HC Deb 12 January 1886 vol 302 cc5-18

, addressing himself to the Clerk), who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down)—Sir Thomas Erskine May, in obedience to the gracious communication from Her Majesty, which we have just listened to in "another place," it now becomes the first duty of the House of Commons, as it is its ancient and undoubted Privilege, to proceed to the Election of a Speaker. I feel it, Sir Erskine May, to be a high honour and a great gratification that I have been requested on this occasion to propose as a candidate the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Arthur Peel), with the confident assurance that that name will be received with cordial approval, and will meet with universal assent. Two years ago the House of Commons sustained a serious and a signal loss by the retirement of so able and experienced a Speaker as Sir Henry Brand; and I do not think I shall be guilty of exaggeration if I say that at no period of our history, and under no circumstances, was the choice of a fit person to fill that Chair a matter of greater public interest and concern than it then was. The heated debates of 1881, the intervention of the Speaker, the extraordinary powers subsequently conferred upon Sir Henry Brand, the prolonged controversy over the New Rules in 1882, all were fresh in the recollection of the House. I believe the question we all anxiously asked was—who among the Members of the House could be found capable of sustaining the unremitting toil, of bearing the heavy burden, and the immense responsibility of so arduous a post? I think I may say that it was a matter of universal congratulation when the choice of those who were concerned in the original selection and nomination of a fit person to fill the Chair fell upon Mr. Arthur Peel. The son of a great Commoner, of a great Prime Minister, and a great Leader of this House, bearing the name of England's most illustrious hero—Mr. Arthur Wellesley Peel seemed to have double claim upon the confidence of this House and upon the respect and affection of the British nation. But he had other claims, and stronger claims—personal and individual claims—which recommended him to the notice of the House of Commons, and which were his real recommendation for the high post for which he was selected. He was known for his high and independent character, for his spotless integrity, for his unvarying courtesy. [Loud cheers. Mr. BIGGAR: No, no!] He was known to have had experience of official life; he was known to be thoroughly conversant with all the work of the House of Commons. His name was received with acclamation. He was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), in a speech which still lingers in our memories. His Proposer, on that occasion, in forcible, dignified, and eloquent language, enunciated those Constitutional doctrines which should guide the House of Commons in the selection of a Speaker, and then proceeded to make special application of them to Mr. Peel, grounded on long and intimate knowledge of his personal character. Mr. Peel was called to the Chair by the unanimous voice of the House. And we were at once assured of the wisdom of our choice, for as soon as he was elected the Speaker Elect, standing on those steps, before he proceeded to take his seat in the Chair, addressed the House in words so striking, so weighty, so dignified, and so becoming his high station, that I believe we felt, every one of us, that he had raised by that address the moral tone of the whole House. We were satisfied that we had found in Mr. Peel a worthy Successor of the most distinguished men who had preceded him in the Chair. It is not for me, on this occasion, to review his conduct in the Chair. I feel myself precluded, in his presence, from saying that which I should like to say both in a personal and public capacity. The whole House is, I believe, perfectly conscious of the high opinion entertained of Mr. Peel; but this much I may say—and no one will, I believe, deny it—that he has fulfilled, to the utmost, all the anticipations of his most sanguine supporters. He has conducted himself in the Chair with dignity. He has presided over our deliberations with ability and impartiality. He has exhibited clear apprehension, ready decision, sound judgment, self-possession, and resolution. He has proved himself well acquainted with the Rules and Orders of the House. He has shown himself capable of protecting all our Privileges. He has discharged, in an admirable manner, other duties, not less arduous, not less important, though less conspicuous. He has watched carefully over the course of our Private Business. He has been kind, courteous, and accessible to every individual who has ever sought his advice. He has enjoyed and retained the confidence of the House of Commons—a confidence which I boldly say neither rank, nor attainments, nor inheritance of proud name, nor personal prestige, without high personal character, can ever command or insure. I propose, therefore, to this new House of Commons, composed to so large an extent of new Members, representing so many new constituencies, an old, an honoured Speaker, tried and approved by the last House of Commons. I propose him in accordance with all the best precedents which are to be found recorded in our Journals during the last two centuries—the best period of our Parliamentary history. I propose him especially in accordance with the precedents which regulated the re-election of Mr. Manners Sutton in 1833, of Mr. Shaw Lefevre in 1841, and of Mr. Brand in 1874. I cite these precedents because I think they prove the usage of continuity in the Chair, and the importance which the House has always attached to that continuity. Such continuity has long been recognized as adding weight and authority to the Speaker for the time being. But, besides and beyond this, I emphatically propose Mr. Peel on his own merits; because I feel assured that the House at large is well convinced that there is not at the present moment, within these walls, any other man so pre-eminently qualified to guide and direct our deliberations, to maintain our Privileges, and to hand down unsullied to remote posterity all those lofty traditions which have ever appertained to the unique position of Speaker of the House of Commons. I beg now, Sir Erskine May, to move—"That the Right honourable Arthur Wellesley Peel do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."


