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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.