HC Deb 26 February 1884 vol 285 cc17-30

The House met at Four o'clock precisely, to proceed to the Election of a Speaker.

At Four o'clock, accordingly, the SERJEANT entered the House, and brought the Mace, and laid it on the Table.

Then the RIGHT HON-OTTEABLE WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE, addressing himself to the Clerk (who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down) said: Sir Thomas Erskine May, I have it in command from Her Majesty to acquaint this House, that having been informed of the resignation of the Eight honourable Sir Henry Bouverie William Brand, G.C.B., late Speaker of this House, she gives leaye to the House to proceed forthwith to the choice of a new Speaker.


then stood up, and addressing himself in like manner to the Clerk, said: Sir Thomas Erskine May, the kindness and indulgence of others has committed to me a task as agreeable as it is honourable; but which, perhaps, by strict custom and on the ground of fitness, might have been more properly given to some other Member. Sir, I desire to move that my hon. Friend, Mr. Arthur Wellesley Peel, do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. Sir, on this occasion I am precluded by almost unbroken custom from referring at all either to the character or to the services of the late Speaker; but, perhaps, this one sentence may be permitted to me—that the feeling of the loss which the House has sustained in the retirement of the Speaker, who, for 12 years, has exercised the authority of the Chair, makes me only the more deeply sensible of the grave responsibility which rests upon the House in the choice of his Successor. And now, Sir, for one moment I should like to advert to the only objection that I have heard raised anywhere to the selection of the hon. Member whom I desire to propose. I do not expect that that objection will be raised in this House, and I trust the House will pardon me for referring to it. It is that for some time my hon. Friend held Office in the Government. Now, if this should occur to the mind of anyone as an objection, I should like to say that it has not been held so in this House. Speaking upon the election of a Speaker, who is still living, and in the memory of some few who are still Members of this House, Mr. Wynn said, in the year 1839, that he desired to remind the House that four preceding Speakers had held Office before their election—Sir John Mitford, who was Attorney General; Mr. Abbott, who was Chief Secretary for Ireland; Mr. Manners Sutton, who was Judge Advocate General; and Mr. Abercromby, who was elected after being a Member of the King's Cabinet. Mr. Wynu justly remarked that, with those precedents before the House, if any complaint had arisen, it surely would have been noticed and commented upon, and continued— Instead of that, we have been called upon on every occasion to do justice to the fairness and impartiality of the successive occupiers of the Chair."—(3 Mansard, [47] 1043.) Indeed, Sir, having discharged the duties of Office with credit is a guarantee, at all events, of the ability of the holder of that Office; and, on the other hand, we should remember that strong Party feelings are not confined to the occupiers of the Treasury Bench alone. It seems to me that the question we have to ask ourselves is, not whether my hon. Friend has at one time or other in his life held Office, but whether we can regard him as a man possessed of that fair mind and impartial judgment necessary to fit him for the high Office of Speaker. It is well, no doubt, that our choice should rest on someone who has been, not too lately, engaged in those Party strifes which are the lot of the occupiers of the Treasury Bench, upon someone who has had some short time, as it were, to shake off the dust of the arena of Party conflict. I go even further than this, and, as far as my own judgment goes, I have no doubt that if, in search of the qualities that go to make an efficient Speaker, we should be led to one now holding Office, I do not think that that fact should bar us from the selection of the fittest man. Indeed, the importance of the Office is too great to allow us to narrow our choice in that way. Well, Sir, it is well that, for some reasons, the choice of a Speaker has to be made, not at the commencement of a new Parliament, when there is a large influx of hon. Members unacquainted with the Rules and Proceedings of this House, but at a time like the present, when they are familiar to the whole body of Members; and this very consideration makes it unnecessary for me to dwell at any great length upon the varied qualities and gifts which we must seek in a Speaker. He, indeed, will have been a poor observer of this House who has not seen what a vast influence the character of the Speaker exercises over our proceedings, and who has not realized how essential it is for us to appoint a Gentleman of high character and unstained reputation. The whole House has recognized the tact, the patience, and the firmness that are required in that Office—the strict impartiality and the cool judgment at a time when the minds of all men around are stirred in Party debate. Sir, the increasing strain of Parliamentary life, which we all feel, is intensified in the occupier of the Chair. I do not refer only to the physical and mental endurance that are required to keep vigilant watch over our long debates; but no one who has been long in the House can have failed to observe how the practice has been rapidly growing of late years of raising points of Order and pressing for the decision of the Chair repeatedly, night after night, and almost hour after hour. At such times the Speaker has to act alone. We do not always think enough of that; but, isolated as he is, he has to act alone, without the opportunity of one moment's consultation with Friends around him; and we must, therefore, look for great self-reliance in him. We, of the majority, are entitled to look to the Speaker to see that the Rules and Orders and the practice which govern our debates are not set aside or abused; but that this House, with due observance of them, both in the spirit and in the letter, is able to discharge its high functions both as a deliberative and a legislative Assembly; and, on the other hand, in the Speaker, the minority, however small, should find their friend and best protector in the just exercise of their rights. To him the House at large is accustomed to look to maintain its dignity and its honour, and to maintain also its great privileges. It was well said last night, by the Prime Minister, that this Office has no counterpart in any other Assembly; and as the Office is singular in its duties, so it is in the source from whence its authority is derived. No Resolutions inscribed on our Journals, no Standing Orders, no powers by statute will, for one moment, avail a Speaker who has lost the confidence of this House. His whole authority is based upon that confidence. It is a confidence which the greatest and freest Assembly in the world has been delighted to repose in its Speaker; and as it has been in the past, so I trust it will be in the future; and if, as some think, troublous times are in store for us in Parliament, I feel confident that the great body of the House will renew, from day to day, their confidence in the Speaker, and that the measure of that confidence will only be the need that can arise for it. Although this Office is singular, and the authority which is conferred upon the Chair is singular, it is happily true that our Parliamentary life seems to train up and fit men to discharge the high duties of the Chair. I believe that the qualities I have sketched are largely held and possessed by my hon. Friend (Mr. Peel). I might have attributed them to him one by one; but his presence on this occasion would have made it difficult for me to say all that I might have said. But this much, I think, I may truly say, that although my hon. Friend has not been eager to thrust himself on the attention and the notice of this House, yet those who have come nearest to him, who have known him best, and have had the greatest opportunity of watching him, whether in his official capacity, or acting as a private Member of this House, are those who have the greatest and strongest confidence in his success should he be called to the Chair. Long private friendship and deep respect for him would induce me to add more, if it were not that he sits near me now. I will content myself only with saying that if he is called to the Chair—as called to the Chair I hope he will be by the unanimous voice of this House—I hope that much, on the ground of the strength it undoubtedly lends to the position of the Speaker to be so called—then, I think, he will be able to uphold the dignity and honour of this House, and to maintain our Privileges intact from whatever quarter they may be assailed, and that he will show himself a worthy inheritor of a proud Parliamentary name, and an able Successor of the many illustrious men who have filled that Chair before him. I beg to move—"That Arthur Wellesley Peel, Esquire, do take the Chair of this House, as Speaker."