Sir Erskine May, I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion submitted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John P. Mowbray). The House will feel, as I feel, that there is very little to be said after the admirable speech in which he has introduced this subject to the House. To hon. Members sitting in the Parliament now about to commence who had seats in the last Parliament, and in the last Session, it seems absolutely unnecessary to say a word in favour of the candidate before us. But to the new Members what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman is of importance. I know not that I ought to trouble the House with anything like a repetition of it; but, at the same time, I feel disposed to add two or three sentences to those which ho has offered. What qualities are required in the presiding officer of the House of Commons have been, to a certain extent, described. To new Members it must, I think, be clear, although they have no acquaintance with what has been done in this House heretofore, that it is absolutely necessary that the Speaker should have a very complete and minute knowledge of the proceedings of the House, and of its modes of transacting Business. That, I think, we have found in our late Speaker, as I doubt not we shall find in the Speaker who is to come ample knowledge of that kind. At the same time, with regard to the question of courtesy, I have observed that the Speakers who have sat in that Chair daring the 40 years that I have been in this House have been themselves marked for their courtesy to individual Members. There are abundant cases in which Members require to consult the Speaker on little difficulties that arise, or as to points in their own procedure; and I have looked sometimes almost with wonder, but always with great admiration, at the manner in which applications of this kind to the Speaker, from every part of the House, have been received by him. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the Speaker whom we are about to elect we shall find this courtesy as conspicuously displayed as it has been by those who have preceded him. Then there comes the question to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and to which I would refer in one sentence; and that is the idea, the opinion, and the faith we have that whosoever occupies that Chair should be a man of inflexible impartiality, that there should be no taint of Party feeling or of Party spirit to influence him, or attach to hint, or be suspected of him, in any of the transactions with which he is connected. Then we have another quality to which also some reference has boon made, and that is the quality of courage and firmness. In a House like this, composed of more than 600 Members, debating with a freedom not surpassed, I suppose, in any other Legislative Assembly, there occur cases in which I should say that excitement and passion take the place sometimes of calmness and of reason. The questions discussed are so great, they interest so many, the feeling of Party sometimes is so strong, that it would be deplorable and a lamentable tiling if we had, in the Chair of this House, a feeble man, wanting in courage and firmness on these occasions. Well, I think, judging by the past, that in placing Mr. Peel in that Chair we shall have the confidence that, while he will do justice to every Party and every section in the House, at least he will be certain to do this—to uphold the dignity of his own Office, and to support the authority of the House itself. I think I have said pretty nearly all that is necessary in regard to this matter. I believe that the House is disposed, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite has suggested, by a unanimous vote, to elect Mr. Peel to that Chair. If they do so they will confer upon him a signal honour, and they will do a signal service to the House itself, and to the millions whom we are supposed to represent within these walls. Of Mr. Peel I will say that ho bears a name famous in the annals of Parliament; and I believe that if he is elected to that Chair, when the time shall come that his time of service shall be completed, it will be found that ho has not lessened that fame, but has rather added to it. I beg, Sir, to second the Motion that Mr. Arthur Wellesley Peel be called to the Chair of this House.


