HC Deb 18 April 1966 vol 727 cc2-16
Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly) ,

addressing himself to the Clerk of the House (who, standing up, pointed to him and then sat down) said: Sir Barnett, in response to the Gracious Message which we have received from the Sovereign directing us to proceed to elect a Speaker from among our Members, I beg to move, That the Right Honourable Horace Maybray King do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. The duty placed upon us as a House of Commons is to elect from our own Members in this House a Member to whom we shall entrust the dignity and the authority, the duties and responsibilities, of Mr. Speaker, remembering that when we elevate him we elevate this House and all its Members and that he is, when elected, the guardian of our rights and privileges and, through us, of the rights and privileges of the citizens we represent in this House.

In seeking what qualities are required in a Member to fulfil these very great responsibilities, I count myself fortunate that I am able to turn for advice to our old colleague Lord Attlee—still Clem to all of us. He was asked shortly after his retirement from this House, arising from his long experience of the House of Commons, what in his view were the qualities required to make a successful Member of Parliament. Lord Attlee replied in those cryptic terms which we all so much admired, even if we seldom emulated them. He listed four qualities as being essential to a successful Member of Parliament, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that they are the qualities required for a successful Speaker. Here they are in Lord Attlee's words: First, he must now his stuff. Second, he must not be conceited. Third, he must be a decent chap. Fourth, he must be respected on both sides as a man. It is with a knowledge born of many years' experience as his colleague that I commend my right hon. Friend to the House, because I think he meets these requirements to the full. That is why I feel it is my privilege and my pleasure to submit this Motion to the House, and I hope for the unanimous endorsement of the House.

To those of us who have served with him in this House of Commons over the years, he has given abundant proof that he knows his stuff. I remember, and I am sure my colleagues also remember, those admirable speeches that he used to make from the back benches—for many years from the back benches opposite—and always from the back seat of the back benches in accordance with his modesty.

Sir, we recall the time when he served as Chairman of Ways and Means and how, with a happy combination of skill, patience and firmness, he guided us safely through the Committee stages, morning, noon and night, of long, complicated and controversial legislation. I believe that those of us who have shared the Membership of the House during that time will all be at one in saying that he was a very distinguished Chairman of Ways and Means.

Then came the tough test—it could be no tougher—of presiding over our deliberations in the last Parliament. I have served under many Speakers in the 30 years that I have been privileged to be a Member of this House. I do not think any two Speakers have ever had a tougher test than my right hon. Friend and his distinguished predecessor, whom we remember today. He presided over a House of Commons with a narrow majority, where feelings ran deep and high, and I believe we can say of him that during that very tough testing time he not only held his own but he also held us down to our jobs. We especially remember when he became Speaker of the House how, in keeping with the needs of our time, he improved the productivity rate during Question Time. I hope if we call him again to our service that he will continue in this good work. Speaking as a back bencher—as a gamekeeper turned poacher—this is indeed an important hour for back benchers, and all back benchers will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he ensured that we were permitted sufficient time in which to ask those Questions which are of so much importance to our constituents.

He certainly knew his stuff. We know him for the kind and approachable man that he is, and he knows his stuff without conceit. Of course, he is a decent chap. If a Welshman may be allowed to say so, how could he be otherwise when he comes from Hampshire? If the House should ask why a Welshman should say so, I am sure it is because of the lovely county in which I found my life's partner. This, Sir, is perhaps an opportune moment for me to say how much we appreciate the way in which his good lady fulfilled her duties as the Speaker's wife, and to wish her well.

Best of all, and what counts most of all, is the fact that my right hon. Friend enjoyed the confidence of all the Members of this House as a man—a man of character and of integrity. He came to this House with a distinguished career as a schoolmaster, and now, tempered in the furnace of Parliamentary controversies and conflicts, we call him as a mellow schoolmaster to our service.

As I look around this new Parliament on this its first day, two things strike me. First, it looks as if the whole of Britain has emulated the example of my own country, Wales—and it could not be bettered—in sending to our midst the right blend of youth and age. I should like to welcome all the new Members who have come here. Speaking as one who has been privileged to be here 30 years—and I would not have missed a day of it—this is a great privilege and a great opportunity to serve, and I wish them well.