Sir Thomas Erskine May, I rise, with great pleasure, to second the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), though I need not assure the House that it is only in deference to judgment superior to my own that I have ventured to undertake to do so. However, I have the great advantage of following my hon. Friend. Our confidence in his knowledge of the Business, of the customs, and of the traditions of this House is so complete, that it would seem unnecessary for me to add anything to what he has said of the qualities required to fill the Chair of this House—the one great Office of State, justly described as that— Which does not depend upon the nomination of the Grown, but proceeds entirely from the election of the people. I need not, therefore, detain the House for more than a very few minutes. "We shall all agree with what my hon. Friend has said in proposing that the hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. Arthur Peel) should be called to the Chair, which has been filled by the late Speaker with traditional firmness and courtesy, and with admirable tact and dignity. My hon. Friend has spoken of the increased strain to which the exigencies of the present day subject the Speaker. But beyond the causes for this which he enumerated, beyond the vastly increased work of domestic legislation, the discoveries of science have brought the most remote corners of our Indian and Colonial Empire—and, indeed, every part of the world where Englishmen and English interests are found—into instantaneous communication with the Government and with this House. Events happening in Tonquin, Lahore, Constantinople, Pretoria, or New Guinea, and the action or suggested action of the Government thereon, are inquired into and debated in this House within a few hours of their occurrence. Formerly they were dealt with without reference home, or debate here, by our Representatives on the spot, and were debated, if at all, as accomplished facts by a few leading men on both sides. Now, many Members of this House understand, or believe that they can with advantage discuss, the Colonial, Imperial, or foreign policy of the country, and are stimulated to do so by the interests and wishes of their constituents. A congestion of the Business of the House has, consequently, taken place, which is without precedent in the history of this country. And, at such a time, it is of the first importance that the Chair should be again filled by one whose imperturbable temper, calm judgment, and unfailing tact shall command from all sides the cheerful recognition of his authority; by one who will know how to confine our debates within legitimate limits, without interfering with that freedom of discussion which is necessary for the enlightenment of the people as to the management of their affairs; and for the sound decision of those weighty questions on which their welfare and the safety and honour of this Empire depend. This is an occasion on which this House will naturally wish to be guided by the experience and wisdom of those who have preceded us; and I find that the words of the father of the hon. Member for Warwick have been quoted on a similar occasion by one of his most distinguished political opponents as the most pregnant declaration of the qualities necessary to enable the Speaker to preside over the councils of this House with dignity, ability, and success. Sixty-five years ago the late Sir Robert Peel said of the Speaker— Whatever may be his talents or attainments, I consider it absolutely necessary that he should possess the confidence of the House. That confidence no attainments can command, while we bow with ready deference to high integrity and lofty-minded independence. I shall carry the House with me, if, still using the language of his illustrious father, I appeal to everyone who knows the hon. Member for Warwick— Whether throughout his intercourse with mankind he has ever met with a man of higher honour, of more spotless integrity of character. I will only add that it is the happy fortune of our country often to find the heritage of ability, statesmanship, and patriotism among its families. It will, therefore, be congenial alike to the historical traditions and to the feelings and interests of our political life that we should to-day find the man fitted to preside over and guide the deliberations of this, the first of Representative Assemblies in the world, in the son of an illustrious statesman, who, as Leader of the House, added to its glorious traditions, and attained the foremost place in the affections of the people and in the councils of the nation. Believing that, in the words of Lord John Russell— He will so preserve order in this Assembly as to conciliate even those whom it may be his duty to reprove, I have the pleasure to second the proposal that the hon. Member for Warwick should be invited to become the Speaker of this House, a position once described by Lord Beaconsfield as— The highest honour which English gentlemen can confer on one possessing their confidence and esteem.


