Summary of Day

– in the House of Commons on 20th November 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Hon. Members having repaired to their seats,

A message was delivered by Lieut.-General Sir WILLIAM PULTENEY PULTENEY, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., D.S.O., Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, as followeth:— Gentlemen,The Lords authorised by virtue of His Majesty's Commission desire the immediate attendance of this Honourable House in the House of Peers, to hear the Commission read.

Accordingly, the House went up to the House of Peers, where the Lord Chancellor and other Lords named in the Commission, sitting on a form between the Throne and the Woolsack,

THE LORD CHANCELLOR said; My Lords and Gentlemen of the House of Commons,His Majesty, not thinking fit to be hero present this day in His Royal Person, has been pleased, in order to the opening and holding of this Parliament, to cause Letters Patent to be passed under His Great Seal, constituting us and several other Lords therein named, His Commissioners, to do all things, in His Majesty's name, on His part, necessary to be performed in this Parliament. This will more fully appear by the Letters Patent themselves, which must now be read.

The said Letters Patent were read, and then

THE LORD CHANCELLOR said; My Lords and Gentlemen,We have it in command from His Majesty to let you know that as soon as the Members of both Houses shall be sworn, the causes of His Majesty's calling this Parliament will be declared to you. And, it being necessary a Speaker of the House of Commons should be first chosen, it is His Majesty's pleasure that you, Gentlemen of the House of Commons, repair to the place where you are to sit, and there proceed to the choice of some proper person to be your Speaker; and that you present such: person, whom you should so choose, here to-morrow for His Majesty's Royal approbation.

The House having returned,

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

(Addressing himself to the Clerk, who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down); Sir Lonsdale Webster, in accordance with the Gracious Message just received from the Throne, I beg to move, "That the Right Hon. John Henry Whitley do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."

The high honour conferred upon me of proposing this Motion is due, I believe, to the long service I have had in the House and to the less agreeable consideration of length of years. My task, for which I am sure I will receive the generous consideration of the House, is rather easier than is always the case from two circumstances. The first is that the gentleman I propose is not an untried man, and the second is that I am asking the House to follow the honourable tradition which places the re-election of the Speaker, tried and not found wanting, above the strife or interests of parties. The House has always tell that, if the Speaker should be impartial to the House, the House, in its turn, should reciprocate by impartiality on the question of the Chair. I recall to the House, I think, one of its most honourable memories. The late Mr. Gully was elected, after a contest, to the Speaker ship of the House in which his own political friends were in a majority. After a short tenure of the office, there was a General Election, and the party to which he was by conviction opposed happened to be in the majority. Sir John Mowbray, one of the most respected members of the Conservative party of his day, in spite of some feelings in the contrary direction, insisted that the tradition should be upheld and that a Speaker elected by a party with a Liberal majority should be re-elected by a party with a Conservative majority.

I do not argue too closely whether the opinions of the candidate I propose are in agreement or in discord with those of the majority in the House. He has followed the wise and almost unbroken tradition of Speakers in preserving a discreet silence, even to the constituency which returned him unopposed, though, having read innumerable speeches delivered during the Election, it appears to me to be quite possible to employ many words without committing the vulgar error of expressing any definite opinion. But, whether the majority in the House share the opinions of Mr. Whitley or not, he will, I believe, be chosen unanimously. The House has found a good man, and the House means to keep him. He has stood the great ordeal of following a long line of brilliant predecessors, one of the most brilliant being his immediate predecessor, and he has successfully gone through that ordeal.

May I add to the innumerable attempts of those who have proposed similar Motions to that I am now proposing another attempt to define the qualities that make the ideal Speaker? I put, as the first, spotless integrity and truthfulness—the man who has regard for his convictions, whose word is his bond, and who is thus a high model for all those who come after him. He must be firm, for individual peculiarities and the heat of party passions sometime raise storms with which only a strong man can deal. But he must also be gentle. Members of the House of Commons are independent men, with whose liberties and privileges it is not safe to trifle. He must have control of temper. A Speaker in a temper is almost an unimaginable and incredible offence against the traditions of the Chair. He must have good humour and humour. Good humour is a great racial quality with the British people, whose wise philosophy, though the saying did not originate with them, is," Take all serious things seriously, but never tragically." The House of Commons requires a Speaker with some humour because sometimes it is subjected to gusts of passion—sometimes it is like a boys' school, sometimes it is like a girls' school—but it can always be brought back to self-control by a timely appeal to its always present sense of humour. I have in my Parliamentary life seen many occasions when even passions tragic in their intensity have been brought back to reason by a timely word of humour from the Chair. The Speaker must have a full sense of his responsibility. He must be assiduous, and he must necessarily have the qualities which make a peacemaker.

