HC Deb 05 August 1886 vol 308 cc4-12

(addressing himself to the Clerk, who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down)—Mr. Palgrave, in obedience to the gracious communication which, we have just received from Her Majesty in "another place," it becomes the first duty of the House of Commons to proceed to the election of Speaker; and I feel it a special honour that I have been requested, on the present occasion, to propose as a candidate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, feeling more than confident that the name of Mr. Arthur Peel will be received with the utmost cordiality and with the unanimous approval of the House. It is hardly necessary for me to refer to the past services of Mr. Peel in the Chair. They are well known to all hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have had the honour of a seat during the last two Parliaments; and I am quite confident that one feeling is uppermost in their minds, and that is one of gratitude to him for the way in which he has fulfilled the arduous duties of the Chair in the past. But I would venture to say to those hon. Gentlemen who are about to take their seats for the first time in the House that they must have realized full well, as the outside public has done already, that Mr. Peel has fulfilled the arduous duties, the responsibilities, and the heavy burdens of the Chair with the greatest possible ability; and, further, that he has, on every occasion, shown the greatest impartiality and justice on all sides. He has, certainly—and the House will agree with me entirely when I say it—he has, certainly, a perfect knowledge of the traditions, the usages, and the forms of the House, and he has exhibited on all occasions the greatest possible self-possession, and the soundest judgment and ready decision. When appealed to upon any question as regards the Orders and Rules of the House, his ruling has met with the unanimous approval of the House; and any hon. Member who has had, from time to time, to seek his advice or assistance upon any occasion, has always received the greatest possible courtesy and kindness at the hands of Mr. Peel. In fact, I think I may say that Mr. Peel has, in the past, exceeded even the most sanguine expectations which were formed of him when he was first elected to the Chair, and I cannot conceive for one moment that the House of Commons can have one moment's hesitation on this occasion as regards the selec- tion of a Speaker, when we have amongst us a tried and honoured right hon. Gentleman, who has proved himself on all occasions not only able but most anxious to uphold the dignity and to protect the time-honoured Privileges of this House. In proposing Mr. Peel as Speaker, I believe I am doing so in strict accordance with former precedents, and also, as I have said before, with the unanimous approval of the House of Commons. It has been said, on a former occasion, by a Prime Minister in this House, that the Speaker of the House of Commons ought to have the purity of an English Judge and the spirit of an English gentleman. These qualities, I most unhesitatingly say, Mr. Peel possesses most undoubtedly in every possible respect. I believe him to be the most eminently qualified Member that we have amongst us to occupy the important capacity of Speaker, and I hope most earnestly that his health and strength may long be spared to enable him to occupy the Chair, and that he may be willing to do so with the approval of the House, in an Assembly that we and the nation are so justly proud of. It is out of no disrespect to the House, or to Mr. Peel, that I do not speak at greater length on this occasion, because the House will feel with me that it would be most difficult to say what one would really wish to say in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman; and I believe I am right in saying that it is his own wish that the proceedings of to-day should be as brief as possible. Therefore, Mr. Palgrave, I have only now to move—"That the Right honourable Arthur Wellesley Peel do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian, and Leith)