, being unanimously called to the Chair, submitted himself to the House, saying: Sir Thomas Erskine May, the House will believe me when I say that it is with no ordinary weight and sense of responsibility that I rise to address it; and, first, I hope that I may be thus far permitted the indulgence of personal feeling as to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), and my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), for the terms which they have used in reference to myself. Although I cannot appropriate to myself any of the expressions which they have used, I attribute them, however, to the generosity of their feelings, and to their personal friendship towards myself. Sir, I am under no illusion as to the presentation of my name to the House for the great Office of the Chair. I know very well that circumstances have favoured the presentation of my name; I know that there are many men—men among whom I am now speaking—men not only on this side, but on the other side of the House, whom the House might well have preferred to myself to fill the great Office of the Chair. But I know very well, Sir, how much I am indebted above all things—it would be unnatural in me if I did not avow it in the face of the House of Commons—I know how much I am indebted for the favour which the House has thus far shown me to the fact that I am the son of a statesman, whose history and whose labours are identified with the story and with the debates of this House; whose public services are indelibly written in the records of his country; and whose name is warmly cherished in a multitude of British homes. Sir, knowing all this, and feeling all this with an intensity which I can but imperfectly express to the House, I am all the more sensible of the weight of responsibility which attaches to me on those accounts. I know that, if the favour of the House shall elect me to that Chair, I have a great example before me in the case of the right hon. Gentleman who has just quitted that Office. That example will be useful to any Gentleman who may succeed him, but it is one which it will be difficult indeed to follow. The example that he has set has presented a model which one may strive to follow, but which one can never hope to attain. Sir, the difficulties of that Chair, as has been already observed, have not diminished of late years; and I, diffident, as I am under any circumstances to present myself to the House, should feel that those difficulties were insurmountable, if it were not for one thing—that I am confident that if I should be elected to the Chair, and should humbly and firmly try to do my duty, and to act up to the great example which preceding Speakers have set me, I shall have that without which I should be powerless indeed, without which the best Speaker who ever sat in that Chair would be bereft of all power and authority—I mean the moral support, and assistance, and co-operation of this House. Sir, it is to that support and co-operation that I shall look, if the House shall elect me, in dealing with the difficulties of the Chair as they arise. And I hope, Sir, I will make no professions when professions may be so soon tested by experience; but I wish to say this to hon. Gentlemen, that I know full well what is the greatest attribute and ornament of that Chair. I know how necessary it is for any man, who aspires to fill that great Office, to lay aside all that is personal, all that is of Party, all that savours of political predilection, and to subordinate everything to the great interests of the House at large. Humbly, Sir, trusting in that support, I shall endeavour to maintain and to sustain intact the Privileges of this House; to maintain the Rules and Orders of the House; to maintain not only the written law, but, if I may say so, that unwritten law which should appeal to, as it always does appeal to, the minds and consciences of the Gentlemen of the House of Commons. If I have that support, I trust I may be permitted, not only to carry out the formal Rules, but to enforce that unwritten law, and, Sir, to promote and to hand on unimpaired, as they have been handed down by those who preceded the late Speaker, to those who shall succeed me, the traditions of this House, and, over and above all, its most cherished and inestimable tradition—I mean, Sir, that personal courtesy, that interchange of chivalry between Member and Member, which I believe to be compatible with the most effective Party debates and feeling, and which I am sure is one of the oldest, and, I humbly trust, may always be, the most cherished tradition of this great Representative Assembly. Sir, with these few words—and I trust the House will not think I have unduly trespassed upon its time—I sit down, humbly submitting myself to, and placing myself in the hands and at the disposal of, this House.

