HC Deb 27 October 1964 vol 701 cc2-10
Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton),

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 hon. and learned Sir Harry Braustyn Hylton Hylton-Foster do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. I hope that, in speaking to this Motion, I may be allowed one personal reference. I was first elected to this House in 1923, and I am proud to be able to say that this is my ninth Parliament. In the light of my long membership of this House, I firmly believe that the House of Commons, in its corporate entity, symbolises something more than the fluctuations of party fortunes or the clash of political parties. It is the elected custodian of the people's liberties and the watchdog of the nation against oppression and injustice. It is also the continuing guarantee of our free Parliamentary democracy, and today the British House of Commons is admired and respected throughout the world wherever freedom and democracy are valued.

But the House of Commons is not merely a great and historical institution. It is a living organism, a body of men and women who have been chosen to undertake the task of safeguarding the peace and security of our country and of advancing the human well-being of our people. It is the great task to which we in this House must devote ourselves during the life of this Parliament, and in this work the Speaker has his rôle.

In moving the election of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the Chair, I venture to emphasise that the rôle of Speaker is not merely an honour. It constitutes a task which the late Speaker Morrison on one occasion described as a task which might daunt and abash the most vainglorious of men". As was made clear to King Charles I, however, by Mr. Speaker Lenthall 300 years ago, the Speaker's first duty is to this House. He has three main responsibilities: first, the task of maintaining the dignity of this House; secondly, to safeguard the rights and privileges of every Member of this House, irrespective of party; and thirdly, to ensure the due observance of the rules of the House.

Most of us in the House this afternoon have come to know the right hon. and learned Gentleman during the time he sat as our Speaker in the last Parliament. I think that I shall carry all hon. Members with me when I say that we have come to recognise his qualities of patience, courtesy and impartiality and those flashes of humour which, on occasion, have dissolved those outbursts of anger and frayed tempers which occasionally characterised our deliberations. Through his possession of those qualities, and through the great service which he has already rendered to this House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman fully justifies his election to the Chair for a further term and to the office of Speaker, to which he has already brought added authority, honour and respect.

I trust that this Motion will receive the endorsement of every right hon. and hon. Member present in the Chamber this afternoon.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I beg to second the Motion.

In my view, it is doubly appropriate that the Member for the constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster should be our Speaker, because he is, in fact, "our Member"—and anybody who has any problems of a constituency nature will appreciate that. One hon. Member opposite who has now been promoted to the Front Bench suggested some time ago that a special constituency of the two cities sould be formed for the Speaker. Whilst I will not comment on such a proposition when it happens naturally, as it has done in this case, we all feel a greater sense of belonging and pleasure.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Hylton-Foster) has all the qualities already proved in action for this our greatest Commons appointment. He has shown firmness, and many of us can remember when, in the last Parliament, we suffered under that firmness. He has shown patience, and others of us can remember when we have got away lightly because of the patience that he has shown on many occasions. He has also shown a great sense of humour. In fact, he has shown that he has all the essentials needed for this onerous task. He has a wide knowledge of men and, in this modern age, of women and of their foibles. He has a deep understanding of the mood of the House and the workings of our institution. Perhaps by no means least, he has a good constitution to stand up to the burdens which we may place upon him.

Speakers are inevitably judged on the success or otherwise of the Parliaments over which they preside. We have had many Parliaments in our long history, some good, some bad. We even once had one called the mad Parliament. We had the learned Parliament, the Parliament of Bats, the diabolical, the short, the long, the drunken and even the addled Parliament. I saw in one of our national newspapers the other day that it was rumoured that this one might go down as a place-men's Parliament.

Great Parliaments produce great Speakers, and to some extent great Speakers make Parliaments even greater. That is why I believe that in seconding the Motion I am asking the House to appoint as our Speaker a man who will make the next Parliament into a great Parliament. We all hope that it will be a great Parliament, not like the Parliament under Mr. Speaker Popham, in the reign of the first Elizabeth. At that time, the Queen, being dissatisfied with its affairs, sent for Mr. Speaker Popham and said, "Now, Mr. Speaker, what has passed in the Lower House?". Mr. Speaker Popham replied, "If it please your Majesty, exactly 100 days ".[Laughter.] Historical accuracy—and I am sure that the Prime Minister will be glad to know this—causes me to disclose that the real story said, "seven weeks".

