HC Deb 03 November 1931 vol 259 cc1-12

The House met at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, and, it being the first day of the meeting of this Parliament, pursuant to a Proclamation, Sir Horace Christian Dawkins, K.C.B., M.B.E., Clerk of the House of Commons, Gilbert Francis Montriou Campion, Esquire, and Frederic William Metcalfe, Esquire, Clerks Assistant, attending in the House, and the other Clerks attending, according to their duty, Sir Claud Schuster, G.O.B., C.V.O., K.C., Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in Great Britain, delivered to the said Sir Horace Christian Dawkins, K.C.B., M.B.E., a book containing a List of the Names of the Members returned to serve in this Parliament.

Several of the Members repaired to their seats.

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

The House went, and a Commission having been read for opening and holding the Parliament, the Lords Commissioners directed the House to proceed to the election of a Speaker, and to pre- sent him To-morrow, at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, in the House of Peers for the Royal Approbation.

The House having returned,


(addressing himself to the Clerk of the House, who, standing up, pointed to him and then sat down): Sir Horace Dawkins,—It is our duty, in response to the Gracious Message from the Throne, to choose our Speaker, and I rise to move the election, for the third time, of Captain FitzRoy. I do so with a grateful appreciation of the honour conferred upon me by my selection for this task, but with grave doubts as to my fitness to perform it adequately, and yet with keen delight in the opportunity which it gives to me to pay some tribute to an old friend and colleague. The office which we have to fill is no light one, for the Speaker is the custodian of the honour of this House. For some five and a-half centuries the Speaker of the House of Commons has been the centre and the symbol of Parliamentary development. Around him have grown up, now by strife, now by peaceful evolution, our Constitution, our institutions, our democracy. He is the very focus of a system, deep-rooted in the past, but ever growing with the changing years, which has won the admiration and the envy of the world.

The Speaker must fulfil many functions. He is our mouthpiece, the guardian of our privileges, the interpreter of our traditions, the judge of our behaviour, and the guide of all our efforts. Each new Parliament presents new problems. This is the ninth Parliament in which I have been privileged to serve, but even that quarter of a century, short though it may be, which the past eight have occupied, has seen great changes, each calling for fresh wisdom from the Speaker, who must reconcile the novel conditions of the present with the cherished traditions of the past. This new Parliament, without precedent in the nature and size of its majority, charged with a stupendous task at a time of grave danger, filled with new faces, impelled by new forces—this Parliament may well make unusual calls upon him who occupies the Chair.

And what of the man whom I propose that we should set there? Captain FitzRoy is well known to most of us, for he entered this House more than 30 years ago, and, with one short interval, has served here ever since. We, who have been his colleagues, know how well he served. It would take too long to catalogue his achievements, but let me mention one. Captain FitzRoy did more than anyone to bring the industry of agriculture to the forefront of Parliamentary consideration. Incidentally, he is himself an enlightened practical farmer, and as good a judge of shorthorn cattle as he is of Members of this House. During two Parliaments he filled with distinction the office of Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means. When three and a half years ago he was unanimously elected Speaker, he brought to his high office not only the experience of long and honourable service in this House and in his county, but all the best qualities of a soldier, a sportsman, an English gentleman. He has already added lustre to the illustrious line of Speakers under whose hands freedom has slowly broadened down from precedent to precedent. Captain FitzRoy has won our respect by his impartiality, our admiration by his wisdom and his patience, and our affection by his good-humoured tolerance of our shortcomings. He possesses those most important members, an ear that sometimes fails to hear, and an eye that cannot see what is better left unseen. He has well and truly upheld the privileges of the Commons, the dignity of Parliament, the authority of the Chair, the rights of private Members, and the protection of minorities. In short, he has been a good Speaker; let us keep him. In the full assurance that he will fill his high office in the future with the same ability and distinction that he has displayed in such ample measure in the past, I beg to move, "That Captain the Right Hon. Edward Algernon FitzRoy do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."


Sir Horace Dawkins,—I beg to second the Motion.

As an old Member of this House, with 27 years' consecutive service, and in accordance with the unanimous wish of the party with which I am associated, it gives me very great pleasure to second this Motion which has been so ably moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope). I should like, in the first place, to express the hope that Mr. Speaker-Elect will have the best of good health and strength to preside over this Parliament, which I guess will last for the next four or five years—[Interruption]—at least, I think so. On the 25th June, 1929, at about this time of the day, the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Gillett) and the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) were called upon to move and second a Motion similar to that which is now before the House. Those two hon. Members gave a dignified, historical and political survey of past Speakers and of Mr. Speaker-Elect. They said a good deal about Mr. Speaker-Elect, but they could not say about him then what we can say about him now, because he has had two years' extra experience. When Captain FitzRoy was first elected Speaker of this House, and when he first occupied that now vacant Chair, I thought he was a bit "nervy"; but within two or three weeks of his election as Speaker of this House he found himself in the right position.

