HC Deb 20 June 1928 vol 218 cc1719-28

Hon. Members, having repaired to their seats, the Sergeant-at-Arms (Admiral Sir Colin Keppel), came with the Mace, and laid it under the Table.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

(addressing himself to the Clerk, who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down): Sir Lonsdale Webster, I have to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the resignation of the Right Honourable John Henry Whitley, late Speaker of this House, gives leave to the House to proceed forthwith to the choice of a new Speaker.


(addressing himself to the Clerk, who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down): Sir Lonsdale Webster, we owe immediate attention to the Gracious Message just received from His Majesty, and it becomes our duty and undisputed privilege to proceed to the election of a. Speaker. Therefore, I beg to move, "That Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."

Yesterday, we regretfully said farewell to one who by his conduct in the Chair has earned the esteem, the respect, and the affection of every one of us. Of him, I need merely say that the tributes that were offered to him by the Leaders of the various parties in this House found an unusual unanimity of response in the minds of private Members. Individually, we all feel that by his departure we have lost a good friend: collectively, we are grateful to him for the way in which, during times that were never easy and were often very difficult, he upheld the honour, reputation, and the traditions of this House. Those traditions are dear to everyone of us. They are the unique inheritance of this great Assembly. We all come under their spelt and often those of us who come to this House most enthusiastic for everything that is new gradually, unconsciously, perhaps sometimes unwillingly, but nevertheless inevitably, come under their mellowing influence.

It is in the belief that he will worthily uphold those traditions that I am submitting the Motion to you to-clay that. we should appoint my right hon. and gallant Friend as Speaker of this House. He himself is the child of tradition. He comes of one of those families that for generations in various capacities have performed useful service to the State. He is a descendant of a Prime Minister who had the distinguished honour of obtaining even more than his share of the scurillity of Junius. I find, on consulting the historian of the period, that he says this: Still, in spite of every disadvantage and defect, he continued through a long life much respected by all who knew him for the uprightness and integrity of his public motives. To come to later years, it is only about 70 years ago that a near relative of my right. hon. and gallant. Friend held the position of Chairman of Ways and Means in this House, and it may be interesting to the House to know that he was the first Chairman of Ways and Means who was allowed to take the Chair as Deputy for the Speaker. Of my right hon. and gallant Friend himself, perhaps, in this particular week, I may be allowed to say t hat in adopting him we shall not be backing a dark horse. His public form is well known. It may be pleasing to those who sit for agricultural constituencies to reflect that his first experience in the Chair was when he presided over the deliberations of the Agricultural Committee of this House, and that he practised his 'prentice hand in curbing the exuberance of bucolic loquacity. From that position he, in 1922, was appointed to the Deputy-Chairmanship of Way and Means. In that position we have all seen his work. We have seen him often in positions of difficulty, but we have never seen him lose his temper, and we have never seen him lose his head.

It. is not for me to enter into the vexed question of whether that Chairmanship ought to be a necessary stepping stone to the Speakership, but perhaps I may be allowed to say that when a man has successfully been through that ordeal we may apply to him the misquotation of the late Lord Salisbury, by saying that he is, Omnium consensu capax imperii, guamvis imperasset. I will interpret: "We all think he is fitted for the Chair, because we have seen him as Chairman."

There is one other thing I should like to say about him. We have elected to the Speakership in past years well-known landowners, eminent lawyers, and, in the last instance, a distinguished man of business. Never before, I believe, have we elected to the Chair a member of the Army, and I hope that outside the House it will convey the impression, which is perhaps sometimes necessary, that in adopting my right hon. and gallant Friend we are showing that We have not forgotten the gratitude which we owe to the regular soldiers of this country, and, furthermore, it may be gratifying to many of us to think that by passing this Motion we shall be giving employment to an ex-service man who was wounded in the War.

For all these reasons,, I beg to commend this Motion to the House. I hope and believe that it will be carried with unanimity.

One thing further. By carrying it, we shall not only be conferring a great honour on my right hon. arid gallant Friend, but we shall be also placing on his shoulders one of the: heaviest responsibilities that any man can undertake. We believe that he is equal to the responsibility, but it is my earnest hope that every one of us will do all that in him lies to make that burden as easy as circumstances can permit and that by thought, word and deed, we shall do all in our power to assist him to obtain that successful term of office we all so earnestly wish him to-day.


(addressing himself to the Clerk, who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down): Sir Lonsdale Webster, I rise to second the Motion now before the. House. I do not propose to follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Wells (Sir ft. Sanders), but I should like to refer to the late Speaker for a moment—the great Gentleman who vacated his high office yesterday. In almost his closing words to the House, he addressed a question to hon. Members as to whether or not as Speaker he had been a true guardian of the liberties of this House. Only one reply can be made to that, and that is that no man who has occupied this great office in years past has been more zealous than Mr. Whitley in guarding the liberties of this House. Those are words that cannot be used with impunity; they are not a mere formality. Those words embody the living heart and soul, not only of this House, but of the nation as represented in this House by hon. Members. Therefore, I say that those words dare not be used in any mere formal or perfunctory manner. A visitor has only to pass through the corridors of this House and look at the pictures on the walls to realise what the liberties of this House must mean to him and his fellow citizens.

