HC Deb 01 August 1945 vol 413 cc1-14

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 Gilbert Francis Montriou Campion, K.C.B., Clerk of the House of Commons, Frederic William Metcalfe, Esquire, C.B., and Edward Abdy Fellowes, Esquire, C.B., M.C., Clerks Assistant, attending in the House, and the other Clerks attending according to their duty, the Hon. Sir Albert Edward Alexander Napier, K.C.B., Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in Great Britain, delivered to the said Sir Gilbert Francis Montriou Campion, K.C.B., 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,

Mr. Neil Maclean (Govan)

(addressing himself to the Clerk of the House, who, standing up, pointed to him and then sat down): Sir Gilbert Campion, in accordance with the Gracious Message which we have received from the Throne, I beg to move, That Colonel the Right Hon. Douglas Clifton Brown do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. To be elected Speaker of the British House of Commons is considered, I believe throughout all the democratic Assemblies of the world, to be the highest honour that can be conferred upon anyone in a deliberative Chamber, and I feel certain that our choice to-day, if hon. Members agree with my nomination, will be found to be equal to any which have preceded it. I have been in this House for many years now, and have sat under four Speakers, including the right hon. and gallant Gentleman I have just nominated, and I have always found—greatly to my astonishment when I first came into this House—that the Speaker, although elected at a General Election on a party issue and a party programme, from the moment that he became the Speaker seemed to divorce himself entirely from his political aspirations and beliefs, and immediately looked upon every Member of this House of Commons, even the newest, as one who was entitled to have equal rights and privileges with the oldest Members. That practice has been maintained during all my time as a Member of Parliament, and I am certain that in this House, however keen discussions may be upon occasions, however great the rivalry that may be aroused in debating different resolutions and propositions, there will be at least that attention paid to the decisions of the Speaker which, is due to decisions based upon long experience.

The Speaker of this House must possess certain virtues. He must be firm, he must be courteous, he must be impartial, and in those three virtues alone the nominee whose name I have given will, I am certain, commend himself to this House. We already have had some experience of his conduct in the Chair, and I want to give just this word of warning. It is not advice, because I hate, as we all do, getting advice from others, and therefore I do not give advice. It is merely a word of warning to the new Members who have come into this House—and there are quite a number. I say to them: Do not expect that you are going to revolutionise the operations of this House of Commons in a fortnight or less. You will find that the Speaker will always call upon, and find a place for, one who has to make a maiden speech. A Member's first speech very often guides the Speaker in future selections. Therefore my warning is not to be too controversial, not to be too personal in the first speech, but to smooth the way for yourself so that upon your next rising to catch the Speaker's eye, his eye will fall upon you with pleasure and he will call upon you.

I may point out that Colonel Clifton Brown had the very high privilege to be invited in the name of the House of Commons to visit the Allied troops on the Continent. He has been in Holland, in Belgium and in Germany on the invitation of the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied troops, General Eisenhower. That was, I think, not merely an honour paid to the Speaker of the then House of Commons as such, but was also a high honour paid to the then occupant of the Chair.

I again place before this Assembly the name of Colonel Clifton Brown to be Speaker of the House when it meets in proper Session.

Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)

I beg to second the Motion.

My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown) has occupied the Chair of this House for over two years, and during that time he has proved that he has all the qualities necessary for his great office. I would put those qualities as follow: patience, tact, courtesy, fairness, kindliness, impartiality, a sense of humour, and the capacity to sit quiet. It has also been said, Sir Gilbert, that a Speaker ought to be both blind and deaf. That may be so on occasions, but equally there are occasions when the Speaker has got to see very well and to hear very well. I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend can also be firm when necessary and firmness is sometimes very necessary. Firmness, however, in the Chair can only be successfully exercised by a Speaker who possesses generally the respect and confidence of the House as a whole. My right hon. and gallant Friend possessed that respect and confidence in the old Parliament and I am sure that he will also possess it in this new House of Commons.

