HC Deb 13 February 1906 vol 152 cc4-12
SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

Sir Courtenay Ilbert, I rise to move that, "The right hon. James William Lowther do take the Chair in this House as Speaker." I think that I can give good reasons for bringing this Motion forward. In the first place, we know that the right hon. Gentleman is an old and tried servant of this House. For many years he served as Chairman of Committees and for a short time during the last Parliament he presided over us as Speaker, and I think that I may say that in both of those capacities he was tried and not found wanting. There are comparatively few old Members in this House to-day, but I think those who are here will agree with me that I have stated correctly the qualifications of the right hon. Gentleman. They will be willing also to agree that in filling these offices the right hon. Gentleman has done so with ability, courtesy, and dignity, and those qualities taken together make what Lord Rosebery would call efficiency. Mr. Lowther was well tried during the short time I have mentioned, because he had to preside more than once over scenes of excitement, of difficulty, of storm and stress; and the strain of these scenes was much relieved in many ways by his coolness of head, calmness of demeanour, and imperturbability of temper. I will not enlarge too much on his merits. Old Members will know whether what I have said is true, and new Members must wait to find out for themselves. I will sum up my eulogium of the right hon. Gentleman by saying that in my opinion he possesses three essential qualities, or perhaps I should say three senses. First of all, he has the sense of proportion, which makes public life practical; second, he has a sense of humour which makes public life tolerable; and third, and best of all, he has common sense, which makes public life successful; or, as an old poet says, he has "good sense, which is alone the gift of Heaven." In our present circumstances we need a good man. We have a new House full of new men, full of new ideas, and probably there will be a now policy. But our minds are much exercised and much excited, and no man is so foolish as to predict what course things in general will take in this House during the coming session. This is the ninth Parliament in which I have had the honour of a seat. I have seen different kinds of Parliaments and different men in the ascendant; but in all of them I have seen, speaking generally, a desire and determination to support the authority of the Chair. I shall, indeed, be very much surprised if this House proves an exception to that rule; but I think I may promise my right hon. friend this—that as long as he is loyal to the House—and I am sure he will be—so long the House will be loyal to him. I hope that to-day he will be unanimously elected, and, if so, I trust he may enjoy a long and happy reign, and that when it comes to an end, neither he nor we may have any cause to regret the stop we have taken to-day.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

Sir Courtenay Ilbert, I rise to second the Motion of the hon. Baronet with a fooling that my task is made easier by the fact that the ground which he invites us to tread is the path of confirmed experience. The object that this House has in choosing its Speakers is to secure deference and obedience to the accupant of the Chair, and also continuity in our traditions. This continuity in our traditions has been observed so steadily luring the last two centuries in the matter of electing Speakers that you have to go back seventy years for the last occasion on which it was omitted, and half a century further for the last occasion before that. On such rare occasions it was that the House preferred to consider political claims rather than those high personal qualifications, which, after all, may be found in a man of the minority as probably as on the other side of the House. On no occasion can it be shown that the interests of the House have suffered from adherence to this principle of continuity. It has often worked as a safeguard to minorities. It has never impaired the just power of a majority. Reverence for the Chair is a thing not by any means easy to secure. We live in times when, as Sir Michael Hicks Beach said, the office of Speaker is becoming the most difficult which a subject of the King can be called upon to fulfil. His office becomes year by year increasingly arduous and difficult. Though I do not think anyone who has read history or memoirs will say that Party heat is greater in those days than in past days, I do think there is more activity in giving expression to Party feeling. There is ever more speaking, there is a more widespread knowledge of the forms of the House. There is an increased ingenuity in exploiting those forms. All this results in appeals to the Chair more numerous and varied in their kind than ever they were before. And, added to all this, we have the fact that the Speaker is charged with larger powers, and bears therewith responsibilities all the more grave. What qualities are they which we have to seek in the man on whom we propose to lay this tremendous charge? He must have dignity, in which is included courtesy; and from which should surely not be excluded that friendliness which makes him accessible to all Members resorting to him for advice. He must have promptitude in decision, and he cannot have promptitude without both vigilance and foresight, and without the knowledge on which foresight must be based. His knowledge must be not only a knowledge of the letter of our rules, but must reflect a definite persona impression of the spirit of our proceedings. He must have that comprehensive and complex series of qualities known as the judicial spirit. He must have impartiality, firmness, and patience, and his patience must include that kind of temper which amid a storm and conflict of passion, is seen to stand unruffled and imperturbable, responsive, if at all, with some spark of genial humour of the kind which, while not derogating from the dignity of his office, or the weight of the decision, goes far to disarm resentment in the person or the party against whom the decision goes. This last is a quality which must be born, and cannot be acquired. Lastly, there is another quality, likewise unattainable, I mean the intuitive perception which interprets on the instant that which we who have sat in this House before must describe as the sense of the House. At the risk of setting up too high a standard, I have ventured thus to catalogue the qualities which we require, and it is not always prudent thus to fill in the sketch. The reason that it is safe to-day is the same as that which makes it unnecessary for me to remind the House of the qualifications of my right hon. friend; for even if his name could have been up to this point withheld I doubt whether any Member of this House who sat in the last Parliament—and possibly the same may be said of many who did not sit in the last Parliament—when he is reminded of the dignity, the promptitude, the justice, the patience, the humour and the intuition we require in our Speaker, will not instinctively know that the man that is designated is the right hon. James William Lowther, and no other. In availing ourselves of his high personal qualities I submit that we shall be best carrying on the traditions of this House, best promoting the order and usefulness of its proceedings, and best discharging our duty to those who sent us here.