With regard to the gentleman whom the House will honour this afternoon, I know I am right in saying that in his capacity as an Officer of this House he has shown great self-possession. tact, and judgment.. If with these attributes is combined just a little streak of what Mr. Lowther used to term "the saving grace of humour, "this House can rest assured that his occupancy of the Chair will be a great success. With regard to that saving grace of humour, I need hardly say how well it has stood previous Speakers in good stead, for when any little disturbance has taken place and the offending Member has been reproved in those gentle terms which Mr. Whitley used, that Member had no feeling of resentment against the Chair.

May I also say that the incoming occupant of the Chair will have two very great advantages? First, he will be in that Chair at the unanimous desire of every Member of this House. It has not always been so. But, if the honour is great—and it is—it is infinitely greater when the right hon. and gallant Member knows that he has the unanimous support. of every Member of the House. He will have a further advantage. Mr. Whitley—if I may refer to him again—has created an atmosphere of friendship probably unexampled in the history of the Chairmanship of this great body—an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill that is not only enjoyed by every Member of the House, but that has also made its way into the country, for by means of those Councils that bear the honoured name of Whitley he has done a great deal towards producing that peace in industry about which some of us talk so much at the present time. Therefore, the right hon. and gallant Member will have those two great advantages.

I can only hope, indeed I am sure, that the House looks forward with confidence to the Speaker who will occupy the Chair in a very few minutes. It is a great honour and a greater responsibility, for, as Mr. Whitley has said, the work in this House and the work of Parliament does not become lighter as the years go on. It will become heavier and probably more complex. With the knowledge that the right hon. and gallant Member will take the Chair with the unanimous consent and desire of every Member of this House, he will not only he strengthened in his determination to follow the splendid example set by his predecessor, and by Mr. Lowther who preceded Mr. Whitley, hut he will know that he has the support of every party in this House, and with that knowledge I feel sure he will be strengthened in his desire and determination to uphold the rights and the liberties of Parliament.


Sir Lonsdale Webster. I rise, in accordance with the ancient usage and custom, to submit myself to the will of the House. I am sure that no man could stand in the position that I occupy to-day without feelings of emotion, more especially after having listened to the generous terms in which the proposal has been made to confer upon me the great honour of Speakership of this House. All that I can do and all that anyone can do is to determine that, whatever circumstances arise, he will do his best. That is my attitude to-day. To attain the eminence which previous distinguished Speakers have held in this House and this country is obviously the object to aim at, but it is a difficult one to achieve. I say deliberately that not one of those Speakers has shown a finer example than has the Speaker to whom only yesterday we regretfully bade farewell. In my case, I cannot altogether claim inexperience in the duties which I may be called upon to perform, should this House elect me as Speaker. But, at the same time, I do feel some satisfaction in realising that, had they not appreciated to some extent my efforts, they would not now be asking me to fulfil a much higher position than that which I have hitherto held.

May I say at this time that any merits that I may have shown in the past, during the five years that I have occupied the position of Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, have been due almost entirely to the example that has been shown to me, the assistance that I have received, and the advice that I have been given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Central. Sheffield (Mr. James Hope)? I say frankly that, had that right hon. Gentleman not expressed the desire not to have his claims considered with regard to the Speakership of this House, I certainly should never have stood in his way.

During the period that I have had the honour of filling the position in the Chair, I have gained a great deal of experience, and I have learned that whereas, as a general rule, "a soft answer turneth away wrath," there are occasions when a much sterner rebuke is required; but the greatest example of generosity and good will in this House is that when that stern rebuke has been administered, and when sufficient time has elapsed for the incident to have been forgotten, none are more ready to forget and forgive than those upon whom the rebuke has fallen.

There are, I agree, certain drawbacks to those who are called upon to fill the Chair as Speaker in this House. To my mind, the chief one is the isolation which is enforced upon the occupant of the Chair. My best friends tell me—I think sometimes that they are wrong—that I am not effusive. Be that as it may, I have a great love for my fellow Members of this House, and we must remember that a warm heart is often concealed beneath a frigid exterior.

A Speaker's duty is to defend the rights, privileges, traditions, and independence of this ancient Parliament. I love and venerate the House of Commons. But I know and I realise, and I believe every Member of this House realises, that it is only with the assistance of the House of Commons that those objects can be attained. If I have the privilege to be elected to this honourable position, I feel certain that that assistance will be assured to me. Should the House be willing to place me in the Chair, it will be my object, throughout whatever period I may hold that position, so to conduct the duties which I may be called upon to perform, that when the time comes for me to relinquish this office to my successor, I may hand it over, as it has been handed to me, unsullied and untarnished by any action of mine. I pray God to give me strength to fulfil that determination.