In seconding the Motion, it is in the strong belief that in reappointing my right hon and learned Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster we shall by so doing enable us to conduct our affairs under wise and firm guidance and also, which is important, enable us to bring our procedure somewhat more into line with modern problems.

I should like to end this honourable duty by adding to our new Members, of whom there are a large number, that it is not without significance that our first duty today is to be House of Commons men before we are Tories, Socialists or Liberals. It is, I hope, on behalf of all of us as Members of the House of Commons that I second the Motion.

The House then unanimously called Sir HARRY HYLTON-FOSTER to the Chair.

Sir Harry Hylton-Foster (Cities of London and Westminster)

In accordance with our ancient tradition I rise to submit myself to the will of the House. First of all, I should like to thank the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) for the kind things they have been saying about me. Doing a rapid sum, when the right hon. and learned Member was revealing his past history, I calculated that he must be something of a connoisseur in this matter. I think that he must have sat in this House under the last four of my predecessors in addition to myself, and I accept the honour of his proposition all the more on that account. I hope that the House will let me say that his kindness to me is in line with the kindness of his party to Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, in 1945; and I think that the House will know how greatly I appreciate that.

It is very good of the hon. Member for Ormskirk to be so bold as to second the Motion. We have been in this House a long time together and he knows the worst. I know that the House will be very glad to see him, after a victorious battle with illness, looking so well once more.

We did not have a Prorogation ceremony and I hope that the House will allow me to use this occasion to express my gratitude to the Members of the House in the last Parliament for all their goodness to me. It is a misfortune of the occupant of the Chair as we now do our Parliamentary duty that he is obliged, day in and day out, to disappoint his fellow Members when they want to make speeches or want to ask supplementary questions. It is a most uncomfortable duty. You can say, if you will, "Oh, well, if speeches were not so long, if the exchanges at Question Time were a little less protracted, there would not be so many to be disappointed," but there would be a very small difference.

I take leave to assure the House that having to disappoint in that way is a constant matter of anguish to the Chair—though I have little doubt that it is a much greater anguish to those who have to be disappointed. I would like to thank all those Members for the patience and philosophical kindness with which they have received their disappointments—at least, by and large.

I would like to say a word of welcome to the new Members, but before I do so, allow me to go back to the question of the moods of the House which the hon. Member for Ormskirk has mentioned. I see, looking back over the past five years in which I have served the House, that the House can have a large range of moods. There were moments of most agreeable merriment; there were moments of deep sorrow; there were times when, to use the words of the hon. Member of Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), there was considerable turbulence; there were moments of underlying, complete agreement; and at the end there was a period, which seemed to me inexorably long, the period when you could hardly distinguish between the two because of the shadow of the hustings which lay across our labours. But throughout it all I was sustained and helped by the indulgence and forbearance of my fellows, and for that I am very grateful.

To the new Members I would say a word of welcome, and I hope that they will bear with me if I am slow in marrying up names and constituencies and countenances. I hope to get it all right in the end. It is my impression—and I think that if senior non. Members are frank with themselves they will probably agree with me—that every one of us elected to serve here, almost everyone, despite the intensely hard work, the discomforts, the inconveniences, the disappointments which attend us, in the end is caught by its spell and comes to love this place; and if you want evidence of it, see how they make great efforts to try to come back to have another dose. With no cruelty or sadism in my heart, I hope that it will be the same with the new Members.

Re-reading the past, I find that the then Prime Minister—it was Mr. Attlee—presented the Speaker-Elect in March, 1950, Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, on the occasion of his third election, to a House more evenly divided, I think, than the House had been for the last hundred years. We have refined the art of being evenly divided—by being even more evenly divided. Whether that is progress or not it is not for me to say, but I am sure that it is a challenge. It is something of a challenge to all of us to show that this great House can take the resulting Parliamentary situation in its stride and manage it in a way worthy of our traditions and calculated to hold high the reputation of this House, and, because I am devoted to this House, and have unlimited faith in its wisdom and generosity, I am sure that we shall accomplish that task.

To this House I offer loyal and true service to the best of my ability, and as I serve I will try to earn and deserve the confidence and friendship of every one of my fellow Members.

The House then having again unanimously called Sir Harry Hylton-Foster to the Chair, he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON and Sir DOUGLAS GLOVER.

