HC Deb 13 January 1971 vol 809 cc85-93
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of her Royal Favour upon Dr. the Right Honourable Horace Maybray King for his eminent services during the important period in which he has with such distinguished ability and dignity presided in the Chair of this House, and assuring Her Majesty that whatever expense Her Majesty shall think fit to be incurred upon that account this House will make good the same. I am happy to have the opportunity to move this Motion and I have no doubt that the House will unanimously endorse it. The House has already had an opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Speaker King before he left the Chair but surely this occasion should not pass without my saying again, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House, how much we owe to Dr. King for all he did during the five years in which he held this high office.

The traditions of Parliament and the good name of this House were always entirely safe in his hands. On 10th December my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister paid a tribute to Dr. King in which he stressed his outstanding qualities as Speaker and above all his fairness. He is a party man, as we all are, but as Speaker of this House he was always wholly impartial and known and recognised as such. He occupied a great office with a tremendous devotion to the tradition of this House and a tremendous sense of the qualities of this House. He showed during his term of office a special interest in the Commonwealth, not only by his visits but also by his interest in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I am sure that we all feel a particular debt to him for what he did in this connection.

The Prime Minister also stressed the wide range of Dr. King's many interests. It would be wrong for me to rehearse what my right hon. Friend has said but I should like to add a few personal words. I always found that Dr. King had an immense fund of kindness and goodwill. He was a man who was always intensely serious about his responsibilities to this House, but never solemn. He was a man to whom gaiety came naturally, particularly when there was a piano within reach. He is a man of considerable wit and humour. I believe that Dr. King is a truly good man whose goodness shines out and warms all those who have had the honour and pleasure of meeting him.

We wish him all happiness in his retirement and we hope that he will have a long and happy retirement. He has so many interests he is interested in the welfare of young people, writing, music and in travel. He is happy in those interests and I think we would all agree that he is happy and blessed in the life and company of Mrs. King to whom also on this occasion we should like to pay tribute and express our great affection.

I have no doubt that the House will think it right that Her Majesty should in the terms of this Motion be invited to mark the retirement of Mr. Speaker King in the appropriate way. It is my happy duty to commend to the House the Motion standing on the Order Paper.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

The Motion moved by the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) provides the third opportunity for hon. and right hon. Members to pay tribute to Mr. Speaker King in this present Session. The first occasion was when he was re-elected to the Chair last summer with the customary show of reluctance which we have on these occasions, and the other occasion was, as the right hon. Gentleman said, when he announced his impending retirement in the House and when the Prime Minister and a number of us paid immediate tributes to what he had done, reserving later comments for today.

Mr. Speaker King was the first occupant of the Chair from our party on this side of the House. There was, in connection with his election as Speaker, even more publicity and speculation, even more allegations of various kinds of procedures, than we have had in the last few days. The reason was—and this is no disrespect to the present occupant of the Chair whom we have the pleasure of calling Mr. Speaker today for the first time—that, unlike yourself, his elevation to the Chair could be held to have an effect on the size of the Government majority which was then three and might have fallen below that. There was no difficulty in securing the full support of the party opposite in his election. Some schemes and hopes do not always come off, however.

As you are, Mr. Speaker, he was well supported by a well-balanced team who occupied the junior Chairs in the months ahead. Certainly he had a task which no one would wish on any incoming Speaker, that of having to preside over a House where there were inevitably, as there are today and always will be one prays, matters of deep controversy, but also at a time when no one could know the date of the next General Election and when, for that very reason, controversies which we might have taken before in our stride sometimes tended, especially later at night, to get a little out of hand. It was for his conduct in the Chair, in those early days particularly, that many of us remember him, before he had time to establish his great authority.

The Home Secretary paid tribute to some of his extraneous and extramural activities, and rightly so. It is certainly true that he is a man of gaiety. Those of us who have heard him at functions outside this House, in which he enjoyed taking part on a scale far beyond that of any of his predecessors, will remember his love of fun, especially with young people. He had great experience of them from his position as headmaster, perhaps in a less unruly house than the one over which he was called to preside here. I have seen him at various teachers' conferences and other occasions.

One new dimension he brought to the Speakership compared with the record of equally distinguished predecessors was an identification of the Speakership of this House with the Speakership of other Assemblies throughout the Commonwealth and in a number of other foreign countries too. He frequently sought the leave of the House to travel, which was readily given because it was always in the recess so that we were not losing his services. There are many Commonwealth and foreign Parliaments who derived great benefit from his visits, and I believe that this House and country did by the way in which he comported himself when abroad.

