§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I beg to move,That this House places on record its sense of the great loss which it has sustained by the death of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, Speaker of this House, who during a period of more than fourteen years, of which the last three and a half years have been charged with unprecedented dangers to this Realm, fulfilled the duties of his high office both in peace and war with ability, authority and impartiality; that this House recognises that, by his judgment, firmness and unremitting attention to the business of Parliament and to the manifold duties of his office, he maintained in full degree the dignity and privileges of this House; and that this House desires to convey to Mrs. FitzRoy and to the members of the family an expression of the very deep sympathy which this House feels for them in their grievous loss.There are many Members still in the House who will recall the day of the election of the late Captain FitzRoy to the Speakership of this House. It was, as these ceremonies always are, an impressive and momentous occasion. What stands out in my mind about that day above all else is the speech made by Captain FitzRoy himself. It revealed the man in a new light, even to those of us who had known him for many years both in the House and outside it, and I do not feel that any words of mine can epitomise the man so well as a sentence or two from that speech in which, as it were, he revealed himself, and I would, with the permission of the House, quote from what he said: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 that 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1928; col. 1724, Vol. 218.]How true those words are of our late Speaker. It is because he had that great love for his fellow Members that each of us; felt instinctively, respect and sympathy for him. This, his humour and his unswerving 694 sense of duty combined to make of him a great Speaker. He presided over this House for nearly 15 years during an eventful period in our history. He saw those momentous and distressful years between the two wars. He saw the outbreak of this war. He saw the House over which he presided destroyed by enemy action in conditions described, I remember well, on the anniversary occasion of his golden wedding in a speech which stands out in my memory among all the Parliamentary performances of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). All those things the Speaker saw, and he might indeed, if he had wished, and normally would, I suppose, have laid down his office some time ago. But the war, he considered, obliged him to stay at his post. He died, as I think he would have wished, in the service of his country. Indeed, it may be said of him, as perhaps of no other Speaker in the history of this House, that he died in action, for he often presided over our proceedings when he was in the Chair under the fire of the enemy. I feel sure that the unique circumstance was most agreeable to him whose soldierly instincts were so strong. The House will miss his firm and faithful guidance. We express our sorrow at his death, and we extend our sympathy to Mrs. FitzRoy and her family in their grievous loss.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
The Motion which you, Mr. Speaker, have just read from the Chair and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House admirably express the feelings of all of us, in all quarters of the House, and during the early proceedings yesterday, when we were hoping that you, Sir, would be persuaded to preside over our future deliberations, tributes were paid to the late Speaker. There is therefore little more to be said. We mourn the passing of a friend. We mourn the passing of one whose close relationship with this House and its proceedings over such a long period had endeared him to us all. I am one of those who in earlier days, when the late Captain FitzRoy was Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, fell foul of him—or rather he fell foul of me. That, I have no doubt, was good for my political education. I always regarded the late Speaker as a man of whimsical humour, a man of great integrity, a man of public spirit. On an occasion like this, mere words of sympathy to those who miss him most are 695 almost meaningless, but I am sure that the House does feel the deepest sympathy for Mrs. FitzRoy and the late Captain FitzRoy's family, and although his loss to them is irreparable, they can live in the knowledge that he was a great gentleman, a great public servant, and a man who endeared himself to his fellow Members in the institution which he most loved.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, Southwest)
May I be allowed to add a few words to the eloquent and deserved tributes to the late Speaker which have just been paid by the Leader of the House and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood)? This is no mere formality. We have lost a fine Speaker, and each one of us has lost a good friend, because the late Captain FitzRoy was the friend of all of us. I can claim to have sat under three Speakers, and I think I am expressing the feeling of the House when I say that the special characteristic of the late Speaker was his modesty and his quiet dignity. In the fateful years during which we in this House sat under his Speakership I never saw him ruffled or put out of temper, even under the most trying circumstances, and when he had, as he had on occasion, to reprove an individual Member, his reproof always had extra weight, because one felt that it was given without temper or personal feeling. The late Speaker was a Conservative—a conservative, if I may say so, in the best and broadest sense. He was conservative in his outlook on most problems, but he never allowed his political opinions, his predilections or prejudices to influence his exercise of the duties of the Speakership or prevent him giving every individual Member however humble, and however few that Member might represent, fair play and justice. I do not think this is an occasion for mourning. The late Speaker lived to a ripe age—over three score years and ten. Had he chosen, he could have retired to the quietude of the country life which he so much loved, but he was inspired by a sense of duty, and he set us all a great example of service in war-time by continuing in his office. Our sympathy goes out to his family, but we all feel inspired by his fine example of public work, and public service, the memory of which we shall always cherish.
