HC Deb 15 February 1910 vol 14 cc1-12

The Parliament begun and held at the City of Westminster, on Tuesday, the Fifteenth day of February, in the Tenth year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord Edward, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British, Dominions beyond the Seas, King Defender of the Faith, and in the year of our Lord 1910.

On which day, at Two of the Clock, being the first day of the meeting of this Parliament, pursuant to Proclamation, Sir Courtenay Peregrine Ilbert, K.C.B., K.C.S.I., C.I.E., Clerk of the House of Commons, and Arthur William Nicholson, Esq., C.B., and Thomas Lonsdale Webster, Esq., Clerks-Assistant, attending in the House, and the other Clerks attending, according to their duty, Sir Kenneth Muir Mackenzie, K.C.B., K.C., Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in Great Britain, delivered to the said Sir Courtenay Peregrine Ilbert, a book containing a list of the names of the Members returned to serve in this Parliament.

Hon. Members having repaired to their seats,

A message was delivered by Admiral Sir Henry Frederick Stephenson, G.C.V.O., G.C.B., Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, as followeth:—


The Lords authorised by virtue of His Majesty's Commission desire the immediate attendance of this Honourable House in the House of Peers, to hear the Commission read.

Accordingly, the House went up to the House of Peers, where the Lord Chancellor and other Lords named in the Commission, sitting on a form between the Throne and the Woolsacks,

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Loreburn, G.C.M.G.) said:

My Lords and Gentlemen of the House of Commons,

His Majesty, not thinking fit to be here present this day in His Royal Person, has been pleased, in order to the opening and holding of this Parliament, to cause Letters Patent to be passed under His Great Seal, constituting us and several other Lords therein named His Commissioners, to do all things, in His Majesty's name, on His part, necessary to be performed in this Parliament. This will more fully appear by the Letters Patent themselves, which must now be read.

The said Letters Patent were read, and then

The Lord Chancellor said:

My Lords and Gentlemen,

We have it in command from His Majesty to let you know that as soon as the Members of both Houses shall be sworn, the causes of His Majesty's calling this Parliament will be declared to you. And, it being necessary a Speaker of the House of Commons should be first chosen, it is His Majesty's pleasure that you, Gentlemen of the House of Commons, repair to the place where you are to sit, and there proceed to the choice of some proper person to be your Speaker; and that you present such person, whom you shall so choose, here to-morrow at Twelve of the clock for His Majesty's Royal approbation.

And the House having returned,


, addressing himself to the Clerk (who, standing up, pointed to him and then sat down): Sir Courtenay Ilbert, I have the honour to move that the Right Honourable James William Lowther do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

I do not think that in proposing this Motion I need detain the House with a long speech. Had I been addressing only old Members I do not think I need have said anything in the way of commending the Motion to their acceptance. Those of us who had the honour of seats in the last House of Commons and its predecessor do not need to be told that the right hon. Gentleman has every qualification to fit him for discharging the great and responsible duties of this office—and to make a good Speaker a man needs to be richly endowed.

During the 36 years I have had the honour to be a Member of this House I have sat under the presidency of four Speakers. They were all men of the highest character, and in every respect well qualified to discharge the duties of their great office. They were all party men—that is, they were connected with one party or another. Nobody here will be ashamed of that. We are all party men. There is a considerable variety in the selection of parties, and the area of choice is not narrowing with the lapse of time. I have seen a good many parties, numbering from one up to a dozen or a few hundreds. A man has to be very fastidious in his taste if he cannot find a party that suits him; and, of course, it is always open to him, as I have indicated, to start a new party if he cannot otherwise be suited But whatever may have been the political party to which the Speaker has belonged once in that chair he knows nothing of party. The most lynx-eyed critic could not detect any party bias in the Speakers' decisions. That, at any rate, has been my experience.

I said that the right hon. Gentleman whom I have the honour to propose possesses every qualification needed for the position of Speaker. That is a very comprehensive statement. It would be hazardous and bordering on impertinence for me to attempt to enumerate those qualifications. Some of them are obvious to everyone. The Speaker is called upon, sometimes at a moment's notice, or without any notice at all, to decide the most delicate and difficult questions, which require promptness, justness, and sureness of decision. There is no time for him to consult his authorities, to look into books, or to examine the questions, but he has to decide promptly. Consequently, knowledge, experience, and training are required for a position of that kind whatever a man's native qualifications may be, and the right hon. Gentleman I have the honour to move has had a long experience of this House. He was Speaker for five years, and prior to his election as Speaker he was for ten years Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy-Speaker.

