HC Deb 08 February 1872 vol 209 cc148-53

I now rise for the purpose of making two Motions which are substantially one, and of which I gave Notice yesterday. All the Members of the House, Sir, had been made aware, before we met to resume our arduous labours, of your intention to quit the Chair. Yet at the same time, although the intelligence was not new, the formal and final announcement of it was received with universal pain. We felt we were about to be separated from one whose aid in the conduct of our labours we could ill afford to lose, and of whose kindly offices towards all Members of the House, as well as of whose efficient assistance to the House at large, we must ever remain individually and collectively reminded. In expressing this regret I wish also to express for myself—with the fullest confidence that, however imperfect my manner, I speak the sentiments of the entire House—the deep acknowledgments which ought to be made on our part towards the person who has with efficiency executed the duties of the Chair. I am not aware that there is in this country an appointment—I would rather say an institution—more characteristic of the country than the Speakership of the House of Commons. I have often felt much difficulty, in conversing with foreigners, or even with Englishmen not conversant with the business of the House, in conveying to their minds the true nature of the relation which subsists between the Speaker of the House of Commons and this great Assembly, and the immense importance which we attach to the due performance of the duties of the Chair. Within these walls are concentrated the principal powers by which the work of Government is discharged over this vast and varied Empire. But these powers of the House of Commons never can be exercised in a manner perfectly satisfactory and perfectly corresponding to their nature unless the functions of the Chair be committed to hands that are thoroughly competent to discharge them. Sir, I believe there is no doubt at this moment—and there will be no doubt hereafter—as to the manner in which these functions have been discharged by yourself. We expect much from our Speaker, even in point of physical strength. We impose upon him tasks, and we ask from him exertions such as few men, even in the flower of life, are thoroughly competent to make; and our regrets, Sir, at losing you are upon this occasion enhanced by the intelligence that the severity of these labours has made a perceptible though, I fondly trust, only a temporary impression upon your health. But, apart from physical exertions, we require much mental power; we require a combination of qualities not ordinarily met with. An old poet has told us— Non bene conveniunt, nee in una sede morantur Majestas et amor"— I am not about to translate these words as applicable to the case; but I will modify the sentiment which they contain, by saying that it is difficult to combine the dignity required for the discharge of the public duties of the Chair with the courtesy, the ease, and the kindness that are not less essential to a Speaker in his constant and unceasing intercourse with the individual Members of this House. But that union, difficult and rare, we think, Sir, it has been granted you to realize. I am not about to endeavour to make a catalogue—a fulsome and at the same time irksome catalogue—of the qualities that have commonly been displayed by Speakers of this House, important as they are. But, looking to that which is eminently characteristic, I must humbly presume to say, from a long experience extending over several Speakerships, that in my judgment, besides our general debt to you, we are under special obligations for your great attainments in what may be called the learning of this House. I believe that the Speakerships have been few in which the energies of the cultivated and intelligent mind have been more uniformly and energetically, or more successfully, directed towards the study of all that concerns the constitutional character as well as the mere forms of this House, and towards giving practical effect to the treasures of knowledge thus acquired both in the regulation of our proceedings and in the improvement of the rules by which they are regulated. There is, however, one point upon which I should like now to remark, although it refers more particularly to the second Resolution. It has been the custom of the Legislature to mark services of this character by the grant of a pension as well as by an Address to the Crown, praying that a symbol of honour, in the shape of a Peerage, might be conferred on the Speaker. The usual course will, without doubt, be taken with respect to the latter of these two methods of proceeding; but it will be interesting to the House to know that it is not the desire of the present Speaker that any burden should be imposed upon the public for the purpose of conferring upon him personal emoluments. I may be, perhaps, permitted to quote the words in which you have thus signified your desire in this respect. Several months ago you wrote to me as follows:— Though without any pretensions to wealth, I have a private fortune which will suffice, and for the few years of life that remain to me I should be happier in feeling that I am not a burden to my fellow countrymen. Though. I am far from saying that the grant would have been grudged, the generous foregoing of that grant will undoubtedly be appreciated most warmly. It remains for me only to convey to you, in language of deep sincerity, the best wishes that I can entertain, and that all of us can entertain, for your future happiness. I trust that this is not the occasion of your retirement; but it must be the occasion of your passing to a post of less severe responsibility. So long as life may be granted to you, the powers of your life and the faculties of your mind will, we are assured, be exercised by you for the advantage of your country. We trust that the exercise of those powers may be accompanied with every condition of honour, comfort, and satisfaction to yourself, and I beg—may I not venture to say?—we beg to assure you that in leaving that Chair you will carry with you, and can never cease to retain, our lively gratitude, our profound respect, and our cordial attachment. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— That the Thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for his distinguished services in the Chair during a period of nearly fifteen years; that he be assured that this House fully appreciates the zeal and ability with which he has discharged the duties of his high office, through many laborious Sessions, and the study, care, and firmness with which he has maintained its privileges and dignity; and that this House feels the strongest sense of his unremitting attention to the constantly increasing business of Parliament, and of his uniform urbanity, which have secured for him the respect and esteem of this House.