In common with one or two other Members of this House who were Members before the Dissolution, I had an opportunity of seeing Colonel Clifton Brown at rather close quarters, when he was acting as Chairman of the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform last summer. He made a most admirable Chairman. Without appearing to take any special lead in the proceedings, by an occasional word at the right time and in the right place, he managed to keep that conference in an atmosphere of good humour and friendliness, with the result that it attained a remarkable measure of agreement on several very controversial matters. That was very largely due to my right hon. and gallant Friend's guidance.

Like the hon. Member who has proposed this Motion, I have sat as a Member of this House under four Speakers—Lowther, Whitley, Fitzroy and Clifton Brown—and I have had an opportunity of observing the House of Commons over a period of some 30 years. If I were asked what had struck me most during that time, I would say this: an immense improvement in the behaviour of the House of Commons. That improvement began at the beginning of the 1930's and it has lasted up till now. I can remember the time when the Irish Nationalist Members were in this House and I remember once seeing the late Mr. Joseph Devlin engaged in a free fight with other Members of the House on the Floor of this Chamber. I remember seeing a Member of Parliament rush into the Chamber and seize, the Mace. But for the last 15 years the House of Commons has been a remarkably orderly Assembly, and the Speaker has consequently had a much easier time. I hope most sincerely that that will continue. Scenes do not add to the credit of Parliament; they lower its prestige, and if I judge aright the temper of the country at this present time, the people do not want party bickering, they do not want party squalls. What they want is a national programme in the interests of the country. In other words, what the people want to-day is that Parliament should get on with its job.

This election of a Speaker takes place on an almost unique occasion. One has to go back to 1906 to find a parallel. At that time Mr. Lowther, a Conservative, had been elected Speaker at the tail-end of the old Parliament. At the subsequent General Election the Liberals swept the country. Yet, when Parliament met, Mr. Lowther, a Conservative, was elected Speaker. That was a great step forward in establishing the doctrine of the continuity of the Speakership—provided, of course, that the occupant of the Chair is a fit and proper person. Another, and, I hope, conclusive step will be taken today in establishing the continuity of the Speakership. This proposal reflects, in my view, great credit on the House of Commons and particularly on the party who are now in a large majority here. Some people might have thought that in the first flush of great victory a different course would have been taken, and that the majority might have put forward a Speaker of their own party. If they had done so, he would have been elected and all the precedents of the past would have been broken, and the tradition of the office would have been impaired. I am delighted to know that the good sense of the House of Commons, reflecting, as it does, the good sense of the British people, has once again triumphed.

May I make one further observation in this connection? Now that this occasion establishes so firmly the continuity of the Speakership, would it not be possible in future to return to the old custom by which the Speaker was unopposed in his constituency? In fighting an Election he suffers under a great disability, because he cannot enter the party field and must rely on support solely as Speaker. I myself would like to see the old custom restored. My right hon. and gallant Friend is about to assume again the Chairmanship of this House. I am confident that he will fully maintain the high tradition of his office, an office which has been fashioned and moulded through the centuries of British history, and which is one of the main pillars of our liberties, in a free and democratic Constitution.

The House then unanimously called Colonel Douglas Clifton Brown to the Chair.

Colonel Douglas Clifton Brown (Hexham) (who, standing up in his place, was received tenth general cheers)

Sir Gilbert, you have pointed the finger of fate towards me; as I looked, I hoped it was going to pass me by, but apparently it has not. I rise, in all humility, to submit myself to the will of the House. I feel in my heart what a great honour you are conferring upon me, and I am very sensible of it. I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) for the kind things he said about me in his excellent speech. He and I have known each other for a long time, for we entered the House in 1918. All I can say is that from my experience in the Chair he has never caused me any trouble. I should like to say, too, that the Labour Party in choosing their senior back bencher to propose me have made what I consider to be a very generous gesture and paid a very great compliment, which I very much appreciate. I should also like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) for what he said about some of my qualities. Believe me, I think he over-painted the lily somewhat, but I should like to thank him very much. This is rather a remarkable occasion, because the Speaker-Elect has been seconded by one who himself was once a Speaker, not of this House, but of the Northern Ireland House of Commons. I think that is something which will happen very, very rarely.