Mr. Speaker-Elect (standing on the upper step)

Before I take this Chair I wish gratefully to express to the House my most humble acknowledgments of the high honour which it has pleased the House to confer upon 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 (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, it is my privilege to be the first to offer you congratulations and good wishes on your election to the office of Speaker of the House. You have just shown the traditional reluctance to take the Chair, as you did when you were first elected, and it may well be that five years' experience have given you more reason.

I shall not weary the House with a list of the qualities which we all find in you. They were well expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). They were both speaking for all of us. I am very glad, though, that both of them stressed the great virtue of your sense of humour and the felicitous way you have of showing it, which has so often resolved a situation which the House would have wished to see ended.

There has been, too, as with your distinguished predecessors, your traditional concern for minorities in this House; and let me say from personal experience that there has been your willingness to extend to the Leader of the Opposition of the day a measure of tolerance and forbearance in the matter of supplementary questions which, I think, stems from the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is not normally able to table ordinary Questions. I very much hope, as I am sure the whole House will, that this courtesy will continue to be enjoyed to the full by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.

There is one other thing that I noticed about the conduct of the Chair over the last five years, again in strict accordance with what your predecessors have done. In addition to your concern for minorities and the rights of the Opposition, you always at the end of the day, and sometimes earlier, recognised that Government business must go through. I may have had some doubts about this in the past, but I must confess, having thought about it recently, that I now feel that there is more in your attitude on this question than I sometimes felt in previous years. There are some things on which I am a fairly speedy learner and some on which I am a very slow learner, but on this I have taken the point quite quickly.

There is one last thing that I should like to say, and I hope I may refer to this without impropriety or offence. When the then Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, rose to congratulate you on your election in 1959, he said: We know from experience how great a help Mrs. Speaker'—if I may use such a term—can be in the life of the House of Commons. Your wife will have, I am sure, a distinctive contribution to make here, for, apart from her own qualities, she is the daughter of a much-respected and loved Speaker."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 16.] Those words of Mr. Harold Macmillan were well chosen, and I think that they found an echo on both sides of the House when he uttered them. Today we can repeat them on the basis not of well-founded hope, but of well-grounded experience. Many of us and our wives have every reason for gratitude to Lady Hylton-Foster, and we wish her happiness. As Mr. Speaker-Elect, we wish you happiness and success in continuing in the high office to which this House has called you.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I should like to echo the congratulations which have been so well expressed by the Prime Minister to you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on assuming the office of Mr. Speaker in yet another Parliament. I am able to add to the words spoken by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) that every Member of the House has complete confidence that you will fulfil the duties of conducting our business and keeping our affairs running smoothly because we have sat under you in one Parliament and we know all the qualities that you bring to your task. We appreciate your many qualities, which have been named, and not least the occasional deafness which overtook you in the last Parliament in moments of turbulence and which allowed us to get round some very awkward corners and resume our business in harmony.

I do not know which characteristic and what form this Parliament will take of those mentioned by my hon. Friend, hut, whatever happens, I hope—and shall rely on you to do so—that you will pay the usual attention which you have paid in the past to the traditional rights of minorities, even though the minority on this occasion is almost a majority and, in certain circumstances, I am told, might become one.

Therefore, I will just say how very glad we on this side of the House are that you are assuming this office. We offer you our very good wishes and also send our very good wishes to Lady Hylton-Foster.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I rise to offer the felicitations of my party—[Laughter.]—all 3 million of them—and to wish you and your good lady all good fortune throughout your tenure of office.

I noticed that you, in the traditional manner, demonstrated your belief in your unworthiness. I remember a Welsh singer being asked on one occasion whether he had a fine voice, and his reply was, "I cannot be modest and say 'yes'; I cannot be truthful and say 'no'."

It was said of one of your predecessors that the office of Speaker does not demand rare qualities; it demands common qualities in a rare degree. Those qualities have already been referred to. The ones that spring to one's mind immediately are dignity, patience, stamina, a rare good humour, and, above all else, a sense of respect for minorities, be they large, or, I hasten to add, be they small.

We believe that you possess those qualities to a high degree. We are delighted that you have been called upon to serve us once again. We believe that you will do so faithfully and well and in accordance with the best traditions of this assembly.

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