HC Deb 07 June 1905 vol 147 cc960-72

I rise to move the two Resolutions of which I gave notice at yesterday's sitting. They are couched in the traditional form, and they strictly follow ancient precedent. It might be feared that as these occasions occur from time to time ancient forms might lose their substance and that in the thanks we propose to you, Mr. Speaker, and in the recognition that we now intend to make of your great services to the House, we should be doing no more than to carry out in a more or less perfunctory fashion a recognition of duties easily performed. Every man in this House, however, knows that the duties of Mr. Speaker are perhaps the most responsible of any of those exercised within this Chamber, and that the burden of responsibility thrown upon the Chair, so far from diminishing as years go on, is likely, perhaps, if it changes at all, to change in the direction of increase; for there is not a man of us who does not know, either instinctively or after reflection and observation of our proceedings, that, owing to the inevitable changes which changes in the franchise have brought with them, which the ever-growing power of this House carries with it, which the increase of the responsibilities of government and of Empire carry in their train, our proceedings are evitably going through a transitional period which, in my judgment at all events, has not yet come to an end, and that rules and customs of procedure which wore adequate to an easier time and to simpler duties have been found inadequate, and will yet be found inadequate, to deal with the complications of modern responsibilities.

There was a time when the dangers to this House—dangers to our liberties and privileges, to our position in the country—came from without. They now come from within. I am one of those who take an optimistic view of the future of this House, but I believe there is not a man on either side at present but will agree with me that, however optimistic and however justly optimistic he may be as to our future, it is not always easy, it cannot be easy, to pass through the period of transition of which I have spoken without peril and without difficulty. Now, Mr. Speaker, it is the occupant of your Chair who, more than any other single individual in this House, has thrown upon him the heavy burden of dealing with these difficulties as they arise, and when I get up in my place, and when I am followed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, when we rise and others in different parts of the House rise to express to you our gratitude for the way in which you have dealt with the difficulties of your position, it certainly is not in any formal or routine spirit that we do it, but with the strongest recognition of the difficulties with which you and your predecessors and your successors have inevitably to deal, and of the admirable manner in which you have carried out the duties entrusted to you.

Mr. Speaker, you have the first of all qualifications for the occupant of the Chair—you love the House of which you are the head; and all those who have had the advantage of conversation with you upon Parliamentary subjects know how profound is the erudition which you possess upon the interesting and instructive but still unwritten history of the House of Commons. These qualities, great as they are, would of themselves be insufficient if you did not add to them that knowledge of the rules, that rapid presence of mind which is able to deal with an unexpected situation in a manner which, if it does not convince every man in the House that the course taken is the best course, does convince every man that it is the course which to you appears the fairest to all Parties, to the minority as to the majority, and to the majority as to the minority, and if you did not exercise your high functions not only with ability, but with that courtesy which commands the affection as well as the respect of all the members of this great Assembly. I do not know that I can add anything to what I have said about the exercise of your high office; but you will forgive me if in taking your departure from among us I venture to make myself the mouthpiece of Members on this side of the House certainly, and I believe on both sides of the House, when I say on their behalf that we not merely admire you as one who has filled a very responsible and difficult office with the greatest distinction, but that we, each one of us in our individual capacity, feel for you respect, regard, and, I would venture to add, affection. To each one of us, whatever position he may occupy, who has come to you for advice and assistance with regard to any special difficulty connected with his Parliamentary responsibilities, you have always been a kind friend, a judicious adviser, and in the long and happy career which we hope for you I am confident you will carry away not merely the memory of great responsibilities worthily fulfilled, but also the personal devotion of every one of those over whom you have so long and so admirably presided.


