HC Deb 22 June 1807 vol 9 cc567-74

About two o'clock, the attendance of the commons, at the bar of the house of lords, was commanded in a message by the black rod. About 200 members, who had been previously, sworn in by the lord steward of the household, according to custom, in the Long Gallery, went up immediately, and having received his majesty's command, signified by the lord chancellor, to elect a Speaker, returned, and shortly after proceeded to the exercise of that privilege in the usual form.

Mr. Yorke rose , and addressing himself to Mr. Ley, the senior clerk, said, that the house was now called upon to exercise one of its most antient and valuable privileges, in electing, from among its members, a proper person to discharge the functions of its Speaker; functions always important to the maintenance of order and decorum within its own walls, and the execution of which was at the same time most essential, towards obtaining for the proceedings of the house, the respect and sanction of the community abroad. Some apology was perhaps necessary, for his presuming to offer himself to the house on this occasion, which implied an assumption, that the person whom he should recommend as the most fit and proper, to discharge the arduous duties annexed to the chair, should immediately appear to the house to possess in a pre-eminent degree the assemblage of great qualities which was requisite for the office. He was aware, that there were many gentlemen in the house, who, by their abilities and conduct, and the authority annexed to their names and persons, were very capable of filling this important station with dignity and advantage. But there was something farther than mere personal qualifications which afforded not only a fair presumption, but even the assurance and full conviction, that the right hon. gent. he meant to propose was, even among the many other highly gifted persons whom he saw around him, the most worthy to fill the chair of the house in these times of difficulty. In addressing the house on this occasion, he had, in addition to the satisfaction of discharging a high public duty, a pride and pleasure in bearing his personal testimony to merits which he had long privately known, and which, the more he knew them, the more he esteemed and honoured, and the more he congratulated himself on his acquaintance with the person who possessed them in so eminent a degree. He anticipated, therefore, with peculiar satisfaction the testimony that he knew would be unanimously borne this day to every thing that he had said in behalf of his right hon. friend. It was a farther satisfaction to him, to think that the vote which the house would give on this occasion, would be distinct from all party prejudices and interests, the prevalence of which in that house, was on every occasion to be deplored; but the prevalence of which, at the present difficult and dangerous crisis, was particularly to be deprecated, as it might perhaps be pregnant with the ruin of these once flourishing, united, and happy countries. He was satisfied that, on the present occasion at least, no party feeling would find room among those he saw around him. This happy unanimity would enhance the pride and pleasure he felt on being permitted to address the house on this occasion; and he hailed the approaching unanimous election of his right hon. friend to the chair, as an omen of the future concord which he hoped to see prevail generally in the house. It was not necessary for him to descant on the qualifications requisite to fill the chair with propriety, as there were many gentlemen present who had repeatedly seen it filled in the most honourable manner. But, if he were called upon to give an instance of every thing that a Speaker of the house of commons ought to be, though the chair had, within his memory, been filled by many persons of very high and distin- guished merit, he should not hesitate to name the right hon. Charles Abbot. (a general cry of hear! hear!) If he possessed more eloquence, he could with pleasure dwell on the merits by which this right hon. gent. was so eminently distinguished and recommended. He could dilate upon the independence of his character, his accurate knowledge of the laws of the country, his intimate acquaintance with the forms and the practice of the house of commons, and his love of the constitution. But all praise must fall short of the merits which the house knew so well, and estimated so highly. The services which Mr. Abbot had rendered as chairman of the committee of finance, and as chief secretary for Ireland, were, however, so deeply impressed upon his mind, that he could not restrain himself from making particular mention of them. As a member of the committee of finance he had had particular opportunities of observing the meritorious conduct of his right hon. friend as chairman of that committee; and he had also particular reason to know, how much cause Ireland had to regret his being called from his high station in that country, to fill the chair of that house. Mr. Abbot was, in one word, in every sense, one of the best servants of the public; and if every other servant of the public, at the present time, and in the times to come, performed his duty with the same fidelity, zeal, and diligence, the country would find in such service, the most effectual means of extricating itself from the difficulties with which it was now encompassed. He should trespass no farther on the house, but conclude with moving, That the right hon. Charles Abbot, be called to the chair of that house.