I have now given in this rapid outline a sketch of the Speaker. I think I may say that the Right Hon. John Henry Whitley fits into the frame of that picture. He is a man of honour. He is a man of principle. He is a man of his word. He has imperturbable self-control. He has a keen but modest sense of humour. Above all, he has been an example to all of us of assiduous devotion to all his duties, great and small. He occupied for many years the position of Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means. Every day during all those years of office he was here from 11 or 12 o'clock in the morning, and he never left the House until the Speaker left the Chair. Thus, though he is a child of Yorkshire, in spirit he is a child of the House of Commons. I ask you to elect Mr. Whitley to preside over this great Assembly. It is a great Assembly. The young Member who desires to study its history and lessons has only to look around; the smallest rules and the most modest piece of furniture tell the tale. The rule which forbids a Member to put his two feet beyond a certain point on the rug below me recalls the Knights of the Shire as they came into this House dangling their swords. That is a memento of its pageant. The portcullis at the door marks its successful struggle for liberty. The man must be dull of imagination and cold of heart who does not realise the greatness of its heritage through all these centuries. A whisper in this House, carried across land and sea to the furthermost; corners of this world-wide Empire, calls millions of armed men to fight for the security and liberty of the Empire. We meet with great demands on this House. May it be granted to us, under the wise guardianship of our Speaker, to send words of encouragement and deeds of courage and wisdom to a tragic and tortured world.

Photo of Mr Ernest Pretyman Mr Ernest Pretyman , Chelmsford

Sir Lonsdale Webster, I feel that a very great honour has been conferred on me in the task of seconding this Motion so ably proposed by my hon. Friend opposite the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr.O'Connor). The task which has been entrusted to me is an easy one. I know it has not been entrusted to me because I have any special fitness of my own to fulfil it, but it is easy for two reasons; first, because all that can properly be said has been so well said by my hon. Friend who moved the Resolution, and, secondly, because I know well that neither argument nor persuasion are necessary in putting this Motion to the House to elect our late Speaker Mr. Whitley to continue in that office. Although no argument or persuasion are necessary, perhaps this is a moment when it is wise that there should be some recital of the qualities which we expect to find in our Speaker, and which we shall find in full measure when Mr. Whitley, as I hope he will, accepts the honour the House now proposes to confer on him. Also, it is as well that on this occasion we should consider the duty which the House itself owes to the Chair and which I think we may assure Mr. Whitley will be fulfilled in the future as it has been in the past. The qualities which stand out as most necessary in a Speaker are the qualities of patience, firmness and impartiality. I do not know whether it would be in order to say of this House that patience is sometimes required in our Debates, but I can say with truth that I have admired successive Speakers for the way in which they do follow the Debates, always seeming to remember the last sentence which has been uttered when it is desired to take notice of it. Patience is certainly necessary. I do not know I would not say it of any other Assembly than this, but it is the kind of quality which makes the President of an Assembly suffer fools gladly. Kindness of disposition and accessibility in our Speaker will be there, and every Member, however young and inexperienced, will find that to be the case.

The difficulties of the time will be great, as they always are, and perhaps even greater than usual. A difficulty which the Speaker will have to face will arise from the multiplicity of parties in this House, and on the difficulties of adjustment which will arise in that matter I am sure the advice and counsel of Mr. Speaker will be of enormous value. There may be, as there always have been, difficulties in debate. I notice some Members newly elected to this House are proposing to make things lively, but if I am to be included in that class of "genial old fogies from the backwoods," to which reference has been made, I will venture in that capacity to make a prophecy, that every Member of this House newly elected will, within a very short time, in the atmosphere of this House, be as jealous of its honour and its dignity as those who have sat here for many years. Every hon. Member of this House has to take his part in maintaining its honour and its dignity, which are of inestimable value, not only to ourselves as Members of the House as a whole, but to the country and to the Empire. It is because I know that honour and dignity will be absolutely safe in the hands of Mr. Whitley, if he is good enough to accept this office, that I have the very greatest pleasure in seconding the Motion which has been so ably proposed by my hon. Friend opposite, and I venture to commend it to the House as a whole.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

(who was received with general cheers)

Sir Lonsdale Webster, in accordance with ancient usage, T rise to submit myself humbly to the will of the House. If my fellow Members are pleased to put their trust in me for this great service, I will give them the best that is in me. I must confess that I do not recognise myself in the picture that has been drawn by the Proposer and Seconder of this Motion; but none the less would I tender to them my thanks for the kind words that they have spoken.