And Mr. PEEL

, being again called to the Chair, was conducted to the Chair by Mr. Whitbread and Mr. Rathbone; where, standing on the upper step,


said: I am very deeply sensible——


I rise to address Sir Thomas May—[Cries of "Order!" amid which the hon. Member resumed his seat.]


, resuming: I am very deeply sensible of the honour—the great, and, to me, unexpected honour—which the House has done me by calling me to this Chair. I can only say, Sir, that the best energies which I possess will be devoted to the service of this House. I again humbly and respectfully thank the House for its indulgence, and pray for its generous support.


thereupon sat down in the Chair; and the Mace was laid upon the Table.


I rise, Sir, to discharge a duty which custom assigns to a person holding my place in the House of Commons—namely, to congratulate you with deep cordiality on the high honour to which you have attained. Sir, I do not consider myself as offering these congratulations in virtue of a connection with a particular Party. I conceive that tradition has assigned to me on this occasion this particular duty, on account, not of my connection with a Party, but of the share attaching to me in the regulation of the Business of this House for the convenience and advantage of all concerned. I venture, therefore, in some sense, to treat myself, observing what has been the usage on former occasions, as expressing the general sense of the House, when I tender to you their congratulations. One word, perhaps, I may be permitted to say in a more personal capacity. You, yourself, following the example of the I Mover and Seconder, have alluded to the name you bear; and I may, without impropriety, I think, say that to me it affords no common gratification to witness, and to assist in the elevation to so high a position of the son of a man whose follower I have been, and for whose name and character, down to this late hour of my life, I retain an unbroken and undiminished veneration. Sir, we have known you heretofore only as an able, experienced, and as a respected Member of this House; we shall now know you as an essential part of the vital organization of the Assembly, for no words can express the closeness of the connection that subsists between the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Assembly over which he presides. We shall expect much from you in the high Office you have assumed. We shall expect the exercise of all those qualities you are well known to possess; and especially of that impartiality to which you have referred as the vital and central quality without which every other would fail to win for you that support in the House which is absolutely necessary to the discharge of your Office. We shall expect from you all those counsels in private which your Predecessors have been accustomed to give to every Member of the House as a most valuable assistance in the discharge of its labours, and, expecting from you so much, I trust we shall be willing and anxious to render you something in return. You know, Sir, and the world knows, but the world does not know so fully as we know, the labours of that Chair—that its responsibilities and the anxiety and the difficulty of its duties have grown in a measure even transcending and exceeding the increase of its labours. In your possession of the Chair, but not in your possession of the Chair only, but likewise in your assumption of it at a time when the calls upon its occupant have been so greatly multiplied and enhanced, you will find your title to a support and confidence, as I believe, from every Member of the House, which it is absolutely necessary to render, if we care, I do not say for your character and reputation, which are dear to us all, but if we care for the character and reputation of the House itself, which are dearer to us still, and which are dear to the country in a degree that words fail me to describe. I have thus ventured to convey to you sentiments which I believe to be not my own personal sentiments, but the common sentiments of the House. It is my duty to acquaint the House, in closing, that I have received the command of Her Majesty to signify to the House Her Majesty's pleasure that the Speaker whom they have elected be presented to-morrow, at Two of the Clock, in the House of Peers, for Her Majesty's Royal Approbation.