I desire, Mr. Palgrave, to second the nomination which has just been made, and I concur altogether in the sentiments which the hon. Member who preceded me (Sir Edward Birkbeck) has very well expressed, There was a time, Sir, when the chief function of the Speaker was to defend the Privileges of this House against external attack. Dangers of that kind have passed away, and the chief function of the Speaker—one may say almost practically the exclusive function of the Speaker—is to defend the House against itself—that is, to vindicate its authority against any individual Member who may not be sufficiently sensible of his duty. And that function, I am afraid, Sir, in modern times, has become still more arduous and difficult than was the original office of defence against aggression, which, in former times, constituted the chief characteristic of the place that he holds. But, Sir, on this occasion, as the hon. Member has well said, we are not dealing with an untried man, and we are not dealing with new circumstances, inasmuch as though the Parliament be new, yet I believe the disposition of all Members who have sat in former Parliaments, and the disposition of those who are now taking their seats for the first time, is alike unanimously favourable to the high claims of Mr. Peel. We feel, Sir, that he has fully answered the expectations that were formed of him at the time when he was first invited to take the Chair. We require, indeed, much from our Speaker. We require from him knowledge and application. We require that he shall combine the greatest tact with the greatest decision. We require from him a singular degree of readiness and a singular degree of exactness. These things are not always so easily united; but, above all, we ask from him temper and a judicial mind. I cannot help offering one remark of congratulation, both to my right hon. Friend and likewise to the constituency that he represents, with respect to the peculiarity of his position. It appears to me to be a remarkable example of discretion on his own part—which can surprise no one—and likewise of forbearance and of discretion on the part of his constituents, that he should not have been called upon, on the occasion of the recent Election, to enter into the details of the sharpest of all controversies which at present exist among us, but that those whom he represents should have been entirely satisfied with his references to his former conduct, and former declarations at periods removed from the present time. I cannot but feel, Sir, that in that conduct and forbearance of his constituents my right hon. Friend will have a new and special advantage in the discharge of a most difficult part of his functions. We must not conceal from ourselves that the functions of Speaker in this House are rendered much more difficult at a period when, instead of being sharply and simply divided into two political Parties, between themselves making up the whole House, the House at present is rather—for a time it may be, but undoubtedly for the time—broken rather into sections. With respect to one of these sections in particular, it has been its unhappy fortune, from causes I need not dwell upon, to find itself in conflict at most periods with a majority of the House, at some periods almost with the whole of it, and at all periods with a large and important part of it; and to administer justice to a small Party thus situated is, no doubt, an office of extreme difficulty and of extreme responsibility. Nor is it possible to give a stronger proof of the highest confidence in the possession by my right hon. Friend of all the qualities needed for a Speaker—and for a distinguished Speaker—than it is if we can feel, as I, for one, entirely feel, that in doing justice even in a case so peculiar as that, my right hon. Friend is entirely qualified and will succeed in the great task in which he is about to embark. It is quite unnecessary for me to enter further upon this question. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the acknowledgment of his past services—the marked acknowledgment of those services which he is now receiving from the apparently unanimous disposition of the House of Commons again to mark its confidence in him by bestowing upon him the very highest honour in its power. At the same time, it is taking undoubtedly on its own behalf the very best security it is possible for it to take for preserving its dignity, its order, and the efficiency of its work. I beg, Sir, to second the Motion.

The House then unanimously calling Mr. PEEL to the Chair,


stood up in his place and said: Mr. Palgrave, I think I shall be best consulting the convenience of the House if, on the present occasion, I address it in the fewest and simplest terms. But I should, first of all, wish to discharge an obligation which I readily own, and most readily pay, to the hon. Baronet the Member for East Norfolk (Sir Edward Birkbeck), and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) for the terms in which they have spoken of myself, and for the manner in which they have submitted my name to the judgment and arbitrament of the House. I say that I shall use but few words on this occasion. It will not I hope be supposed—I hope it will be an impossible supposition—that if I say but little I shall at all undervalue the honour that is involved in the bestowal of the dignity of that Chair, or that I, in any way, underrate the great responsibilities which attach to that position. No, Sir; my reason for speaking briefly is this—that if it should be the pleasure of the House to elect me to-day to fill that Chair, I shall have been within the short space of seven months twice elected to that dignity, and I shall have been three times within 30 months chosen as Speaker of this House. Not, Sir, that the repetition of that honour in any way blunts my sense of it, or that I feel less deeply grateful to the House and every Member in it for this bestowal of the dignity and this mark of their approval. I have the honour of addressing new Members, as well as those who have sat in previous Parliaments. There are many new Members in this House—not so many as so markedly signalized and characterized the constitution of the last Parliament—but if I may be permitted to address myself for a moment to those new Members, I would say that if, in the course of my occupation of the Office of the Chair, I have gained any experience, such experience as I possess is entirely at their service for the purpose of facilitating their acquaintance with the technical Rules, Forms, and Proceedings of this House. And while I offer to new Members, as to old, what little help I may be able to render them in that way, I, on my part, make an appeal to new Members as well as to old—an appeal which I should only be justified in making to-day on the supposition that it is the pleasure of the House to elect me. The appeal, Sir, is this—that they will maintain, as it is the interest of every man among us to maintain, the dignity and authority of the Chair. It may be necessary, in the course of time, to adapt our technical and written Rules and Proceedings to the changing circumstances of the day. I have nothing to say to what may be the pleasure of the House in that respect; but I appeal to all Members alike to observe, not only the written Rules, which may from time to time be changed, but those conventionalities and usages which are amongst the proudest heritages of the House of Commons. Sir, if we observe those Rules—if we observe the best spirit of those traditions, we shall be obtaining the best guarantee and security for the maintenance of freedom of debate, and we shall be doing what in us lies to promote to the utmost that which tends alike to individual and to collective liberty. Sir, I shall say no more upon this occasion, but humbly place myself entirely at the disposal of the judgment of the House of Commons.

