HC Deb 04 August 1892 vol 7 cc5-16
*(2.20.) SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY (Lancashire, N., Blackpool)

Mr. Palgrave, in accordance with the gracious communication we have just received from Her Majesty, it becomes the first duty of the House of Common as it is our ancient and undoubted privilege, to proceed to the election of a Speaker. I hope I may be allowed to express my own personal feeling that no greater pleasure, no greater honour, could have been conferred on me than that I should be invited to propose for re-election to that high office my right hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Warwick and Leamington. I do not doubt that the name of Mr. Peel will be accepted by the House with unanimous, nay, I may say with enthusiastic, approval. I am convinced that all Members of this House, old Members and new Members alike, will feel—the old ones from long experience of him, the new Members from that general public repute which my right hon. Friend has earned—that this House will be indeed fortunate if able again to secure the services of a Speaker so well tried and so successful. We have been accustomed to look to our Speakers to uphold the honour and dignity, and to maintain the privileges of this great Assembly, which is the guardian of the liberties of the people. We have looked to them to enforce with rigid and severe impartiality the rules of order and debate, so that there may be in this House perfect freedom of speech and due regard paid to the privileges of majorities and minorities alike. We have looked to them, perhaps above all, to erect a high standard of public honour, and to promote and carry on those unwritten laws of mutual courtesy and good feeling which ought assuredly to be the key-note of all our proceedings, and which are among the most revered and most valued traditions of this House. In the past we have never looked in vain for men of high and independent character, and of pre-eminent ability, to carry out these duties; and at the present moment I am sure I shall carry with me the whole feeling of the House when I say that Mr. Peel, during his long service in that Chair to which he was elected by a happy choice some eight years ago, has maintained to the utmost the noble traditions of his distinguished predecessors, and I will venture to say has added additional lustre even to the honoured name he bears. The authority of the Chair is based upon, and is derived from, the confidence of the House. Without that confidence no Standing Orders, no powers, however conferred upon the occupant of the Chair, can be, or ever will be, of the slightest avail. If we have been accustomed to expect from our Speakers—as we have expected from them—great capacity, great abilities, and power to perform the most important functions, we have at the same time on our side, we, the House of Commons, always given them our confidence—always have we reposed confidence in them. The occasions are frequent, and they occur most unexpectedly, when the Speaker is called upon, unaided and alone and at once, to decide upon difficult points which may have most supreme consequences—points which require not only accurate knowledge of the forms and precedents of the House, but which demand the greatest courage and firmness to apply those precedents to the exigencies of the moment. The voice of the Chair is the voice of the House, and it is of the supremest importance that every individual Member of this House should, from his inmost convictions, feel that confidence in the Chair without which, I will venture to say, there can be no security for order or adequate protection for liberty of debate. I am sure that I carry with me the conviction of the whole House when I say that in this respect also Mr. Peel has pre-eminently shown qualities which have, during his tenure of office, added to the due authority and efficiency of the Chair, and have in the most marked manner earned the approval and confidence of the House. I hope I may be permitted to add that there is no Member in any quarter of the House who has had occasion for the advice and assistance of Mr. Peel, as Speaker, who has not experienced at his hands the most kindly attention and the most unwearied courtesy. I am confident that I am right in saying there are in every quarter of the House the most strong feelings of personal regard and friendship for him. I feel, therefore, the most profound belief that when I am proposing the re-election of our tried and honoured Speaker of now three Parliaments there will be no discordant note whatever in the House; but, on the contrary, there will be an unanimous feeling that the House will be wise if it again puts faith in a man so well qualified to guide its deliberations and to maintain its dignity. The demands upon the physical strength of our Speaker are, as we all know, serious; and I rejoice—we all rejoice—that in the case of my right hon. Friend that strength, however at times it has been sorely tried, has proved itself adequate. I heartily trust that we may congratulate him, with truth, upon health unimpaired, and I express the hope, on behalf of the whole House, that he may be long spared to fulfil those honourable and arduous duties to which I now propose the House should again call him. I move—"That the right honourable Arthur Wellesley Peel do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."