The second thing that strikes me as I look around and observe the disposition of the forces is that it looks as if we are in for one of our longer Parliaments. I would not for a moment take away from my right hon. Friend the privilege of deciding when it should come to an end. This Parliament will see out this decade of the 1960s, in which already so many changes have taken place in our country and in the world. Great decisions will have to be made—important decisions about our own country and its future. Indeed, it has been observed that this may be the decade of make or break for our own country. Important decisions will have to be made about our relationship with the rest of the world—the Commonwealth, Europe and the world as a whole.

I have no doubt that we shall have not only important legislation but crucial debates in which it may very well be that the destiny of our country will be shaped. They will indeed be exciting, adventurous and important. We shall have our conflicts, controversies and debates. It is our duty and responsibility to our people to debate all these great issues and come to conclusions. We are, therefore, at the beginning of a journey into the future as a House of Commons on this first clay.

In my country in my own language we have a proverb:

Deu parth waith, yw ei ddechreu". If I may try to translate the sonorous Welsh words—"A job well begun is half done." I can think of no better beginning of this Parliament than for us unanimously this afternoon to call my right hon. Friend to the Chair to preside over this House.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I beg to second the Motion.

I have much pleasure in doing so for two reasons in particular. First, this is a unique occasion for a private Member when he can name another hon. Member with impunity and within the rules of order—this at a time when the House is not in a state of disturbance. The sentence we propose is incarceration in the Chair for the period of one Parliament. My second reason is that here again it is one of the rare occasions when one can comment on the behaviour of the occupant of the Chair by way of praise or blame without offending the rules of order, for the obvious reason that the Chair is still unoccupied.

Sir Barnett, when we chose Dr. King six months ago, we took him on trust. He had been a very good Chairman of Ways and Means, but not all good Chairmen of Ways and Means have become good Speakers. That was no certain guarantee. I remember that then the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) commended him for the two qualities that he was skilled in music and a doctor of philosophy. They were good reasons. After all, he ought to be able to extract harmony out of discord, and his philosophy should exercise his mind so that he will acquire the patience necessary to anyone who is going to preside over our deliberations. Now we have had our six months of intervening experience I agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who moved the Motion, that the achievement of the right hon. Gentleman at Question Time has been a notable one.

Greatly daring, when Dr. King was elected last year I said what I think is still true today, that back benchers on both sides wished to see the business of the House conducted with greater expedition and greater efficiency. To do that, hon and right hon. Members must accept a greater measure of discipline from the Chair, and, as I said then, the Speaker must show greater firmness. What has specially pleased me in the past six months has been the way in which Dr. King has not hesitated to rebuke the long supplementary question from the back bencher and, equally, has been quick to castigate the long Ministerial reply.

I would not like Dr. King to think that he has solved all the problems of a Speaker. No Speaker has yet been able to distinguish and disallow the bogus point of order before it is raised. Nor has a solution been found for the problem, when hon or right hon Members begin their speeches, of their being assisted by the Speaker to find a short cut to their perorations. I hand those two problems to Dr. King on his election today.

The duties of a Speaker lie not merely within this Chamber, and I wish to mention, in particular, the way in which Dr. King has, as Speaker of the Mother of Parliaments, earned the friendship and become the adviser of the Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth. This is a new responsibility for Speakers of this House in modern times. It is a great responsibility, and it is most valuable when a Speaker like he earns the respect and affection of the Commonwealth Parliaments.

I, too, have served on the Speaker's Conference under Dr. King's chairmanship, and I can tell the House how, with wit, with drive and with understanding, he has encouraged and stimulated that Conference to produce three reports on electoral reform. Unfortunately, it was not possible for them to be enacted before the last election. It would be idle to speculate on how different the results might have been if those reports had been accepted.

I congratulate Dr. King on his survival in the election. He was in a quiet sector of the battle-front, and I am informed that he was a completely passive participant in the battle. In passing, I point out to the House that, in the course of the electoral battle, we have had three casualties, so that Dr. King is the only survivor of the big Chair. We lost Sir Samuel Storey and Mr. Roderic Bowen, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and also we lost Sir William Anstruther-Gray, who seconded this Motion on the last occasion. I think it well for the House to reflect on this, remembering the debt which it owes to those who preside over our deliberations and who, by withdrawing themselves from the party skirmish and avoiding the limelight, undoubtedly do injury to their electoral prospects.

It is quite clear that Dr. King has justified our confidence in him. Unanimously, we wish him to occupy that Chair. I remember that when he was elected last time he expressed the hope that, in his Speakership, the dignity and efficiency of this House would be enhanced. Those hopes are in process of fulfilment, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman shows promise of becoming one of the great Speakers in the history of Parliament.