May I say another word or two, because this is a very different election from that when I was made Speaker two and a half years ago? It is perfectly true that there was no party warfare then, although perhaps later on there was what I might call non-party warfare. But in any case I had then been five years either as Chairman of Ways and Means or as Deputy Chairman and I knew every Member by sight and almost every Member knew me. Now I have a rather difficult task. I am not at all worried because we are now in party days. I believe the House of Commons does its best work when there is party politics. But I have some 350 new faces and new names to learn, and I ask your indulgence if I do not feel able to name you all at once. Some may think that perhaps after I had done, since 1938, seven and a half years in the Chair—and I believe with some success, if I may modestly say so—I ought to have gone when the going was good. That is what Members may think in a short time. Believe me, that was a temptation, but one gets very attached to this House of Commons and one feels happy to feel that one can render some service to the House and one's fellow Members. I do not pretend to have any great qualifications. I am just an ordinary person, I hope a very human one.

I have, however, one qualification which I think I ought to put before my fellow Members, and that is experience in the Chair, both the big Chair and the smaller Chair. After all, perhaps the Speaker-ship is one position where experience is of the greatest value. It would not do, for instance, if, when a sudden point of Order was raised, the Speaker said, "Wait a minute; I must just look at the books to see what the answer is." These decisions have to be given instantly, and only experience can tell you what to say and how to say it. Experience also counts in the Chair in knowing the moods of the House. We had an example of that when we met just now. I wondered whether I was going to be elected Speaker of the House or director of a musical show. As you all know, there are changes. Some days the weather is fair, and on other days everything is stormy. Sometimes it is "set fair," and then a sudden storm blows up, in which case experience does help to keep matters running smoothly. That is why I have put myself before you, always willing to trust to the judgment of the House, to render service to you as you may think I am fit.

I am getting to the end of my few words. There are many new Members I do not know. May I tell them some of the duties to which I have particularly to look? For instance, I have to try to see that the machine runs smoothly. The Speaker can help here, in the Chair and behind the Chair. I have to see that Government Business, while I am not responsible for it, is not unduly hampered by wilful obstruction. I have to see that minority views have a fair hearing. We are very proud of that. Of course, there will be various shades of opinion on all sides of the House, and all these have to be considered when one is calling speakers. Free speech and fair play for all must be my main study, and, as I was reminded, absolute impartiality. There is one thing more I want to say, and I am sorry that the two Front Benches can hear this. I have been a back bencher for a long time, and when we saw the two Front Benches, Government and Opposition, putting their heads together, we always used to say, "Well, the back bencher is going to get a dirty deal." As Speaker, I am not the Government's man, nor the Opposition's man. I am the House of Commons' man, and I believe, above all, the back benchers' man. When that happens I can assure you that my ear will be very sharp, and my eye will be sharp, too.

That reminds me of another thing. I ought to tell you that while I believe my health is perfectly good, I have suffered some unaccountable lapses of blindness and deafness. I cannot explain it. I feel I have been very lucky, because usually it seems to me, according to my memory, that these lapses occur when somebody has said something he ought not to have said, not wilfully but probably in a flash of anger, and certainly not meant as an insult to the House, or the Chair. It. is curious that these lapses should have occurred on those occasions. I hope there will be no more occasion for such lapses, but if there are I hope my fortune will continue. As Speaker, I cherish the dignity of the office very much: I wish to uphold it, and I shall. I do not want you to think, as some do, that that dignity is maintained by a kind of impartial aloofness and a stern sort of look. I think real dignity is not lessened by a kindly spirit; indeed, it is enhanced. Therefore, when you see me to-morrow, in my wig and gown, surrounded by some of the pageantry of the Speakers of the past, do remember that inside that gown there is a human heart of one who is anxious and willing to help Members in whatever way he can, however humble and from whatever quarter they may come.