The House then again unanimously calling Mr. PEEL to the Chair, he was taken out of his place by the said Sir EDWARD BIRKBECK and the said Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE, and conducted to the Chair.

Then MR. SPEAKER ELECT, standing on the upper step, said: Standing once again in this place by the favour of the House, I desire to repeat my deep acknowledgments to the House for the honour which they have done me, and to assure them that as long as health and strength are given me I shall endeavour to maintain the Privileges of this House, and study to the utmost to promote its interests.

And then the Mace, which before lay under the Table, was now laid upon the Table. Then—


rose, and said:—Sir, in the unavoidable absence of my noble Friend who is to lead this House (Lord Randolph Churchill), and in the absence of many distinguished men who sit on this side of the House, and owing to the accident of circumstances which I need not explain, the great honour has fallen upon me to tender to you, Sir, in the name of the Members of this House, our most hearty congratulations on your re-appointment to that Chair. Sir, you have to-day been appointed to the highest Office which it is in the power of this House to bestow. You have been appointed by the unanimous voice of the House. You have been appointed for the third time to that position which you now occupy. On the occasion of your first appointment, a most favourable estimate was made of the manner in which you would discharge the duties of your important and responsible position; and those who have had the privilege of sitting in the last and the preceding Parliaments have been told by experience that the estimate which was then formed has since been fully and completely fulfilled. Sir, you were appointed at a time when the work was most arduous, and sometimes exceedingly difficult. You were appointed in the place of one who had filled with distinguished ability that Chair for many years—one of whom I may say that he had won, in a remarkable degree, the confidence and affection of every Member of this House. Sir, the position which you occupy must always be a difficult one. It is rendered none the less difficult, may I say, with all respect to those who now fill the position, by the loss of one—the late Lord Farnborough—who sat at this Table for so many years, and who possessed in a singular and remarkable degree information and knowledge as to the Forms of the House, which were always at the disposal not only of the Members of the House, but of the Speaker for the time being. Sir, the position which you fill can only be filled satisfactorily, if it is filled by one possessing the confidence of the Members of this House, and by one who is assured of the support of the Members of this House. Sir, your unanimous re-appointment to that position is sufficient proof of the confidence of the Members; and I will venture on their behalf to say that in the position which you now occupy you will have the full and complete and cordial support of every Member of this House. To you, Sir, is entrusted the guardianship of the undoubted Rights and Privileges of every Member of the House. It is because we believe that you will maintain with dignity those Rights and Privileges, and it is because of our confidence in your strict impartiality, judgment, and decision, that we have the greatest satisfaction in your re-appointment. Although the honour which has fallen upon me is one I extremely value, and although I am conscious of the imperfect and inadequate expression which I have given to the voice of the Members of this House, I none the less sincerely and most earnestly, in their name and on their behalf, tender to you our hearty and warmest congratulations.


I beg to move that this House do now adjourn, and in making that Motion I wish to state that the House will meet to-morrow at 12 o'clock for the approbation of Mr. Speaker Elect, and for the swearing in of Members; and it is proposed that at 4 o'clock a second Message should come down from the other House authorizing the issue of new Writs. That Message will be drafted in such a way that the new Writs can be moved at once.


put the Question, which, being agreed to,—

The House was adjourned accordingly, and Mr. SPEAKER ELECT went away with, the Mace before him.

House adjourned at a quarter before Three o'clock till To-morrow.

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