(2.30.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)

Mr. Palgrave, the hon. Baronet (Sir Matthew White Ridley) who has just sat down has expressed, in the course of his speech, a hope well warranted, I think, by the circumstances of the case, that on the occasion with which we have now to deal there will be no discordant note in the proceedings or in the discussions of this House. Sir, I rise to meet, so far as. depends upon me, the expression of that hope; and I feel confident that with regard to all for whom, or in whose name I may even in the slightest degree be entitled, presumably, to speak, that I can echo back in their fulness the just encomiums which the hon. Baronet has pronounced upon the character, and the conduct, and the proceedings of the late Speaker of the House. Sir, the hon. Baronet himself has dealt with this subject in a manner as just as it was ample; and I have the satisfaction of thinking that while I am able to adopt, I think, every expression that fell from the lips of the hon. Baronet, he has left me little indeed to add. There is one word that perhaps I may say. I may anticipate, without the slightest doubt, in reliance upon what has already taken place, the unanimity of these proceedings, and I venture to anticipate the compliments which, had there been an uncertain issue before us, it might have been wiser to reserve—the compliments and congratulations which I may offer to my right hon. Friend, with whom, in addition to my experience of him in the Chair, I have enjoyed the privilege of a long friendship, dating perhaps from the middle part of my life, and from an early period indeed in his. Within these recent years, and especially within the period of my Parliamentary life, great changes have taken place in regard to the Chair. At all times, I apprehend, the Speaker—although he may be regarded only as a single individual, yet as representing a position, and an influence, and a power so great—forms an integral and essential part of the existence of the House of Commons. The Speaker ceases in a manner to be an individual when he takes the Chair, and the House of Commons never can be well unless the Speaker is firmly lodged in the Chair, not only by the vote of the House, but by the unquestioning confidence of its Members. But, Sir, the change of which I speak is this—that although that great office has always been an office of very high elevation and demanding qualifications of no uncommon order, unquestionably one of the most marked among the changes that time has brought with it in respect to the Chair—so far as my own experience is concerned—has been the extraordinary increase in the demand made upon the Speaker of the House. I do not mean in formal additions to his duty—I do not mean in those additions which the increase of the volume of business naturally and necessarily brings with it; but I do not hesitate to say that great as was this office in the time of men like Mr. Manners Sutton—afterwards Lord Canterbury—it was an office comparatively small in regard to what it now is, and in regard to the calls that are made upon its occupant. Undoubtedly the activity of political life in the nation, its energy and vitality and the rapidity of its movements, are thoroughly reflected in the proceedings of this House. There is, I believe I may say, according to my experience and my conviction, not the smallest tendency to a diminution in the minds of Members of the House of the respect and authority due to the Chair. I am fully convinced that whatever changes may take place, the practical good sense of the people of this country will continue to keep alive, and to keep high in the mind and conviction of every Member of the House, a sense of the necessity of the deference due to the Chair. But that deference may be paid with a greater or less degree of willingness according to the manner in which the power is exercised. And undoubtedly, Sir, I may offer to the gentleman whose name is now before the House this congratulatory expression—that as it appears to me, great as was the honour always conferred upon the Speaker of the House by his selection for so important a position, that honour has undergone an aggrandisement—a real and a true aggrandisement—in proportion to the increase in the difficulties as well as in the increase of the volume of the duties imposed upon him. Sir, we do not expect infallibility from our Speakers; that is beyond the claims we are entitled to ask; but we expect from them much—great acuteness, wide knowledge, great patience, and the disposition and capacity to acquire a thorough mastery of all questions, however difficult they may be, that may arise in the course of the proceedings of this House. We expect from them—in a degree unusual with respect to high offices of this kind—that readiness of mind which, as the hon. Baronet has well said, is essential to the Speaker on a multitude of occasions with regard to which you cannot tell when they will arise, but you know they must arise frequently, and the Speaker must act upon the moment, and act without assistance. Sir, all these things we have found in the mind and character of my right hon. Friend. But we have found beyond them all this—a sense of personal honour and a knowledge of the duty of absolute and, if possible, more than judicial impartiality, and these so deeply impressed upon the mind as to form a leading characteristic of the individual and of his character. The Speaker of the House must, as the hon. Baronet has well said, possess the confidence of the entire House. This is a proposition which cannot be too often repeated and too deeply felt. If our debates from period to period come to be of more and more interest, and there be more and more difficulty in maintaining the line of absolute and unswerving rectitude, it is more and more important that that sense of honour and impartiality should be raised to the very highest point of which the human mind is capable. The Speaker of the House of Commons must stand not only beyond complaint, but beyond the faintest breath of suspicion. For that breath of suspicion falling upon his reputation it is too possible might not require to be embodied in a complaint, so subtle would be its agency and so fatally and surely it might underwork his influence. Sir, these are the demands which I have endeavoured to state without diminution or extenuation, and which I have so stated in the strongest terms, because I am able confidently to add that the whole of those demands have been satisfied in yourself, Mr. Peel. I believe I have deviated unconsciously in making by a single word a reference to my right hon. Friend. He will, however, understand how I was led into that error. But, addressing the House, I repeat that, in my opinion, it is impossible to deny that on all these points which I have named, and some of which undoubtedly involve questions of the utmost difficulty, and questions involving much more than an ordinary sense and an ordinary standard of honour and integrity—on all these points, essential points, on which the dignity and authority of the office depend, even more than upon the formal vote of the House of Commons, we have looked to the late Speaker for satisfaction, and we have obtained that satisfaction entire and unqualified. I, therefore, Sir, with most lively pleasure on my own part, and, I believe, on the part of all those who have had on this side of the House an opportunity of forming judgment for themselves, take upon me to second the Motion that has been made—"That the Right Honourable Arthur Wellesley Peel do take the Chair as Speaker of the House of Commons."