Mr. Bankes rose

and addressed the house thus:—Sir, I never rose with more satisfaction to second any motion than I now do that which has just been submitted to you; because I am sure I am speaking the unanimous sentiments of those I address, when I say, that I am persuaded nothing could conduce so much to the dignity of this house, and the general interests of the country, as the placing such a person as Mr. Abbot in that chair, which he has already repeatedly filled with so much honour. As I speak in the hearing of many of those members who formerly sat in this house, it may be thought, that, as to them, it is totally unnecessary to enlarge; but there are now many amongst us who had not formerly a seat here, and therefore I hope they will excuse me for telling them, that there is no person who has exercised himself in the duties of that most important office, with more integrity, ability, candour, and fidelity, than the right. hon. gent. who has been nominated to their choice. He is a gentleman, who, to the most diligent research, adds the most profound knowledge of mankind, with great legal knowledge, extensive experience in history, and a great and accurate understanding in constitutional and parliamentary law. These are endowments which qualify him most abundantly to undertake that arduous and difficult situation to which we recommend him. The easy access which he gave to all who had occasion to consult him, is fresh in the recollection of many whom I address. To them, too, it is abundantly known, how usefully and honourably he filled the chair for several years. To myself it is a great gratification to feel, that in discharging what I conceive to be a great public duty, I am also obeying the call of a long and uninterrupted friendship. He was, sir, amongst the first of my friends in this world, and it is a great pleasure and satisfaction to me to find, in a great assembly of enlightened men, of great qualifications and parliamentary experience, that such a friend, whom I have known so long and so intimately, should be the person repeatedly deemed most fit to fill the situation of Speaker amongst us. I am sure that upon this occasion, as upon former ones, those who know his abilities, perseverance, and integrity, will again deem him most fit to resume it, and that those who have not known him so sufficiently as to have experienced his qualifications, will never have cause to regret their acquiescence in the opinion and choice of those who have. On these grounds I concur with my right hon. friend in every sentiment he has uttered, and beg leave to conclude with seconding the motion he has submitted to your consideration.

Mr. Cateraft.

—Sir, I never rose with more pleasure in this house, than I now feel in rising to express my concurrence in this motion. I have witnessed, in common with many others now present, the great talents, the industry, and becoming conduct of that right hon. gent., whose character and qualifications are now the subjects of discussion. He has formerly filled that chair in such a manner, that I think I should not be doing justice to my own feelings, if I did not say, that I do not know of any one individual so well qualified to fill that dignified and honourable situation, as that right hon. gent. In saying thus much of him I may perhaps by some be thought to be going too far with my eulogium, and I acknowledge they might think so with some degree of justice, were I to have formed this opinion merely upon the basis of those qualifications which have been touched upon by the mover and seconder of the motion. I do not mean to infer, that there may not be several men now present in this house, who, from their abilities, extensive knowledge, and experience, are perhaps equally adequate to the important and arduous task of filling that office: but, sir, under the present circumstances in which that right hon. gent. stands, and in the present situation of affairs, I think there are other considerations and other qualities which ought to enter into our consideration. I am convinced, I say, from this more comprehensive view of the subject, that the house could not make a more judicious choice than in electing that gentleman. I perfectly concur in every thing that has been stated concerning him. I approve of the detail Which the two hon. gentlemen have given of his character, While I do this, however, I must also be allowed to state, that from such qualifications alone does not arise the governing motive of my acquiescence. What more immediately tends to induce me to support this nomination, is that spirit of firmness and independence, with which he has always executed the high trust committed to him, and this, too, upon every occasion, but more particularly upon a memorable one, the circumstances of which are yet fresh in your recollection. The situation in which he was placed was, indeed, singular; but it was such as may occur again. I allude to a transaction which took place in this house, at a time when many who are now here were not present; an occasion, when, upon a division taking place, on the proposition of an hon. friend of mine (Mr. Whitbread), the numbers of the members on both sides of the question were equal. Such was the predicament in which that right hon. gent. was placed, when occupying that chair, to which we are now proposing to recal him; a predicament, in which he had a remarkable opportunity of exercising that firmness of mind which is so becoming in all situations of life, but particularly in that to which he had been called by the unanimous concurrence of this house. He gave, as it were, a form and body to the wishes of the people, by converting the propositions which were then submitted to us into resolutions of this house; I mean those resolution[...] which preceded the impeachment of lord Melville. Sir, what induces me more particularly to allude to this fact is, the circumstance of my conviction, that this must be an inquiring parliament, otherwise we shall find that the people will be infinitely disappointed in the expectations they have formed of those they have sent to it as their representatives. Upon such grounds, therefore, I think, that the high trust and responsability of a Speaker of this house cannot be delegated into the hands of any man with greater propriety, or with greater safety, than into the hands of one, who has already executed that situation with firmness and independence. What he has already done, upon a former occasion, we surely have every reason to expect he would not hesitate to do upon a future occasion. The firmness, the impartiality, the spirited and dignified independence, which he has already shewn, should certainly induce us to believe that he would act so again, should another similar opportunity offer. This, therefore, is my governing principle for voting for the right hon. gent. If his conduct upon that day had been otherwise, I most unquestionably would have voted against him. I do not deny, but, on the contrary, I admit, that he possesses all the qualifications which have been enumerated; but I mean fairly and frankly to own, that this last one, which I have stated, is with me the chief inducement, the governing principle which actuates my vote in his favour. Lest it should be said that I am introducing party principles, and party prejudices, I shall abstain from making any further observations; but, while I give my most cordial assent to the motion now before you, I cannot conclude without observing, that if ever there was a parliament likely to create great warmth of discussion upon great political and party top[...]cs, it is the present parliament, which is now for the first day, assembled.