You are going to do me a great honour. I am not such a fool as to say that I can promise success in advance. I will try. I hope and believe that in the last Parliament I earned your respect and your regard. I hope I shall do that in this, and I hope, too, that I may win your affection. If I can do that, then I think that I shall have won the three ingredients which will make for success. I give you just one pledge. I am proud to be your Speaker and servant. In your service I will spend myself to the utmost limit; I will do my very level best, and now I submit myself to your will.

The House then having again unanimously called Colonel Douglas Clifton Brown to the Chair, he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Mr. Neil Maclean and Sir Hugh O'Neill.

Mr. Speaker-Elect

(standing on the upper step): Before taking the Chair, I wish to thank the House most sincerely for the great honour which it has done me in electing me once again to the Chair, the greatest honour that the House of Commons can confer on any one of its own Members.

Mr. Speaker-Elect sat down in the Chair.

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

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, my first duty is to express to the House the regret of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he is unable to be here this afternoon. As the House knows, he is engaged on important State business at Potsdam, and he asked me to express his deep regret that he could not be here today. In those circumstances, it falls to me to exercise what I think is a very great privilege, and that is to be the first Member of the House to offer congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your unanimous election to this great and high position in the House of Commons. You have been called for the second time, to exercise the high and responsible duties of Speaker of a House of Commons, and you thereby, for the second time, become the custodian of the rights, privileges and ancient traditions of the House of Commons.

The position which you are to occupy, Sir, is one of importance and responsibility in our Parliamentary and democratic form of constitutional government. It entails a knowledge of the Standing Orders, and perhaps, still more, a knowledge of the spirit of the doctrines which rest behind the actual words of the Standing Orders themselves. It involves a knowledge and appreciation of the customs and practices upon which the successful working of our Parliamentary system depends. You, Sir, have been a Member of this Assembly for over 25 years. You were elected Speaker on 9th March, 1943. You were appointed Chairman of Ways and Means in January, 1943, and therefore your progress from the smaller Chair, as you have called it, to the big Chair was remarkably rapid. Notwithstanding that, I am sure there is no Member of this House who in anyway regrets the choice which was then made, but before you were Chairman of Ways and Means, you had been Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means from November, 1938, to 1943, and that was a good experience in that responsible office.

If I may say so, your election to-day was happily moved by the proposer of the Motion which has now been accepted by the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean). I agree too that it was pleasant that your election should have been seconded by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill), who himself has held the position of Speaker in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. There are firmly established qualities required by the Speakership of this House. They may, I think, be described as independence and impartiality. A Member who is chosen to be Speaker, inevitably, properly, and absolutely, must cast aside all party allegiance, arid that we know, Sir, you have done. He has, as has been said, the duty to preserve the rights of minorities in the House, and indeed of every Member of the House of Commons. The late Capt. Fitzroy on his re-election on 25th June, 1929, put another point which indeed you have put, and he, like you, put the point very well. He said: I have the feeling—I hope I am right—that every Member looks upon the Speaker not only as the stern, impartial occupant of the Chair, but also as a personal friend."— [OFFICIAL. REPORT, 25th June, 1929; Vol. 229, c. 10] If I may say so to the 345 new Members of the House of Commons, judging by my own experience of successive Speakers, none of them need hesitate in regarding the Speaker as their friend and conferring with him privately if they are in any difficulty on points of procedure—or indeed about the good of their souls. I am sure the Speaker will give them all the help possible. Other than the necessarily great qualities of patience and sympathy in the occupant of the Chair, the Speaker has to be long-suffering in listening to speeches—very long-suffering—and he has to be sympathetic to those Members who fail to catch the Speaker's eye. The Speaker has to have great patience, particularly in a new Parliament which has brought so many new Members, as yet inexperienced in the procedure of the House of Commons. These new Members will of course find by watching and listening to the old Members and talking with them that they will get much help and advice from those with some Parliamentary experience.