Sir Erskine May, in the absence of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell), the Leader of the Party with whom I have the honour to act, it is not my intention to offer any opposition to the Motion just submitted to the House, or to what seems to be the general decision of the House. It would have given me pleasure if I could have sincerely joined in all the commendations which have been passed on the Gentleman whose name has been proposed to-day. It would have given me pleasure even if I could have abstained on this occasion from saying a word or two on behalf of the Party with whom I act in this House. But, Sir Erskine May, it would be the merest affectation and something like hypocrisy on my part, and on the part of those on whose behalf I now speak, if I were to allow the language of unmitigated eulogy which has been poured out in regard to Mr. Peel to pass without some form of protest. I myself, Sir Erskine May, had on the Books of this House, for a lengthened period of last Session, a Notice of Motion inviting the House to say that, on one occasion at least, Mr. Peel did not act in an equitable and impartial manner as regards one Party in this House. Several of my Colleagues also had on the Books of this House Notices of Motion of a similar kind referring to the same, or to some other and similar, transaction. The House, therefore, will understand that, without any wish to introduce debate on a question of this nature, it would not be possible for me or my Friends to allow it to go forth to the country—after having endeavoured as well as we could last Session to obtain a vote from this House finding fault with Mr. Peel's conduct for want of impartiality—it would not be possible for us to allow this Motion to pass without protest, and to allow it to go to the country that we admitted that Mr. Peel was right in his action towards us, and that we were wrong when we endeavoured to induce the House of Commons to censure him for that action. I have no wish to intrude longer on the attention of the House. So far as I am personally concerned, in my relations with Mr. Peel I have received nothing but kindness and courtesy at his hands. But I am not speaking now of Mr. Peel, the private Gentleman whom we all respect, nor even of him as Speaker of this House in his ordinary relations with Members; but I am speaking of him as an officer of this House, who, in my firm and sincere belief, acted on more than one occasion with a distinct want of that impartiality which is one of the noblest qualities in a Speaker, and for which he has received such high, and I might almost say such unmeasured, praise to-day. Beyond entering that protest, in order that it may not be supposed that I and my Friends concur in the compliments which have been paid, I shall not further detain the House.

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


stood up in his place and said: Sir Thomas Erskine May, I respectfully thank the House for the manner in which they have received the mention of my name. I should be altogether wanting, Sir, in the discharge of the obligations of courtesy, and I hope I may add of friendship, too, if I failed to thank the right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John E. Mowbray) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) for the terms they have used towards me in respectively proposing and seconding my nomination to the Chair of this House. Two years ago, Sir, it was the pleasure of this House to elect me to fill that Chair. They have been two years of eventful history. I speak not of the mere personal considerations which arise in connection with them. No Speaker could have occupied that Chair for those two years without having the importance of that time pressed steadily upon him individually. But I may say that if I have learned, as I have learned, much during the occupation of that Chair for two years, I have above all things learnt this—more deeply to appreciate and more fully to estimate the difficulties and the delicacies which surround the occupant of that Chair. And I am more deeply conscious—I say it unaffectedly—I am more deeply conscious than I ever could have been before of my own shortcomings and failure to act up to the great traditions of that Office. Sir, these have been eventful years; they have resulted in a General Election, conducted, as it has been, under a Reform Bill and a Redistribution of Seats Bill. The result has been that we are now mot together in this House with an infusion of new Members such as has never been paralleled for the last 50 years. As one who has sat in this House for 20 years, may I remind those hon. Gentlemen who, conversant as they are with business of great importance outside this House, are yet taking their places in this Assembly for the first time—may I remind them, as I wish to do without presumption, that the Rules and Forms and Proceedings of this House are wedded to remote antiquity; that many of them which seem to be new are developments of the old; and that, while we have adopted new Rules to suit the supposed requirements of the day, we have ever been influenced by a regard for precedent and old times. Many of our Forms and Rules are old; some are new; some are girt with the prescriptive dignity of immemorial custom. Sir, if I am elected—if it is the pleasure of the House to elect me to that Chair, I shall appeal with equal confidence to new Members as to old. I shall ask them to approach those Rules, Forms, and Orders, with that generous and equitable spirit in which alone they ought to be approached, whether they have to be interpreted and administered on the one hand, or have to be complied with on the other. I shall, above all, Sir, ask for the forbearance of the House. No one knows better than I how much I shall stand in need of it. The position of a Speaker, the moral strain upon him, to say nothing of the physical tedium, are great calls and demands upon any individual. Whatever those burdens may be, Sir, whatever those difficulties may be, they are lightened if one can feel assured that one will have the co-operation and support of the House. Without that support the position of a Speaker is untenable and intolerable; but there is ample reward for anything that may be gone through in the discharge of that Office—I would say more, those difficulties, which I have alluded to, vanish altogether if one can be assured that in some small measure, at least, one has won the confidence of the House of Commons. Sir, I respectfully thank the House, and I very humbly place myself at its entire disposal.