§ Dr. Burgin (Luton)
Noble words have fallen from those who have preceded me. 696 We salute the memory of one who was every inch a Speaker, and, shining through the gloom of our present proceedings, I think the predominant sentiment is one of gratitude—gratitude to the late Speaker for the way in which all connected with the British House of Commons and with Parliamentary Government was so well maintained in the reputation of the world during his Speakership. We are his debtors, not only we ourselves, not only our own country, but the world as a whole, and not only this generation, but posterity. To the average Briton a sense of duty comes naturally, and it is something of which we can be very proud. Praise the average Britisher for some act of self-sacrificing heroism or for a life nobly led, and he will reply, "I only did my duty." The spirit of Captain FitzRoy will be saying in answer to our tributes to-day, "I only did my duty," and there is no finer epitaph. We must remember that the late Speaker was the finest and the stoutest champion of the liberties and Privileges of this House. The ship of Parliament is the poorer for the loss of his sure touch upon its helm. We mourn the passing of a great British gentleman, a great Speaker, a great officer of Parliament, and we place upon our records our acknowledgment of the gifts, the services rendered and the confidence that were inherent in his career.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I would not like to let this occasion pass without adding my words to those already spoken about the late Speaker. I have never known the House of Commons without Captain FitzRoy, either in the Chair at the Table or in the Speaker's Chair. My own relations with him passed through the stages of hostility—which I think was mutual—toleration, respect, friendship and, finally, at least on my side, affection. I liked the man as I knew him finally. I liked the way he swung along the Lobbies of this House to take his place in the Chair, with a swing of his shoulders, a twirl of his cocked hat. It was almost a swagger, but was the expression of a man's pride in his office. The great thing, Mr. Speaker, about the office which you now hold is this fact—that the man who occupies your position sits there, not maintained by force of bayonets, with no powerful bodyguard, no powerful statutes. The man who occupies that position occupies it because he has the Confidence and respect of his fellow Members. He has the same 697 qualifications as the rest of us—membership of this House—and he has no security of tenure beyond the fact that he is able to maintain the confidence and respect of his fellow Members. The office cannot last a day if the confidence goes. I think that I can say for all of us that so far from our confidence in Mr. Speaker FitzRoy diminishing with the years, it was stronger on the day he left us than on the day he assumed office. I associate myself with the message that is being conveyed to Mrs. FitzRoy and to her family. I only on one or two occasions penetrated right into their home and there received the hospitality of the gracious lady who presided over Mr. Speaker's home. A somewhat angular person in these social circumstances, carried away from her a feeling of great kindness and hospitality.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
It may not be unfitting for a Back Bencher to add a few words. The Front Benchers are in a sense in a privileged position. We who are Back Benchers appreciated as much as, anyone the fairness and impartiality of our late Speaker. We admired his spirit of justice, his unfailing sense of humour and that peculiarly English habit of understatement which so often in his Rulings turned the edge of what might have developed into an unseemly incident. It seems only a week ago when we presented to our late Speaker a little gift to mark his golden wedding to that dear wife with whom we so deeply sympathise and in whose loss we share. Now he has passed from us for ever. We remember the words of a great Parliamentarian, Edmund Burke:What shadows we are, what shadows we pursue.
§ Question put, and agreed to:
Resolved, nemine contradicente:
That this House places on record its sense of the great loss which it has sustained by the death of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, Speaker of this House, who during a period of more than fourteen years, of which the last three and a half years have been charged with unprecedented dangers to this Realm, fulfilled the duties of his high office both in peace and war with ability, authority and impartiality; that this House recognises that, by his judgment, firmness and unremitting attention to the business of Parliament and to the manifold duties of his office, he maintained in full degree the dignity and privileges of this House; and that this House desires to convey to Mrs. FitzRoy and to the members of the family an expression of the very deep sympathy
which this House feels for them in their grievous loss.
§ Mr. Speaker
I feel sure that the House would like me to direct that it be entered on the records of this House that the Motion was carried nemine contradicente.
Resolved, nemine contradicente:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying His Majesty that He will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of. His Royal Favour upon the family of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, late Speaker of this House, for his eminent services during the important period in which he presided with such ability and dignity in the Chair of this House."—[Mr. Eden.]
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.