I want to say that I endorse all that has been said by the Mover of the Motion. It would be quite impossible for me to find adequate words to express my opinion of Mr. Speaker-Elect. I do not believe that there is any Member with whom I am associated, or any of the late Members who have been defeated during the last General Election, who have a bad word to say of Mr. Speaker-Elect. No doubt, on some occasions, some of us have been very much annoyed, but there is one thing that can be said, and that is that whoever occupies that Chair, when he gives a Ruling, must stick to it, whether it is right or whether it is wrong. That is what I had to do when I was Mayor of West Ham, and, personally, I think it is a very good thing to do. Every Member of this House, whether man or woman, knows that it is a very honourable and dignified position to hold. More especially I want to say, quite frankly and honestly, that anyone who presides over this House presides over one of the freest debating chambers in the world, and in one of the freest countries in the world. I not only say that here now, but I have also said it to the King in front of his face.

I know, of course, that Mr. Speaker-Elect has a very difficult job. During the last Session of Parliament, he had one or two forcible Members to deal with, and especially one who attempted to "pinch" the Mace. I do not know whether the then Member was thinking about the Gold Standard—whether he wanted the Mace in order to melt it down for the purpose of making the pound more than it was then. On more than one occasion I myself have disobeyed the Chair, but I have always had the common sense to walk out of the House, and I think that that is what every Member ought to do who disagrees with the Ruling of the Chair. I take it for granted that Captain FitzRoy will have a difficult job during the next two or three weeks to find out the names of all the hon. and right hon. Members of the House. I guess that he will be considering their faces and photographs, so that he will be able to call upon them when he thinks proper. Sometimes I have seen Mr. Speaker look first to the right and then to the left, and, having found out that he did not know the name of an hon. Member whom he wanted to call, has had to consult the Clerk or some Member of the House.

The only other thing that I want to say is that I understand that one of the chief things that I have to do is to take Mr. Speaker-Elect by the hand and walk him up to the Chair. That is not a very big job for me, because, as a man who has had the pleasure of taking four women to the altar, with all the attendant domestic, family and financial obligations in front of me, I am quite sure it will be a very easy job for me to take Captain FitzRoy by the hand. I want to assure Captain FitzRoy and the House, with all the sincerity at my command, that it gives me very great pleasure to second this Motion.

The House then unanimously called CAPTAIN EDWARD ALGERNON FITZROY to the Chair.


(who, standing up in his place, was received with general cheers): Sir Horace Dawkins,—In accordance with ancient usage, I rise to submit myself to the will of the House. In doing so, I must say how keenly I appreciate the honour that has been conferred upon me by the way in which the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) and the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) have moved and seconded the Motion that I should be again placed in the Chair. I cannot conceive of a better combination of Mover and Seconder of a Motion such as this than that of the two hon. Members who have done it to-day. They have both been Members of this House for a very long time, and, during all the time that I have known them, I should think I am right in saying that on 99 questions out of 100 they have been diametrically opposed to one another; and on the hundredth occasion upon which they have agreed, their agreement has been about myself.

I can assure the House, also, that I am very appreciative of the way in which the House appears to have ratified this Motion. The House will realise that, as I think has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye, this is the third occasion upon which it has done me a similar honour, and that is, naturally, a matter of great satisfaction to me, in that it shows me that at any rate I have to a very large extent, during the 3i years I have served in the Chair, earned the confidence of the House. At the same time, hon. Members will realise that this makes it very difficult for me, in replying to a Motion of this kind, to do so with any variation. I think, however, I shall not only be justified, but that it would be reasonable if I were again to assure the House that, should they do me the honour of electing me again to the Chair, I shall endeavour to the best of my ability to serve the House as well as I can.

This is really the only occasion on which I have an opportunity of addressing the House, and hon. Members, perhaps, will excuse me if I make one or two remarks. Since I first came into this House, now a good many years ago, it appears to me that every year more Members wish to take part in our Debates. It is quite true that you cannot put a quart into a pint pot, nor can you get more than a certain number of speakers into any one Debate, but I believe that, with a little trouble and consideration for others, we could get more speakers into a Debate if hon. Members would always try to make their speeches as short as possible. Might I say, without offence, that Ministers are not always the soul of brevity. It is astonishing, if you try, what a lot can be said in the course of 15 or 20 minutes, and I can safely say that some of the best and most effective speeches I have heard in the House have not taken more than 20 minutes. It is painful to me on many occasions to find how many Members who wish to speak I am unable to call, and I can assure the House that it would be the greatest gratification to me if, in our big Debates at any rate, many more Members could catch my eye.

As in the case of all newly-elected Parliaments, there are many new Members. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion has referred to the difficulties which will, no doubt, confront me in ascertaining all their faces and names. That, I hope, I shall soon overcome. I know it is the opinion of some people—I hope it is not so with new Members of the House—that the duties of the Speaker begin and end with occupying the Chair and carrying on the work of this House. Let me assure them that that is by no means the beginning and end of the duties of the Speaker. What I should like to do would be to remind them that the Speaker of this House is always not only available, but approachable as the friend of every Member of the House. Certainly, whatever qualities I may lack, knowledge of the ways of this House is not one.

