HC Deb 08 June 1905 vol 147 cc1064-76

The Sergeant came, and brought the Mace, and laid it under the Table.

Then Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, addressing himself to the Clerk of the House (who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down), acquainted the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the resignation of the right hon. William Court Gully, late Speaker of this House, gives leave to proceed forthwith to the choice of a new Speaker.

SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)

Sir Courtenay Ilbert, perhaps as we advance in life, we do not, as a general rule, feel that those duties which devolve upon us by seniority rather than by merit afford unmixed satisfaction in their performance; but from that general rule I would make an exception when any one occupying the position I have the honour to hold in this House is privileged to propose the election of a Speaker. Because, Sir, I hope I may say without vanity that long service in this House and unremitting attention to its work for many years have at least enabled me to form some special judgment as to the arduous duties of the Speaker's office and the singular combination of high qualities which are necessary for their adequate performance. There may have been a time, I do not know, when any blameless country gentleman, having ordinary common sense, of good family and fair presence, may have been considered qualified for the position of Speaker of the House of Commons. If that time ever existed, it has long ago passed away. I think that as the years go by the work of the Speaker grows more arduous and more difficult. I do not mean that our sessions are longer or our hours later than may have been customary in this House in the times of our predecessors. I hope that our orations are not more wearisome now to him who is condemned always to listen to them than they were in past days; I hope it is not more difficult now than it was to reconcile the relevance of our arguments to the question that is before the House, or to restrain tedious or unnecessary repetition of those arguments.

Sir, these were always among the trials of the occupant of that Chair. But I think that in our days we work at a higher pressure and under greater publicity than our predecessors, and that the modern development, I will not say of eloquence, but of the power of talk, however valuable it may be to our country or to ourselves, has unquestionably added to the difficulties of the Speaker of this House. For, Sir, that development is coupled with a far greater knowledge of the procedure of the House among the great body of Members than was customary in days gone by, with the result that there is greater capacity to question or to criticise the application of our rules to particular instances, perhaps even to apply them to purposes for which they were never intended. That has immeasurably added to the number of occasions on which the judgment of Mr. Speaker requires to be given promptly, accurately, and at a moment's notice upon some absolutely unforeseen question; a judgment which, if wrong, may be a thorn in his flesh throughout his whole occupancy of that Chair. And, Sir, besides this we must remember that we have added, as was said yesterday, greatly to the powers and responsibilities of the Speaker in these later years; for we have conferred upon him those powers of regulating and curtailing our debates which, however just or necessary may be the occasion for their exercise, must always be disagreeable to the minority of the day.

Sir, I think it will be admitted that for these and other reasons the office of Speaker is now not only one of the most important but the most difficult which any subject can be called upon to fill. The qualifications for that office must be high. Our Speaker must be dignified; but at the same time I think it is well for him if he possesses that gift of genial humour which was so noticeable in him whose loss we now regret, and which so often dissipated the clouds of a rising storm. Our Speaker must be firm in maintaining the privileges of this House and in repressing disorder; but he must be kind and courteous to all. He must be prompt and just in action; but he must be patient and tolerant. He must be conciliatory even when reproving; he must be impartial, not only by habit, but by nature, and yet he must in a case of doubt be able to give the benefit of the doubt to the minority of the moment. Sir, these are high qualities to demand in any one; but I think I may say without fear of contradiction that they have been found in all the four Speakers under whom I have had the honour to serve in this House and they have been pre-eminently noticeable in the two last distinguished occupants of that Chair.

But if, as I have said, the difficulties of the Speaker's office have increased in our days, there is one point in which I think, thanks to the wisdom and prudence of his predecessors, the position of the future occupant of the Chair will be more easy than it may have been in former times. It has been happily and firmly established by their wise action that there must not be even the semblance of political partisanship or personal predilection in the occupant of that Chair. Never was a more noticeable proof of that given than was given by our late Speaker. We all remember how his election was the occasion of a keen Party conflict, decided by a small majority; yet I am sure that I may appeal with confidence to every one who sits on this side of the House for his assent when I say that, from the moment when Mr. Gully took his seat in that Chair, not by one single word or action could any one of us who voted against him ever have told to what political Party he had formerly belonged. Sir, that is the present position of the Speaker's office, apart from Party, apart from politics, apart from personal favour; and the happy result has been that on two occasions in the past, when the fortune of political conflict has changed the position of Parties in this House, the Speaker elected by a majority belonging to one political Party, having done his work well and faithfully, his high office was not deemed to be among the spoils of the victors at the election, but he was chosen again, with the unanimous support, not merely of his original friends, but of his former opponents. Sir, it is a short step from this to the proposition that the choice by this House of a Speaker should not depend upon political opinion, but upon personal qualifications; and it is on personal not political grounds that I suggest the Member whose name I am about to submit to the House to-day.

