to bless them and give them both many years of healthy and happy retirement—and still together.

4.7 p.m.

It is a privilege of which I am fully conscious to join in the tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), voiced so eloquently by the right hon. Gentlemen and the hon. Member who have preceded me. However, I must freely confess that there were occasions in the past, way back to the year 1906 when the Parliamentary Labour Party was first formed, and onward during the years, the 'twenties and the 'thirties, when it would have been regarded as a heresy to have heaped praise on the right hon. Gentleman. That would undoubtedly have incurred the displeasure of my Labour colleagues. Indeed, it might have led, if not to expulsion, to the withdrawal of the Whip.

In those days the right hon. Gentleman attacked the Labour Party with remarkable severity. Whether it was justified is a matter upon which, on this occasion, I dare not comment, but with the passage of time all the ascerbities, the acrimony, the aversions and dislike have vanished and are replaced by admiration for the varied and brilliant qualities of the right hon. Gentleman, and even by our affection.

I have had the fortune to have experienced association with many distinguished Parliamentarians. I recall the scintillating oratory of Lloyd George, which could electrify the House. I recall the shrewdness of Stanley Baldwin, the rare debating quality of Bonar Law and Lord Hugh Cecil, and the dignified utterances of Mr. Asquith, and, coming nearer to the years in which we live, the un-flappability of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Mac-millan). But, distinguished as those Parliamentarians were, none of them—I say this with the utmost respect—could transcend the brilliance, the courage, the forthrightness and the remarkable qualities of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford.

Sir, I had the opportunity—if the House will forgive my referring to the matter—of sharing in a broadcast on television last night. I ventured to make a remark which, perhaps, will bear repetition. I said that the right hon. Gentleman is no ordinary Member, but is one of our greatest institutions: the Throne, the Church, Parliament, the Press, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford.

I recall him in times of peace when, I must admit, he acted according to his temperament, his training and environment—according to his fashion, about which, perhaps, we had better not comment on this occasion. But I also recall how, during the Second World War, he crystallised, in majestic phrases, the resolution of the whole nation; and that will remain as a memory in the hearts and minds of those who were associated with him at that time.

In his impending retirement, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will enjoy peace and contentment—that, I believe, is the wish of all of us—in which he may reflect on his past glories and the appreciation and devotion of his countrymen.

4.11 p.m.

As the oldest of the very few Members of this House who served in both Administrations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) t ask the indulgence of the House to say a few words in support of the Motion now before us.

In a sense, there is little more that can or that need be said. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) have paid eloquent and moving tribute to the greatest Member of Parliament of this or any other age.

As they have reminded us, there is no parallel for the extraordinary career of the colleague and friend whom we are honouring today. There have been great administrators in times of peace, with long records of power, like Walpole. There have been great leaders of the nation in the hour of peril and the hour of glory—Chatham, Pitt, Lloyd George. There have been others who have nearly equalled—though none has actually surpassed—this immense span of parliamentary and public service—Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone.

There have, no doubt, been debaters and orators of equal resource and power, though few with that gift of puckish, rather mischievous, humour which so endears him to us all. Yet, looking back on the long history of the House of Commons, we can recall no man who has combined, in his single person, these qualities and these achievements.

The life of the man we are today honouring is, in this sense, unique. The oldest amongst us can recall nothing to compare with it. The younger ones among you, however long you live, will never see the like again.

All those who have spoken have rightly emphasised, among my right hon. Friend's characteristic loyalties, his affection for the House of Commons. Through so many years, through so many elections, through so many turns of Fortune's wheel, through so many Parliaments, he has stayed with us in the House of Commons and we love him for that.

I would only add a few words on a personal note. I have shared with my right hon. Friend some 40 of the 60 years of his membership of the House. For many years I have had the privilege of his friendship and worked with him in one way or another in many different circumstances, in office and out of office, in good times and in bad. I served in both his great Administrations in war and in peace, for a period of nearly 10 years. I have enjoyed, during the years of his retirement and my responsibilities, his generous encouragement and wise counsel. I have, therefore, seen my right hon. Friend for many years at very close quarters, at moments of frustration and disappointment as well as at those of satisfaction and achievement.

Failure and success are, in their different ways, equal tests of a man's character. My right hon. Friend has overcome both triumphantly. These twists and changes of political fortune were not mere accidents. They were the very fabric of his life. Like the prophets of old, he saw into the future with uncanny prescience both before, during and after the war.

So we honour the whole man—what he has done, what he has tried to do and what he is. If I were to try to sum up his true character I can think of no words more appropriate than those which he has himself written on the fly-leaf of each volume of his "History of the Second World War".
  • "In War: Resolution
  • In Defeat: Defiance
  • In Victory: Magnanimity
  • In Peace: Goodwill"
The author called these words "Moral of the Work". In fact, Sir, they are the story of his life.

Question put and agreed to, nemine contradicente.


That this House desires to take this opportunity of marking the forthcoming retirement of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Woodford by putting on record its unbounded admiration and gratitude for his services to Parliament, to the nation and to the world; remembers, above all, his inspiration of the British people when they stood alone, and his leadership until victory was won; and offers its grateful thanks to the right honourable Gentleman for these outstanding services to this House and to the nation.

Committee appointed to wait upon the right honourable Gentleman to convey to him the thanks of the House.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Sir Thomas Moore and Mr. Shinwell.—[ The Prime Minister.]