Lord Morrison of Lambeth

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9 March 1965.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00, 9 March 1965

Today, the House will wish to pay its united tribute to the life and memory of Herbert Morrison, and to express our sympathy to Lady Morrison of Lambeth and to his daughter and her family. One of the greatest difficulties which all of us feel in doing this is to be able to confine into a narrow compass the wide range of his achievements and of his contributions to our national life.

It is more than 40 years since Herbert Morrison first entered this House as a London Member, and more than 35 years since he achieved pre-eminent national status as Minister of Transport and as the creator of the London transport system. From that moment for a quarter of a century he was at the centre of affairs not only in his party but in all aspects of our national life. Because he had made local government work so peculiarly his own, because he had created so much of what we now know as the government of London, and, in so doing, had humanised the very processes of local government, he was, in every job he did, a Minister who, while authoritative in the forms and machinery of government, always cared first about people.

It was part of the genius of Winston Churchill that, having first appointed Herbert Morrison to be Minister of Supply—a job for which he was well fitted after years of constructive criticism of pre-war supply preparations—he recognised the new challenge presented by Hitler's bombers to the civilian life of London and other great cities by appointing Herbert Morrison as Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security.

It was in that rôle that he brought to bear his immense administrative ability, his genius for improvisation, his unrivalled knowledge of local government, and, above all, his concern for people and his understanding of them. "London can take it", the phrase which he created, represented his cheery but tough answer to Hitler, yet every blow struck against the London he loved and had done so much to rebuild hurt him more than he ever showed.

In the post-war Labour Government, Herbert Morrison held a pivotal rôle as Leader of the House, a great moderniser of Parliamentary procedure, Deputy Prime Minister, architect of the modern approach to self-governing yet responsible public authorities, particularly in the economic sphere, a man of infinite resource in Cabinet and Government committee, himself directing, as chairman of committees, so much of the legislative and administrative work of government.

Herbert Morrison's brief period at the Foreign Office was less happy, though some who criticised him then or since have failed to recognise the unique and unprecedentally difficult problem which dominated his tenure of office and which he did not stay long enough to solve or to see solved. After 1951, his years in opposition—a leader in debates, one who used his unparalleled knowledge of Parliamentary procedure and, still more, his sense of Parliamentary convention and form to dominate debate after debate from the Dispatch Box opposite—it was in these years, taking time off from the House, that he made his great contributions to the literature on the machinery of government. His work, "Government and Politics" is still a classic in this field, and compulsory reading for anyone who wants to know how our modern system works.

In 1955 came his biggest disappointment, when, by a vote of his fellows, he was passed over for the leadership of the party in favour of a younger man and a newer generation. Then, life on the back benches for the first time in over 30 years, the transition in due course to another place—all these never extinguished the lively ability to make his own personal contribution both to the life of Parliament and to the life of the nation.

It will be as a great Parliamentarian that we shall all remember him, and, with every respect to those who, in another place, will be paying their fitting tributes to him this afternoon, we shall remember him as pre-eminently a Member of this House. He was a great leader of this House, firm, humorous, tolerant, ever sensitive to the changing moods of the House which he had a unique ability to assess, jealous of the rights of the House and its privileges and customs, and jealous of the rights of back benchers on both sides of the House.

But if this were to be the total of our assessment, how little of the real Herbert Morrison would it cover. No one in the House will object, I hope, to my making a reference to his party service. Many have mourned him this week for his devoted service in creating and building up the London Labour Party in its earliest days. No one who has ever seen Herbert Morrison in action will forget seeing him in the party committees which are the lifeblood of our system of Parliamentary democracy, or dominating a vital and throbbing party conference by his eloquence, his humour and the sheer force of his personality.

But when that has been said, there will still be those who feel that if we seek his memorial it would be in none of these places, but in the London which he loved and which he did so much to save. If the London County Council is to go down to history—as I believe it will—as the greatest unit of local government which the world has ever seen, more credit is die to Herbert Morrison than to any other individual. His last Parliamentary fight in another place was over the future of London government. He approached the problems of London with a grasp, an imagination and a sense of scale unparalleled in our civic life. Town planning, the transport services, housing, and above all, the unique contribution of the L.C.C. in its concern for deprived children, on the one hand, and old people, on the other—in all these, Herbert Morrison tempered administration with a fine humanity which sprang from his love of London people.

Waterloo Bridge, Festival Hall, indeed, the whole South Bank, will be his physical memorials, but, more lasting, will be a conception of human government, local and national, based on the recognition that all that we do here and all that is done in the council chambers and committee rooms throughout the country and more widely has no meaning except in so far as it serves, individual by individual, family by family, our fellow citizens.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

The Prime Minister has paid the most moving tribute to one who, in a long life, served the Labour Party with zeal, loyalty and distinction. Perhaps he will allow me to say that we share the sense of loss of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and the affection with which hon. Members on the other side of the House will have for this very likeable and very humane man.

