§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
, addressing himself to the Clerk of the House (who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down) said: Sir Reginald Palgrave,—I have it in command from Her Majesty to acquaint this House that the Queen, having been informed of the resignation of the Right Honourable ARTHUR WELLESLEY PEEL, late Speaker of the House of Commons, gives leave to the House to proceed forthwith to the choice of the new Speaker.
MR. SAMUEL WHITBREAD, (South Beds)
who was received with cheers, said: I rise for the purpose of proposing—That Mr. William Court Gully, Member for Carlisle, take the Chair of this House as Speaker.["Hear, hear!"] To a House of Commons that has had the experience which the present House has now acquired, I think it is needless that I should take up time in endeavouring to sketch the qualities and the gifts which we expect in our Speaker. That was done last night in admirable terms by the Leader of the House. [Cheers.] I may at once say that I think the example which this House has had before it of the daily exercise of the highest qualities which can adorn that Chair has impressed upon all of us a sense of what gifts are required, what qualities are demanded, better than any words. [Cheers.] I regret to learn that, upon this occasion, that practice which has now happily endured for more than half-a-century is likely to be broken, and that the selection 1370 of those who form a majority of this House is to be questioned. ["Hear, hear!"] I regret it for this reason—that it has always seemed to me—and, indeed, upon high authority, it has often been stated—that the unanimous voice of the House lends authority to the Chair. [Cheers.] On that ground alone I regret that a contest is likely to take place. But whoever is selected we can remember that the choice is the choice of the House; and I do not doubt that that choice will be followed by a full measure of that confidence and support which we owe to our Speaker. [Cheers.] It has been said, and well said, that in electing a Speaker of this House we appoint not a master, but a servant, of the House. True, but a trusted and honoured servant, to whose hands we commit great powers, whom we charge with grave responsibilities; and, indeed, it seems to me that it would be a base and lamentable failure on our part if, having thus made him our Minister, we withheld from him a full measure of that loyal confidence which alone is the source of, and alone can maintain, his authority. [Cheers.] I have no fear myself that we shall in any way fail in our duty in that respect. This is not a new Parliament. We have had experience of its ways; and I think that ready submission to our Speaker, that instant rally in support of the Chair, to which we are accustomed is not a mere habit of obedience. It is with us who have been here any time an instinct of self preservation—[Cheers]—because we know and we realise all too well that, without the support of our Speaker, the conduct of public affairs in Parliament would be impossible. But, hearing that there is to be a contest on this occasion, it becomes necessary that I should ask myself what are the objections which are to be raised to my hon. Friend. Possibly it may be said that he has not that long experience of Parliament which some would desire. [Opposition Cheers.] It will be said, perhaps, that some one ought to have been selected who had greater knowledge of the practice of Parliament. [Opposition Cheers.] Let us go back a little. Let us go back to the last occasion upon which there was a contest in this House for a Speaker. That was in 1839, when Mr. Shaw Lefevre was proposed, and exactly the same objection was raised to 1371 him. It was said that Mr. Goulburn had a much longer experience of the House and a greater knowledge of its practice. Mr. Shaw Lefevre had been but nine years in Parliament—precisely the same time, I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle. [Cheers.] But the House of Commons, believing that they saw in Mr. Shaw Lefevre the gifts which go to make a great Speaker, disregarded that objection, although much had been urged by such an authority as Mr. Wynn, and supported by Mr. Wilson Patten. The choice they made was ratified by succeeding Parliaments and by both Parties for a period of 18 years. [Cheers.] But, in truth, there are considerations even of more vital importance than a close acquaintance of our rules. Knowledge of our practice may be acquired. What we desire also, what seems to me to be of the greatest importance, is, that we should select one with an evenly-balanced mind; that he should have that ever-present courtesy which, to use Lord John Russell's words, "enables him to conciliate even those it is his duty to reprove;" that he should have not only firmness and decision, but the self-reliance that comes to a man who has learnt to make his own mark in life and to depend upon himself. [Cheers.] These qualities, coupled with the desire to be fair and impartial in all circumstances—those are qualities which cannot be picked up; they must be innate and possessed. [Cheers.] But what other objection could be raised to my hon. Friend? Are we going back to the old cry, raised, I think, at the very beginning of this century, that in better times it was the custom to select a Speaker from the landed interest. [Opposition Cries of "Oh, oh!" A voice: "Very bad form," and Counter Cheers.] Are we going back to that? That was an objection which was raised in this House on more than one occasion; and another objection was, that the candidate in 1801 was in the profession of the Law. Does any man now think that the profession of the Law unfits one from taking the Chair of this House? If he does I can recommend him to read what Mr. Pitt said on that occasion. He found that the study of the Law, and the consequent study of our Constitution, and the habits of business and 1372 application and industry which that profession requires, so far from being an objection, in reality was the strongest recommendation to a candidate for the the Chair. [Cheers.] Happily, my hon. Friend's powers have been tested in that arena. I hope some one better qualified than myself may say a word upon that subject; but this much I do say, without fear of contradiction, that no man can look back with more full and entire satisfaction to a career carved out by himself, that no man has made better, more sincere, more lasting friendships among his colleagues, and no one has earned a wider respect. [Cheers.] There is one advantage which my hon. Friend will have if he is elected by this House—that he has not, whilst he has been here, thrown himself into the heat of Party conflict. As long as he has been within these walls he has raised no animosities and stirred no bitter feeling. ["Hear, hear!"] And believing that he possesses the high character and the qualities which are demanded for this great Office; believing, as I do, that, if elected, he will be able to look upon the House of Commons from a plane above the passing interests of Party and the conflicts of the hour; and, believing that he will be able worthily to maintain our privileges and to hand down our great traditions,—I beg to move: "That Mr. William Court Gully do take the Chair of this House." [Cheers.]