The House then again unanimously calling Mr. PEEL to the Chair; he was taken out of his place by the said Sir John R. MOWBRAY, and the said Mr. BRIGHT, and conducted to the Chair.


, standing on the upper step, said: Standing in this place, I beg again most respectfully to thank the Members of this House for the great honour they have done me, and for the dignified Office with which they have been pleased to invest me. I shall remember all I have said; and I beg to assure the House that I shall, above all, try to exercise that virtue of impartiality to which allusion has been made. I shall strive to know no distinction of Party, but to appeal, with the utmost confidence, not to one section of the House or another, not to one Party or another, but to the entire Assembly of this House of Commons.

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


rose and said: It is my agreeable duty, in the name of this House, to tender to you, Sir, our hearty congratulations upon your unanimous election, for the second time, to the high and honourable Office of Speaker of the House of Commons. That Office, Sir, is, as you have already stated, one of great labour and great anxiety; but it is something more than that. It is an Office requiring the highest qualities in anyone who can successfully perform its duties. The highest sense of honour, the strictest impartiality, not only as between different Parties or sections, but as between all the Members of the House; the power to maintain with dignity and firmness, but also with temper and with tact, due order and liberty in our proceedings; a capacity for rapid and accurate judgment, by which alone the Speaker can deal with those many and difficult questions which so often occur, and which have to be decided in a moment under very unexpected circumstances—this, Sir, is a combination of qualities which very few individuals are fortunate enough to possess; and yet such qualities are essential to the successful performance of the duties of Speaker of this House. But, Sir, there is something more without which even those qualities cannot secure success, and that is the possession of the confidence of this House. That confidence, Sir, you have already won. When, nearly two years ago, you succeeded in that Chair a man whose long and admirable services had won for him the respect and the affection of the House of Commons, you stated, with becoming modesty, that in your judgment the choice then made was, at any rate to some extent, dictated by a recollection of your near connection with that great man whose Dame will always stand as one of the first in our Parliamentary history. Then, Sir, you were reminded by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) that much was expected from you. That expectation has been more than fulfilled. If, at that time, the name of the father had any influence in determining the choice of the House, though that name can never be forgotten, yet, to-day, we choose you on account of the proved merits of the son. We congratulate you on your election to that Chair. We congratulate ourselves still more that we have been able to make such a choice. I have dwelt upon the qualities necessary for a Speaker. You, Sir, have reminded this House that we owe to any Speaker our cordial support. I think, Sir, I may say that that support will be warmly and continuously accorded; for I believe that this House, which more fully and more completely represents the people than any previous House of Commons, will be mindful, with the best of its Predecessors, that the authority of the Chair must be supported in order to secure that order and regularity in our debates without which it is impossible for this House to maintain the character which it should enjoy of a working, business-like Assembly, fittingly representing the people of this great country.