The House then unanimously called Dr. KING to the Chair.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

Sir Barnett, I am deeply grateful to my two right hon. Friends the Members for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for the felicitous way in which they have proposed my re-election, and in a moment or two I shall submit myself to the will of the House. Both the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have served their parties and Parliament with distinction. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton is now the esteemed Father of the House and, as such, he has the privilege of speaking in a strange and unique way for all of us. I am happy to receive from time to time, as all hon. Members are, advice on the traditions and privileges of the House from one who has sat under many Speakers, and I am very proud to have the right hon. Gentleman's friendship and confidence. But, may I say to him, to know whether a point of order is out of order before it has been raised requires not a philosopher but a magician.

The other right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly, has been a personal friend of mine for more than 40 years. He speaks for Wales with characteristic warmth and eloquence as one who was the first Minister for Wales since Llewellyn the Last and as one who has the respect and affection not only of all Welsh Members of Parliament but of English, Scots and, I hasten to add, Ulstermen. It is a rich privilege, as it was last year, to be commended to the House by two right hon. Gentlemen of such distinction.

When I was first elected to the Chair. I was overcome by the signal honour which the House was paying to me. This was the proudest and the humblest moment of my life. Today, I am rather overcome by the responsibilities of that great office, responsibilities which I am now beginning to know. I quote an illustrious predecessor:

Whoever is called upon to fill the Chair of this House must know that he is acting in the presence of a critical and vigilant assembly. The fierce light which is said to beat upon our Throne certainly burns fiercely upon the occupant of the Chair. If it should flicker, there are always hon. Members like the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) and for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), not to mention the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), who will see to it that the flame begins to kindle more brightly. Indeed, after the errors of commission and omission which were mine in the last Parliament, I could have accepted as fair my ejection from the Chair. Methodist ministers sometimes have their period of service renewed by their church. I always remember one such minister appearing before the officers of the church again and being told "Minister, you came unanimous and you go unanimous".

Whenever I turn up the index of books on the Speakership, by some strange fatality my eye always catches the heading, "List of Speakers executed". There were nine of them, and, according to my dear friend the late Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, two of them executed on the same day. This part of our rough island story is a sobering thought for anyone ascending the Chair.

I am grateful for the kindness so freely shown me in the last Parliament. I am especially grateful—and also glad that the Father of the House referred to this today—for the loyalty both to myself and to his high offices, and indeed to Parliament over long years of service, given by Sir Samuel Storey. Sometimes Parliament, and certainly the public, are apt to forget the heavy load carried by such Chairmen of Ways and Means as Sir Samuel Storey, Sir William Anstruther-Gray and my older colleague, Lord MacAndrew.

I paid just tribute at the end of the last Parliament to the servants of the House. I know that they will again give generously of their ability, energy and loyalty to the work which they and we have to do together. But if I may today single out one man, I would say to the House how nobly we are served at the Table by Sir Barnett Cocks, my chief adviser and yours. One of my predecessors found the House troublesome one night. He signalled to the Clerk, who came to him, and he whispered, "What ought I to do next?". The Clerk whispered back, "Sir, I should be very cautious". I can assure the House that the Clerk and his distinguished colleagues at the Table are both advisers and friends to us all.

I welcome a shrewd comment in yesterday's Observer by Mr. Rudolph Klein, who said that Parliament is often at its best when it is at its most boring. There are highlights and drama in the tensions which have to be resolved in this precious debating Chamber. But much of the best work has been done and will be done in the detailed, patient, undramatic work of those who play an active part in the Committees of this House. This part of Parliament, which I watched with admiration as Chairman upstairs for about a dozen years, on the Floor of the House as Chairman of Ways and Means, and in studying the reports of the various Committees which report to the House, is often deeply appreciated only by that section of the community which happens to be particularly interested in the subject before the Committee. It very rarely attracts public attention, but is one of the most precious features of this House, to ourselves.

I, too, wish to welcome new hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen to this great body and to say to them that Parliament is theirs to make or to mar. This House judges a Member not so much by his party affiliations as by himself. Older hon. Members will be happy to show newcomers round the House and to advise them on procedure and on the kind of Committees which they might join. May I say to all new Members that when you make your maiden speech the House will lean over backwards to be kind to you. After that it is war. After that you stand on your own two feet. However, do remember that Mr. Speaker is your servant and your friend, if occasionally he seems to disguise the fact. And do not be too distressed if you learn some of the complicated but largely reasonable rules of procedure, as the great Parnell did, by barking your shins occasionally against some of them.

