HC Deb 07 June 1955 vol 542 cc1-12
Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

stood up and, addressing himself to the Clerk of the House (who, standing up, pointed to him and then sat down) said: I beg to move, That the Right honourable William Shepherd Morrison do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. I trust that this Motion will receive the wholehearted endorsement of all hon. and right hon. Members present. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an old friend of mine and to some extent fortune has bestowed on us similar gifts. We both are proud to have been born north of the Border, we both are no less proud to have represented English constituencies in this House for so long. We have both followed the same profession, and today we are both fellow Benchers of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. Indeed, I have very good sources of information which I could use to tell hon. Members of the praise and achievements of my right hon. and learned Friend outside this House, both professionally and otherwise, both indoors and out of doors, both forensic and athletic, but it is not of these matters and not this part of my right hon. and learned Friend's record on which I wish to dwell this afternoon. Let it suffice to say that he is an honoured and honourable member of what we claim to be an honourable profession, and that to all of us who know him he has ever been a good companion.

Rather it is to what he has proved himself to be in this House that I should refer this afternoon. We in this House who have known him for all these years can have no doubt, I submit, that my right hon. and learned Friend is, indeed, a fit and proper person to occupy the Chair of this House. Of all the qualities required in a Speaker of this House, I myself put at the top of the list impartiality of decision, and I think that until a Speaker has occupied the Chair for a period one cannot be sure of his absolute impartiality and firmness. Sometimes party inclinations or natural weakness of character prove too strong and lead to partial or vacillating decisions.

But my right hon. and learned Friend has already been tried out over a really testing period on a number of occasions when fierce party or personal feelings have been manifested. He has acquitted himself right well, and although, no doubt, sometimes a minority or an individual has been disappointed or aggrieved—this must always be so—I have noticed generally how quickly all hard feelings have passed away. I think all must have appreciated how greatly my right hon. and learned Friend has endeavoured to practise impartiality in the Chair and how firmly yet patiently he has in the past presided over the proceedings of this House. Neither the most powerful nor the most obstreperous man could calculate to offend the Orders of this House and get away with it.

I have referred to my right hon. and learned Friend's patience. May I add to patience the additional attributes of courtesy and calmness? When some of us have been impatient, perhaps vociferous and almost rude, my right hon. and learned Friend has always remained possessed and courteous, and times without number has used that most precious gift of swift apposite humour to dissolve ill temper or menacing situations.

Finally, I would venture to mention my right hon. and learned Friend's physical attributes—not without importance in a Speaker of this House, particularly when he has to represent us on great ceremonial occasions. My right hon. and learned Friend is a fine figure of a man, with a great and natural dignity which often enables him to dominate those occasions, as a representative of this House always should. He has also a voice which we all know and respect. He has a diction which carries throughout the House, and his speeches, founded on his wide classical learning, are always models of what the speeches of a Speaker on ceremonial occasions should be. Indeed, I submit that he worthily bears the illustrious Christian name which is his.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

I beg to second the Motion.

I have not the good fortune, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) claims, to have been born north of the Border. I was born and still live west of the Border, and I am very happy that I share with the right hon. and learned Gentleman of whom we are speaking the characteristic that we both have retained the ancient language and some of the history and culture of the respective parts of the United Kingdom to which we belong.

I have been very greatly honoured on this occasion, and I am deeply conscious of the privilege which enables me to accept this precedence in the opening of this new Session of Parliament. I have been a Member of this House for nearly 33 years and I have always been proud of the modest parts that I have been called upon to undertake in successive Parliaments. This is my eleventh Parliament, and I feel that I should take this opportunity of thanking the Gower division for returning me again to share in the duties of this House.

It has never been difficult for me to address the several Mr. Speakers in that period. I think the majority of new Members are conscious of the great authority which the House has found it necessary to confer upon successive Speakers. Parliamentary dignity is largely in the care of Mr. Speaker. The House is generally content to have it so and to leave it so. I have been more timid in the House of Commons than I have been anywhere else, but my diffidence has been largely due to the complete confidence I have had in the wisdom and experience of those whom the House elects to preside over our proceedings.

We have on this occasion a large measure of experience to guide us. The whole House, excepting the new Members, whom we are so pleased to welcome here today, has had the inestimable advantage of knowing the merits of the Speaker to whom I shall now venture to make a brief reference. Most of us have looked to him for guidance and impartial ruling. Indeed, I cannot recall one occasion when I thought he had not ruled fairly. I am told that a perfect Speaker has not been found—no, not one.