The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) is, if I may say so, one of our institutions—he is father of the House. Forty-two years he has sat on these Benches. He sat here when many of us were but schoolboys, reading with awe the speeches that Gladstone, Disraeli and Bright delivered in this House. All these forty-two years have been spent by him as a member of a minority in this House, and I regard it as an instance of the high value of our traditions that I should on this occasion be proposed for the Chair by a Member who has so long an experience of being a member of a minority. We miss—the House will pardon me for this digression—from his side the colleague whom in the last Parliament we knew as the hon. Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin)—a colleague, if I may say so, who was brilliant in his incursions, and sometimes a little irrelevant in his observations, to the embarrassment of the Chair.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) leaves me equally in his debt. When I occupied that lower Chair, he was on this side of the House, and a very active Member of an active Opposition. It must have fallen to my lot more than once to rule him out of order; and, worse than that, I am afraid that I must have failed to see him sometimes, when he was bursting with the eloquence that we all know so well. In those circumstances, my gratitude to him is the greater. He has forgotten all those tragedies, and has left me only the complaint that he is too kind. If -we miss many old faces to-day, we welcome many new ones. We look to them to bring a new contribution to the service of the Commonwealth. It is the glory of the House of Commons that it is ready to listen to any opinion sincerely held, and to give credit for honesty of purpose to every one of its Members.

I place myself in the hands of my fellow-Members. If they call me to this great office, I shall look to them for the support without which no one could face its anxieties or maintain its responsibilities. I pray that this Parliament, in the Divine hands, may bring good to our fellow-citizens, and, through them, good to the peoples of other nations.

The House having again unanimously railed Mr. John Henry Whitley to the Chair, he was- taken out of his place hy Mr. O'Connor and, Mr. Pretyman, and conducted to the Chair.

Mr. SPEAKER-ELECT:

(standing on the upper step to the Chair)

Before taking the Chair of this House again as its Speaker, I would tender to the House my deep sense of gratitude for the honour it has conferred upon me.

Mr. SPEAKER-ELECT sat down in the Chair.

Then the Mace (which before lay under the Table) was placed upon the Table by the Serjeant-at-Arms (Sir Colin Keppel, K.C.I.E., K.C.V.O., C.B., D.S.O.).

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

Mr. Speaker-Elect, it is my privilege, and I regard it as a great privilege, to be the first to offer you our warmest congratulations. It is a subject well worthy of congratulation that you have twice received from your fellow Members the highest honour which it is in their power to bestow upon anyone. But, while we congratulate you, we congratulate ourselves. The duties of your office have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) so eloquently as to make one feel that they were qualities almost Too bright and good.For human nature's daily food. However great a man's career may have been in other fields, the duties of the Speaker are so delicate, so complicated, and, if I may say so, depend so much on the right instinct at a given moment, that it is almost impossible to feel sure that anyone will adequately fulfil them. In your case we run no such risks. You have been tried, and I am sure I am expressing the opinion, not only of those Members who served under you, but of the whole House, when I say that the traditions of your great office are safe in your hands.

It was said by a great French writer that a nation is happy which has no history. It is, I think, more true to say that happy is the Speaker who has no annals. A great Speaker, in my opinion, is not necessarily one who rides the whirlwind and directs the storm to which my hon. Friend referred, though it is sometimes necessary. The ideal Speaker is rather he who observes, danger a long way off, who avoids it, and who seems to do his work so smoothly that it seems to everyone so simple that anybody could do it. Here, as in every other sphere of human activity, the greatest artist is he who conceals his art.

As you have well pointed out, however, no qualities of a Speaker would be in themselves sufficient. He must depend, for the successful carrying out of his duties, on the whole-hearted support of the House of Commons, which has chosen him for that position. You, Sir, can rely upon that. The Speaker is to us, not a man like the rest of us, who is liable to err: he is something more. He is an institution in which are enshrined the traditions and customs which to the British people are stronger even than their laws. That will give you our assurance.