Herbert Morrison was, as the Prime Minister said, first of all a Londoner, proud to claim that he was a cockney. His first love was his native city, and he was never wearied by its service. He will be remembered as an organiser and administrator in local government and an initiator of the highest quality and ability as a member of the London County Council for many years, and leader of the Council from 1934 to 1940.

Many tributes have been paid to Herbert Morrison. His political opponents in local government would be the first to proclaim him as one of the first distinction in their ranks. All the tributes to him have been most thoroughly deserved.

Herbert Morrison was, too, devoted to Parliament, and particularly to the House of Commons, in which so much of his public life was spent. He was a master of our procedure, he saw Parliament's place in the machinery of government and he made Parliament live in that machinery. There is, as the Prime Minister said, much of great importance to students in the history which he wrote of the working of Parliament, in the government and Parliamentary survey, as he did it from inside.

I remember him in earlier days in debates in this House, always in command of words, dominating a debate in which he took part and, in particular, at Question Time, playing this largely by intuition and by ear, and, in doing so, giving great delight to both sides of the House, because it gave him full scope for his humour.

Herbert Morrison was, after a career in which he suffered the ups and downs of political life—they brought their triumph to him, but also took their toll—a member of the War Cabinet, looking after home security during the time that our nation was besieged. His name became a household word. He was one of those statesmen in the War Cabinet who gave the highest service, sacrifice and endurance of which they were capable. He was one of these and we remember him for this with great gratitude.

I think that it is typical of the man that he asked that at his funeral jolly music should be played, because we remember him as undefeated and with a vital personality. Above all, therefore, we remember him with gratitude as Leader of the House, and one, as the Prime Minister said, who was always jealous of the rights of Members and particularly those of back-benchers on both sides of the House.

If I may, I should like to join humbly with the Prime Minister to send to Lady Morrison the sympathy of his one-time political opponents on this side of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

My hon. Friends and I would like to join in the tributes that have been paid to Lord Morrison of Lambeth and to express our sympathy to his family. If I do not repeat what has been said about his work for London and as Home Secretary during the war and in the other high offices which he occupied, this is only because the ground has been well covered already. It does not in the least mean that we do not appreciate the services which he rendered.

Herbert Morrison was a man for whom the last throw of the political ball ran wrong. He failed to become Prime Minister. But it is the greatest compliment which one can pay to him that, in spite of a career as full as any man could show, it is this ultimate disappointment which is most vividly remembered about him. He was, indeed, as the Prime Minister has said, a great Parliamentarian. He understood the business of politics through and through. He learned it in local government, practised it in the House of Commons and then in the House of Lords and as a Minister. Again, as the Prime Minister has said, he made a notable contribution to our understanding of politics in a book which Nuffield College enabled him to write.

Herbert Morrison was a notoriously successful Leader of this House. This has perhaps led to a suspicion that he was first and foremost a political manipulator. But that is not so. In fact, it is the political manipulators who make bad leaders of this House. Lord Morrison of Lambeth was a success with the House of Commons because the House knew that he loved it and served it as a whole—and served it for itself with no ulterior motive. He was quite prepared to stand up for its rights against his own Ministerial colleagues.

Herbert Morrison's love of politics was founded on a love of the people. However high he rose in the hierarchy of Government, he always had time to help younger and less experienced men than himself. In a broadcast he made in 1957, when he talked about his time as a Minister, he said: 'Paper is not enough', I would tell my private secretary. 'My lad, the time has again come when I must shake the dust of Whitehall from my feet and go into the highways and byways of the Kingdom and meet the human race.' The human race owes him a great deal and parts from him with profound regret.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

May I, as one of the few Members who remember Herbert Morrison as the youngest member of the 1929 Government, pay my tribute to his memory. I remember him then as Minister of Transport. As a new Member of the House, I was engaged in long Committee work upstairs on the Road Traffic Act, 1930.

Herbert Morrison was always a fierce opponent in debate, but he was always considerate to his opponent, especially when that opponent was young. He won my heart in 1929, I remember, by the way in which he treated those in opposition who were young. That same quality showed when, later, he became Leader of the House.

The Prime Minister has rightly claimed that Herbert Morrison did much for London and for the Labour Party, but I always felt that, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, his strength came from his love of people and from his humanity. It is nice to think that one of the last services he gave to Parliament was when ha attended the annual conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, only two months ago. I was not present, but from what I have heard he showed what a distinguished Parliamentarian he was, not only for Britain, but for the whole Commonwealth.