HC Deb 26 November 1935 vol 307 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, C.B., and Frederic William Metcalfe, Esquire, Clerks Assistant, attending in the House, and the other Clerks attending, according to their duty, Sir Claud Schuster, G.C.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 present him To-morrow, at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, in the House of Peers for the Royal Approbation.

The House having returned,

Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY

(addressing himself to the Clerk of the House, who, standing up, pointed to him and then sat down): Sir Horace Dawkins,—In accordance with the Gracious Message which we have received from the Throne, I beg to propose "That Captain the Right Hon. Edward Algernon FitzRoy do take the Chair of this House as Speaker." The speeches that are made at the commencement of every new Parliament are, first of all, speeches which propose and second the election of the Speaker, and after the formal opening of the Parliament speeches are made in moving a humble Address of thanks to the Throne. There is this difference between those Members who are selected for these two honourable duties. For the latter duty the young and promising are chosen, and the former duty, which I and my hon. Friend opposite have the privilege of carrying out to-day, is practically always entrusted to the oldest inhabitants. The office of Speaker is, I suppose, the greatest dignity which this House can confer on any one of its Members, but it is an office which requires special qualifications. It is not a job for an amateur. It is not an office which can be lightly undertaken except by one who has served a long apprenticeship in studying the traditions and liberties of our House. I have, of course, consulted the precedents, and I was very much impressed by the speeches of my predecessors as they appear in Hansard, but it seems to me that nearly every one of them endeavoured to find some new quality which he believed to be absolutely essential for the equipment of a perfect Speaker.

I want, for a very short time, to give some consideration to what those qualities and qualifications are. First, I think that the occupant of the Chair has to have Standing Orders at his finger tips; he has to know them, at any rate, better than any other man or woman in the House, with the possible exception of the learned Clerk. He has also to have something which is more indefinable. He has to know the practice of the House, and the practice is entirely different from what appears in Standing Orders. That can only be acquired by having a sense of sympathy with and understanding of what is desired by Members of the House themselves. In addition, the Speaker has to listen to speeches, sometimes of inordinate length, which I can imagine must be very trying to him, because they upset his arrangements and he has afterwards to sympathise with and encourage some of us who come down to the House pregnant with a soul-stirring oration, but are unable to give delivery to it owing to the fact that we are unable to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

Then, again, he has to take decisions on the spur of the moment. We know how difficult it is in ordinary life to take a decision, but it is much more difficult when you have several hundred Members of the House, I will not say heated, but in some degree excited, about the question under consideration. It is unthinkable that Mr. Speaker, no matter how great the provocation may be, should lose his temper. He has to have tact, he has to be impartial and he has to have the qualities of a peace-maker. He has to be human and to have a sense of humour. The qualifications which I have enumerated are not the qualifications of a human being, but are more the qualifications of an archangel. We do, however, expect, and in my experience we have been fortunate enough on almost every occasion to have, a superman as our Speaker.

There is another point which is not perhaps so present in the minds of all of us; that is, that the Speaker is always on duty. He may be absent from the House at times, but he has to be ready to come in at any moment. He is unlike the rest of us who, perhaps, about a quarter to eight may go to the Whips at the door and say that we have an important engagement outside, or that we have to make a speech to our constituents; and we will perhaps ring up at 10 o'clock to know if it is necessary to come back to the House. Mr. Speaker cannot do that. He cannot leave the Palace of Westminster without the special permission of the House, and he has to remain in his room at the back of the Chair donned in those clothes with which we are familiar, which may be designed for appearance, but which do not appear to be my idea of comfort. There he has to sit until the House has risen.

The House expects much of the Speaker, but it also owes much to the Speaker. Not only that, but Mr. Speaker's mornings are filled. He has to consult his advisers as to the business of the day and has to be prepared for any pitfalls which the hard-working Members of the House may seek to devise to spring upon him at the last moment. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman whom I am proposing to this Office possesses more of the qualities that I have enumerated than any other Member of the House. I have known the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for many years, probably more years than either he or I care to contemplate. I remember him when he was a subaltern in the 1st Life Guards; I remember his hunting with the Pytchley more than 40 years ago. I have sat with him in nine Parliaments, so that I am not without some qualification for giving his character. I would remind the House that this proposition is not a leap in the dark. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has filled the office of Speaker during two Parliaments, and before that, he was Deputy-Chairman of Committees. He has been tried in the ordeal of the Chair and he has gained and retained the confidence of this Hose. I am sure that he has never made an enemy. It is for these reasons, which I believe to be good and sufficient, that I beg to move the Motion.


I beg to second the Motion.

