Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, a fortnight
ago feeling reference was made in this house from all sides to the death of Field Marshal Earl Haig, the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the Great War. It is fitting in view of the announcement which has come to us from Great Britain to-day that we pause in the midst of our duties to pay a brief tribute to the name and memory of the one who was Prime Minister of Great Britain at the outbreak of war, and who held that high office during the first two years of the war.
I shall not attempt in any way to review the high attainments and great career of the late Lord Oxford and Asquith. They are present to the minds of all to-day, and will become increasingly appreciated as party controversy fades in the clearer light of the perspective of history.
Mr. J. A. Spender, in a recently published volume, The Public Life, significantly remarks that the great war is like a vast watershed which cuts across the territory surveyed when one seeks to speak of the men who were associated with the war; that so exceptional and stirring were the events of that time that it tends to make it difficult, if not impossible, to recall many, of the incidents of careers that had been long and useful at a date anterior thereto. In this connection I would remind the house that the career of public service of the late Lord Oxford and Asquith extended over the greater part of half a century; that in that time he occupied the office of prime minister for eight years and eight months, a period of unbroken service in that position, longer than that of any prime minister of Great Britain; that his life was intimately associated with most of the important events which immediately preceded the war, and that his public service, from the beginning to the close of his career, was of an exceptionally high and useful character. Were testimony to the exceptional character of his public services required I would remind hon. members that when Mr. Asquith but a year or two ago was offered an earldom by His Majesty the King, it was upon the recommendation of the leader of the political party to which he had been traditionally opposed. There has been no more graceful incident in the many amenities of British public life-
As to Mr. Asquith's relation to the war, I should like to quote a paragraph from the
book to which I have already referred. It serves to bring out a feature that all who are charged with the responsibilities of public life will keenly appreciate. Speaking of the men associated with the great war, Mr. Spender says it is impossible to consider them, and more particularly Asquith and one or two others whose names he mentions,
-without feeling that they are in a certain sense marked off from their fellows. They had to make decisions which shook the world, which touched the very existence of their country, which brought death and desolation, salvation and victory, to their own fellow-countrymen, and to multitudes in other lands. They had to bear responsibilities beside which those that fell on their predecessors, however illustrious their names, seem like feathers in the scale.
There can be little doubt that this great responsibility, a responsibility greater than that which has fallen to the lot of almost any other individual had its effect upon the constitution, upon the powers of resistance of the great statesman who passed away this morning. Having this in our mind, as well as the service which he rendered not only to his own country, but to the British Empire as a whole,
I feel it will be the wish of the members of this parliament to join with the members at Westminster in expressing our very great sympathy with the Countess of Oxford and the other members of the family, who have been so greatly bereaved, and also that it will be the desire of our country to be associated with the other dominions in their sympathy with Great Britain in the loss of one of the greatest of her statesmen whose passing creates a void not only in the public life of his native land, but also, I venture to say, in the public life of the world.
Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Leader of the Opposition)' Mr. Speaker, it falls to the leader of this house, who is also the Prime Minister, to express on behalf of the Commons House of Parliament as well as on behalf of the Canadian people our sincere sympathy and regret at the passing of the Right Hon. Earl of Oxford and Asquith, familiary known as Mr. Asquith. On behalf of those who sit to your left, Sir, with whom I am associated, I desire to join in that expression of sympathy, and also to express the'sense of loss that the empire has sustained by the death of so distinguished a statesman.
Mr. Asquith came into public life, in the language of Lord Granville, when speaking of the Earl of Beaconsfield:
Without the aid of any of those adventitious circumstances that so often in England contribute to the advent of young men to the House of Commons and to the shaping of a political career.
Earl of Oxford and Asquith
He was indeed the architect of his own fortunes. Blessed with great natural abilities, he developed them by studiousness and keen application so that he became a student and ultimately a fellow of Baliol and a graduate of the ancient university of Oxford. He chose law as his profession, and very early in his career he manifested those great talents which gave him so quickly a commanding position at the bar. But public life soon claimed him, and while he was still in the early thirties he was elected to parliament for one of the Scottish constituencies, which he represented continuously for over thirty years. He was of such great talent that he early attracted the attention of Mr. Gladstone, and his was the voice which moved the vote of want of confidence which secured the defeat of the Conservative government then led by the Marquis of Salisbury. He succeeded to office, and as Home Secretary made for himself a very distinct mark in the political history of his day. Later he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, and from 1908 to 1916 he was Prime Minister of Great Britain.
With the outbreak of war, as my right hon. friend has said, he had to make decisions that were of the greatest consequence to the whole world. Calm and serene, undisturbed by the shock and the destruction of armies or the loss of ships, Mr. Asquith kept his steady course. Never were the great attributes of a Yorkshire Englishman more evident than in the course he then took, and if there is anything calculated to make a man proud to be born a Yorkshireman, it is the memory of the Asquith of that day.