§ MR. AUGUSTINE BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
, who was received with cheers, said: Sir Reginald Palgrave,—The great weight and authority belonging to the hon. Member for South Bedford happily relieve me from the task of saying anything about the greatness and dignity of the high Office of State which we meet to-day to fill. It will leave me free to devote the very few observations I am about to make to a subject on which a friendship of five-and-twenty years has at least qualified me to speak—namely, the high character, the spotless reputation, and marked ability of the hon. Member for Carlisle, and his eminent fitness to be the Speaker of this House. [Cheers.] I am, I know, addressing some men at all events on both sides of the House who have known the hon. Member longer than I have; and I know that, on whichever side of the House they sit, those who know him are of one mind, 1373 that he is qualified even for this high Office. [Cheers.] The hon. Member is a lawyer, and if by chance in the vote to-day our choice should prove to be on him, it will not be the first lawyer who has been called to that Chair. And it would indeed be a strange thing if to have devoted the best years of life, as he has done, to the study of the laws of this realm; if to have been called upon, as he has been, on countless occasions, to preside over inquiries involving questions of great nicety and issues of vast importance; if to have borne himself well for 35 years as he has done amidst the stir and stress and strain of fiery competition; if to have preserved, as he has done, unbroken and unimpaired, all the best and noblest traditions of a great and honourable profession, were disqualifications for this post,—why, I say that those are qualifications for an Office which pre-eminently demands from its occupant good judgment, a judicial temper, and inflexibility of purpose. [Cheers.] Nevertheless, I am exceedingly glad on an occasion like this to feel myself free to speak the language of friendship and conviction without in the very least degree depreciating the merits of anybody also. For, after all, what are the qualities of which we are in search? High character, impartiality, good sense, and good temper; and it would indeed be little short of a public scandal if there were not at least two Members of this House—[Laughter]—who, by the common consent of all, possessed those great qualifications. Sir Reginald Palgrave,—in seconding the Motion, as I now formally do, I have only to add my conviction that if the choice should fall upon my hon. Friend, and he to-day should be called to that Chair, time, the sole test of men's characters and of men's actions, will very soon reveal the fact that we have for our new Speaker a man qualified both by nature and by education, by mind and by will, to be the spokesman of our rights, the guardian of our liberties, and the preserver from day to day in our midst of what should be dearer to us than all our rights, more precious by far than any of our privileges—our order, our honour, and our dignity. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR JOHN MOWBRAY (Oxford University)
, who was received with Opposition cheers, said: Sir Reginald 1374 Palgrave,—For 40 years past, during ten continuous Parliaments, and on no less than twelve occasions when we have been called upon to choose our Speaker, it has been my happy lot to find myself on every occasion in combination with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford—united with him in supporting one candidate, called to the Chair by the unanimous assent of the House. I regret that that is not the case on the present occasion. In 1884 I listened with great pleasure to the weighty speech of my hon. Friend when he proposed Mr. Peel for the first time for election. In 1886 it was my pride to be invited to propose Mr. Peel for re-election, and I endeavoured, as far as I could, to follow in the footsteps of my hon. Friend. But I regret still more the divergence of opinion from my hon. Friend when I remember that it is more than 30 years since first we co-operated in this House, working together on many Committees, and acting without the shadow of a shade of difference. ["Hear, hear!"] I therefore feel very sorry indeed that circumstances compel us to part for a few moments—and it will be for a few moments only—and I am sure that it will be with great pleasure that we shall rejoin each other, and be as good friends as ever. [Cheers.] But while I agree with my hon. Friend in the importance which he attaches to a unanimous choice of the Speaker of this House, I totally demur to the proposition which he has stated, that the selection of the Speaker rests with the majority. The selection for the august position of the Speaker of this House rests with the House at large—[Cheers]—even if there were that commanding majority which the hon. Member thinks has a right to impose a Speaker on this House. But I say that no such commanding majority exists at the present moment; and until the tellers have announced the numbers at the Table of the House, no Member has a right to claim a majority on the one side or on the other. [Cheers.] I give my hon. Friend the credit—for I know that he deserves it—of being animated with the highest sense of public duty on this and every occasion; but I claim the right of saying that I come here with a sense of duty quite as high. [Cheers.] We have a paramount duty to this House to discharge, and I shall not fail 1375 to show to some hon. Gentlemen, and, perhaps, to some right hon. Gentlemen, too, on the other side of the House, that all Parliamentary traditions and usages would lead us to prefer my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, whom I shall venture to nominate for the honourable post of Speaker of this House. We have to choose to-day a Speaker of this great Assembly. Not one word shall escape my lips which can offend the susceptibilities or wound the feelings of the hon. and learned Member for Carlisle. We know him to be a courteous gentleman. I have heard him highly spoken of by all his friends, and the speech of the hon. Member for Fife bears testimony to the warm affection which the hon. and learned Member has inspired among his numerous friends. He has won his way in a long career to a distinguished position in a noble profession, which has sometimes, indeed, qualified for the Chair of this House, but which more ordinarily leads to the Woolsack. [Laughter and Cheers.] What I claim to-day for this House is, that we should choose for our Speaker a Member who is essentially one of ourselves; who has been trained within these walls, and not within the Courts of Law—[Cheers]—who knows our Standing Orders; who is imbued with our traditions, and who is known and recommended to us by personal antecedents. This is not the occasion on which to trouble the House with quotations, but there are two lines so apposite, and coming from so great an authority, that I hope the House will allow me to quote them. Mr. Bright, in 1886, in seconding the Motion for the re-election of Mr. Peel, said:—It is absolutely necessary that the Speaker should have a complete and minute knowledge of the proceedings of this House and of its mode of transacting business.