I beg to move,
That the thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for his distinguished services in the Chair for more than seven years; that he be assured that this House fully appreciates the zeal, ability, and impartiality with which he has discharged the duties of his high office through a period of unusual labour, difficulty, and anxiety, and the judgment and firmness with which be has maintained its privileges and dignity; and that this House feels the strongest sense of his unremitting attention to the constantly increasing business of Parliament, and the uniform urbanity and kindness which have earned for him the respect and esteem of this House.
None of us who were in this House seven years ago, when you were asked if you would take the Chair, can have forgotten how you said to the House "They must take me as I am." And the House took you as you were. They took you with confidence, and they have never regretted it. They part from you to-day with sorrow. For 18 years you have occupied high and responsible positions among us, for the greater part of that time presiding over this Table at which I speak and for the last seven years as Speaker. While it has been a period of shattering and recasting of political parties in this country, not a single tremor has disturbed the foundations of that Chair upon which you sit.
Tributes have been paid in the past, as they might well be paid to you to-day, for certain qualities which we always expect to find and do find in our Speakers—dignity, urbanity, impartiality, courage, firmness, with liability to sudden seizures of either deafness or blindness speedily recovered from. But, Sir, there is one characteristic, I venture to think, which in you has been perhaps more prominent than in any previous Speaker, and for which I think you will be long remembered, and that is your wide humanity. Although seven years is not a long period of years, yet it has meant no fewer than five Administrations, each Administration bringing in its train fresh problems and a large influx of fresh Members in this House; and with each Parliament you, Sir, by your character have instilled in all of us, from the oldest Member to the youngest, that same love for this House, that same respect for it, that you have yourself.
More than previous Speakers have you exercised your great influence beneficently and usefully in other directions. Your knowledge of, your interest in, and your love of these historic buildings has made you do more, perhaps, for the beautifying and preservation of them than has been done by any of your predecessors; and you have specially taken under your charge the growing interests of the Empire Parliamentary Association, realising how much may be done by contact, by frequent visits, by frequent intercourse between the Parliaments of the Empire. The growth of the visits from Members of Parliament at home to the Dominions and from those of the Dominions to home, has been helped in great measure by the sympathetic understanding which you have given to it. If, for one moment, I may trespass on something still more private, I am certain, from my own knowledge, that the hospitality which was so freely given in your house, during your term of office, to the Members of the Dominion Parliaments has been among their most treasured recollections when they have gone home.
This great Parliament over which you have presided is co-eternal with British freedom. The two things stand or fall together, but the spirit of Parliament—far more important than the forms—owes more to the Speakers of this House than to any individual, however great his position may be in it, and we rejoice to think that that spirit during these years has been preserved by you in its plenitude and handed down undimmed and untarnished to your successor. When you leave us, it will not only be the passing of a well-known figure from that Chair in which you sit; it will be the passing from this Chamber of a man with whom everyone of us feels linked by some measure of personal friendship. When these Resolutions are passed, as they will be passed, unanimously, then, Sir, your work in this House will be finished, but I have to ask you, and I am sure every Member joins with me in this, that you will think fit to come back once more into the Chair to-night, and adjourn the House for the last time, and let us all shake you by the hand and wish you "Good-bye".
I rise to associate myself with both the language and the tone of the speech of the Leader of the House. I do not know, Sir, if you really understand with what deep regret we are to say "Good-bye" to you at Eleven o'clock to-night. Your departure, for one thing, is a most uncomfortable reminder to many of your colleagues, who appeared in this House about the same time as yourself, that the years do not only go, but that they are going very quickly. We shall always remember your great kindness, and the infinite pains you have taken to accommodate yourself to us and us to you. Approach to you has always been easy, and the help which you have given us has been both ready and generous. You have shown us in a most remarkable way how to be patient and courteous without being lax; how to be strict and severe without being mechanical and formal; and you have also demonstrated to us, in a way that few of your predecessors have done, how gentleness can rule and how persuasiveness can subdue.