Mr. Speaker, I rise for the purpose of briefly seconding the Motion which has been submitted by the First Lord of the Treasury. I am sure that in this Assembly on this occasion, there is one single desire, a desire to do honour to one who through ten years, ten active and busy years, has presided with dignity and impartiality over our deliberations, and a desire also to show our grateful recognition and acknowledgment of your steadfast devotion to the interests and the service of the House of Commons. We have learnt with regret from you, Sir, that you have felt the necessity growing upon you, on the ground of health, to seek relief from the burdens of your office. Sir, we can well understand that necessity. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the work of the House of Commons, and the claims, therefore, which it makes on the Members of the House, increases on our hands year by year, and this growth of business, white it presses heavily on the individual Member, must involve a far more severe strain upon him who is chosen to control and to assist us in the discharge of our high Parliamentary duties. Sir, I remember, and many others will remember, that when you were appointed to the Chair of this House there were many who felt doubt, and a very natural doubt, whether you would be able to discharge its duties on the ground that you had been for a comparatively brief time a Member of the House, and during that time had not taken any very prominent part in our debates and our business. But those who knew you then were confident of your ability to rival, at least, all your distinguished predecessors in the Chair, and we are now able to say that we are, one and all of us, your debtors for public services loyally rendered, for advice and counsel freely afforded, for great duties worthily discharged, and for the unfailing courtesy with which every request and appeal addressed to you has been met. We shall always recall with gratitude and pleasure the years we have passed under your presidency, and I join in the hope expressed by the Prime Minister, that in the years that are before you, which we hope will be many, you will have none but proud and happy memories of the Chair of the House of Commons.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for his distinguished services in the Chair for more than ten years; that he be assured that this House fully appreciates the zeal, ability, and impartiality with which he has discharged the duties of his high office through a period of unusual labour, difficulty, and anxiety, and the judgment and firmness with which he has maintained its privileges and dignity; and that this House feels the strongest sense of his unremitting attention to the constantly increasing business of Parliament, and the uniform urbanity and kindness which have earned for him the respect and esteem of this House."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

Mr. Speaker, the value of the compliment which is proposed in this Resolution depends to a very large extent upon the unanimity of the House. The Speaker of this Assembly is the guardian of the rights and privileges and liberties not only of the House as a whole, but of every section of the House and of every individual Member of it. Upon his firmness and his fairness may be said to depend entirely the rights and liberties of all minorities, and the smaller the minority the greater is the responsibility thrown on the Chair of safeguarding its rights. When a minority is of a permanent character, and when it openly avows its desire to remain aloof from the rest of the House, and has no share in the admittedly proud history and traditions of this Assembly; when it is here against its will, and is here to voice sentiments which are unpopular with the majority of the House, then, I beg leave to say, the responsibility thrown on the Chair is intensified a hundredfold—the responsibility for the protection of the rights and liberties of such a body. I represent here to-day such a minority, and if, speaking in the name of my colleagues and myself, I can support this Resolution, I venture humbly to say that that fact enhances the value of the compliment which is about to be paid to you.

I can truthfully associate myself with everything that has been said by the two right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, but there is one reservation which I feel bound to make, even at the risk of seeming to strike a discordant note in the harmony of these proceedings. But allow me first to say that I heartily agree with the statement in this Resolution with reference to the zeal, ability, and impartiality of your action in the Chair. So far as the zeal is concerned, we have all been witnesses of the unremitting and unceasing attention to the duties of the Chair, which, perhaps, to some extent are responsible for your early departure from it. We all recognise that you have brought a distinguished ability to the discharge of the difficult duties of your position, and we have all been witnesses of the dignity with which you have borne your high office; and, Sir, let me say that we all agree that you have manifested on all occasions a desire to act with judgment and impartiality. Those with whom I am associated in this House have more than once during these years been brought into somewhat sharp conflict with the Chair. More than once we have questioned the soundness of the decisions arrived at by you, and upon one memorable occasion we submitted to the House of Commons a Motion formally challenging a decision which you had given. But, Sir, I can truthfully say to-day that we did not think then, and we do not think now, that upon any of those occasions you were ever animated by any but the highest motives, or that you were ever consciously partial in any decision you came to. Therefore it is that I feel at liberty, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to support this Resolution.

I spoke a moment or two ago about a reservation. Complimentary and valedictory proceedings like the present would, in my opinion, lose all their flavour, and perhaps, indeed, I may say, all their value, if they were not sincere; and my part in these proceedings would not be sincere—I would feel that I were playing in these proceedings the part of a hypocrite—if I did not claim that in my humble judgment no more fatal precedent was ever set than when policemen were brought into the House for the forcible removal of Members whose only violation of order was the refusal to leave their seats and walk into the division lobby. The circumstances of the moment may have necessitated the creation of a new precedent—I express no opinion upon that—but I say there were many other devices that could have been resorted to; and therefore I feel bound, in supporting this Resolution, in the name of my colleagues and myself to enter that protest and that reservation. Having said that—and it is no pleasant thing for any man to say even so much by way of reservation in reference to one who, so far as I am personally concerned, has shown me the greatest kindness and courtesy, for which I feel grateful—having said so much, allow me in conclusion to say, in the name of my colleagues and myself—we earnestly pray that when, Mr. Speaker, you leave that Chair, you may for many long years enjoy those honours that are about to be bestowed upon you, and which by the admission of everybody have been well earned by long years of zealous and distinguished service to your countrymen.

MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

I desire to add a few words—a very few—to those that have fallen from previous speakers. I desire to associate myself entirely with all that has been said by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition; and, in regard to what has just fallen from the hon. Member for Waterford, I would only say any allusion to that from any other Member is unnecessary, since the hon. Member has accompanied his statement with a most graceful assurance of the strong feeling which he and his colleagues entertain with regard to the goodness of your intentions and of the impartiality with which you have interpreted them. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred, I think, with timeliness to the occasion when you were first elected to the Chair of this House, and he reminded us that there were some (amongst whom was myself) who at that time felt that the fact that you were a comparative stranger to most of us might add to the difficulties which are inherent in the great office you hold, in a manner which would be found to be embarrassing. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the difference of opinion which existed at that time, because it also recalls the occasion only a few weeks later when, a change having taken place in the composition of this House, you were unanimously re-elected. I remember well that the late Sir John Mowbray, then, I think, the father of the House and one of its most honoured and respected Members, was able to say that having been elected by one Party you were now by your conduct in the Chair giving satisfaction to all Parties. Sir, I do not think a greater testimony could have been paid to any man than that, and I am sure that to you it must have been specially gratifying as evidence of the impartiality and the ability with which you had already occupied the Chair. You gained our confidence then. You have never lost it. We have recognised in you many of the characteristics of your greatest predecessor. We have noted your quick appreciation of the innumerable questions submitted to you; we have observed the impartiality with which you have dealt with our business; and, especially, we have noticed, and are grateful for, the urbanity, the courtesy, the accessibility which you have shown to every Member of the House. We all share the regret at the circumstances which have now led you to retire from the office which you have filled with so much dignity; and we all hope that in your comparative leisure you may be entirely restored to full health and vigour, and that you may still find an opportunity of giving a portion of your time and the benefit of your great experience of affairs to the service of your country.

SIR ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorganshire, E.)

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Welsh Members of the House—for I am authorised by my hon. friend the Member for Denbigh Boroughs to include the Welsh Conservative on this occasion—I beg to express our deep regret that you have thought it necessary to sever your connection with the office which you have filled so long and with so much distinction. We can quite understand how onerous and exacting must be the duties of the President of this Assembly when we realise how much they have increased in the case of private Members, and especially when we remember the new obligations and responsibilities that have been thrown upon the Speaker. But while we deeply regret your retirement we are glad to know that it is your own act and deed. It cannot be said of the present Speaker nor of his predecessors that "superfluous lags the veteran on the stage." It is to us a source of pride that the Speakers of the House of Commons cherish such high ideals regarding their office and duties. That was most forcibly brought to my mind on the resignation of Mr. Speaker Peel when I privately intimated to him how greatly I regretted his decision. I His reply was, "When I find myself no longer able to give my best I have no right to continue in office." We were glad to hear yesterday that the reason which prompted your illustrious predecessor was also that on which you acted, and I think I can say for all present, we sincerely trust that your health will soon be re-established and enable you to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of another place and the society of the lady who so graciously presided over the social functions associated with your high office.


Speaking in the name of the Irish Members on this side of the House, I have the advantage—some might think it a disadvantage—of having been a Member of this House under four Speakers, and I can say most conscientiously and sincerely that you Sir, by the course you have pursued in that Chair, occupy a position in no degree inferior to any of the others. I am glad that on this occasion the Irish Members on both sides of the House are almost agreed. We still take no exception to any part of the Resolution. I am glad of this because, if the House will allow me to say it, I think the Irish Members in this House are especially gifted with the power of understanding what a Speaker ought to be. They have, in my estimation, been endowed, most of them, with the faculty of eliciting and bringing to the surface those great qualities which are necessary in any great Speaker. I may say with all respect in your case that it was not long after yon took your seat it that Chair before the Irish Members on both sides of this House knew that there was a right man in the right place. What are these qualities that the Irish Members on both sides of the House have elicited not only from you, but from your predecessors? These good qualities are, first of all, urbanity in the Chair, kindness towards those who approach you, but above all, readiness and courage. These qualities, I think, have pre-eminently distinguished your course in the Chair. There is one other thing, Sir, I may perhaps allude to. This House of Commons, of which I have been so long a Member, has always struck me as not only a House composed of six or seven hundred Members, divided by Party, by creed, and by other circumstances, but as on occasion acting as one man. And, Sir, it has its likes and its dislikes quite apart from the place in the House where the Members sit. You have essentially acquired the liking of the House of Commons. And, therefore, Sir, speaking for my colleagues—and I am sure on this occasion I speak for my fellow-countrymen opposite—I can only say that we hope that Providence may give you many days to enjoy the honour which I have no doubt His Majesty will confer upon you for the manner in which for so many years you conducted our affairs and maintained the dignity and the honour of the House of Commons.