The Speaker whom I am again supporting has been well tried and has not been found wanting in the attributes which have been manifested by the great Speakers of this House. I may have been a little fortunate in not having pressed my own views sufficiently in this House. I have always looked to Mr. Speaker with confidence and respect. I regard the Chair with as much deference as I give to the Mace on the Table—which is not there at present. There is an authority here which derives partly from ourselves and partly from all those who came here before us. Mr. Speaker is always held in high esteem as the occupant of the Chair, but in the case of the Right honourable W. S. Morrison there is an added quality of personal worth and character which enables me to second his election to the Chair for a further term in the office to which he has brought added authority, honour and respect.

I am sure that the House will excuse me for this brief reference to my own pleasure in having again been returned to make a modest contribution on my own behalf and on behalf of the constituency in Wales which I have the honour of representing in the Mother of Parliaments.

The House then unanimously called MR. MORRISON to the Chair.

Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Sir Edward Fellowes, I rise in accordance with ancient custom to submit myself to the will of the House.

I should, first, like to thank most sincerely my two right hon. Friends who have done me the honour of proposing and seconding me for this high office, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), the Father of the House of Commons, whom we are all delighted to see back in his place again. These two right hon. Gentlemen have been friends of mine for so long, for over a quarter of a century, and I have invariably received such personal kindness from them, that I am able to discount many of the very kind things which they have said about me; but I am grateful to them for saying them and for the manner in which they have done so.

It gives me great pleasure to see so many Members of the previous Parliament back in their places. It was Charles Lamb who lamented the absence of … the old familiar faces. I am glad that I have not to join in that lament to an excessive degree. I should also like to take this opportunity of thanking those Members of that Parliament for the very great kindness and consideration which they showed me when I was called, unprepared and somewhat suddenly, to undertake the exacting duties of the Chair. I could never have accomplished it at all without the unfailing kindness of the Members of that House, and I am glad that I have this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to them.

As to the new Members, I join the Father of the House in a cordial welcome to them in our councils. I would first say to them that they must forgive me in advance if it takes me a little time to memorise their names and their faces. The degree to which I can speedily accomplish that pleasing task will depend upon the assiduity and constancy with which they attend this Chamber.

If I might say another word to the new Members, I would direct their attention to the quadrilateral shape of our Chamber. I have heard candidates at Elections lament after meetings that they have been wasting their time preaching to the converted. I assure our new friends that they will have little of that character to complain of here. When they rise to speak, the faces they will see before them will be those of hon. Members who are not necessarily deeply prejudiced in favour of the sentiments which they will be expressing. I am glad to think—in fact, I think it is a gain—that this architectural feature has brought into our discussions in this House a form of speech and, indeed, a mode of thought different from that which is frequently deemed appropriate on other occasions and outside this House.

The only other remark that I should like to make about the Chamber is about its acoustic properties. Up to 1950 we had no such modern devices as these amplifiers and microphones. From my experience in the Chair it is clear to me that these ingenious devices have their own pitfalls as well as their advantages. I am told that of these eavesdropping canisters only one is "alive" at a time. and the one that is "alive" is situated as near as may be in a direct line between the hon. Member who is addressing the Chair and the Chair itself. Thus, it frequently happens that, while an hon. Member is very audible while he is addressing the Chair, his voice trails away into nothingness when he turns his head away from that direction. To the occupant of the Chair, who hears a great deal of speech, that is not perhaps an intolerable disadvantage. These moments of semi-silence, although they are experienced with regret by the Chair, can at least be borne with some composure.

However, it is a more serious matter for those recording angels who sit up aloft, those gentlemen whose duty it is to record our sayings, when they cannot hear what is said. I have come to the conclusion that the only safe rule for speaking in this Chamber, with its new devices, is to speak to other hon. Members as though the devices were not there and leave the machine to do its fell work in the Galleries all around us.

The hon. Members who come new to this House may find our rules a little perplexing at times, but I should like to say that they are founded on certain very simple ideas, or perhaps I should say ideals. They are designed to secure that the majority, in the long run, has its way and that the rights of the minority are rigorously preserved; and our manner of speech in addressing one another is only a development of that courtesy which all men should show to each other when they are cast together to work together for a certain period for a great object, which is the good of our country.

Every Speaker in the past has spoken about the brevity or the length of speeches. There is nothing new I can say on that topic, except to say that of all the experiences which befall one in the Chair perhaps the most trying and the most grievous is that of not being able to call hon. Members in debates. Perhaps one grows callous in time to the sufferings of hon. Members who have attended regularly and zealously and yet who have not been able to speak—I do not know. I hope that I shall never become callous to that; and I have suffered, when that experience has fallen to my lot, as much as has the hon. Member himself.

It is a matter of simple arithmetic that if an hon. Member takes 20 minutes to make a speech, there is time for another speech of the same length. If he takes 40 minutes, one speech is cut out. I think that it was Ben Jonson who said of the great Bacon: The fear of every man that heard him was he should make an end. I do not think that that sentiment is general in this House. It is an assistance to the House and a relief from pain and trouble to the Chair if hon. Members, among themselves, by that tacit sort of comradeship which has always characterised our House, limit their speeches to a reasonable length.