I am afraid, Sir, we have given you some trying moments, but I know that you will forgive us. I am almost inclined to recall them without a blush and without an apology, because they were the occasions for you to give us displays of your great qualities of human understanding and of your diplomatic genius. You had the eye, not only to see but to see into, and you have encouraged that capacity to show itself on every occasion that presented itself to you. You referred, Sir, in that rather moving announcement made to us yesterday, to the troubles that you often take to your pillow. One of those troubles was that you had to turn a blind eye to a great many Members who had most wonderful speeches to deliver. I wonder whether it is the Member whom you call, or the Member whom you do not call, who has the greatest grievance against you? In any event, Sir, the Member whom you did not call, you allowed to retain in his mind his speeches as dream children, children speeches, like Charles Lamb's dream children. They have never been born, and therefore they remain very beautiful and very successful. You have called some of us, Sir, and the pains of your pillow may have been great; but I can assure you, when the speeches were born, to a great many of us their birth was attended by far more pain than the pain of conscience which you took to bed with you at night when you had refrained from seeing others who wished to address this House.
You have presided over us when the burdens of public work have been enormously increasing. Whatever may be said about democracy, this undoubtedly has to be said about it. It is a very hard taskmaster, and, while you have made us wonder how it was possible for you to carry your load, you lightened the load that we were carrying by the example that you set us. The Leader of the House has referred to one of your great activities and I leave it with him, but I should like to add a sentence to it. Your love of this House has extended in a peculiar way to love of its fabric. The Prime Minister said that you beautified the House. Sir, I think you have done more. In the work that you have done to give us pictures of our past, to restore to us some memory of what was within these walls, you have done more than engage in the pursuit of the beautiful; you have also done something to restore to us the soul of British representative institutions.
In 1921, we called you to that position of high authority, of august respect, and of exacting labour, and you have amply filled it. From the moment you appeared there in your official garb, you set aside your party predelictions; you belonged to the House, and neither to the Government nor to the Opposition. No predecessor has surpassed you in impartiality. This House, its powers, its distinctions, its honour, is the only inheritance of hundreds of thousands of humble folk in this country, and you, Mr. Speaker, are its guardian. Prime Ministers and other high officials of State rise and become discredited, and nobody is a penny the worse, but Speakers must retain the serenity and the authority of their position. We congratulate you most heartily upon your guardianship. When your name is added to that long list on our Library walls of men who have presided over us, it will recall to us, who were your contemporaries and your colleagues, nothing but years of happy association, of grateful memory, and of valued friendship. From the bottom of our hearts we bid you a regretful "Good-bye," and we hope that many years of peaceful life and of public service are still in store for you.
I rise, on behalf of the Members with whom I am associated, to support the Motion which has been submitted by the Leader of the House, and has been supported by the Leader of the Opposition. I have nothing to add to the very eloquent tributes which they have paid to your conduct in the Chair. I have a certain satisfaction in listening to them, because I was the head of the Government which had the responsibility of first nominating you to that position, and I think that they were a vindication of the choice which we then made, a choice which was based upon a great deal of experience of your conduct in the Chair. For over a generation, it has been a very trying and testing time for Parliamentary institutions throughout the world, and some of them have barely survived. The conduct of the officers who preside over the deliberations of these assemblies is a very important element in the authority and prestige of Parliamentary institutions. We owe a good deal to the great Speakers, of whom you are one, Mr. Speaker, who for a whole generation have maintained the authority, the influence, and the power of Parliament in this country at a time when it was so essential to the life of the nation.
I am, I think, one of about four Members present here to-day, who witnessed the very grim conflict between a very redoubtable Parliamentary party and the authority of the House of Commons. We have always the recollection of Mr. Speaker Peel, one of the greatest Speakers who ever occupied that Chair —stem, dignified, majestic—who, on behalf of the House of Commons, fought that grave conflict. You, Sir, have not been confronted with quite the same trials as he was, but your difficulties have been very great; they have been very complicated, and it is due, not merely to the urbanity, but to the tact, the forbearance, and the good temper which you have exhibited, that the House has overcome many of those difficulties without impairing its authority or prestige in the public mind. For all that, those who believe in Parliamentary institutions owe you a deep debt of grati- tude. You have rendered an immortal service to democracy and liberty by that achievement, and for that reason I associate myself sincerely with the tributes that have been paid to you.