[Cheers.] All the qualifications which I have enumerated are possessed by my right hon. Friend, Sir Matthew White Ridley. [Cheers.] Our late Speaker, on Monday last, in that remarkable address which none of us can ever forget, spoke not merely of the eleven years which he had passed in that Chair, but of the 30 years which he had passed in the House. My right hon. Friend has already passed more than half his life—27 years within this House. He came here in 1376 1868, a young man with the highest and most brilliant reputation from Oxford. I do not recommend him merely for all his brilliant attainments, for his high character, for his learning, for his scholarship, for his culture. Nor would I venture, especially after the lecture we have had from the hon. Member for Bedford, to say that my right hon. Friend possesses an acre of land anywhere. [Laughter and Cheers.] What I would say of him is, that he fulfils all the requirements of my hon. Friend and something more. He is a capable man of business; he has, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford desires, a well-balanced mind. Indeed, he has a singularly open and impartial mind; and I doubt whether any Member of this House possesses a mind equally free from prejudice. He has great independence of thought; he has consummate judgment; he has infinite tact and temper. His opinions, moreover, have not been inherited like his acres, nor have they been accepted from any one else. They are the result of his own independent and deliberate convictions. In his own native county of Northumberland, where he is beloved—[Cheers]—in Oxford, or in this House, ask anywhere you like of any one who knows him—every one testifies that his views, whatever they may be, are characterised by the vigour of his intellect, by the absence of prejudice, and by sobriety and moderation. [Cheers.] We have known him in six Parliaments as an active and useful Member of this House, never speaking without authority, and always commanding the attention of the House. He has served on Committee after Committee. [Cheers.] For years past he has been Chairman of our Grand Committees—["Hear, hear!"]—a heavy task, the more so because the duties are somewhat undefined, and the influence of the Committees rests rather on the personal qualifications of the Chairman than upon the powers delegated to him by this House. ["Hear, hear!"] Last year especially he undertook—very reluctantly, I know—the duties of the Chairmanship of the Scotch Committee—duties which I know on the evidence I have received from every Member of the Committee to whom I have spoken, he discharged in the most admirable way. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not wish to 1377 revive any unpleasant controversy, but I may be allowed to say this much—that the establishment of that Committee, formed as it was in contravention of all rules on which other Grand Committees are constructed, was a perilous experiment. If ever a Committee required tact, judgment, firm and delicate handling, it was that Committee; and, greatly to the credit of my right hon. Friend, it was owing to the admirable way in which he conducted the proceedings that the Committee was attended with the success it had. These have been his duties within the House. Outside the House he has discharged duties connected with Parliamentary life no less important, no less onerous, no less honourable. For four years, from 1877 to 1881, he was one of the Commissioners named in the Act of 1877 for making Statutes for the University of Oxford. I recollect that when the names of the Commissioners were read out to the House, and the name of Mr. Matthew White Ridley, as he then was, was reached, though the last on the list, Mr. Robert Lowe, then a Member of this House, than whom there was no greater or more zealous University reformer, rose and expressed how entirely his confidence in that Commission was strengthened by the nomination of my right hon. Friend. ["Hear, hear!"] For four other years, from 1886 to 1890, my right hon. Friend was Chairman of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the establishment of the different offices of State at home and abroad. The Commission was named after him—the Ridley Commission. It sat for four years, it presented voluminous Reports, and it did what few Commissions do, led to important results. At any rate, my right hon. Friend deserves credit for the public spirit and for the admirable way in which he discharged his duties on that Commission. But that is not all. This House has known my right hon. Friend as a Member of the Government in two most important Departments. He has been Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, and has filled the very important office of Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Those who were in the House eleven years ago will recollect that posts almost identical had been held by Mr. Arthur Peel, and that his holding of 1378 them was urged as one of the considerations why he should be appointed Speaker. In short, I say my right hon. Friend comes to us with all those credentials which for the last half century have recommended to us the great Speakers who have sat in the Chair during that time—Mr. Peel, Sir Henry Brand, Mr. Denison, and Mr. Shaw Lefevre. If I do not go back, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford has done, and call up the ghosts of past Speakers and the memories of Mr. Wynn, Colonel Wilson Patten, and even of Mr. Pitt—if I do not go through the whole century, I hope he will consider that half-a-century is enough for the present occasion. [A laugh.] I venture to say that my right hon. Friend has been recognised in the House, and accepted by the House, as a man designated some day to occupy the Speaker's Chair, and even now, in spite of all that has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, and from the Seconder of the Motion, I hope that my right hon. Friend may approve himself to the choice of this House, for I must say again this election does not rest upon the majority, but upon the whole House and the individual Members of the House. On Monday we listened to the admirable address which Mr. Peel gave us from that Chair. Today that Chair is empty, but the echoes of that address still linger in our ears, and the memory of that august and dignified presence has not faded away. [Cheers.] The Chair is silent, the Chair is empty, but—… as of yore,The Cæsar's pageant, shorn of Brutus' bust,Did but of Rome's best son remind her more.Voiceless though that Chair may be, it appeals to us by the memory of many centuries, by the recollection of the great and illustrious man we have just lost, to put aside all private feelings, all personal friendships, all party considerations—[Cheers and Counter Cheers]—to rise to the dignity of the occasion, and take great care that we select from our ranks a fit man to be a worthy successor to Arthur Wellesley Peel. I am confident that my right hon. Friend Sir Matthew White Ridley is such a man. There is no one to my mind who can combine so many qualifications as he does. I am 1379 convinced that a great many of you on the other side of the House believe what I say—[Laughter and Cheers]—and I ask you to express your opinions by your votes. I thank the House for the kind way in which you have listened to me, and I beg to propose that my right hon. Friend, Sir Matthew White Ridley, do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. [Opposition Cheers.]