It was characteristic that he arranged the timing of his retirement, of which he had given informal notice to a number of those who needed to know many weeks before, in such a way that he was able to represent this House at the big conference of Commonwealth Speakers.

I know that I speak for all of my hon. and right hon. Friends when we send our best wishes to Dr. King and to Mrs. King, whose hospitality and friendship we shall long remember. We wish him a very happy retirement, in which I am sure he will continue to carry out the public work for which he has been noted all the years that he has been in this House and long before, and in other ways to work for the service of his fellow citizens especially the younger generation. That will be the hope of us all and I am sure, as the right hon. Gentleman is sure, that the whole House will unanimously pass this Motion.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The Leader of the Opposition has rightly pointed out that this is the third occasion on which we have paid tribute to Dr. King, and I shall not, therefore, unduly prolong our debate on the present Motion. Moreover, I think it unnecessary to do so, since I believe that Dr. King and Mrs. King are in no doubt as to the gratitude which the House feels for the way in which he discharged his task as Speaker and the way in which she backed him up.

Dr. King has a tremendous sense of humour. I have very happy recollections of the short hand-written notes which used to pass back and forth, though how he ever found time for them I know not. I particularly remember an occasion when he stayed with my wife and myself in Devon, and I found that we were up half the night, he, perhaps, being rather more steeled to all-night sittings than I was. On the occasion one learned not only of his love of Parliament and his knowledge of its tradition and history but also of the depth of his reading and the extent of his profound and enduring love of literature. He had not only those qualities but he was, as the Leader of the Opposition said, widely travelled. Some of us are pleased that one of his last acts as Speaker was to preside at the conference of Commonwealth Speakers in India, one of the most important parts of our multi-racial Commonwealth which he has done so much to help to preserve.

Dr. King entertained many people, both from the House and outside it. It is not for me to question or to encroach upon the Royal Prerogative, but I hope that, when that is exercised, in whatever way it may be, the result will be that Dr. King will not be many miles away from this Chamber, and that, in an economic sense, he will not have to depend exclusively upon the Members' Pension Scheme for his future sustenance.

I am sure that it is the wish of all right hon. and hon. Members that he will have an active, a full and very happy retirement. If one thing is certain, it is that the moving of the Motion and our support for it is done in no spirit of formality but with a real feeling of warmth and gratitude.

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

Dr. King came to the Chair with, probably, a greater knowledge of the customs and history of Parliament than any of his predecessors. Throughout the whole of his Speakership, he showed a great affection for the House, which was reciprocated by the affection which Members of all parties felt towards him. He presided over our proceedings with wit, patience and good humour.

I think that Dr. King can be regarded as one of the great Speakers of Parliament. As has been said, this was the Opposition's first successful effort at producing a Speaker, and I congratulate them on having produced Mr. Speaker King, with his very great record. He has been a great friend to Commonwealth Parliamentarians. He was the most widely travelled of all Speakers. No predecessor had travelled so widely both throughout the Commonwealth and the United States of America, and I believe that no Speaker, with his wife, has shown greater hospitality to Commonwealth Parliamentarians.

May I add a word as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure? Dr. King helped that Committee greatly by giving evidence on a number of occasions. Some of the recommendations of the Committee were adopted by the House, and, in particular, we have had innovations regarding both Question Time and Standing Order No. 9. The way in which Mr. Speaker King carried out the recommendations of the House on Question Time and Standing Order No. 9 showed his ability in improving the system of Parliament. I am sure that Parliament can still be improved, but, when we look back on his Speakership, we shall realise that a great stride has been made towards making this place a better debating Chamber.

In my capacity as Father of the House, I add my good wishes to him and his wife in their retirement, and I hope that the thoughts expressed by the Leader of the Liberal Party as to his comfort and position in the future will in due course he fulfilled.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I rise only because I think that Dr. King would appreciate it if somebody who was a fellow member with him of the National Union of Teachers said a word on this occasion. He was a great ornament to his profession. I remember, from the days when both he and I were working in opposition, how many educational causes dear to his heart we were able together to do our best to forward.

I believe that the whole teaching profession felt that an honour was done to it when he was raised to the high office which he held in so distinguished a manner. I am delighted that the Motion has been moved, and I am sure that it will have the unanimous support of the House.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

I hope that it will not be thought out of order if I make a few comments on the Motion.

There will be general agreement I imagine—I say this with a minimum of regret—that I was probably one of the more difficult pupils in this particular school. I found, contrary to my expectation, that I was treated always with the greatest courtesy and tolerance, indeed, forbearance, by Mr. Speaker King. Whenever I went to seek his advice, which, odd as it may seem, I was not averse to doing, and I took refuge in his secluded chamber, I was always treated with patience and, of course, his usual courtesy—and with more than my share of Speaker's sherry.