Those of us who have had an opportunity of judging will agree, I am sure, with me when I say that, whether as Speaker or Chairman, his decisions were always just and fair, and they were the decisions of a man who was well informed in regard to the points on which he was called upon to decide. The Speaker also needs courage and firmness, and if he can add to these great qualities courtesy and gentleness it must be admitted that it is a rare combination. I venture to say that Mr. Lowther possesses in an eminent degree that combination. Besides this, he has the gift of humour, and that has been called a saving grace. Some of these qualities are innate and cannot be acquired; they are non-communicable, and if Nature has not imparted them at some period anterior to that one does not know when or whence they come. If humour is not implanted by Nature, well, we just have to get on as well as we possibly can without it. Mr. Lowther possesses that qualification, and it is a great advantage to the Speaker, because it helps him out of difficulties which might otherwise embarrass him, and it is also a great advantage to his victim, that is if we may, without offence, use such a term in such a connection. I think I have myself witnessed victims, though I will not say victims of the right hon. Gentleman whom I move as Speaker. If the victim, as I have ventured to call him, falls amidst a volley of laughter, and if he has wisdom enough to join in the laughter, he falls unbruised. I would warn any new members of this House not to venture on an encounter with Mr. Lowther. The right hon. Gentleman, as we all know, is connected with a part of the country that is famed for its wrestlers. He has a very sure and firm grip, and I think that hint perhaps will suffice for anyone who would be daring enough to contest his ruling. However capable a Speaker may be, it is essential that he should have the confidence, the assistance, and the support of the House; and the House of Commons, whatever its constitution, never withholds that support in maintaining the authority of the Chair. Now, I must say further that I have seen enough to convince me that Mr. Lowther will protect the rights and privileges of the House against external encroachment, from whatever quarter it may come. Minorities, too, may depend upon him to give them just and generous treatment. It only remains for me to thank the House for the indulgent attention with which it has listened to what I have had to say, and to express the hope—indeed, the confident belief—that the Resolution that I have the honour to move will be accepted by the House with unanimity and the utmost cordiality.


Sir Courtenay Ilbert, there is hardly any duty that I can think of in connection with this House which could have given me more unfeigned satisfaction than that which falls to my charge this afternoon, when I rise with the utmost pleasure to second the Resolution which has been moved with so much ability and charm of statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth, and I should like, if I may, to take this opportunity of saying how sincerely every gentleman on this side of the House, and, I believe, in all quarters of the House, welcome the Father of the House of Commons back again to his accustomed place in this assembly.

Might I offer, in addition to those which have been submitted by my right hon. Friend, one or two reasons for the satisfaction which I experience upon this occasion. It has often been—indeed, I think if I were to be absolutely accurate I should say it has always hitherto been—regarded, with some exceptions, perhaps, as the accepted privilege of the majority in the newly-elected House of Commons to elect the Speaker from their ranks, and that, no doubt, under ordinary circumstances, is a wise and salutary rule which, generally speaking, it is both fitting and convenient to observe. But there have been not infrequently in recent years precedents to the contrary, and if there were no precedent for such a course as this I venture to think that we should do well and wisely to make one on this occasion by supporting my right hon. Friend the Member for Cumberland, who has been proposed this afternoon as the occupant of the Chair.

I have often heard—and I have sometimes read—criticisms which have been made on the House of Commons which preceded this. Happily, however, it is no part of my duty to examine and still less endorse them, and as far as I am concerned I should be very sorry and very loth to do it. But there is one incident in connection with its record to which I think I may be permitted to refer hon. Gentlemen who are assembled for the first time together in this House this afternoon. No House of Commons within the memory of man ever imposed such a burden of weight and responsibility and labour, especially during the last Session of the last Parliament, upon its Members, upon its Leader, and, above all, on its Speaker. And yet I am confident I shall have the support of every single gentleman present in this House to-day who was also a Member of the past House of Commons when I say that if there was one man at all events in that assembly who emerged from the great ordeal with added credit to his reputation, in spite of the enormous strain that was placed upon him, it was my right hon. Friend, who, for the third time, has been nominated this afternoon as Speaker of this House.