§ MR. J. LLOYD WHARTON (York W.R., Ripon)
Sir Reginald Palgrave,—It is with intense satisfaction that I rise to second the proposition which has been so ably and clearly made by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Oxford University. Before I say a word of that I am here to say to-day, I wish to say one word, by way of protest, against what has fallen from the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. Did that hon. Gentleman suppose that there was going to fall from my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford or from me—a friend of 32 years' standing—carping observations, disparaging remarks, with regard to my old friend, the hon. and learned Member for Carlisle? If he did he was mistaken in his men. [Cheers.] I had hoped that to-day this discussion would be conducted without one word of acrimony. ["Hear, hear!"] Having said that I will myself not introduce one single word which will rouse any feelings in this House which can tend in that direction. I am not going, after the able and lucid statement of my right hon. Friend with regard to the qualifications of Sir Matthew White Ridley, to reduplicate or to reiterate anything he has said as to those qualifications. They are well-known, I believe, to every Member of the House, and I defy any hon. Gentleman to say this, at any rate—that in Sir Matthew White Ridley we have not got a man who is eminently qualified to take and to fill the great and dignified Office of Speaker. I think I can sum up the qualifications of my right hon. Friend in one line, one of the noblest lines that was ever written. I say of Sir Matthew White Ridley that, whether you look at his private or public life, he is a man who has worn "the white flower of a blameless life." ["Hear, hear!"] I perhaps may consider myself in some little way entitled to speak of my right hon. Friend, 1380 because now for many years I have acted humbly in a public capacity in the neighbouring county to that in which my right hon. Friend has done such good work. I only came from that county yesterday, and I can assure this House that every man I met there, without reference to Party, seemed to me only too anxious that the honour should be done to the North of England—[Cries of "Carlisle!"]—and to his native county by electing Sir Matthew White Ridley to that Chair. I feel that this is no question either of private friendship or of anything but public duty. A great and solemn duty now lies on every Member of the House, a duty which I pray and hope may be discharged without reference to any Party consideration. ["Oh, oh!"] I hope that every Member of the House will give his Vote from a desire that the best man, best in the interest of this House, best in the interest of the history of this House, best in the interest of the country and of the Empire, may be selected to fill that Chair. Without one single word against my hon. Friend opposite, I believe, nay, I know, that in my right hon. Friend here we have such a man; and more than that, I believe that in him we have the very best man who could be selected—having reference alike to his early training, to his work in the House, and to the feelings with which he is regarded by every man who has known him. I commend the name of Sir Matthew White Ridley to the acceptance of this House, and I second the proposition of my right hon. Friend, the Member for the Oxford University. [Opposition Cheers.]
*MR. WILLIAM COURT GULLY (Carlisle)
, who was received with loud Ministerial cheers, said: Sir Reginald Palgrave,—It is, I believe, in accordance with Parliamentary usage and precedent that I should at this stage of our proceedings address a few observations to the House. It is rather an embarrassing privilege, not only because one is called upon to speak about one's self, but because, although the matter before the House raises a certain controversial position—a temporary one—between the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Blackpool Division and myself, it is impossible for me to enter into the matters which are involved in the controversy. I do not rise, I need scarcely say, to 1381 commend myself. Still less do I rise to utter one word of disparagement of the right hon. Baronet—a gentleman who, during his long and honourable Parliamentary career, has gained for himself the general esteem and respect of this House. [Cheers.] I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman who proposed him, and the hon. Gentleman who seconded him, have said not one word more than is just and true regarding his merits. I do not desire to gainsay one word that they have uttered—["Hear, hear!"]—and at the same time I must thank them for the kind expressions they have used towards me. I must also confess that while listening to the speeches of my two hon. Friends near me, I have felt very conscious that they have been speaking in far too flattering terms of any qualifications I may be thought to possess. This, at least, I hope I may say without egotism or offence, that, in my humble opinion, to be chosen Speaker of this ancient and famous Assembly is the greatest honour that can be conferred on any subject of Her Majesty by his fellow-subjects—[Cheers]—and the man upon whom such an honour falls has imposed upon him the sacred duty of upholding and maintaining untarnished the splendid reputation with which from its earliest history up to the present moment the Chair has been invested, as well as to preserve undiminished the dignity, the interests, and the privileges of this House. [Cheers.] Sir, this is not an occasion upon which a Member whose name has been proposed ought to trouble the House with many observations. The object of calling upon him to speak at all is, I understand, not that he should canvass the question before the House, but that he should inform the House whether or not he is willing to serve in the Office to which it is proposed to elect him. Sir, I submit myself in all humility to the wishes of the House. [Ministerial Cheers.] If the House should think fit to call upon me to preside over its Debates, I shall do all that in me lies to act in a manner becoming that great Office. If otherwise, I shall always entertain a proud and grateful recollection of the fact that a large number, at least, of my fellow Representatives, once thought me worthy of so high a distinction. [Cheers.]
§ SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY (Lancashire, N., Blackpool)
, who was received with loud Opposition cheers, said: Sir,—I am sure the House will allow me, in the first place, to express my strong personal acknowledgment of the favourable—the far too favourable—manner in which my two old friends, my right hon. Friend the Member for my old University of Oxford and my hon. Friend the Member for the Ripon Division, have presented my name to the House as a candidate for the vacant Chair. I feel most deeply the high honour which they and others have conferred upon me in thinking me in any degree worthy of such an Office. If at the present moment I do not say much—following the example of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carlisle—it is because I feel that, in making my submission to the House, and in humbly placing my services, if they should be so pleased, at their disposal, it is not befitting or proper that anything much should be said by the candidates. ["Hear, hear!"] It would ill become me to enlarge upon the qualities which should attach to the occupant of that Chair, for I am deeply sensible I should only indicate to what an extent my own personality falls short of that ideal and and of that splendid example which has been so recently shown to us. Any man, either in this House or outside of it, may well shrink from such a comparison. Less do I think it would become me to say a word of any of the qualifications which the partiality and indulgence of my friends may have endeavoured to persuade myself and others that I possess. The decision to-day is to be arrived at by the free judgment of others upon the past conduct in life and the past conduct in this House of any Member who may be submitted to the consideration of this Assembly. ["Hear, hear!"] It is a very painful thing to me to be put into competition with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carlisle, both on private and public grounds. I know well that the authority of that Chair, which is of such supreme and vital importance to the order and liberties of debate, is based alike upon the severe impartiality of its occupant, and upon the absolute confidence which is accordingly reposed in him by every Member and every Party in this House. 1383 [Cheers.] I trust, Sir, that what has been occurring during the last few weeks and the events of to-day may not, in any degree whatever, render the task on either side, in the future, more difficult; and I am confident that the whole House will re-echo that sentiment, and will devote itself to that great end. [Cheers.] Sir, if it should be the pleasure of the House to elect me to that Chair, I shall, to the best of my poor abilities, endeavour to attain to that splendid impartiality which we have recently witnessed, and to endeavour to win from every quarter of the House that confidence which is the main strength of its Speaker. [Cheers.] If, however, the efforts of my Friends to impose upon me this high and honourable task should not be successful, I shall (as will all of them I may with the utmost confidence say), with an equal zeal for the order and dignity of this House, co-operate with every Member in it to hand down unimpaired to those who come after us that magnificent inheritance of the authority and independence of the Chair. [Cheers.] I hope I have not said too much; and I humbly submit myself to the judgment of the House. [Opposition Cheers.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
, who, on rising, was greeted with Oppisition cheers, said: Sir Reginald Palgrave,—I should gladly have followed such precedents as would justify me in keeping silence on this occasion had it seemed consistent with my public duty to do so; and if the only question before the House had lain between two Gentlemen, both qualified by their Parliamentary antecedents for filling the great Office of Speaker for this Assembly, I should certainly not have ventured to intervene in this Debate. ["Hear, hear!"] Although, nominally, the matter is left to the House, we all know that this is a Government proceeding—["Hear, hear!"]—and the course which the Government have thought fit to adopt on this occasion is, 1384 in my judgment, not only so absolutely without precedent, but is so absolutely dangerous to the future efficiency of our proceedings, that I should have thought myself guilty of a great wrong had I kept silence to-day. [Opposition Cheers.] I need not tell the House that the very last thing I desire to do is, to say one word which can directly, or indirectly, give pain—I will not say pain, but any uneasiness or any unpleasant feeling—to any Gentleman in this House, and, least of all, to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just submitted himself to the pleasure of the House—I mean the hon. Member for Carlisle. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir, I have not the pleasure or the honour of that hon. and learned Gentleman's acquaintance. The loss is my own. All those who know him, and there are many in this House who know him, unite with the Seconder of the Motion that he take the Chair in dwelling upon the personal charm and high character of the hon. and learned Gentleman. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir, I can assure him that not only are we who do not know him ready to accept the testimony of those who do know him, but we believe that, should he be elected to the Chair, he will show himself not only a high-minded and honourable gentleman, but an absolutely impartial judge as between Member and Member and Party and Party. [Cheers.] But, Sir, other considerations must be brought to the determination of this great issue. The House must have noticed, I think, the great contrast between the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the hon. and learned Member for Carlisle, and the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool. [Opposition Cheers.] I do not allude to that unfortunate and jarring note which the Mover of the hon. Member for Carlisle so unhappily, and so unhistorically, introduced into this Debate. [Opposition Cheers.] The hon. Member for Bedford apparently thought it not 1385 inconsistent with the duty he was performing to throw a taunt to this side of the House, and to suggest that in the course we are taking we are animated by a desire to support some particular interest in the country.
I trust the right hon. Gentleman will allow me a word. I was engaged in thinking what possible objection could be raised to the candidature of my hon. and learned Friend—[Opposition, Cries of "Oh!" and Ministerial Cheers]—and in looking over the history of previous contests, now a long time ago, I came upon that objection to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I can only say to the House that I did not for a moment put it seriously forward—[Opposition Cries of "Oh!"]—or with the slighest intention of inflicting pain upon anyone, and certainly not in the slightest sense to disparage the claim of my right hon. Friend opposite. [Opposition Cries of "Oh, oh!" and Ministerial Cheers.] I can only regret that what I put forward, merely to discard as impossible arid not at all likely to be urged, should have caused misunderstanding.