But to all hon. and right hon. Gentlemen I would say that this is again a moment of history, this is the culmination of seven centuries. The pageant of reluctance which I shall enact in a moment, like the demands which I shall make on your behalf in another place tomorrow, are to me no light, idle gestures of ceremony. I know that in the chequered history of the Speakership there were knavish figures like Speaker Trevor and Speaker Empson, odd figures like Hanmer, who was the worst editor that Shakespeare ever had, and Speaker Fletcher Norton, who sent for a pint of porter from time to time as he sat in the Chair. On the other hand, there were great ones like Speaker Onslow, whose descendant is in the House, Speaker Whitley, Speaker Lowther and Speaker Brand, to mention just a few.

In between the great and the infamous there were a lot of average Speakers. But good or bad, great or average, under the long line of Speakers of this House the Speakership itself was evolving. And if the present Speaker is the average, eccentric human figure that most of his predecessors were, his office is neither eccentric nor average. At the heart of the freest Parliament in the world is the Chair—the Chair which shows favour to none and friendship to all, the Chair whose sworn duty it is to protect the minority against the majority, and also, incidentally, the majority against the minority if need be——

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

They will need it.

Dr. King

I seem to recognise that voice. The Chair which was once in the gift of kings, then in the gift of Governments, is now in the gift of nobody but the House itself by free, unfettered choice. If in your generosity you reelect me today, I can assure this House that none of my predecessors ever tried more earnestly, however imperfectly I may have succeeded, to act as the custodian on your behalf of very precious liberties. For these liberties so many died. To preserve these liberties so many of our older citizens still limp about our streets, nearly broke their hearts in prisoner-of-war camps, or gave their sight to keep a Parliament where men can fight without bloodshed, and where in the last resort a wrong done to any single British citizen may be raised on the Floor of the House.

Only a fool would say that Parliament is perfect. It must change to match the demands of challenging times. I believe that it must find, somehow, ways of harnessing all the energies, all the abilities, of the keen young men and women who have come here in two elections to give that energy and that ability to Britain.

But with all its imperfections, Parliament contains some precious elements that must never go—fairness and courtesy and dignity and decency in debate, the right of every Member to fight freely for his party programme and also for his constituents who sent him here, the rights of the back bencher against the front bencher, the rights of the private Member against all the parties in the House, the need for tolerance and good humour, the need to preserve those of our traditions which are an epitome of the history of a people which fashioned over 700 years of struggle, of trial and of error, a form of government which Sir Winston Churchill rightly said is the worst form of government until you look at the others.

I am grateful to my two right hon. Friends for their kindness, and I now submit myself to the will of the House.

The House then having again unanimously called Dr. KING to the Chair, he was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Mr. JAMES GRIFFITHS and Mr. R. H. TURTON.

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

At this solemn moment, I thank the House for the honour it has done me and for the confidence it has shown in me. I remind myself, as I remind all of my colleagues, of the freedoms we have inherited, of those who died to win and preserve them, and I express the hope that we may all be worthy of the trust that the British people have placed in us.

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 express the congratulations of this House to you on your election as our Speaker.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), the Father of the House, have set out once again the qualities required in the colleague of ours whom the House chooses as Speaker. When, in the tragic circumstances of last autumn, you were first called to the Chair, the whole House had confidence that you had those qualities.

We had known you as a Parliamentarian, as a back bencher, as a member of the Chairman's Panel, as Chairman of Ways and Means, and, above all, as a good House of Commons man. But, whereas we then had confidence, we now have not only confidence but experience. The whole House accepts your authority—your personal authority as well as the authority deriving from your office—and will accept that authority when you chasten us—any of us—in any part of the House.

We appreciate the way in which, in only a few months, we have seen your authority exercised. There has been the attack referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Father of the House, on bogus points of order. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly has referred to the speeding up of the process of Parliamentary Questions, to the benefit and advantage of the House as a whole, and which has had the effect, of course, that many hon. Members who day by day and week by week were not being reached have had a chance to put their Questions and supplementary questions. Week by week, we saw new records established. It was becoming something of a disappointment if at any moment during Question Time we were not equalling the rate of one Question per minute. In the modern idiom, I think that all of us look forward to seeing you "doing a ton" and will give you, I am sure, full support in achieving it.