Mr. Speaker—I have the honour to second the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. I esteem it a great distinction, though I will not attempt to conceal that it is an office I fulfil under the present circumstances with profound regret. The reference which the right hon. Gentleman has made to your high qualities and your eminent services has met, I am sure, with a response from the breast of every hon. Gentleman on this side of the House. You have brought to that Chair, Sir, Parliamentary learning, varied accomplishment, and especially that refined taste and that high breeding which, whatever may happen to us, I trust will ever be the characteristics of the House of Commons. As to that spirit of impartiality so important in the position which you occupy, I should not be doing justice to my own feelings—and, what is much more important, I should not be doing justice to the cause of political truth—were I not to bear witness that, although we belong to different political connections, during the long period that you have filled that Chair no cloud ever rose between us. And when, Sir, during that period, I was called on to discharge the principal business in this House, I am sure I should not have been equal to the occasion, or obtained from the House its generous and indulgent acceptance of my efforts, had I not been sustained by the valuable and vigilant aid which you ever afforded to me, and which was absolutely inestimable. I trust that in the comparative retirement which awaits you your health will be restored, and that you will be enabled to resume, in the service of your country, the exercise of those talents which we so highly appreciate. In another House of Parliament I am sure you will not forget that in which have been passed more than two-thirds of your life, and in which you have obtained such eminent distinction. I am sure also I am not misinterpreting the sentiments of all who are present when I say that your authority here will never be appealed to but with reverence and respect, and your name never mentioned but with esteem and affection.


addressed the House, as follows, all the Members being uncovered:—It would be difficult for me to make an acknowledgment, in suitable terms, for the distinguished compliment, and the high honour which you nave conferred upon me. When fifteen years ago Lord Palmerston wrote to ask whether he might propose my name for the office of Speaker, I did not at once consent. I felt much hesitation. I considered myself little prepared for the duties of the office, and the proposal had taken me by surprise. It was only upon the urgency of my friends that I consented to undertake the post. The House was pleased to accept me on probation, and without question. In consequence of the disposition then manifested, I entertained a hope that I might count upon receiving the general good will of the House, and not of one party only. I have not been disappointed in this hope—witness my re-election, in three successive Parliaments—still more completely by what has taken place today. I received from my predecessor a well-ordered inheritance. I trust that I shall transmit it to my successor unimpaired, and perhaps in some points strengthened. I have received the valuable services of the gentleman who now worthily occupies the chief place at your Table—distinguished not only for his great attainments in Parliamentary lore, but on all points, for a sound and discriminating judgment. For such humble services as I have been able to perform, you have this day presented me with the greatest reward to which any public servant can aspire. I will not further detain the House: I will only offer a fervent prayer for the continued honour of the House, and for the well-being of all and each of its Members.

And the Motion being put by Mr. SPEAKER from the Chair, it was Resolved, That the Thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for what he has said this day to the House, and that the same be printed in the Votes of this day, and entered in the Journal of this House. Resolved, Nemine Contradicente, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that She will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of Her Royal Favour upon the Right Honourable John Evelyn Denison, Speaker of this House, for his great and eminent services performed to his country during the important period in which he has, with such distinguished ability and integrity, presided in the Chair of this House. Ordered, That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by such Members of this House as are of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council.