§ MR. BALFOUR
Of course, if the hon. Gentleman meant it as a joke I have not another word to say. [Opposition Laughter and Cheers, and Cries of "Oh, oh!" from the Ministerial Benches.] No, Sir, it is not I who desire to introduce superfluous controversy. I supposed it was the hon. Gentleman. Am I to take it seriously or am I not? If I am to take it seriously I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite who object to what I have just said, that if you look through the list of Speakers for the last hundred years you will find that the Tory Speakers—those who have been elected from the Tory side of the House—have not as a rule, been landowners—[Opposition Cheers]—but if you want to find specimen representatives of the landed interest you will find them in the two great Whig Speakers, Mr. Denison and Mr. Lefevre. [Opposition Laughter and Cheers.] 1386 I pass from the speech of the proposer of the hon. Member fur Carlisle to the far more agreeable task of considering what was said by the Seconder. [Cheers.] The Seconder of the Motion in a speech of admirable taste dwelt upon the great professional claims and the admirable private character of the Member for Carlisle. But there was one point upon which we should like to have heard something either from the Mover or the Seconder, or from both—namely, the special Parliamentary qualifications possessed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. [Cheers.] The Mover did, indeed, tell us that Mr. Speaker Shaw Lefevre had only been a Member of this House nine years at the time he was elected Speaker, and he said nine years was precisely the length of time and length of experience possessed by the hon. and learned Member for Carlisle. Yes, Sir, the length of time is the same in both cases; but how, in the two cases, were these nine years spent from a Parliamentary point of view? It is not too much to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Carlisle is absolutely unknown to us in his Parliamentary capacity. [Cheers.] Warm friends, devoted friends, deserved friends, he doubtless has on both sides of the House. But he is wholly unknown to us in any capacity connected with the work of this House. He has never, so far as I am aware, opened his lips in our Debates; he has never, so far as I know, served on a Private Bill Committee; he has never, so far as I know, served on a Select Committee; he has never, so far as I know, attended on a Grand Committee. [Cheers.] What is the case of Mr. Shaw Lefevre? Mr. Shaw Lefevre had busied himself during his nine years of membership, not only with Debates in this House, but in the great work of re-organising the system of our Private Bill Legislation, at that time proving itself utterly inadequate to meet the increasing needs of the great railway development. Mr. Shaw Lefevre in 1837—when his 1387 predecessor in the Chair was re-elected in the new Parliament—was selected by the general sense of his Party and of the House—such was his standing in the House—to be the proposer of the re-election of Mr. Speaker Abercrombie; and when two years afterwards Mr. Speaker Abercrombie resigned on account of ill-health, everybody felt that, at all events, whatever might be said against Mr. Shaw Lefevre, it was impossible to deny that he had, during those nine years, done great work in the House of Commons, and had identified himself so far as was possible with the House of Commons. You will search our records in vain for an instance of a Party or a Government selecting as their candidate for this high Office any man who has not made himself thoroughly acquainted with the Rules and the Procedure of the House, not by getting them up out of a book, but by constant study, by constant attendance, and by constant work in the House. We have chosen Speakers, as it were, from among our own children, from those whose ambitions have been Parliamentary ambitions, whose work has been Parliamentary work, and it is saying nothing against the hon. Gentleman, nothing to which I am sure either he nor the most devoted of his Friends will object, to remind the House, for it is a matter of public notoriety, not only that his labours have not lain within these walls, but that his legitimate and his honourable ambitions have been in other walks of life. That seems to me a sufficiently overwhelmning and conclusive reason for the votes that those of us mean to give who intend to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool. There is only one other point which it is perhaps absolutely necessary for me to advert to before sitting down. Lord Russell—Lord John Russell, as he then was—in 1835 laid down the broad proposition that the Speaker should represent the political feelings of the majority of the House. That, apparently, was the orthodox 1388 Whig doctrine of that day. To that doctrine I do not subscribe, and certainly the Party to which I belong—from whose ranks no Speaker, on his first election, has been drawn for two generations—cannot be accused of ever having attempted to use their Party majority, when they possessed it, to put in the Chair any Gentleman who shared their political views. [Cheers.] But, Sir, the Government have chosen, under circumstances which should have made them, I should have said, more than usually anxious to consult the general view of all Parties in the House—under circumstances which should have made them specially cautious in violating any Parliamentary tradition—the Government have deliberately chosen to insist—[Loud Cries of "Courtney" from the Ministerial and Nationalist Benches]—they have deliberately elected to break all Parliamentary traditions. [Cheers and Cries of "No, no!" and "Courtney."] Name a precedent. I challenge anyone to contradict me, that the Government, in proposing to call an hon. and learned Gentleman who has taken so little part in our Parliamentary proceedings, and has so little identified himself with our Parliamentary life, have absolutely broken every tradition which has prevailed during the last century. [Cheers.] Under these circumstances, if we assemble in this House under changed conditions, we must remember that if the Tory Party or the Unionist Party—[Ironical Ministerial Cheers]—do not consider themselves compelled to follow the precedents which they, and not the Whig or Liberal Party, have set in this matter, the fault will be not with the hon. Gentleman who has been put by his friends in what I cannot but regard as a false position—[Cheers and Cries of "Oh, oh!"]—the fault will be not with him, still less with us, but with the Government who, as I think, on an occasion so important for the future interests of this House, have deliberately elected to cast to the winds all precedent 1389 and all tradition for the purpose of pressing upon our attention one of their own friends. [Cheers.]
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I deeply regret—[Opposition Laughter]—and I think the right hon. Gentleman will one day regret, that he has departed from the precedents established by the great masters of Parliamentary law—[Mr. BALFOUR: "Peel"]—who on the last occasion when there was a contest on the Speakership, in 1839—I refer to Lord John Russell and Sir Robert Peel—determined that neither of the Leaders on either of the Front Benches should take part in a discussion of this character—[Cheers]—but that they should leave the decision to the House. The right hon. Gentleman, however, has thought fit to, I will not say invent, but to produce what I think will be regarded as an evil example in generations to come, by giving to a discussion of this character, unnecessarily, by his intervention, a Party character which it need not have had. ["Oh, oh!" and Cheers.] All I can say is, that, in all the speeches which preceded his, the speakers, regardful of the character of this House, have carefully avoided introducing Party considerations. [Cries of "Whitbread."] No, no. I heard nothing of a Party character in my hon. Friend's speech. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, in his extreme anxiety to find an opportunity for a Party attack upon the Government, has made two objections to the election of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carlisle. He says that my hon. and learned Friend is comparatively unknown—[Opposition Cheers]—and that he has taken but little part in the business of this House. [Opposition Cheers.] Now that is not a new objection taken by gentlemen on the other side of the House. Within the last twenty-four hours I have read, from a gentleman who sits upon the Front Bench opposite—the hon. Member for Wigtonshire—an account of the feelings and 1390 the action of the Conservative Party at the time of the election of Mr. Peel. He describes in very graphic terms what took place on that occasion, and I will ask leave to read to the House the words of that hon. Gentleman. He said—I read this because it was headed with his name—When Mr. Brand resigned his Office, we thought then that we were losing a Speaker who, whatever high qualities might be developed in his successor, was matchless in a singular dignity of carriage and expression When Mr. Peel was mentioned as that successor, he was unknown even by sight to a very large minority of the House of Commons.[Loud Cheers.]