Mr. William Smith

gave his hearty concurrence to the motion, and had great satisfaction in seeing recalled to the chair a gentleman who had acquitted himself in such a manner in the public and private duties of the office, as to prove himself possessed of the best disposition as well as the most perfect ability to fill it in the most beneficial manner. The discharge of the public duties of the chair in the house was a matter that came under the observation of every member. He should, therefore, say nothing on that head, though he believed there was the most ample room for commendation; but, in the private duties of the chair, he had more frequent opportunities than others to observe the punctuality of attendance, and the zealous endeavours to forward the business that came before him, by which the right hon. gent. now proposed established the strongest claim to the approbation and confidence of the house. It was unnecessary to add any thing to what had already been said; but he could not abstain from adverting to one expression which had fallen from the right hon. mover. The right hon. gent. expressed a wish, that all other discussions might be equally free from party motives as this. He could only say in answer, that if every proposition that should be introduced should be equally unexceptionable in its nature, no party interest should traverse it, at least so far as he was concerned. (An universal cry of chair; chair! Mr. Abbot, Mr. Abbot!)

Mr. Abbot

then rose. He said, the proposition which his right hon. friend had submitted to the house as its first act, so far as it concerned the magnitude of the duties annexed to the chair, received his fullest concur[...]ence. The history and practice of parliament, at all periods, confirmed that opinion. But if it had been thus matter of grave and solemn deliberation, at all periods, into whose hands the high, important, difficult, and delicate duties of the chair should be entrusted, a just sense of the difficulties of the times in which we live, difficulties, which might be expected to increase instead of diminish, must make it matter of particularly serious consideration now. The partiality of his friends had ascribed to him a capacity for discharging those duties, which, gratefully as he acknowledged it as a mark of their kindness, filled him with fear when it led him to a comparison of the arduous nature of the task, with his humble ability to execute it. He had further only to add, that if the house, in the exercise of its first privilege, should think fit to call again into its service the qualifications it had experienced in him, they should be exerted with the utmost zeal and ability of which he was master. With this he submitted to the pleasure of the house. (An universal cry of chair! chair!)—Mr. Abbot was then conducted to the chair by the mover and seconder of the motion, and when seated therein for a short interval he again rose and addressed the house thus:—Since the house has been pleased to place me again in this chair, I desire from this place to return you my humblest thanks, and most grateful acknowledgments, for this additional proof of your confidence and esteem. I have only now again to assure you, that while I have the honour of occupying it, I will constantly labour to deserve a continuance of your regard, by maintaining the dignity and authority of this house unimpaired, and by endeavouring to do so with fidelity and strict impartiality.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

availed himself of the usage of the house, to offer to the Speaker, not his congratulations, but the unanimous contratulations of the house of commons, and the unanimous congratulations of the public. The feelings of the friendship with which the Speaker had long honoured him, were alone sufficient to make him rejoice to see him again restored to a situation, which from every consideration, public and private, must be as desirable to him as it was honourable. But it was not so much from private considerations, as from a sense of the importance of the duties of the office, and of the peculiar qualifications to discharge them, that he exulted in the present appointment to the chair, to which the Speaker's former conduct in it gave additional lustre. The proper object of congratulation, was, not the Speaker, but the house, whose good fortune in providing so amply for the respectability, and utility of its presidency, could not be too highly estimated. On the first occasion on which the Speaker had been called to the chair, he had made the same modest comparison between the duties of the office and his sense of his own abilities to discharge them. To compare his feelings on that occasion, and on the present, was a thing that could scarcely be abstained from. The statement then offered of the arduous duties of the office, and of the incapacity, as the Speaker had been pleased to call it, of the individual to perform them, was then subject to the test of a severe criticism. There was fresh in the memory of the house the conduct of a predecessor in the chair, who in a time deeply marked with the violence of party conflicts, had so conducted himself as to acquire the unanimous approbation of men, who scarcely agreed in any thing else. Lord Sidmouth, the person to whom he alluded, was supposed to have possessed every quality which the idea of a perfect Speaker of the house of commons comprehended. It was enough to say, that on the comparison with him, the present Speaker was not found in any sense wanting. The dignity, authority, and utility of the character of the chair was as fully supported as at any former period; and the respect which it was properly entitled to command, was not in any the slightest degree diminished. All that could be wished now, was the continuance of the conduct already experienced. The trial to which the Speaker was called was less unequal. All that was necessary to his honourable acquittal, was to persevere in doing as he had done. Nothing could be so gratifying, as to be called unanimously to a station so arduous and so exalted, after so full a trial. The silent assent of the house would have been perhaps sufficient to mark its according approbation. But, from the express and declared concurrence of persons, who were not in other instances likely to agree, the most unequivocal sanction of universal approbation was given. Thus, however, in the frequent changes of administration that had lately taken place, the minds of men might differ, as to those who might be best qualified to hold the reins of government in the country, there was no doubt any where that the chair of that house could by no other person be so well filled as by its present holder. Conscious that he must fall infinitely short of giving an adequate description either of his own feelings, or of those which the house entertained upon the present occasion, he should conclude with moving, that this house do now adjourn.—The question being put from the chair, the house adjourned accordingly.