It is always difficult to forecast the nature of a new Parliament, but many of us may feel that this Parliament will have more confidence in its ability to last and that it may be a little less self-conscious and perhaps a little less prone to electioneering. But I do not believe that it will be any the less controversial. Nevertheless, all of us have confidence that you will handle whatever problems this new Parliament presents for the Chair because you have, of course, the great advantage not only of knowing the procedure of the House as few know it, not only the advantage of knowing this House and all its moods and changes, but of loving this House, with all those moods and changes. All of us in the House welcome some of the more subtle changes that you were beginning to make even in your short period in the Chair and will want to encourage and support you in them. We have not had time to consider the idea of sending for a pint of porter, but no doubt this is something we shall want to think about.

We were seeing changes not only in the conduct of the Chair but in your demeanour throughout the Palace of Westminster. The post of Speaker is a lonely one. It means that an old Parliamentarian is cut off from his colleagues and friends in the House. I believe that, with no loss of dignity, you have already begun to break down this separatism, and all of us welcome it, as we welcome the fact, too, that the dignity of the Chair has not prevented you and Mrs. King from attending social engagements outside this House and those gatherings of school children around the piano, with the Speaker of the House of Commons, with his unique gift of handling children, picking out variations, both literary and musical, on "Three Blind Mice".

Sir, we wish you not only success in the Chair. We wish both you and Mrs. King happiness in your occupancy of the Speaker's House, for we are also grateful to her, as we were to Lady Hylton-Foster, for the manner in which, even in so short a time, she has in so many ways shown kindness to hon. Members of this House. We congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, and we wish you well.

Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. friends, I offer you our warmest congratulations on becoming Mr. Speaker-Elect by the united wish of the whole House. We feel that the confidence we showed in you just over six months ago was, during the intervening months, fully justified, and that is why we are delighted to welcome you back to the Chair. The firmness and fairness shown by you in these months to all of us with unfailing courtesy made us feel that you must be ideally suited again for this position. You earned the respect of all in this House and of many outside it who look to Parliament for the highest standards of behaviour that you have given to us. In addition, on those occasions when you have felt that you should change a decision you have made, you have quickly come to us and have told us so and your reasons. You have earned our highest regard.

We offer you our congratulations on election to this post again. It will not have escaped your notice that during the election campaign the Opposition parties did not offer candidates in your constituency. Thus, we were reverting to a tradition which existed until the mid-1930s. It is a good tradition, in my belief, and I hope that, wherever appropriate, it may be observed on future occasions.

It has sometimes been said—indeed, It was mentioned today by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths)—that when the House is evenly balanced the Speaker has a most difficult time. I would certainly agree that the last Parliament was a very testing time both for you and your predecessor. On the other hand, I am not entirely certain that the dictum is absolutely true. When the House is evenly balanced it is sometimes easier for the Chair to maintain one of its prime duties—that of preserving and safeguarding the rights of minority parties. It has sometimes been the case in the past that a House less evenly balanced has provided a much more difficult time for the Chair.

We have complete confidence that in this Parliament you will be able to continue, in the way in which you began, the task of preserving the rights of minorities and the rights of each hon. Member and minority opinion, wherever such opinion may be found, in order that they may have free and full expression.

You have shown in the past the characteristics which I have mentioned, but you have also brought, if I may say so, your own particular attributes of warm humanity to the handling of our procedure and to speeding it up. This we appreciate, and we hope that this, too, may continue in the future.

In your work you have, as the Prime Minister rightly said, been fully helped by Mrs. King.

We would like to offer our warmest congratulations to you again on being re-elected to the Chair and to offer our best wishes and our whole-hearted support in maintaining the dignity of Parliament during your present term of office.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, on behalf of my hon. Friends, I should like to offer our congratulations on your re-election. We wish you a long continuation of your tenure of the Chair.

I think that you said that you were an average and eccentric Speaker. If you are average, Mr. Speaker-Elect, the average is extraordinarily high. If you are eccentric, if it is eccentric to be scrupulously fair, to be eager to keep the business of the House moving and to be intent on bringing in those changes in our procedure which many of us believe to be so necessary, I have no doubt that the House can stand a great deal of eccentricity.

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