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
These are not my words; these are the words of your colleague, printed last night. [Cheers.]Few Members had ever heard him speak, and deep were the murmurs when it became known that the Government intended to support his candidature. Howbeit, the Conservatives being in a hopeless minority in that Parliament, it was wisely decided—yes, there were wise men to decide in those days—[Cheers]—that the best course was to accept the Government nominee;and, mark this—on the understanding that, should the fortunes of the polls put them in a position to do so, they would bring forward their own candidate at a fitting time. One thing was quite settled, that nothing should induce the Conservative Party to keep this unknown man in the Chair a moment after they should be in a position to turn him out.And this is the concluding sentence:—'We will not have this man to reign over us,' was the general sentiment of the Tory rank and file.The right hon. Gentleman has not even the privilege of being the new inspirer of this policy, of this spirit, of this language. It was exactly the same spirit, the same language, the same policy, which inspired that Party at the election of Mr. Peel; and I should have thought that the experience of those sentiments might 1391 have induced the right hon. Gentleman to have abstained from reproducing them to-day.
[MR. BALFOUR made a remark across the Table which was inaudible in the Gallery.]
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I remember the circumstances very well, and I can bear witness to the truth of this extract. So much for the first point of the right hon. Gentleman. In the year 1839, when Lord John Russell and Sir R. Peel, both being responsible for the character of this House, entered upon a contest of this kind—there are few men in the House who can remember that time, though my recollection as a boy goes back to those days—Party spirit was never higher than it was at that moment. It was just after the Bedchamber Plot, and, therefore, never was Party spirit higher than it was when Mr. Shaw Lefevre was proposed on one side and Mr. Goulburn on the other, and yet the two Leaders on either side of the House wisely, I think, and prudently abstained from raising the Party question. The question which was raised then was no doubt the choice of one of two candidates—we may have a difference of opinion as to which is most fit, but nobody will deny that both are fit. [Cheers.] My hon. Friend the Seconder wittily said that there are at least two men in this House who are fit to be Speakers, and I thought when my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon was addressing us that he proved there were more than two. But the argument in 1839 was not one of bitter and acrimonious Party spirit, such as the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to incite. ["Oh!" and interruption.] Lord John Russell and Sir Robert Peel were incapable of taking such a course. In 1835 no doubt it was a different case, because that was a question of displacing a Speaker already in the Chair on the ground of alleged political partiality. [Mr. T. G. BOWLES: "No."] But yes. Of course, the personal memory of the hon. Member for King's Lynn goes further back than mine. [Laughter.] The second charge brought against us in the same spirit by the right hon. Gentleman is 1392 that the Government have endeavoured tyrannically to impose upon this House a Speaker by the force of the majority. The right hon. Gentleman must know, and does know, that the charge is absolutely unfounded. [Cheers.] He knows perfectly well that the first object of Her Majesty's Government and of myself, who hold myself responsible to the House of Commons not merely as a Member of the Government, but in what I regard as a far more responsible position, that of Leader of the House of Commons—that my first object was to secure, if it were possible, a unanimous election. [Cheers.] It was my first, as it was my last, object to do so, and who has defeated it? [Cheers and Counter Cheers.] Sir, it is perfectly well known who it was. You talk of men of Parliamentary experience. The right hon. Gentleman knows that my object and the object of the Government was to secure in the Chair that man who of all others—[Loud Cheers, which drowned the conclusion of the sentence]—who alone—[Renewed Cheers and Counter Cheers.] Who was it prevented it? The friends of that Gentleman who politically act with him. [Cries of "Labouchere," and interruption.] Allow me to proceed. They officially declared that they were willing and anxious to support his election, but as their Tory allies—those were the words—were determined upon a particular candidate they must withdraw their support. [Cheers.] If it had not been for that compact, which is worked in such a singular way, both inside this House and out of it—["Hear, hear!"]—not very advantageously, as it seems to me, to either Party—if it had not, I say, been for that compact, there would have been, if not a unanimous election to the Chair, at least an overwhelming majority of far above 100 in favour of the Gentleman to whom I have referred. It was the veto of the right hon. Gentleman who in the name of a minority—and in that case it would have been a small minority—undertakes to dictate to this House and to its majority who shall be designated to be in the Chair. Therefore, if unfortunately to-day we are, after the lapse of so many 1393 years, to have a contest for the Speakership, it is the fault of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. [Angry Cries of "No."] I protest I have laboured from first to last to prevent this controversy. [Interruption.] There is no man in this House who does not know I am stating what is the fact. [Renewed Interruption and Cries of "BANNERMAN."] I hear the name of another gentleman mentioned, my right hon. Friend who sits beside me. In answer to that, I have to say, in the first place, that it would have been contrary to all Parliamentary precedent that any Member of the Cabinet from this Bench should have gone to that Chair. That, in itself, was to my mind an objection of the strongest character to such a proceeding. But I want to know—By what right does the minority of the House undertake to dictate who should be the person to fill the Speaker's Chair? [Cheers.] They say—"You shall either take the man on your side we name or you shall take the man on our side we name." [Cheers.] For that there is no precedent; there is for the position which the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to create, no justification. I am extremely sorry. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have done my best to prevent the intervention either of himself or of myself in this Debate. I have deprecated it from the first. First of all I desired there should be no contest at all, and the next thing I desired was that if there was to be a contest there should be as little of Party spirit imported into it as could be. The right hon. Gentleman, first of all, has refused that the matter should be determined without a contest, and afterwards he endeavoured by his intervention in this Debate to give it a Party aspect. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whitbread."] I am sorry it should be so; but under the circumstances of this case, he having chosen to give it a Party aspect, I shall give my warm and cordial support to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carlisle. [Cheers.]