The Motion has been very ably moved by the right hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay), and I second it with very much pleasure. I endorse all that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, and would like to add a few observations and to give certain reasons why I think the Motion ought to be carried unanimously. When Captain FitzRoy was a back bench Member of this House and did the ordinary routine work of a Member of this House there was nothing very spectacular, nothing very showy, about it. As a matter of fact, outside the circle of his own friends and colleagues very few of us looked upon him with any higher opinion than we had of the average Member of Parliament; and some people outside this House do not look upon us as having any very high degree of credit. But when he was appointed as Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means it was not long before we began to realise that here was a man with qualifications and capabilities which some day, sooner or later, would take him to a higher position than that of Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means. Soon after his appointment he began to show a thorough grasp of Standing Orders and that he realised the responsibilities of the office he held at that time, so that when the late right hon. John Henry Whitley resigned from the Speakership we who had known Captain FitzRoy for a long time and seen his work as Deputy-Chairman were not surprised when he was proposed as Speaker of this House.

He has filled that office with distinction and credit. He has exercised discretion and patience, on occasions in a very marked degree. He has seemed able to find out our weaknesses and failings, and at all times has shown ready sympathy with Members of every party in the House. We may have bored him many times, but I expect he has borne with us with Christian fortitude. The office of Speaker is not confined to presiding over the deliberations of this House. There are many other duties for him to carry out, and, as far as I am able to judge, he has carried them out in a worthy manner. He has been a worthy successor to the many eminent men who have preceded him in the office of Speaker of this House. He has always been ready to listen to our complaints and difficulties, and to give us all the help and advice he could, and I think I shall be voicing the opinion of Members in every part of the House when I say that in his courtesy and kindness in everything essential for the benefit of Members and in upholding the dignity and procedure of the House, he has met all that was required. Therefore, I feel the House would be justified in re-electing him as Speaker, for his qualifications and ability and as an appreciation of the years of service he has already rendered to the House as Speaker.

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,—I submit myself to the will of the House. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has moved this Motion and the hon. Member who has seconded it have, in their different styles, attributed to me qualities which I have always tried to live up to but hitherto have been unable to attain. If it should be the will of the House that I should be again elected as Speaker it will be my earnest endeavour to serve the House to the best of my ability. Memories in things political are proverbially short, so I will venture to remind the House that this is the fourth occasion upon which I have had the honour to be proposed as Speaker of this House. Members will therefore see that to make any variation in the speech on this occasion is somewhat difficult. But what I will say, I think, bears repeating. Over the many years I have been Speaker of this House I have received from Members in all quarters of the House courtesy and assistance and their confidence and support, which are the things upon which a Speaker depends for his success or failure. Without them a Speaker is helpless. I have had them given to me by this House in full measure and flowing over, and I take this opportunity of returning thanks to every Member of this House.

I doubt whether it is generally recognised how onerous and responsible the duties of the Speaker are, but of late years more duties have constantly been thrust upon the Speaker by this House. I make no complaint, but I say this because it only shows how much the Speaker of the day depends upon the indulgence of the House if those duties are to be successfully performed. It may be presumptuous on my part to take the opportunity of these occasions to make remarks and perhaps give advice on the conduct of our debates. Some years ago, hon. Members will recall, I made some reference to the advisability of shortening speeches in this House. I do not know whether that advice has had any effect; it may have had some, but most of it has worn off, with a few valuable and notable exceptions. But I am going to give the House another little bit of advice which, I hope, they will not take amiss. I have noticed how our debates are conducted and I want to tell the House that a debate ought to be a debate, that is, a discussion, one speaker following another and giving arguments for and against the question that is before the House. In other words, the debates should have the qualities of the cut-and-thrust of debate. I have noticed, rather more in recent years than it was in the past, that there has been a tendency growing in our debates for them to become the delivery of a series of set speeches. That habit is not carrying out debate in the true meaning of the word, and if that became the custom of this House I am sure that the live interest, not only in this House but outside, would suffer thereby. That is the bit of advice I give on this occasion.

On looking round this House, assembled for the first time today in this new Parliament, I find that the usual difficulty in familiarising myself with new faces will be easier than usual. I see many with whom I have become well acquainted in past Parliaments. I hope that Members who come back again to this Assembly have not forgotten their Erskine May. I also hope that those who come here for the first time will soon attune themselves to the customs and procedure of this House. I am quite certain that new Members who do so will become as jealous of the dignity and tradition of this House as has been habitual with all their predecessors. It only remains for me once again to ask for that full support from the whole House if I am properly to perform the duties of the great office which you are again calling upon me to fulfil.

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 LIEUT.-COLONEL SPENDER-CLAY and MR. CAPE.


(standing on the upper step): From this place I want to offer my grateful thanks for the great honour that has been conferred upon me and for the confidence which has been placed in me. I hope that that confidence will be deserved, and that neither the honour of the House nor the authority of the Chair will suffer in my hands. I now take this opportunity of thanking the Gentlemen at the Table whose invariable assistance, courtesy and help have been of such value to me during the years that I have occupied the Chair.


sat down in the Chair.