It has not been our custom, and I think it has rightly not been our custom, to make the mere occupancy of the Chairmanship of Committees a stepping stone to the Chair of the Speaker. But yet I will venture to say that there is no position in which any Member of this House can so well prepare himself, if otherwise qualified, for the Speaker's Chair, by learning thoroughly and completely the rules and procedure of this House, as by the occupancy of the Chairmanship of Committees. Again, it is precisely because the Chairman of Committees or Deputy-Speaker necessarily does not possess the authority, or what I may call the adventitious dignity, of the Speaker himself that success in the office of Chairman of Committees or Deputy-Speaker is a better proof of real capacity for ruling our debates than any proof that can be given in any other way by any Member of this House. Sir, it is my privilege to propose that Mr. James William Lowther do take the Chair of Speaker of this House. He has been a hardworking and respected Member of this House for twenty-two years. During ten of those years, in arduous and difficult times, he has successfully filled the office of Chairman of Committees and Deputy-Speaker. In that office he has shown invariable courtesy to all, never failing good sense, imperturbable good temper, and calmness and coolness of judgment and action in the most difficult circumstances, as all of us have had reason lately to acknowledge. I believe that Mr. Lowther has that evenly-balanced mind which is the first and greatest qualification for the adequate performance of the duties of that Chair. I know that he is imbued with a deep sense of the best traditions of this great Assembly; and I believe that he already possesses the respect and esteem of its Members. In my opinion, in no part of the House could we find any one so well-qualified worthily to fill that Chair; and I trust that the action of this House to-day in this, which I hope I may say is no longer regarded as a Party matter, may be an earnest to him of that confidence and support in the future which we owe it to our own self-respect to give unreservedly to any one whom we may choose to preside over our debates, and without which not only would the position of a Speaker become impossible, but we could not ourselves adequately perform those duties which we have been sent to this House by our constituents to discharge. Sir, I beg to propose that the right hon. James William Lowther do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)

Sir Courtenay Ilbert, as one of the oldest Members of this House, I consider it a high privilege to second the Motion which has been placed before this House in terms so felicitous by my right hon. friend. There is no function connected with our proceedings which carries with it so intense a responsibility as that which we perform when we answer the command from the highest authority in the realm and humbly endeavour to pick out from our midst the one Member who we hope and believe will well, truly, and judicially preside over our destinies. It is a mere truism to say that this modern life of ours is carried on at a speed and under a pressure which would astound our ancestors could any one of them awake. Whether we look at our sports, our amusements, or our busy hives of industry, there is ceaseless pressure going on, and it is surely not unnatural that the contagion should spread within the walls of this House.

My right hon. friend has alluded to the vast increase of the business connected with our Assembly; and I think this, at all events, is obvious, that any hon. Member who aspires worthily to occupy that Chair must be prepared to give an unflagging and constant devotion to the very minutiae of all our proceedings, whether connected with our Committee work or our more public proceedings, combined with a deep-seated and constant jealousy of our good name as a deliberative Assembly. If it may be truly said that we have just bad farewell to one of the best of Speakers, partly on account, perhaps, of that severe pressure of work to which I have just alluded, and if we ought to be proud, at all events, to think that during the long period of ten years he has maintained to the very full the highest traditions of this Assembly, and if he has, indeed, suffered in health owing to the sacrifices he has made in our interests and for the sustain- ment of his own high ideal of duty, surely these things should endear his memory to us so long as we live. It may be urged that in the choice of our candidate we ought not to have chosen one who has held office under the Crown; but I pass that possible criticism by without dwelling upon it, because it is obvious that many and good precedent may be found for such a course.

I may urge, I think, that I have some special interest in the career of the candidate we now propose for the acceptance of the House. It was in 1887 that the late Mr. W. H. Smith asked me if I could name to him a Member who could worthily fill the office of Charity Commissioner in this House. I said at once I thought he should try Mr. J. W. Lowther because he had a good head on his shoulders and it would, at all events, be a good opportunity of trotting him out. My right hon. friend has vastly increased his pace since then; and at length, after many years, I find myself doing my humble best to secure his entrance into that Chair and to place him in supreme dominion over us. My right hon. friend has referred in fitting terms to Mr. Lowther's capacity for the high office in which we hope to place him. I shall say but little; it is difficult to speak of a man in his presence; but I must victimise him if only for a few moments while I venture to urge that not only in the course of his special training have we been able to observe his capacity, but in many other ways we have been able to discover that he possesses all the best essentials which cling to the office to which we propose that he should be elected. We have always noticed in him a calm and clear judgment; and we have noticed also, I think, when he has been called upon in times of excessive excitement to give any decision, how deliberate he has been in giving that decision, although it has been perfectly obvious on all occasions that he has a quick brain and is able decisively and at once to come to a conclusion how best to meet any difficulty that may arise with justice to all Members concerned. He also, as has been observed, possesses that calm and equable temper which is always a necessity for the occupant of that Chair. He likewise possesses courage and determination, and there is every evidence that he has the keenest desire not only to maintain our rights and privileges, but the order of our proceedings. After all, the one point which can be urged in favour of our choice is, I think, a very practical one. It is that for very many years past—some ten years—he has been constantly tried in the balance and never found wanting.