It is not possible at this time to make any discriminating observations with respect to his standing as a statesman. There are varying opinions as to what his attitude in the years preceding 1914 should have been or might have been, but I recollect a great Scottish statesman once saying to me when I was in England that he believed Mr. Asquith had the greatest control of men of any statesman since the days of Pitt. It must be a matter of inspiration to the Prime Minister to realize that he, to some extent, has not been an unworthy disciple of Mr. Asquith, for with no majority as far aff his own party was concerned, Mr. Asquith held office for many years as Prime Minister, with the aid of two conflicting groups in the House of Commons.
As to what his position may be' in history with respect to the war it is not my purpose to speak. Already varying expressions of opinion have found their place in print. But this will be conceded by all men, that when
that very difficult moment came in his life that he had to relinquish office to one who had served with him, he went out a loyal and devoted patriot and gave his great experience and wide knowledge to his country regardless of what his own position might be. In his life we have a fine example, then, of patriotic sendee to the empire at a moment when it was at the very crisis of its fate.
As to his subsequent career I do not think it is within my province to speak. He retired to the House of Lords, his party broken, and he found some happiness in writing his memoirs, and a greater happiness still perhaps in those excursions into literature which we realize so often characterized his life.
Mr. Asquith was first of all a great scholar. He was one of the foremost classical scholars of England, having been president of the Classical Association for years. It was one of the joys of his life to go to the old school at Winchester where he was welcomed to speak words in Latin and Greek. He was also a distinguished orator. His standing as a statesman I shall not discuss, but he did maintain the proud and noble traditions of parliament, and he did so in a manner worthy of the greatest statesmen of whom we have record. Moreover, he was an excellent jurist. We of the bar realize, indeed, how great a jurist he was. It was my privilege to appear before the Privy Council on the first and,
I think, the only occasion on which he sat on the judicial committee, and although he was then past the age of seventy and had not practised law for a quarter of a century he showed an ability to catch the point at issue in the case which was the marvei and admiration of those present in the court.
The empire has indeed lost a renowned citizen-a citizen who was great in no ordinary sense of the word. He has passed from us full of honours as well as of years, and he has left behind him a priceless legacy. Differing with him, though we may, and with his opinions and his ideas of statecraft and of our common obligation to the union, the fact remains that his life will always be an inspiration to the younger men of the British Empire, and his utterances as recorded will be a fountain from which all may draw knowledge in the years to come. I do not think Lord Asquith was ever better than when, on an occasion such as this, he had to deplore the passing of a great colleague. Who can recall without emotion his noble tribute to Alfred Lyttleton? Who that speaks our tongue can but be thrilled at reading what he said concerning his great Prime Minister, Campbell-Bannerman? Who can study his
Pensions and Soldier Problems
speeches in relation to the English Bible, or the words with which he greeted his old colleagues when he went down to receive a testimonial from the members of the bar, without revering the man? Who can read all these and not be moved? I should like to place on record words which I think Lord Asquith himself would possibly have used on such an occasion as this, words from the poet who was peculiarly beloved by him-Wordsworth :
Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains, the Function never dies; While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise, _
We, Men, who in our morn of youth defied The elements, must vanish;be it so!
Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour; And if, as toward the silent tomb we go, Through love, through hope, and faith s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know. Mr. ROBERT GARDINER (Acadia): I
desire to join with the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) and the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett), as well as with hon. members of the house generally, in paying tribute to the late Earl of Oxford and Asquith. The late earl, I believe, will be best remembered by the public as Herbert Henry Asquith. It is quite true he had a distinguished career at the bar, but it is not by reason of that fact that he will live in the minds and hearts of the citizens of this great commonwealth of nations. His memory will survive in the record he has left behind in his parliamentary career. It was in that field that he came before the public eye to the greatest extent and consequently we shall always look upon him as one of the greatest servants of the empire. As the leader of the opposition 'has properly observed, Lord Asquith occupied many high offices. But after all, Mr. Speaker, it is not the occupancy of a high position that is the determining factor in keeping green the memory of a distinguished statesman; it is what he accomplishes while he holds office. I am sure that the people of Great Britain, in common with those of other rations that go to constitute the British commonwealth, will remember the late earl more for his social legislation than probably for any other reason. It was he that broke the veto power of the House of Lords; it was he that introduced old age pensions into Great Britain; it was he that stood firmly behind every social measure that was calculated to ameliorate the conditions of the masses of Great Britain. I am satisfied that notwithstanding what he accomplished in the
sphere of jurisprudence, however highly we may regard him as a jurist, in the minds and hearts of the people of the old country he will be remembered as one who devoted himself to the interests of the common people.
I therefore take this opportunity, on behalf of the group whom I represent in this corner of the house, of joining with hon. gentlemen in expressing our sincere regrets to the bereaved wife and relatives of the late Earl of Oxford and Asquith.