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

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, no greater honour can fall to anyone in my position than to have the privilege of being the first in this House to voice for the House their congratulations to you and their felicitations and their confidence that the House once more has selected the right man. To-day I think all Members must feel that we are very much as it were a fortuitous concourse of atoms. The House forms itself around you, Sir, in your person and in the dignity of your office. In you are personified the tradition and, as I have said before on a similar occasion, the corporate sense of this House, which is far older and far greater than any individual who has ever sat in the House.

In these days, a testing time for Democracy as we all know, there is no country that is not looking to Westminster at this time to see how this great instrument of Democracy is being used by our people. The responsibility on us is therefore the greater, and so I rejoiced to hear you say, when you made one of those rare speeches to which we delight to listen, that the confidence of the House and the personal respect of hon. Members and kindness for your office and for you had never failed. I do not think that they will fail. As long as you can lead this House as Speaker as you have done during these last years, so long that confidence will last and so long this House, in spite of whatever internecine troubles it may have and however keen the party conflicts may be, will, in times of crisis, rise superior to all that, and show itself in its great corporate capacity as the British House of Parliament, the first legislative assembly in the world.


Mr. Speaker-Elect, I rise to join on behalf of my friends in congratulating you on your re-election to this high office, which you have filled in successive Parliaments with such rare distinction. You have a double duty. You have first the duty of guarding the privileges of this House in its corporate capacity. Your second duty is that of preserving the rights of the minority and the rights of every Member of this House. We know from experience that you will fulfil these duties faithfully and that you will bring to the work of your high office the qualities of impartiality, dignity and patience. We know, too, that besides a knowledge of forms you have sympathy and understanding, which are of vital importance if you are to carry on your duties in this very human institution. We feel that we are in safe hands under your guidance.

The forms and procedure of this House change almost imperceptibly as the years go by; for this House is not a dead thing: it is a living organism constantly adapting itself to the needs of the age. Its spirit, however, remains the same, and you, Sir, have a special responsibility in preserving intact that spirit. All of us, leaders of parties and followers alike, have the duty of assisting you in that task. I know that I am speaking on behalf of all my colleagues when I assure you that you can rely upon us for our support for the authority of the Chair. That authority is vital for the free and orderly debate which is the essential of our democratic form of government. We hope that you will have health and strength to perform your heavy duties, and that you may long and happily occupy that Chair and preside over our deliberations.


Mr. Speaker-Elect—I may be permitted, perhaps—to quote the felicitous phrase of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved your re-election to the Chair—as the oldest inhabitant of this House, to add two or three words of felicitation, not merely to you, Sir, but to the House, upon your re-election to that high office. I think you are the sixth Speaker that I have seen in that Chair. Five of them I have sat under, and the other I saw. But there were never times when the choice of a Speaker for the British Parliament was a matter of greater moment than at present, when liberty is discredited and in jeopardy throughout a great part of the world. As the authority of law depends, ultimately, not upon force, but upon the confidence reposed by all classes of the community in the impartiality of the Courts, so the supremacy of Parliamentary institutions depends upon the general conviction that every point of view in the nation will have an opportunity of fair and free expression and of being heard in this Assembly on all issues that affect the general well-being. There are two interpreters and guardians of that great tradition. One is the Speaker of the House, and the other is the Leader of the House. We are not to-day concerned with the functions of your cotrustee, but on this occasion we all rejoice at your re-election to that high office. Having had years of experience of you, Sir, not merely in that Chair but before that as Deputy-Chairman of Committees, we feel assured that, whatever may happen elsewhere, as long as you, Sir, occupy that Chair we shall enjoy that freedom of speech which has made the tradition and the fame of the British Parliament throughout the world.


Mr. Speaker-Elect—I seldom intervene on these more formal occasions in the House of Commons, but I feel that it would be wrong of me to allow this occasion to pass without offering a word on behalf of myself and my colleagues who sit beside me. The Leader of the Opposition has spoken about the importance of protecting minority rights. I think that perhaps we who sit in this place realise the importance of that more than any of us here, and I say without hesitation that we know that that measure of protection which it is in your hands to give will be given with freedom and with fairness. I think that perhaps I am the only one among those who have spoken who in recent years has incurred your wrath. On more than one occasion it has been my misfortune to have broken one or other of the many rules that govern our procedure here. I cannot stand here and promise that that might never occur again. I think that Parliament is at its best when it is being most human, and it is probably most human when tempers are lost and hot words pass. I hope that this Parliament will be no different from others in having these occasions, but, although I cannot promise to walk a dull, dead line of Parliamentary respectability and rectitude, I think I can say that your authority will be recognised here as the last authority in this House, and that quarrels in the future will only serve to do what they have done in the past—to make us realise that in dealing with you, Sir, we are dealing with a man of very great stature.

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 Rouse adjourned accordingly until Tomorrow, and Mr. SPEAKER-ELECT went away without the Mace before him.

House adjourned at Twenty-four Minutes before Four o'Clock, until To-Morrow (Wednesday) at a Quarter before Three o'Clock.