Although it could be urged with perfect truth that in the case of the late Speaker a conspicuous instance has been afforded of the fact that an hon. Member may be chosen from our midst, little known among us, and yet may carry out the duties of that Chair to the fullest satisfaction of this House, nevertheless, I think these things offer no solid reason why we should not proceed, on such a momentous issue as this, on the strict lines of common sense; and surely we are proceeding strictly on those lines if we choose an hon. Member to perform this arduous duty who for so many years has occupied the position of Chairman of Committees. During that period he has proved, has he not? that he possesses every essential that we wish an occupant of the Chair should possess. The private business of this House has increased during late years at a stupendous rate. I was looking the other day at the proceedings when Speaker Denison was appointed in this House in 1857, and Mr. Thornley, who seconded his nomination, said that the chiefest qualification of Mr. Denison was his aptitude for public business. He also stated that some twenty years before that period, when he first entered the House of Commons, the whole private business of this House was conducted by two Committees of forty or fifty Members each, the great majority of whom gave their votes without hearing one word of evidence. During the seventy years which have since passed how vast has been the increase of private business connected with this House! Surely, then, we are making no very bad choice when we ask one who has had ten years of responsibility connected with the private business of this House to take the Speaker's Chair; and we may do so in the full belief that all business, whether public or private, and all the responsibilities which come under his ken, will be performed with perfect and complete success.

I have little more to say except that I am reminded that, I believe, for seventy years this will be the first occasion, if my right hon. friend is elected, when the Party with which I have been so long connected has chosen a Speaker from its midst. As evidence of the extraordinary impartiality of those who for years past have occupied that Chair, I need only call to mind that amidst all the ups and downs, successes, and reverses of the Party with which I have been connected, I do not think that at any time the most acrimonious partisan could with a scintilla of truth have asserted that any of our reverses or difficulties have been caused in the faintest degree by the partisanship or partiality of a Speaker chosen from the other side. No, Sir Courtenay, if our candidate be elected, he will follow the splendid and illustrious line of Speakers who have lived, as it were, in a higher sphere than the Members of this House, a sphere far above our political passions and prejudices, and he will follow predecessors who will surely stimulate him by their example in the work he has to perform.

I have the honour of seconding Mr. Lowther's nomination to that Chair, and I do so in the fullest belief that he will be equal to the duties we are placing upon him. I believe he will soon gain and secure the full confidence of this House. I believe more, Sir, that he will be able to establish what, before all and beyond all, to my mind is the most important thing in a Speaker—that bond of sympathy between the ruler and the ruled, between the President in that Chair and hon. Members, which makes the great mass of the Members of this House feel that, in common with the Chair, they each one of them are trustees of our fame as an Assembly. I believe he will assure this because he will maintain to the very full the impartiality of the Chair. As an old Member of this House may I conclude with an earnest wish and hope that our new Speaker may be spared in health and strength to bear the burden which we are about to place upon his shoulders, and that under his rule and control this Parliament of ours may continue to be a bright example to all the representative Assemblies of the world.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the right hon. JAMES WILLIAM LOWTHER do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)

The House then calling Mr. JAMES WILLIAM LOWTHER to the Chair, he stood up in his place, and expressed the sense he had of the honour proposed to be conferred upon him, and submitted himself to the House.

MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

Sir Courtenay Ilbert, I rise, in accordance with ancient usage and time-honoured custom, to submit myself to the House. I think the House will feel that this is not an occasion on which it would expect that I should detain it at any length. Nor, indeed, do I feel capable of doing so if I had any such desire. I would like, in the first place, to thank my two right hon. friends for the far too flattering terms in which they have submitted my name to this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, if he will pardon my saying so, I have always considered as one of the greatest Parliamentarians whom it has been my good fortune to see in this House during the twenty-two years that I have had the honour to be a Member of it. My right hon. friend the Member for Dartford has already felicitously alluded to the circumstances under which he opened the door of official life to me in the year 1887. I thank him for that act, and I thank him again to-day for the kind terms in which he has submitted [...] name to this House. I am fully aware, Sir, of the great difficulty, the vast responsibility, of the situation to which they have asked the House to appoint me. I am afraid I cannot plead a lack of experience amongst my other disabilities. Ten years of sitting in that seat which you now occupy, Sir Courtenay, have taught me many lessons; but they have taught me this—that, difficult as the position at times is at the [...]e, the position at times of the Chair is still more difficult, and that whatever qualities may be required from the one who occupies the post of Chairman of Ways and Means, far higher qualities are required from him whom the House elects to preside over its deliberations. I can assure the House that I am deeply sensible of my disqualifications for the office. However, my capacity, such as it is, my conduct, I might almost say my character, are well known, I think, to eyery Member of this House; and if they, after ten years experience of me, choose to raise me from that Chair to the higher one, I can only say that I will place at the disposal of the House the best of my ability, the whole of my strength, and what health is given to me, to carry on the work of the House and of the country. I think I may claim this—whatever my disqualifications may be—that I will yield to no man in this House in my deep regard and respect for the privileges and the independence, for the traditions and memories, of this House, and that if it be the will of the House to place me in the Chair, I will do my best, my uttermost, to maintain them intact as I shall receive them at their hands.

Question put, and agreed to.

The House then having again unanimously called Mr. JAMES WILLIAM LOWTHER to the Chair, he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH and Sir WILLIAM HART DYKE, and, standing on the upper step, he expressed his sincerest acknowledgments to the House as follows:—


Before I take the Chair as Speaker of this House I desire to tender to the House my sincerest acknowledgments for the great honour which it has conferred upon me. Perhaps the House will not think it inopportune if I also take this occasion, as I from this instant cease to be Chairman of Ways and Means, to tender to the gentlemen immediately below me my sincerest thanks for the assistance which during the last ten years they have given me in the arduous work at the Table, an assistance generously given at all times. I would also like to thank hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the confidence and the trust which I believe in a large measure they have reposed in me. I hope nothing I may do in this Chair will ever forfeit that confidence and that trust. I have before me three great examples in the last three Speakers, under whom I have sat in this House, and it will be my earnest endeavour to follow, though I know I cannot emulate or rival, the great examples which they have set me.

Then the Mace, which before lay under the Table, was placed on the Table.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, following in the steps of my predecessors on such occasions, I now rise and in the name so far as I may speak of the House at large beg to offer you our sincerest congratulations upon the honour which the House has bestowed upon you—the highest honour which it is in the power of the House to bestow, and perhaps the highest honour which it is in the power of a Member of this House to attain. In one particular only do I differ from those who have fulfilled this office for your predecessors. They did their best, and did their best most successfully, to obtain for the occupant of the Chair a man of the highest character, ability, and competent for its most difficult duties, but when they offered him their congratulations upon his elevation to the post of Speaker they could not foresee, they had no means of foreseeing except a general inference from the known qualities of the selected Member, whether he had those special gifts which it is necessary for our Speaker to possess. We, Sir, can offer you our congratulations with a larger measure of knowledge than it was in their power to obtain, for we have seen you doing the duty of Speaker or of Chairman of Committees through a long succession of years, and there is not a man in this House who has not been able to form a judgment of your qualifications for the great office which you now fill. That that judgment has been a favourable one, that you have withstood the light that has beaten upon the Chairman of Committees through all these years, that you have gone through the most trying ordeal which it is possible for a candidate to the Speakership to go through, and gone through that trial unscathed, is, in my opinion, conclusive proof, if proof we require, of your qualifications for the office. Therefore, Sir, it is not only with a heartfelt rejoicing at the unanimous favour which has been shown you by your fellow-Members, but also in a confident and well-founded belief in the success which will attend you in presiding over our debates, that I venture to offer you the congratulation which I now do with the utmost and most heartfelt satisfaction.


Mr. Deputy-Speaker—I beg pardon, the familiar words came to me. Mr. Speaker-Elect, it falls to me to offer you on my own behalf and on behalf of my friends on this side of the House our sincere congratulations. As you yourself have said, and as others of the right hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken have also said, we know you. We know you from experience, and therefore our congratulations offered to you and our expression of confidence in you are not mere words of form. We have a most perfect belief in your absolute impartiality, in your discretion, and in your wise conduct of the business of this Chamber; and I would only add to that that I am sure I can safely promise you our very best support in maintaining at once the dignity and the privileges of this House.


I have to signify the pleasure of His Majesty that the House should present their Speaker on Tuesday, June 20th, at two o'clock, in the House of Peers, for His Majesty's Royal approbation. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.

MR. SPEAKER-ELECT thereupon put the Question, which, being agreed to the House, in pursuance of the Order of the House of the 7th June, adjourned until Tuesday, the 20th June, and Mr. Speaker-Elect went away without the Mace before him.

House adjourned at a quarter an hour before Three o'clock.

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