I am speaking under very considerable difficulty this afternoon, but I would like to point out that, after all, this was only what might have been expected by those who have known him intimately so long as I have done, and who have watched with such great interest his training and his career. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, he had had an almost ideal education for the great duties which were cast upon him, and which if re-elected as Speaker this afternoon—as I hope and confidently believe he will be—will devolve upon him again in the future. I do not know that I can say anything which would add to the force of those considerations which I have already submitted to this House. If my voice and strength admit I will, however, ask permission, as there are many Members—so I am informed—who sit here for the first time this afternoon, to say just one word in comment on the qualities which we expect to find in our Speaker and the great duties which devolve upon him. His task is not a light one; his position is not always easy. As the right hon. Gentleman has told us, he is the guardian of our rights, and to him are entrusted the great privileges which we enjoy. We look to him to order and settle all disputed questions as they may arise, and there will be at all times, and on matters quite apart from those which may arise in debate, some among us who will find it necessary to seek his counsel and advice, which we know from experience in this case will always be given with courtesy and wisdom. Again, we look to him not only by precept and example to maintain due order and decorum in this House, but to form with prudence and to carry out with fairness whatever decisions he may determine to be needful or required for that purpose. Hon. Members therefore, I am sure, will be quick to recognise how numerous and how diverse are the duties which we impose on the Speaker of this House, and if I add to those which I have already mentioned an accurate knowledge, a complete knowledge of the conduct of the business of this House, patience and forbearance, natural courtesy and the highest sense of honour, hon. Members will perceive what a combination of qualities it is which we expect and look for in our Speaker and yet it is on all those different grounds without the smallest hesitation I have seconded the Resolution which has been moved.

Lastly, there is this consideration, with regard to which I own I have thought more than once whether upon an occasion like this I should allude to at all, and yet after full reflection I have thought it right that I should do so. It would be idle to pretend that the House, which is assembled here for the first time this afternoon, meets under circumstances which are ordinary. They are not so. It would be worse than idle to ignore the fact that the new Parliament which meets together here for the first time on this occasion is confronted by the gravest and the most exceptional responsibilities which fall upon every one and upon all of us this afternoon. Everbody knows what they are and I will dwell no more on that point. I do wish to say this in addition, that it seems to me to make it more than ever important, that in the high duties we perform this afternoon we should be careful to select as the occupant of the Chair, a man who has proved himself to be already and through the test of actual experience in the wise, the fearless and the faithful discharge of the exalted responsibilities and duties which are committed to him—a tried, an honoured and a trusted Speaker of this great Assembly. I beg leave to Second.


I am very much indebted to the two right hon. Gentlemen who have brought my name before this Assembly for the far too kind phrases in which they have laid before it such qualities as I may be possessed of for the occupancy of the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Burt) has depicted the characteristics which are to be sought for in the Speaker of this House in that natural eloquence and with those felicitous phrases, which, alas! we too seldom hear from him. His speeches are like angels' visits. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken is, I think, if not the oldest Member of the House, the oldest but one, and I am equally indebted to him for the very kind terms in which he has alluded to the poor services that I have been able to render. I am certain that in this House there are many men who are fully as well qualified as myself to occupy the Chair. There are some, I have no doubt, who are better qualified—indeed, it would be a great reflection upon this House if that were not so. In the intelligence, the experience and the capacity of Hon. Members of this House there must be a certain number who would fill that Chair quite as well as I could possibly hope to do. But it has been my good fortune, through the fact that for ten years I occupied the Chairman's seat, to have gained a large experience in the technicalities of the procedure of our House, and that, I have no doubt, qualified me on the occasion when a vacancy took place in the Chair as a person suitable to fill it. However great my qualities might be for the office, I am certain that I should fail miserably in the attempt adequately to fulfil the high duty of that great office if I had not the complete confidence of this House. I care not how intellectual a man be, how high his character, how great his eloquence, I say if a man has not the confidence of the House it would be useless for him to attempt to control its discussions, to decide the points which may arise, or to fulfil the duties of the Chair. I am glad to think I have had some measure—a large measure—of the confidence of the House. Although they may sometimes have thought that my reasoning was somewhat obscure, or that my decisions were not given in plain and clear language which they might expect, I do not believe that any man in the last Parliament or the two preceding Parliaments ever doubted the integrity which I brought to the decision of questions before me, and I pray that once again this House will be pleased to extend to me that confidence, and I trust that I may deserve it, which they have shown in the past. Be to my virtues very kind; Be to my faults a little blind. This is no occasion for any prolonged observations. I can only say that I am prepared once again to place at the disposal of the House such abilities as I may possess, and that if the House sees fit to enthrone me in that Chair as its Speaker I will bring to the performance of the duties of that office the health, the intelligence, the assiduity, the courtesy, and I hope, occasionally, the humour with which the two right hon. Gentlemen have credited me. In accordance with the ancient formula of the House I submit myself to the will and pleasure of the House.

The House then having again unanimously called Mr. James William Lowther to the Chair, he was taken out of his place by Mr. Thomas Burt and Mr. Henry Chaplin and conducted to the Chair.


Before I take the Chair as Speaker of this Assembly, I desire to express my sincere thanks for the great honour the House has done me in electing me to this high office.

Mr. SPEAKEK-ELECT then sat down in the Chair.