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

*(2.41.) MR. A. W. PEEL (Warwick and Leamington)

Mr. Palgrave, I am very keenly and deeply sensible of the honour and favour which have been conferred upon me by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Blackpool Division (Sir Matthew White Ridley), and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), in respectively moving and seconding my nomination to the Chair of this House. I very deeply appreciate, moreover, the honour which the House appears to do me by ratifying the remarks that have been made. I cannot appropriate those expressions to myself, but I am none the less grateful to those gentlemen for having presented me in so favourable a light. I cannot also forget, Sir, that I am indebted to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) for having first presented me to this House in the year 1884. I cannot forget that twice during the year 1886 the right hon. Gentleman once made what is called the congratulatory speech to me after I had assumed the Chair, and on the second occasion, in August, 1886, seconded my nomination to that office. I do not propose to say much on the present occasion. I cannot bring before the new Members of this House—who constitute a large proportion of it—I cannot produce before them any qualifications for the Chair; and to the House at large I cannot say anything that is novel or interesting, the less so, perhaps, because this is the fourth occasion on which it has been my honour to be placed in the position which I now occupy. I hope the House will pardon me making what I confess is, almost a strictly personal observation. If it be the pleasure of the House again to elect me to that Chair, it will be the fourth occasion on which I have been called upon to fulfil the duty.