One other point. New Members of the House are not conversant with the rules, forms, and orders which govern our procedure. To them, they seem at first sight both dilatory and irksome, but before long, and more especially I find if they happen to be in Opposition, they begin to realise how necessary those rules of procedure are to the proper discharge of our duties and our business, and, moreover, what a safeguard they are, and indeed how they provide for the protection of minorities and for the free expression of opinion in the House, which is so necessary to a Parliament such as ours if it is really to be a true mirror of the nation. Do not let it be supposed—I speak more to new Members than to old—that these rules and orders are not sufficiently elastic to enable the House, if so minded, to get through its business with great dispatch. Old Members will have a lively recollection of the speed with which this House in the last Session of Parliament disposed of its business when it deemed it advisable.

As regards myself, hon. Members will appreciate that the position of Speaker makes great physical and mental demands Upon him and, for that reason, I ask, as I have always asked before—and I can say now after three and a half years' experience that I have not asked for it in vain—that the House will give me a full measure of forbearance. Whatever the burdens of the Speaker may be, they are made much lighter if he can feel assured that he has the cooperation and support of the House. Without it he can do nothing, but with it he can do much. In the changes and chances of parliamentary life, Parliaments come and Parliaments go, and Governments of one complexion succeed Governments of another. But let it be remembered that this Assembly is a permanent institution and, if hon. Members will give me their full support, it will always be my constant endeavour to maintain to the full those splendid traditions which have ever been the glory of the British House of Commons.

The House then having again unanimously called CAPTAIN EDWARD ALGERNON FITZROY to the Chair, he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by SIR GEORGE COURTHOPE and MR. THORNE.


(standing on the upper step): Before I take my seat in the Chair of this House, I should like to offer the House my grateful thanks for the great honour they have conferred upon me and to assure them that, so long as I retain their confidence, I will give all my strength to the service of this House.


sat down in the Chair.

Then the Mace (which before lay under the Table) was placed upon the Table.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I am very happy indeed to be the first to congratulate you upon your election to the Chair, and at the same time to congratulate this House upon your decision. You will, as has already been pointed out, I dare, say, have a very difficult task during the opening weeks of your Speakership There is a great multitude of unknown faces and an unusual proportion of Members who are but apprentices in the mysterious arts and crafts of the House of Commons. They are very happy, however, in having you as their guide through those difficult ways. We all remember our first Speaker. We all remember how, when we appeared here for the first time full of hesitation, feeling that we had come into a new, unknown and hitherto unexplored world, the kindly smile of him who sat in the place you now occupy, his kindly greeting, and his forbearance with us and the way he put all his knowledge and wisdom at our disposal very speedily enabled us to feel at home here and to do our best as Members of Parliament. Those of us who have sat under you can assure the new Members who appear here for the first time that that will be the welcome they will receive at your hands.

We ask you to preside over us, knowing that the rights both of majorities and minorities will be safe in your keeping, that you will preserve the liberties and the dignities of this House, and that with impartial care you will conduct our business and maintain our reputation among the representative institutions of the whole world. We on our part pledge ourselves to you to maintain your authority and to assist in every possible way to make your task as easy as it can possibly be made. I shall follow your injunction, at any rate to begin with, and I offer you, on behalf of the whole House, our very hearty congratulations and our most sincere thanks for having put yourself in our hands.


I wish, on behalf of my friends, also to join in this universal chorus of congratulation. We are all very glad indeed that you are in the happy position of being able to preside over the deliberations of this House of Commons. As I looked round when I first came in, and as Members rolled in in what appeared to be an unceasing stream, I had a feeling that I and my friends were going to be a tiny island surrounded by—what shall I say, I am not quite sure. Then I looked towards the Chair, and I remembered that the Speaker would be the custodian of the liberties and the privileges of what ever small or large minority there might be in the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), at the last election of the Speaker, said that of course the Speaker would always be the custodian of the rights and liberties of the smallest minorities, and we feel that, small though our numbers may be, we shall receive at your hands all the consideration and every right and privilege associated with an organised Opposition.

There is only one other thing which I should like to say. You have said some things in regard to the House of Commons itself. I think, looking round this Assembly, one day—and I believe that that day will come very soon—this House will have to discover how it can find all its Members really useful work to do in addition to sitting here and either taking part in Debates or listening to Debates. The problems and questions which this House has to discuss and decide are questions of which every individual Member who has to vote should be cognisant and upon which ho should be able to give his opinion. For that reason, I think that some day we shall have to adopt some other measures for extending the real usefulness of all Members in such a way as to bring them all in. I have very much pleasure, on behalf of my- self and my friends, in very heartily congratulating you, and I hope that you will have many happy years presiding over this House.

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


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 Eighteen Minutes before Four o'Clock, until To-morrow (Wednesday) at a Quarter before Three o'Clock.