Then the Mace (which before lay under the Table) was placed upon the Table by the Serjeant-at-Arms (Mr. H. D. Erskine, C.V.O.).

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, the election of a Speaker is of necessity a critical and a momentous event in the life of the House of Commons. The union between the Speaker of the House is not indeed like some unions, indefinite and indissoluble, for it terminates by law with the end of each Parliament, but the union none the less is in the strictest sense of the phrase a union for better or for worse, and when a new and untried man is selected to occupy that chair, however high and however apparently well founded may be our hopes and our expectations, there is always room, if not for anxiety, at least for misgiving. But really, sir, in your case no such shadow overclouds the horizon.

We older Members of the House may bear witness to the services you rendered to the House both in the latter days of the last Parliament but one, and throughout the crowded months and years of the Parliament which has recently expired. We know by that searching experience how under varying conditions you have always maintained the authority and dignity of the Chair, how you have understood to combine the assertion of the rules of order with the unfettered free play of debate, how you have always been vigilant to protect the privileges of minorities, to temper heat, to indulge idiosyncrasy, and, if I may say so, following what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), to exercise what in these days is, I think, one of the sovereign and saving gifts of a great Speaker, namely, to find a way of escape from sometimes an entangled and embarrassed situation by a sense of proportion and the faculty of humour. It is in the strong belief that our colleagues who meet here to-day for the first time will as years go on share our appreciation of your preeminent qualifications to regulate our Debates and interpret our corporate Parliamentary life that I venture to congratulate you upon your re-election to the Chair and assure you of the confidence and loyalty of the House.


The Prime Minister, as the Leader of the House, speaks in some sense most properly as representing not any particular section of the House, but the House as a whole; and were it not for ancient custom, I think that the speech which he has delivered might be taken as representing the unanimous sense of all Members of the House in whatever quarter of the House they may sit. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) has reminded us that we are divided into parties, and he reminds us that we are divided into several parties. And according to the ancient practice of this House, the Member who for the time being is Leader of, at all events, the most considerable of those subordinate parties, is expected—and perhaps rightly expected—on behalf of himself and on behalf of his friends, to join in the congratulations offered to the Speaker by the Leader of the House. Sir, my friends and I join most sincerely and most heartily in those congratulations. Many of us know by personal experience the work that you have done in that Chair, and, before you became Speaker, the analogous work—difficult, though not so responsible—which you performed as the Chairman of Committees. And having this long and happy experience behind us, we trust with perfect confidence your management of our debates.

We know that you will use the traditional authority of that Chair for the protection of minorities. We know that you will use it to temper the asperities of debate and to preserve those traditions of dignity and order which are the glory of the House of Commons. And as we have this absolute confidence in your power to carry out the duties, always difficult, and perhaps as the years go on not diminishing in difficulty, so we on our part can promise you that unanimous support without which the greatest abilities and the greatest impartiality in the occupant of that Chair must necessarily be thrown away. Sir, this happy union, as the Prime Minister has declared it to be, between the Speaker on the one side and that great Assembly over whose debates he presides on the other, has always been of the closest kind in your case, and we all of us look forward with absolute confidence to the continuation of those fortunate relations, and we all entertain a belief, unshaken by even the smallest doubt, that in the future under your guidance debates in this House, however burning the question, however difficult the problems which they may bring before us, will not be unworthy of the high tone and temper which this House has shown on great occasions in generations gone by.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, May I be permitted in a word to associate myself with the two right hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken. I am afraid I cannot this afternoon offer this word of congratulation in the name of the gentlemen on these benches with whom I act in association, but I can sincerely offer the congratulations in the name of the group—of the Labour Party—whose mouthpiece for the moment I have the honour to be. My predecessor in this position ventured in our name, four years ago, to offer you our sincere congratulations. When I look back upon those past four years I am the more ready, because of our experience, once again to speak our appreciation of your services in that Chair.

As a minority, and as a minority consisting very largely of new Members four years ago, coming here, and in most cases being entirely new to House of Commons procedure, I have in their name to say that we have received at your hands forbearance, kindly consideration and assistance, which, I will venture to say made it very much easier for all of us to do the work which we had in hand. In the future we know we shall receive from you the same consideration, the same fairness, the same courtesy. We have no right to ask for more, and I do not think there is a single Member in our group that would really expect more. Therefore, in their name, I most heartily associate myself with the expressions of appreciation that have been spoken by the two right hon. Gentlemen.

Whereupon the PRIME MINISTER moved: "That this House do now adjourn."


put the Question, which, being agreed to,

The House adjourned accordingly at Three minutes after Three of the clock till to-morrow at Twelve of the clock, and Mr. Speaker-Elect went away without the Mace before him.