Now, Sir Edward, that is all I have to say. The House of Commons is well-regarded throughout the world as an institution which in its long history has managed to combine the two ideas of liberty and order in a way which is not known anywhere else. For that achievement it is famous throughout the world wherever freedom is cherished. The House of Commons pays little regard to the fluctuations of party fortunes. Its desire is to go on from generation to generation maintaining the essential features of our free institutions. It is an honour for any man to be called upon to serve that House in any capacity. But to be called adequately to discharge the duties of the occupant of its Chair is an honour and also a task which might, I think, daunt and abash the most vainglorious of men. With these words I promise you all I can promise—loyal and faithful service—and I submit myself to your desire.

The House then having again unanimously called MR. MORRISON to the Chair; he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by SIR PATRICK SPENS and MR. DAVID GRENFELL.

Mr. Speaker-Elect

(standing on the upper step): I desire, before taking the Chair, to express my respectful and humble acknowledgments to the House of the great honour it has done me.

Mr. SPEAKER-ELECT sat down in the Chair.

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

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, in accordance with time-honoured custom in the House, it is my privilege to be the first to voice our congratulations to you on the signal honour, the greatest honour that the House corporately can bestow on any man, which has this afternoon been repeated in acknowledgment of your services. I do so with great pleasure, not only on my own behalf but on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House. Perhaps I may also say that I do it with all the greater fervour as the first Englishman who has ventured to intrude at all in this afternoon's ceremony.

As the House does this act of congratulations to you, in truth we all feel that we are congratulating ourselves. As the last Parliament developed, we all felt to an increasing degree how much we owed to your guidance. Your ease of dignity, the clarity of your decision, the width of your experience, and certainly not least the native wit of Scotland placed us many times under an obligation to you. I am sure that the whole House feels fortunate indeed that you should be here and willing to preside once more over our proceedings.

I think it was said that Mr. Speaker's principal duties were to guard minority parties and even guard the rights of individual Members. About that I have no doubt that you will be zealous, even against the wishes of the Executive. That is as it should be. But there is something even wider than the rights of individual Members which you guard and cherish for us, and that is the character of the House. Each new Parliament develops its own personality. As we do that, as most certainly we shall, I believe that we shall have in mind that this new Parliament, like so many that have gone before it, in what it achieves and how it achieves it is showing leadership to all the free institutions throughout the world.

It is perhaps at this time that special responsibility which we all value most and which I know, Mr. Speaker-Elect, you have so well understood in the past and will so cheerfully guard in the future. I feel every confidence that under your tolerant, wise and experienced guidance the House will receive all the help which it is in the power of the Chair to give. In all sincerity, we wish you good fortune and good health in the discharge of your duties.

Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I should like, on behalf of all my colleagues on this side of the House, to offer you our warmest congratulations on your accession again to the Chair. We have had full experience of your merits in this high office. We know your impartiality, your firmness and. also, what is so essential in a Speaker, your sense of humour and your sense of the atmosphere of the House. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that we on this side will be zealous to support the authority of the Chair.

You not only represent the whole House, you not only preside over the foremost debating Chamber in the world. but you also, in effect, lead the whole world of democracy. Increasingly, in these last years, we have had many visits from Speakers from our overseas Dominions, men of various races, various colours, who are all drinking from this fountain-head of liberty and learning the ways of Parliament, and we know how much you have done to help them.

May I say that in the delightful speech which you addressed to us just now we realised that what we gained in a presiding officer we lost in an orator? We have to put up with that. I have known other occasions when I have warmly congratulated Chief Whips on their appointment of Whips, because of their solicitude in delivering the House from certain orators. In fact, sometimes I never realised why they were made Whips until they resigned their offices but on this occasion in your case it is different. We shall hear you, no doubt lucidly, on points of order. We shall not hear you in the Chamber giving us so delightful a speech as we have heard just now. We shall hope on other occasions to hear you. May I again, on behalf of all of us, congratulate you?

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

May I, very briefly but very sincerely, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, express to you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, our very warm congratulations upon being chosen by the unanimous will of the House to occupy that august Chair? During the last Parliament you gained our esteem, our respect and our admiration, and, what I am sure you will treasure very much more, you won our affection.

In congratulating you we also congratulate the House on obtaining you as our Speaker. We know and admire your high integrity, impartiality, and sense of fairness. At the same time, Sir, we also realise that by your own force of character, by the strength of your personality, you have been throughout in complete control of this House. We know that the age-long traditions of this House, the privileges of the House and the rights of every individual Member are safe in your hands, and we congratulate you.

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

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.

Adjourned at twenty-two minutes past Three o'clock.

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