§ MR. BALFOUR
, who was prevented for a space of about two minutes from uttering a word by loud and sustained cries of "Spoke, spoke!" proceeding from the Irish Nationalist Benches: The House will readily believe—[Cries of "Spoke" from Mr. T. M. HEALY, and a voice: "Order, Healy!"]—
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
again rose and lifted his arm in mute appeal for order. Comparative silence having been restored, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, addressing the Irish Members, said: I understand the right hon. Gentleman wishes to speak in explanation.
§ MR. BALFOUR
I can assure hon. Members that I have sufficient acquaintance with the rules of Debate not to endeavour, under the guise of a personal explanation, to go beyond the limits of a personal explanation. ["Hear, hear!"] I was only going to say that, as the right hon. Gentleman has introduced certain considerations, drawn from a period antecedent to the candidature of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle, I must not be understood as admitting the accuracy of the history he has given of my share in those proceedings. [Cheers.]
The House then divided on the Motion that Mr. Gully should take the Chair as Speaker, the Tellers for the Ayes being Mr. T. Ellis and Mr. W. A. McArthur; and for the Noes, Sir J. Mowbray and Mr. Wharton. When all the Members had returned to the House from the Division Lobbies, and it was seen that the Clerk at the Table handed to Mr. Thomas Ellis, the Government Whip, the slip of paper containing the numbers, the election of Mr. Gully being thereby notified, the occupants of the Ministerial Benches cheered loudly.
§ The numbers were:—Ayes, 285; Noes, 274.—[Division List, No. 43.]
§ The result of the Division was received with loud and prolonged cheers and counter cheers.
§ On returning into the House, Mr. Gully had taken a corner seat on the fourth Bench above the Gangway on the Ministerial side of the House. After the announcement of the numbers Mr. Whitbread rose from his place, and, having approached Mr. Gully, took him by the hand and conducted him as Speaker-Elect to the Chair amid cheers.
*Then MR. SPEAKER-ELECT
, standing on the upper step of the Chair, addressed the House. He said: I beg to tender to the House my most humble and earnest thanks for the signal and 1395 unlooked-for honour that has been conferred upon me by electing me to be Speaker of this House. But whilst I feel the greatness of the honour, I feel still more deeply the weight of the responsibility undertaken. When I remember the great names and reputations of the distinguished men who in the past have sat in the position where I am standing now, and still more when I remember that great Speaker whom we saw yesterday in this Chair—when I remember his dignity and courtesy, his impartiality and firmness, his consummate knowledge of the law and usages of Parliament, and the vigour, rapidity, and tact with which he applied that knowledge to the business before the House—I confess I cannot but look forward with anxiety to the comparison, the inevitable comparison, which must daily be made between my inexperience and shortcomings and all the great qualities and traditions which we have been accustomed to associate with the Speaker's Chair. But I do venture to rely to some extent upon the generous indulgence of the House—[Cheers]—towards one of its least distinguished Members, who is suddenly called upon to follow so great a predecessor in so great a place; and I know that I can always largely rely upon that support which the House will give to the authority of the Chair, not out of any regard for its occupant, but out of consideration for the dignity of the House itself, and the good order of its Debates. [Cheers.] I do venture also to put some reliance upon the consciousness I feel myself of an earnest desire to do my duty to the House diligently, faithfully, and efficiently, without fear or favour, and without respect of persons. [Loud Cheers.] These considerations give me the courage once more to submit myself humbly to the wishes of the House, and to take my seat in the Chair to which the House has elected me. [Loud and prolonged Cheers.]
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Gully,—I rise to congratulate you, Sir, as I should have 1396 congratulated my right hon. Friend opposite, the Member for the Blackpool Division, if the House had pronounced in his favour—I rise to congratulate you upon your taking your seat in that historical Chair. [Cheers.] I feel certain that you will do honour to the Chair, and I also feel certain that, in spite of the Discussion and the Division which we have had, you will receive—as my right hon. Friend the Member for the Blackpool Division would have received—from both sides of the House the support which you will greatly need in discharging the duties which you have to perform. [Cheers.]
§ MR. BALFOUR
Mr. Gully,—I desire to associate myself with what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.] You have been elected by a majority; you are now, Sir, the Representative of the whole House; and if I may venture to speak on behalf of the minority—on behalf of those who voted in the minority Lobby—I desire to tender you on their behalf the expression of our perfect confidence in your impartiality, and to say that you will receive from us every assistance which it is in our power to give you, with the object of relieving the labours and lightening the responsibilities of the heavy task you have undertaken. [Loud Cheers.]
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I rise to give notice that, by the Queen's Command, the Speaker whom the House has elected will be presented for Her Majesty's approval in the House of Lords on Monday, April 22nd, so that the Speaker will be able to take the Chair on that day at Three o'clock. I beg to move, Sir, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ THE Ministers present and other Members, as they passed the Chair, shook hands with Mr. Speaker-Elect, and congratulated him on his appointment.
§ The House adjourned at Ten minutes to Two o'clock, until Monday, April 22nd.