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House of Lords

Monday, 16th October 1995.

Reassembling after the Summer Recess, the House met at half past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Viscount Samuel—Took the Oath.

Tributes to the late Lord Home of the Hirsel

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, the whole House will have been saddened by the news last week of the death of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. I can think of no one who was held in greater respect or affection by this House, by his party or by this nation at large. And your Lordships, who were so often privileged to hear him speak, will wish to remember today his distinguished career, his charm, his wit and his service to this place.

Your Lordships will already be familiar enough with the outlines of my noble friend's political life. I therefore do not need to rehearse them in detail this afternoon. However, the length of his political experience, particularly of foreign affairs, has been equalled by few modern statesmen; and for me it is something of a shock to realise that we are today paying tribute to a man who was already at the centre of affairs by the time Hitler rose to power. Thus, when he came to occupy the great offices of Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, his natural courage and judgment were nourished by a length of perspective which is perhaps often the victim of the parliamentary hurly-burly of today.

His achievements at the Scottish Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office have been justly and widely recognised. As Foreign Secretary he inspired trust, affection and respect in equal measure. However, I suspect his achievements as Prime Minister and party leader have not received the notice they deserve. After all, he inherited—I make no comment about this—a demoralised and divided party, some of whose leading lights refused to serve under him, and he faced a young and formidable Leader of the Opposition who, encouraged by the howls of derision Lord Home attracted from much of the press, must have thought him easy prey. Yet after only a year he lost the election by a mere four seats. His diffident manner was deceptive. Here, indeed, was a tough and tenacious politician, qualities after all which had always distinguished his Border ancestors. It was that toughness, as well as his natural lack of rancour, that enabled him to continue in politics and to return in due course to the Foreign Office where the same quality enabled him famously to expel 105 Soviet spies from London.

I have said that my noble friend was tough. His grasp of essentials was also rapid and striking to those who witnessed it. His kindness in accepting invitations to address small audiences was legendary and I was one of

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those fortunate in being a beneficiary of that kindness in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Arriving with a couple of minutes to spare he would ask, "Now what do you want me to say?". I tried as best I could to explain the situation as I saw it and confess to wondering whether he was even listening to my briefing. I need not have worried. His speech two minutes later showed not only that he had listened to every word but that he had understood implications of events that his briefer had not yet begun to spot.

I was fortunate to know Lord Home a little and to have been the lucky recipient of his kindness and hospitality. Anyone who saw him on his native heath would realise that Lanarkshire and the Border country were as much a part of him as his rod and his gun. He belonged there and covered their accidented ground with effortless speed. However, I venture to suggest that he also belonged in your Lordships' House. Indeed, he was the last Prime Minister to hold that office while a Member of this place—albeit for only four days. It is for this reason that his bust stands in the Norman Porch. His unassuming courtesy, his experience, his judgment, and his wit—above all he was a very funny man—perhaps made him seem peculiarly at home in this place and I venture to suggest that we are grateful for the lustre he added to our proceedings.

I cannot finish without sending our best wishes and sympathy to his family. This, of course, is a conventional courtesy on occasions of this kind and a very proper one. However, in my noble friend's case, the extraordinary happiness of his marriage and the affection in which he was so obviously held by his many relations make that convention particularly important to observe today. Lady Home's death must have been a terrible blow to him but it was one that he faced with his customary courage and indeed his customary modesty, and with the love and support of his children.

I am sure that the whole House will recognise that he was a remarkable man and a great servant of the state. He was also, which is rarer, a man who was much loved.

Lord Richard: My Lords, we on these Benches are happy to join with the Leader of the House in the sentiments he has expressed. Lord Home was for over 60 years a dedicated public servant of whom the party opposite and the country as a whole should be justly proud.

Born into a noble and ancient Border family, he determined to devote his life to politics. Educated at Eton, where he was no mean cricketer, and Christ Church, where he just failed to get a Blue, he could have spent his time in much more aristocratic pursuits. That he did not was very firmly his own decision. His father believed strongly—to use Lord Home's own words—that,

    "it was a duty for one born with the means to be independent to undertake public service"—

but not, apparently, he tells us, in politics, for he wrote of that part of his life:

    "My father strongly advised me against politics as a career. He also told me that no Home could drink champagne. Otherwise a dutiful son, on both these points I disagreed and proved my point".

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First elected to Parliament in 1931, his career spanned some of the more turbulent years of this century. I myself always felt that it was indicative of his nature and character that, having been Prime Minister, nevertheless he found it possible to serve as Foreign Secretary in the government of his successor as party leader.

Reading the obituaries of Lord Home, the two words which recur again and again are "decency" and "integrity". While we on this side of the House did not and indeed could not be expected to agree with all his views, there is no doubt that he held those views sincerely and advocated them honourably. Together with the late Lord Stockton and others, some of whom are still in your Lordships' House, Lord Home was one of those who put their distinctive stamp upon the Conservative Party at least until 1979. As the Guardian wrote of him:

    "He was the embodiment of a moderate British Conservative tradition".

It is that very moderation and decency for which we will remember him. He was invariably courteous and considerate, and party confrontation was hardly his style. Indeed, he became Prime Minister in 1963 precisely because of those qualities, which perhaps meant that he disunited the party less than any of his competitors. They were qualities that he displayed throughout his career.

The intensity and depth of the political battle today might have surprised and perhaps upset him. I was reading his autobiography again over the weekend. I came across a few sentences which perhaps I may share with your Lordships today since they seem to me at any rate to encapsulate the nature of the man. He said that,

    "the Party Leaders should exercise restraint in the use of the power of the majority to a point where it is not necessary for an Opposition to pledge itself to undo what the government of the day has done. It is not an easy assignment but politics is a profession not for the bully with a bludgeon but for the artist with a baton".

That seems to me to sum up his whole approach to politics and public administration. He may have been tough and shrewd—as the Leader of the House said—but honourable, decent and a man of integrity he clearly was too. For that, we mourn him.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, Alec Home, whose death we deeply regret, became Prime Minister almost accidentally, though, as is often the case with accidents, causing a few casualties in the process. He occupied the office briefly. If I try to think of a 19th century comparison it would be with his fellow Scottish Earl, the somewhat elusive Lord Aberdeen, who was also a long-serving Foreign Secretary. But Lord Aberdeen had a deeply melancholic private life, losing two wives and five children while young, whereas Alec Home, I hope and believe, had a full and happy old age—more so, perhaps, than any Prime Minister except perhaps Attlee and Macmillan.

Lord Home had an exceptionally long post-ministerial retirement, yet he was far from a shadow during those post-Downing Street years. He was Foreign Secretary for three-and-a-half of those years. He was a frequent attender in your Lordships' House until fairly recently.

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I find it peculiarly easy to summon up a picture of that sparse figure and cranial yet benevolent head sitting somewhere between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

Lord Home never pushed himself forward. He had the most perfect good manners, based, as high good manners mostly are, on a dual foundation of self-confidence and self-effacement. He was not an emotional orator but he could make a speech with a faultless touch and a delicate wit which I have never seen rivalled. I suppose in some ways he was the final station of a railway line which may not survive the harsh commercialism of privatisation. He was the last, thus far, of Eton's 18 Prime Ministers and the last thus far of Christ Church's 13. But who knows, Fettes and St. John's College are thrusting in the wind. Whatever the future holds, we should cherish the memory of Alec Home, the more so perhaps for we may not, alas, see his like again.

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