MR. BELL (Derby)

I desire to say a few words and to associate with them my hon. friends who may claim practically to represent the working classes in this House. We claim that distinction, although on occasions we are told we are not representing them. To-day some one has got up and claimed to represent each different section of Members here assembled; and as we claim for ourselves to be essentially a section of this House, we desire to associate ourselves with the Resolution now before the House. It is difficult sometimes for every individual Member to see that he is at all times fairly treated. Members on some occasions are unsuccessful in their endeavours to catch the Speaker's eye, but that is not because of any partiality shown on intended in the selection of the Member whom the Speaker calls upon to address the House. We are able to recognise that in a large Assembly such as this it is not possible for every one to speak when he likes; every one knows that when he has not the fortune to catch the Speaker's eye. I can say most cordially that during the five years I have had the honour of being a Member of this House—I believe the majority of the Labour Members entered the House after you began your occupation of the Chair—I can heartily say that in my Parliamentary experience I found no unfairness or prejudice of any kind shown or in any way indicated in connection with the Labour Members. I join in the expressions of good wishes which have come from previous speakers. I trust, Sir, you may long live to enjoy the best of health and the pleasures of retirement.

Resolved, Nemine Contradicente, That the thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for his distinguished services in the Chair for more than ten years; that he be assured that this House fully appreciates the zeal, ability, and impartiality with which he has discharged the duties of his high office through a period of unusual labour, difficulty, and anxiety, and the judgment and firmness with which he has maintained its privileges and dignity; and that this House feels the strongest sense of his unremitting attention to the constantly increasing business of Parliament, and the uniform urbanity and kindness which have earned for him the respect and esteem of this House.

Then Mr. Speaker addressed the House as followeth (all the Members being uncovered):—

"The thanks of the House, expressed in the terms of such a Resolution as this, are the highest and most precious honour and reward that can be conferred upon an occupant of this Chair. They cast into the shade every other honour or thanks that could be offered to him. But that honour is doubled when the Resolution has been recommended to the House in language of such generous, and, if I may use the word, such friendly appreciation as has been used by the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. In saying that, I do not make any distinction between the hon. Member for Waterford and the rest. I regard what he has said as being as cordial and kindly an appreciation of my services to the House, as any words that have been spoken by other right hon. and hon. Members.

"Of course I am aware that it is impossible for any Speaker to expect that he can at ail times use his judgment in a way that is agreeable to every Member of the House. He must expect that there will be occasions on which they differ at the time and some upon which they will continue to differ from him. Some of those occasions will be important and others unimportant. The hon. Member for Waterford referred to one occasion which was an important occasion, but that was a matter of judgment, and it is not of judgment that we are speaking to-day except in general terms. What gratifies me in the speeches of all the hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Waterford, and the only matter to which I attach importance, is the recognition that my motives have been good and that to the best of my ability I have carried out the principles of justice and impartiality in this Chair.

"I well remember that when I first stood in the place in which I am standing now, more than ten years ago, I pledged myself to the House that to the best of my abilities I would discharge my duties with diligence, fidelity, and efficiency, without fear or favour and without respect of persons. That is the object I have had before my mind all the time I have been in this Chair. There has never been an hour in which that principle has not been present to my mind. It has been my earnest and constant endeavour to fulfil that promise, and I owe the deepest gratitude to the House for the assurance it has given me that I have not altogether failed in my efforts.

"I cannot trust myself to speak at any length upon this matter. I heartily thank again the House and the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken to the Motion. I pray that this House may ever continue to enjoy the dignity, the privileges, and the power for usefulness for which it has for so many years been famous."

Resolved, "That the thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for what he has said this day to the House; and that the same be printed in the Votes of this day, and entered in the Journals of this House."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

Resolved, Nemine Contradicente, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying His Majesty that he will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of His royal favour upon the right hon. William Court Gully, Speaker of this House, for his eminent services during the important period in which he has with such distinguished ability and dignity presided in the Chair of this House, and assuring His Majesty that whatever expense His Majesty shall think fit to be incurred upon that account this House will make good the same."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

To be presented by Privy Councillors and Members of His Majesty's Household.