For a Member of this House to be called four times to that Chair is an unusual circumstance. It is certainly not unprecedented, for Mr. Speaker Denison and Mr. Speaker Shaw Lefevre both were called four times to fill the Chair; and going back to an earlier period, one Member of this House, Mr. Speaker Onslow, was certainly elected five times to fill the duties of the Chair. I hope, as I said, the House will pardon this personal consideration. It is not, however, a question how often a Member of this House is called to that Chair; it is a question how he fulfils the duties when he is placed there. It may be a small thing to say, but I hope it may count for something, that if I am placed there it will be my endeavour to discharge, to the best of my abilities, the duties, the ever increasing duties—increasing in their onerousness and responsibility—which attach to the occupant of that Chair. If I fill the Chair again I shall be attached to the House by a lengthening chain of obligation for having elected me so often, but I shall look for any success that may be achieved, not to myself or to any personal efforts of my own; I shall look to the support of every man in this House. Without that support a Speaker can do nothing; with that support there is little that he cannot do. I shall ask then the support of every hon. Member, old and new, on whatever side of the House he sits, to whatever Party he may belong. That support I ask for in endeavouring to uphold the traditions which, in the course of centuries, have grown around the history of this House. That support I ask for in applying those rules which from time to time the House has been pleased to make for the enforcement of order, and for what is saving the same thing—the freedom of debate. Lastly, Sir, I shall look to the House at large for this purpose especially. The Speaker, without the support, as I have said, of the House can do nothing; but when he sits in that Chair with the support of hon. 'Members, he will be able to do something to sustain the character of the House—a character which I hope has lost nothing of its true meaning and importance in the eyes of this country, the deep importance of which I hope has not been impaired. He will look to the House to support him in maintaining those high attributes which have attached to this House, and which have from year to year given to it a special value and a peculiar character, and which have raised it to so high—I may be pardoned here for saying, so commanding a position—amongst the great Legislative Assemblies of the world. And now, Sir, I thank the House very humbly and very respectfully for the honour they have done me in receiving the few remarks I have made in the way they have. I submit myself to the House, and I am conscious, indeed, of many imperfections which the kindness of the House has overlooked. I now place myself unreservedly in the hands of the House, and await its judgment.

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

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

(2.49). THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)

In accordance with the immemorial custom of this House, it now falls to me to offer you the congratulations of the House upon your election to the Chair. Under any circumstances, Mr. Speaker, it would seem to me that to have that honour conferred upon you must be a subject of congratulation. But that it should be conferred for the fourth time gives it a significance which only those acquainted with the course of our Debates can fully appreciate or understand. It is, perhaps, inevitable, human nature being what it is, that we look with somewhat different eyes upon the rights of the majority and the privileges of the minority in this House, according as we sit upon your right hand or your left. But most of those who now hear me have been in this House under your Speakership, both as members of a minority and members of a majority; and, Sir, the unanimous decision which has just been come to is conclusive evidence—looked at from either point of view—that Members of the House, after a long experience, are of opinion that there is no man among their ranks so worthy to be entrusted with the responsibility they have just conferred upon you. If I may say so, Mr. Speaker, there is another ground of congratulation on this occasion. I think if there is any man who ought to be congratulated it is he who undertakes duties of very great difficulty and very great onerousness and very great responsibility, and who knows himself, and is known by all, to be equal to every call and every demand which those duties can possibly make upon him. The occupants of your Chair, Sir, have from time immemorial had very important duties to perform. They have had, in times now long gone by, to protect the interests of this House from external aggression. They now have duties cast upon them very different in kind, and, if I may venture to say so, far more weighty and important. We ask from our Speaker not merely a great knowledge of the traditions and precedents of this House, not merely kindliness and courtesy, not merely an impartiality which is above suspicion, but we ask from him also tact and rapidity of decision under circumstances often of great difficulty; we ask from him great Parliamentary courage; and we ask from him, above all, those qualities which can only be described as the qualities of personality, without which the most profound knowledge of Parliamentary precedents would be absolutely useless and inoperative in the occupant of that Chair. Sir, you in some respects may be said to embody not only the traditions of the House, but the public conscience of the House, so far as the conduct of Debate is concerned; and on you, therefore, rests, more than on any other single Member of this House, responsibilities in connection with the traditions of this House, and with the continuation of its reputation, which are indeed of the most serious character. If I consider the whole hierarchy of the responsible officials of this great community, none appears to me to have in his keeping interests of greater magnitude than, Sir, have been entrusted to you; and assuredly it is a matter of congratulation to every Member of this House, that every single one of us believes that in your keeping, Sir, those great interests are secure.


*MR. SPEAKER-ELECT, standing on the upper step, said

Standing in this place, I have to make my acknowledgments to the House for having again elected me to the Chair. As I perfectly recognise the great responsibility I have undertaken, and with which you have entrusted me, I can only say that I place such abilities as I possess at your command, and as your servant, your officer, I hope to discharge those duties to your satisfaction, and in some measure justify the choice you have now made.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour).

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at five minutes before Three o'clock.

Back to