Moved, "That the right hon. JAMES WILLIAM LOWTHER do take the Chair of this House as Speaker,"

*The House then calling Mr. JAMES WILLIAM LOWTHER to the Chair, he stood up in his place, and said: In accordance with the ancient precedents of this House, I rise to submit myself to the will and judgment of this House. Before I proceed any further, I must offer my sincere thanks to my hon. friend opposite for the very kind terms in which he has brought my name before the House. When last year I was proposed for the Speakership, it was my good luck to be proposed by the then Father of the House. I believe that my hon. friend the Member for Cockermouth is not technically entitled to claim that title; but I am sure, from the length of service which he has given to the House, that if he cares to claim it no one will refuse to him the title of Grandfather of the House. I am, indeed, proud to think that one of its oldest Members has passed such a favourable judgment upon my conduct during the years that I have sat here. To my right hon. friend on my right my sincere thanks are also due for the very kind terms in which he has referred to me. I think we entered Parliament about the same time; we have sat for many years together, and I have, during that time, been a great admirer of his assiduous but unostentatious services in this House. I am glad to think that the representative of so large a borough as that of Sheffield should, on this occasion, have joined with the representative of a county, for a part of which I have the honour to sit, in bringing my name before this House. Sir, I have been a Member of this House now for twenty-three years; and during that time it has been my good fortune to sit under three Speakers. My twenty-three years' experience of the House has made mo sensible of the fact that more and more is required of those who are elected to the Speaker's Chair. Some of the qualifications have already been referred to this afternoon—impartiality, tact, readiness of decision, courtesy, and also, as my hon. friend the Member for Cockermouth suggested, a sense of humour. The House looks for those qualifications in the man whom they select for their Speaker, and rightly so. But, as time has gone on, I have doubted more and more whether in my own person those qualifications, or many of them, are to be found. However, I am borne up in attempting the difficult task which is before me—a task becoming year by year more difficult—by the reflection that the House has already had some experience of my services in the Chair, and that with that knowledge and experience it is prepared once again to invite me to undertake that arduous office. I submit myself humbly to the House in that respect, and I would make an appeal—an appeal which I am sure will not fall on deaf ears—namely, that the House will put the best construction on all my actions in the Chair; and that if I trust the House, the House will also trust me and support me with that authority which, in past days, it has seldom or never refused to its Speaker.

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 WILFRED LAWSON and Mr. STUART-WORTLEY, and standing on the upper stop,


said: I wish to thank the House most sincerely for the great honour which it has done me in electing me once again to the Chair, the greatest honour which it is in the power of this House to confer on any one of its Members.


then took his seat in the Chair and the Serjeant-at-Arms placed the Mace on the Table.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate you on being again chosen as Speaker of the House of Commons, and to express, as I am sure I am justified in doing, the satisfaction and confidence with which your nomination has been viewed in every part of the House. Sir, as we have been already reminded, if indeed we required to be reminded of it, there are many old Members among us, and therefore old friends of yours, who know you from long observation as Chairman of Ways and Means, and from a more recent and shorter experience of your conduct of business in the Chair. There are others who are new Members, but their only desire is to become your friends, and although they have no personal knowledge of your high qualities and know them only by report, yet I am certain that they believe that they will receive uniformly from you that counsel and guidance which they so much require among the intricacies of Parliamentary life. But, Sir, although the House may be divided into those two classes to-day, there is one matter on which there is no division between them—it is the confidence that you will not only maintain regularity in our proceedings, but will support the traditions and dignity of this ancient and august Chamber, and that you will preserve the House from any encroachment on the part of external authority, preserve it also from any wayward action on the part of an individual Member, and preserve it, lastly, as occasion may require, from the House itself. Sir, it is in this sense, offering you the loyal and constant support of every Member of this House, it is in this sense, with these objects, with these high purposes in view, that I wish you Godspeed.

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS (Kent, St. Augustine's)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, on behalf of those who sit on these benches, I desire to add a few sentences to the remarks which have fallen from the Prime Minister. We desire, Sir, to associate ourselves with those congratulations which have already been showered upon you, and we desire to express further our entire satisfaction with the choice which has been made in your unanimous selection to this Chair. We have every confidence that you will be a worthy guardian of the traditions of the House, and that you will ever be foremost in maintaining its privileges. You have already shown, Sir, that you know well how to discharge with dignity and firmness the arduous and responsible duties of the Chair. You possess a complete-knowledge of the usages and the rules of the House, and you have shown that you know how to administer them with absolute impartiality. I feel, Sir, that I am voicing the views of all those who sit on this side of the House, when I assure you that we shall give to you a humble and loyal support, and further when I express our sincere desire that you may long have health and strength to discharge aright your arduous duties.

MR. KEIRHARDIE (Morthyr Tydvil)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, on behalf of the hon. Members who occupy these benches I desire to add my congratulations to those already offered to you. There are other things to protect besides the dignity and the honour of the House. There are the rights of minorities and the rights and privileges of individual Members, and we feel, Sir, that these can be loft with confidence and safety in your hands. We offer you our sincere congratulations on the honour which has been so worthily bestowed upon you.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)


thereupon put the Question, which being agreed to, the House adjourned accordingly until Tomorrow, and Mr. SPEAKER-ELECT went away without the Mace before him.

House adjourned at five minutes before Three o'clock until Twelve o'clock To-morrow.

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