The Leader of the House, Sir, has addressed the House in accordance with usual custom upon this occasion, and it is equally in accordance with custom, I believe, that I, holding another position, should say a few words in support of that which he has said. I am convinced that I speak the sentiments of all those who sit in this part of the House, when I say that we echo and cordially adopt the opinions and sentiments that have been expressed by the Proposer and Seconder, and by the Leader of the House, with respect to your high personal qualifications, and the claims you have upon our regard and esteem. You, Sir, are no stranger in this Assembly. We have known you long, and we have learned to honour and respect you. And I may add, that in the eloquent and powerful words which you have addressed to us upon the present occasion, we find additional confirmation, were it necessary, of your personal character and ability, Sir, we took note of your words, and we were sure that the sentiment would be yours in which you truly said that in taking that Chair you divested yourself of all Party, or personal, or political character; and we feel assured that in the conduct of the Business of this House, we, and all who sit in it, in whatever part we may sit, will receive at your hands that equal, fair, and impartial treatment, and that protection, if need be, from any difficulties that may come upon us, for which the House has always been in the habit of looking to its Speaker. If your nomination may be said to be due to the Ministry, or the Government of the day, it has been, at all events, accepted generally by the House. Sir, it would ill become me, and it would not become the House itself, to anticipate the action of future Parliaments; but this I may safely say—that so long as you occupy that Chair you will receive on the part of all the Members of the House a full, and entire, and an undivided confidence.


It had been my intention, Sir, before you had been placed in the high Office you now occupy, to address a few words to the Clerk of the House who occupied the position of President in the interval which preceded your election; but the words I intended to utter will come just as well now under your presiding authority. It must be well known to those who have observed my course of action in this House that I have been swayed by no consideration other than that of doing justice to the cause I am advocating, and to the body which I have the honour to address. The Proposer and Seconder of your nomination as Speaker laid special stress upon that great fact which used to be the dominant fact in the function of Speaker of this House, that, above all things, he is the protector of the rights of minorities. I did not hear, Sir, in the eloquent words which you addressed to the House, any distinct repetition of the pledge given in your behalf by your Proposers; but I am certain that after your solemn and emphatic declaration of your resolution to put aside every partial feeling, that you will implicitly accept it, and reiterate that declaration of your intention to be the protector of the rights of minorities, as well as Speaker of the House at large. It is not my desire, nor my intention, to resuscitate memories which your own declaration of perfect impartiality should put to sleep for ever; but it was with the utmost satisfaction that I heard your solemn declaration that, from the moment you took your seat in that Chair as Speaker of the House of Commons, the Member for Warwick and all his political antecedents disappeared from the proceedings of this House. For my own part, I certainly trust that I may be able to show myself one of your most obedient subjects; and, trusting above all things that you will resume the ancient tradition of protecting the rights of minorities, I add my humble approbation to the distinct commendations you have received.


I now move, "That the House do now adjourn until To-morrow, at Two of the Clock."


put the Question, which, being agreed to, the House was adjourned accordingly, and Mr. Speaker Elect went away without the Mace before him.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Five o'clock.