Sir Erskine May, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), in the excellent though brief address which he has delivered on the present occasion, has, I am quite certain, expressed the sense, not only of those who sit behind him and who may be considered as the supporters of his Government, but of the House at large. At the same time, Sir, I think it may not be out of place if, in conformity with the usage of at least some former periods, I venture more directly, on behalf of those with whom I am more closely associated in political opinion, to echo from this side of the House those assurances of support and confidence which the right hon. Gentleman has wisely and ably delivered. Sir, in the course of more than half-a-century I have witnessed changes in this House, among which, undoubtedly, none is more undeniable, none more conspicuous, than the very great change that has taken place in the character of the Office you have again been elected to fill. It is not, I think, saying too much if I affirm that, at the time when I entered Parliament, the choice of a Speaker was a matter comparatively easy; and the demands made upon him, though even then very great, yet were demands which might have been satisfied by not a very large proportion, perhaps, but yet by an appreciable proportion of the Members who sat on the Benches of the House. One historical incident which illustrates the change which I refer to is this that within the last 100 years Members were chosen to the Speakership at a very early period of their life. It is now felt that, among the essential conditions of that Office, independently of all other gifts, a large experience—a great Parliamentary knowledge, founded upon experience and even habit, are among the primary and indispensable qualifications for filling the Chair. In truth, Sir, the demands on our Speaker have reached a point at which I will venture to say they will admit of no further augmentation; for if it were to happen that changes in the habit of mind, of thought, and of speech, and of conduct in this House became less favour-able than hitherto they have happily been to the authority of the Chair—if, also, there were to be any weakening of that strong and powerful alliance in which the mass of the House habitually stands with the occupant of the Chair—then I do believe that the strongest mind, that the firmest nerve, that the best intentions, that the most distinguished talents must necessarily fail under the burden that in such case would necessarily lie on the Speaker. But, Sir, I feel that, in this instance, that is not the case. In the few words that have been spoken to-day by way of protest on behalf of a particular Party—a third Party—in this House, I did not read any more than what was felt to be, by the person who spoke them, the reluctant fulfilment of what was to him a conscientious duty. I have no doubt that it may have occurred to that hon. Gentleman, as it will have occurred to others, that the relations in which he and his Party have stood to the Chair on some occasions have been strained relations, and relations in which it was hardly within the compass of human possibility that perfect satisfaction could be given to the individuals immediately concerned, and perfect satisfaction given to the general obligations of the Speaker. But, Sir, I wish to say that, in the speech of the hon. Member, I did not detect—I do not read in it—any indication of a disposition to relax the duties incumbent upon himself and upon other Members of this House towards the Chair; rather I recognize in it an acknowledgment of those duties; and I earnestly hope that the circumstances in which the hon. Gentleman now appears may render it, perhaps, more easy for him to conduct his relations with the Chair in future contingencies than it has been in the past. But, Sir, one thing I wish to say, and for the purpose of saying it I was especially desirous to rise. Allusion has been made, and has been very properly made, to the change in the composition of this House brought about by the important Acts for the extension of the Franchise and for the Redistribution of Seats. I remember, Sir, very well, at the time of the first Reform Bill, there were great and perhaps not unreasonable apprehensions in the mind of the Government of the day—the Government of Lord Grey—as to the increased difficulties which the Speaker might find in controlling the debates and proceedings of the House of Commons, in consequence of the very large number of new Members elected, and to a certain amount of change in the circumstances and classes to which those new Members belonged. Happily, Sir, in effect, the practical result was entirely to dissipate those apprehensions. I have carefully watched, from time to time, what the effects have been of the successive widenings of the popular basis of this House; and I do not hesitate to say, as a matter of fact, that those classes of Members which have been introduced into the House in consequence of that widening of the basis have borne, and will bear, no disadvantageous comparison in respect of conduct, in respect of submission to the Chair, and in respect of disposition to support the Chair, and to observe in all particulars the order and the courtesies of this House—will bear no unfavourable comparison with the class who, up to the year 1832, had almost a monopoly of the House. Sir, it is not necessary to dwell upon the particular qualities which are now so urgently necessary in the Speaker, and which have been so admirably stated by those who have preceded me. I will only observe this—that it is quite conceivable that there might be in this House Gentlemen with qualifications not only good, not only high, but absolutely incomparable for many of the purposes which it is the business of the Speaker to serve, and yet who might be totally disqualified for the satisfactory discharge of the duties of that Office; because, Sir, it is in the combination of a great number of qualities, a number of qualities not easy to unite together, often apt to run in different directions—it is in that combination and in that happy balance that alone can be found that sum of qualifications according to which the Speaker in the Chair will give satisfaction or will not give satisfaction. Sir, the House believed, when you were chosen, that we had found in you that happy balance and that combination which would enable you to deserve and to win their confidence. Your name gave you a favourable introduction to the notice of the House; but your name, at the same time, heightened the expectations and heightened the demands which were made upon your mind and your powers. You now, however, have no longer to rest upon your name, or to depend upon anticipations alone. In looking to your past, Sir, I feel the most confident expectations of your future. It is with these expectations that I venture to congratulate the House upon the thorough harmony of to-day's proceedings; and I venture to congratulate you, Sir, upon having again received, in so marked a manner, one of the highest honours that can be conferred upon a British citizen, in the ascription to you of the great Office you have again been elected to hold, and the conferring of which Office is, above all things, the note, the stamp, and the seal of your possessing the thorough and unbounded confidence of the House of Commons.


I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.


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 after Three o'clock till To-morrow.

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