The House having unanimously called Captain the Rt. Hon. Edward Algernon FitzRoy to the Chair, he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Sir Robert Sanders and Mr. Bowerman, and, standing on the upper step, he expressed his sincerest acknowledgments to the House as followeth:


Before I take the Chair as Speaker of this House, I want to express my extreme gratitude and thanks to the Members of this House for the great honour they have conferred upon me, and to assure them that so long as I retain their confidence I will give my whole strength to the service of the House.

I should like to say also, that I take this opportunity of thanking the Gentlemen at the Table for the assistance and courtesy which they have always given and shown me, during my term of office as Deputy-Chairman of this House.

Mr. Speaker-Elect sat down in the Chair, and the Mace was placed upon the Table by the Sergeant-at-Arms.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, I am glad that it falls to my lot to be the first Member of this House to offer you, formally, my congratulations and the congratulations of those for whom I am entitled to speak on the signal mark of confidence which the House has to-day reposed in you. I know quite well that the thought which comes to your mind to-day is: Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off. I am the more pleased to say these few words because, perhaps, there is no man in this House who has known you longer than I have. It is 50 years ago next year, since you and I first met as very small boys, sitting on a very hard form, learn- ing a very hard lesson, and in those days we believed, as probably small boys do to-day, that when we once came to years of maturity the period of lessons would cease. We have learned that lessons never cease. There is a period of further learning before you, Sir, now, but we all have every confidence that you will learn that lesson and when the time comes, as come it will, when you have to make way for someone else, the House will be able to say to you, as they said yesterday: Well done thou good and faithful servant Sir, the House will have learned from the speech which you have just made to-day what I have known for long. They I have no doubt, feel a passing regret that a. man who can express himself as you have done will no longer be heard in this House, except in the brief communications that have to be made from that Chair. But they will learn, perhaps they have never been able to learn, anti could not learn from anybody occupying the position which you occupied, of your deep affection for this House and the broad humanity that there is in you, which will preserve you in the place where you are, and which will help you every day. I am sure every one of us re-echoes that prayer with which you concluded, and we believe in our hearts that it will be answered.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, I rise to voice the congratulations which my colleagues on this side of the House would like to offer you upon your election to that very high and dignified office. I join with the Prime Minister in expressing the great gratitude with which we listened to the speech which you delivered to us just now, and in which, in such splendidly clear tones, you announced your love for the House and your loyalty to its traditions. Sir, I am afraid we are going to call you to an office which it is not always easy to till. There have been Speakers, predecessors of yours, who have had to show very vigorous efforts in the maintenance of the liberties of this House. I do not think yet. will be called upon to tread any hard and uneven road like that; but still the office of Speaker, always difficult, bas to be filled by men who, until they have occupied it, have very little opportunity of showing the quali- ties which have to be shown in it. Therefore, the election of a new Speaker is always in the nature of an experiment. It is always an excursion into the unknown—so much so, Sir, that, occasionally, election to the office has been made the subject of Divisions.

I want to say to you without any reserve that we on this side of the House do not believe it is fair to the House, or fair to the man who is to be chosen as Speaker, to put him into that office by a majority, however large. Therefore, we associate ourselves with the invitation which has been given, first by your own immediate colleagues. We associate ourselves most whole-heartedly with it, and I rise to assure you of our co-operation and our good will in helping you to make your term of office conspicuously successful.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, I think this is the third time that I have taken part as a Member of this House in the election of a Speaker. I rise to join with the two Party Leaders who have already spoken in hearty congratulations to you upon your elevation to that very exalted and influential position, a position which is becoming, with the exigencies of events, more and more important in every Parliament. The primary responsibility for choosing a Speaker when the Chair is vacated must always rest, in the first instance, with the majority of the House of Commons, with the party that constitutes the majority and their leaders, but the success of the occupant of the Chair will depend upon his securing, by his administration of that great office, the confidence not merely of the party which constitutes the majority but of every party and of every section of the House.

I wish to say to you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, after the few years' experience of your occupancy of a less important but still very important office, that my colleagues sitting behind me and myself wish to acknowledge the uniform courtesy and conspicuous fairness with which you have treated us, the smallest section of this House. That is no small matter to a small group in the House of Commons which is always orderly. Mr. Speaker-Elect, my experience of this House shows that there is always a temptation, when time has to be saved and harmony to be restored, and when sacrifices have to be made for that purpose, to do so at the expense of those who make the least trouble. So, Mr. Speaker-Elect, the fact that you have treated us with conspicuous fairness is certainly an element which enters into the warmth and the sincerity of my congratulations upon your elevation to that office. Whether you possess the rarer qualities which will be demanded in the course of your occupation of the Chair, time alone can show I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that every choice of a Speaker must be in the nature of an experiment, but I should like to say that my impression is, after hearing the short speech that you have delivered, that those qualities will not be lacking.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, I have to signify that it is His Majesty's pleasure that this House should present their Speaker to-morrow, Thursday, 21st June, in the House of Peers, at a quarter before Three of the clock, for His Majesty's Royal Approbation.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[The Prime Minister.]

Mr. SPEAKER-ELECT 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 Twenty-four Minutes after Three o'clock until to-morrow (Thursday).

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