We all have in our varying ways a great affection for the ex-Speaker. I only hope, now he has been put out to grass and goes to another place, as he eventually will, that Dr. King is treated by the authorities in that Chamber with the same great kindness, courtesy and consideration that his more difficult pupils in this Chamber received.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon Thames)

On purely personal grounds, I should like to add a short furthe tribute to your peredecessor, Mr. Speaker. Before Mr. Speaker King was elevated to hte Chair, he and I had innumerable debates on social security matters across the Floor. He set an example to the House of powerful, penetrating criticism, coupled with a most exquisite personal courtesy.

When he was in the Chair, I owed him a great deal. He was in your Chair, Mr. Speaker, when I made the transition, which some of us make several times, from Front Bench to back bench. As you will know, Sir, that is a moment at which the kindly help, courtesy and advice of the Chair is of special advantage to a Member. I should not like this moment to pass without saying how grateful I am to Mr. Speaker King for his innumerable kindnesses.

As has been said, he was the first occupant of the Chair to come from the Labour Benches. If I may say so without impertinence, the Labour Party has great reason to be proud of that. So has the House. Your predecessor, Sir, served us extremely well, with courtesy, with charm, and above all, with personal and individual kindness. We all wish him many years of good health and happiness, to enjoy not only the gaiety of social life, for which he is so admirably fitted, but whatever Her Majesty in her most gracious wisdom may see fit to confer upon him.

Mr. J. D. Dormand (Easington)

The fact of which Dr. King was most proud—perhaps this is not generally known in the House—is that he was a County Durham man. It is remarkable that throughout his Speakership, and in the international position in which he was held in such high regard, Dr. King remembered above all that he was a County Durham man. As a proud Durham County man myself, I do not wish this occasion to pass without that fact being put on record.

I recall that, when I was sworn in last year and I shook hands with Mr. Speaker King, he asked, "Are you a real County Durham man?", and, when I was able to assure him that I was born and bred and lived in the county—it was almost as though I was one of his good former pupils—he said, "That is all right, you are welcome".

I should like the House to know also that Dr. King obtained a grant from Durham County Council many years ago in order to be able to go to university. He never forgot that, and it was typical of the man.

On his first teaching appointment, he wrote to Durham County Council to remind it that he had obtained a post. He wrote to the county council again when he was appointed a headmaster and when he was elected a Member of Parliament. He did not forget to inform the county council when he was appointed to the Speakership. That seems to me typical of the man.

I am proud that I am a Durham County man and that I have been able to say what I have said today.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

Reference has been made to the generous hospitality of Mr. Speaker King, but I do not think that it is generally known that perhaps his most touching act of hospitality was the giving of parties for mentally handicapped children in Mr. Speaker's house. I attended more than one of those parties, and it was wonderful to see how he made the occasion go in the most unlikely circumstances.

Like the Father of the House, my tight hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), I served on the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform, the first for a quarter of a century, over which Mr. Speaker King presided during his first three years of Speakership—and very exacting work it was, requiring knowledge, patience and skill, and Mr. Speaker King showed those three qualities in great measure to the great advantage of this House. I should like to join in the tributes paid to him.

Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)

I should not like this occasion to pass without one of the Hampshire Members adding her voice to the expressions of regret about the departure of Mr. Speaker King, who was, and is, an honorary alderman of Hampshire County Council—Durham does not have all the honours in this respect—a Hampshire Member, and always a good Hampshire man.

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), I served on Mr. Speaker King's Conference on Electoral Reform. I, too, was touched when I brought to this House the sixth form of the Lord Mayor Treloar's College, all of whom are physically handicapped, and Mr. Speaker received them in his house. Without the co-operation of hon. Members on both sides of the House, we would have had an almost impossible job to get the chairs round the building, and Mr. Speaker put the bonne bouche to their trip on that day.

Mention has been made of Mr. Speaker King's hospitality and of the innovations he made in the House. I do not want to put any ideas into your head, Mr. Speaker, but one of Mr. Speaker King's most touching gestures when he became Speaker was to give a special dinner for all the lady Members of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of her Royal Favour upon Dr. the Right Honourable Horace Maybray King for his eminent services during the important period in which he has with such distinguished ability and dignity presided in the Chair of this House, and assuring Her Majesty that whatever expense Her Majesty shall think fit to be incurred upon that account this House will make good the same.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.