Sir, you can be sure that the whole House respects the authority of the Chair. It is only by respecting the authority of the Chair that our proceedings can be kept dignified and orderly. Naturally we shall expect a little liveliness from time to time. We hope there will be a little liveliness, but that may not in itself be destructive of the dignity of the House. Your re-election is a tribute to you, a tribute to the fact that you have quickly won the heart of the House of Commons; and we know that high achievement is going to be maintained. We are all confident that you will faithfully maintain the dignity and traditions of your high office. I know I have with me every Member of the House irrespective of party, irrespective of the quarter of the House in which he or she may sit, when I, on behalf of us all, wish you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, the greatest success and happiness in the high responsibility to which you have again been called.

Mr. Churchill (Woodford)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, several of those who have spoken to-day have dwelt with much discrimination and fulness upon the qualities needed in the occupant of the Chair of the House of Commons. For my part, I am content to associate myself with all the wisely couched and appropriate remarks which have been made upon this subject. I rise, Sir, to offer you, sincerely, congratulations on behalf of the party on this side of the House, and on behalf of what has sometimes been called—and I am using the expression in a constitutional sense—His Majesty's Opposition, of which, apparently, the Leader is a salaried functionary. On these grounds, and from this quarter, I offer our most sincere and hearty congratulations to you upon your unanimous and spontaneous choice by the House, who have had an opportunity of seeing you at work day after day for several years and who, irrespective of party, as your office is above party, have joined together to choose you to reoccupy this historic position.

This Parliament undoubtedly will differ from the last—but the last had many unexpected vissicitudes. No one can foretell what the future may bring forth, but I personally feel sure that there is no Member now in the House who could more effectively address himself to the problems and Parliamentary situations which will arise, or who is more qualified to deal with those difficulties, during a Parliament from which differences of opinion, sometimes even controversially expressed, can by no means be precluded. I offer you, Sir, most hearty congratulations and all our best wishes for a success which will add another to the long and distinguished line of Speakers who have maintained the reputation of the First Commoner in England.

Sir Stanley Holmes (Harwich)

The World War No. 1 ended on 11th November, 1918, and in just over a month from that date, we had a General Election. Of the 615 Members who were then elected, there are only 13 of us who have the privilege of being here to-day. You, Mr. Speaker-Elect, were one of them. I feel sure that when in January, 1919, you took the oath and shook hands with Mr. Speaker Lowther, you had no idea in your mind that within 24 years you would be called upon by your colleagues of the House to become Speaker. When you were elected in February, 1943, you were taken by the House, as it were on trial. To-day, that is not so. The qualities you have displayed have been fully described by the Lord President of the Council and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). All I want to do is on behalf of my colleagues here to offer you our warmest congratulations and our best wishes.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I would like to add a word to what has been said by various speakers in connection with your re-election. When you were elected 2½ years ago, I expressed my hope for what I called "future favours". To-day I have to draw your attention to the fact that there is 100 per cent. increase in our ranks, and that there will be a greater need than ever for "casting your eye" this way. I would like to say, as one who was looked upon as being in somewhat of a minority, that the Speaker of this House has always shown the very greatest consideration for minorities no matter how small those minorities have been. But I hope in the days that lie ahead that while he will pay attention to the small minorities, there is one minority on which he will occasionally turn a blind eye. It used to be appalling to sit on the other side and look at the cohorts on this side. Now it is a pleasure to be over here, and to look at the diminished ranks on the other side. It is a minority I do not like and I hope it is a minority that you, Mr. Speaker, will not like either.

For the other minorities, I want to say that I am certain that each and all of us will be very pleased at the re-election of you as Speaker of this House because of your splendid conduct in the Chair in the period in which you have occupied it. I do not want to go over the qualities again that have been dealt with but I was struck by the fact that the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) said that a quality of the Speaker was the quality of silence. That rules me out. The qualities mentioned, all desirable qualities, have been shown, I am certain, by you during the period you have occupied the office. As one of a minority—I may therefore speak for all the other minorities—we are pleased that once again you have been re-elected to the Chair.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. H. Morrison.]

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 a Quarter before Four o'Clock, until Tomorrow, at a Quarter before Three o'Clock.