You probably know that ever since the House of Commons became of sufficient importance to be talked about, if we are to judge by contemporary memoirs, it has been steadily and rapidly deteriorating. T do not believe in that deterioration, nor do I believe that it will ever occur so long as the House of Commons is regarded, not merely as a centre of government, but as the instrument through which the necessary changes must come. As long as the people of this country feel that the path to our ideals of government, whatever they are, is the path which all of us know so well, not generally very smooth or very easy, which has brought us to the portals of this building—so long as that feeling exists, I am certain that the House of Commons can say to you that, just as you have found full support in the last Parliament, and your predecessors have found it through all the centuries, so we, the Members of this House, whatever our views, realise that the honour and the dignity of the Speaker are not merely respect paid to a man, but are the foundations upon which the greatness and the authority of the House of Commons itself depend.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I want to join with the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Opposition in this House, in offering to you our hearty congratulations upon the great honour which the House proposes to confer upon you. We are convinced that all those attributes which have been outlined in relation to impartiality, dignity, and good humour will again be exhibited throughout the life of this Parliament, as they have already been shown by you during your occupation of the Chair so far. We have faith in your abounding fairness. It is a fairness which a Speaker must possess and must display, while at the same time keeping in reserve all those necessary forces of strength without which it is impossible to maintain the great office of Speaker. Although I act in this House for a party which of recent years has grown to considerable dimensions, we have not lost our concern for minorities in this House, and for the preservation and protection of the rights of minorities so far as those rights can be protected by the action of the Chair. The office of Speaker is a very great trust. It is a trust to be maintained, not by the individual in the Chair merely, but by every individual Member of the House, both old and new.

Outside these walls are those who trade in mendacity, who have alleged frequently of late that we who sit on these benches are given to lawlessness and are tending to acts of revolution and illegality, and therefore I want to say that we on this side of the House have as great a regard for the functions of Parliament and for the Government of this country, through elected institutions resting upon a people possessing a democratic franchise, as any other party in this House. I want, before I close, as I think I appropriately can, to offer you our congratulations, not merely because of the qualities you have already exhibited in the Chair, but because of the great human work performed by you outside this House, and for many years in it, before reaching the high office which you now fill. Every one of us has some interest in the maintenance of industrial peace, consistent with industrial justice, and you have laboured long and effectively in all those realms of conciliation, which, in the main, have been of great benefit to society as well as to the large masses of employed workers in this country. Your labour under that head comes second only to the great services which you have already rendered to the House of Commons in your capacity as its Speaker.

Let me finally say that so far as I can offer you assurances from this side of the House, I do so with the certainty that I am unanimously supported by all those who act with me, and I say that we shall feel under an obligation to maintain the authority of the Chair. Its dignity and its power will be maintained by Mr. Speaker-Elect, but it rests upon the Members, if occasion should arise, to join with the Chair in maintaining and in asserting its authority, and, so far as we are able to do that, we shall be happy to join with every other party and with any other group in the House in maintaining the authority of the Chair, without which it is impossible for the great traditions of this ancient institution to be carried on. Mr. Speaker-Elect, I heartily join in tendering you our congratulations.

Photo of Mr Herbert Asquith Mr Herbert Asquith , Paisley

I desire in two or three sentences to associate myself and my political friends with the expressions of congratulation to which we have listened with heartfelt and unanimous appreciation from my two right hon. Friends. I can recall in my Parliamentary experience the election of three Speakers—Speaker Gully, Speaker Lowther and yourself. That is one of the melancholy privileges which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) of Parliamentary—I was going to say senility but I will say old age. I am not going—it would be most inappropriate—to attempt to pass in review—I mean critical review —the contributions which your immediate predecessors rendered to the authority of the Chair, but I think the House of Commons has been peculiarly fortunate now, during the lifetime of two Parliamentary generations, in having in succession in that Chair men as diverse in mental peculiarities, political prepossessions and even in degrees of moral authority as those who have preceded you. This is not the case of the election of a new Speaker. We have already, as my right hon. Friend has said, had experience of your capacity to fill the place you are now happily going again to hold, therefore I will not enlarge upon that aspect of the matter. But I should like simply to say this. I see around me here some old and familiar and many new and unfamiliar faces—men who for the first time are embarking on a Parliamentary career. I hope, as an old Member, I may not be regarded as taking too great a liberty if I say to them—I shall have with me, I know, the assent of all the old and experienced Members of the House—that for the real performance of its duties as a great democratic representative Assembly, the House, of Commons ought to look to the Chair and to the occupant of the Chair as the real symbol of its corporate and continuous identity. Majorities come and go, men change, faces disappear, new faces and new forces arise, but the House of Commons remains the same. If it does not, it ceases to be worthy of its traditions, and it has lost the reason for its existence. The House of Commons remains. In a democratic country we must all bow to the opinion of the nation, for it is our one safeguard, not against revolution—I am not afraid of revolution—but for ordered and settled progress on the lines of liberty and justice. If the House of Commons is to perform in the future, as it has done in the past, that invaluable and indispensable function it must respect as its most precious possession the authority of the Chair.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [The Prime Minister.]

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 Twenty-two Minutes before Four o'Clock till Tomorrow (Tuesday) at a Quarter before Three o'Clock.