I think it would be a little short of impertinence on my part if I stood up with any idea that anything could be added by me to the very remarkable series of speeches to which we have just listened, but, as one who has had continuous service as the oldest Member of the House, as the one who had the honour of first presenting your name to the House as Speaker, and as one who in forty-seven years of Parliamentary life has seen many Speakers come and go, I feel that I would be a little wanting in respect to the House and to you if I did not add a very few words to what has been said by those who have preceded me. I never had any doubt of your capacity for the great position which you have occupied. May I say, in no pedagogic spirit, but at a result of great experience, that you were entitled to, and won your position, long before you reached it, by silent, obscure and very often unknown service to the conduct of this great House.
There is no body in the world where the good apprentice so surely ultimately reaches his reward as the House of Commons; the good apprentice I have in mind is not merely the man who, on occasions, rises to great heights of eloquence, or to masterly strokes of strategy, but the man who takes his share in that obscure, very often unknown, work by which the machinery of this House is carried on behind the great front scene of set debate. If we had no such men here, who in silence and obscurity saw to the proper ordering of our proceedings, this House would soon be very much diminished in value and authority. You, Sir, were willing to begin your apprenticeship when you were a Parliamentary boy, by taking an obscure position in the semi-official life of the House by becoming an unpaid Parliamentary Whip, but, when you occupied that humbler position, then, as afterwards when you attained to greater influence, everybody, on seeing you pass to that outer Lobby could rely on your being ready to help, and could be secure in the knowledge that everything would go smoothly. Therefore, you are the most remarkable instance, in my know- ledge of the Speakers of the House of Commons, of the men who earned their greatness by their assiduity and sincerity in performing small things.
Another word I must say. I think you have fully maintained the traditions of your great predecessors, some greater than others, with the majesty which can only belong to true greatness. I have listened to many tributes which were paid to them at the expiration of their terms of office. They were worthy of the men who made them, and worthy of the men of whom they were made, but may I just say, merely as a hint, merely as a suggestion, that amid all these lofty and deserved encomiums paid to you and them, I think I perceive in the tributes paid to you a note of intimate, sincere and warm affection which has never been surpassed in the case of any previous Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we part from you not only with respect but with deep and profound affection.
I hope the House will pardon me for uttering one or two sentences. I realise that in my own person I am one of the least important and most obscure Members of this House. There are circumstances which have rendered my position in this House peculiarly exceptional at times, and I have realised that more often than the House has been a difficulty for me I may have been a difficulty for you. I sincerely join in the expressions of opinion which we have heard, for not only have I enjoyed perfect and impartial protection at your hands but on all those occasions when you had to turn me down your informative advice to me was even of greater value than the opportunity of speaking. Just one more word. The Leader of the House paid a tribute to your hospitality and the impression created by it upon the Dominion representatives. I say without exaggeration and with complete sincerity that my friends and countrymen from India who have come here and come in contact with you through the Parliamentary Association and your leadership of it have invariably gone away with the impression, however unfair it may appear to others, that in you they have met the finest gentleman of Britain; and there is not the slightest doubt that the feeling expressed to-day that there has been com- plete satisfaction with your Speaker-ship is absolutely true without any exaggeration or exception.
It is very difficult for me to find any words in which to express my sense of gratitude for what has been said by the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal party and the Father of the House. If I have deserved any part of what has been said, I can only think that it is because throughout I have felt I had the support of every individual Member of the House. I was called to office as one of the most ordinary Members of the House. I knew that no qualities of my own would sustain me, but I had then confidence in the support which, would be given to me by every Member of the House. On this occasion I can only thank all my colleagues for the support which has been so generously given.
The Leader of the House made some reference to the work, in which I have been interested, of the decoration of the interior of the Palace of Westminster. That work has been done far more by others than by myself. It has been with the generous collaboration of Members of this House and of the other House that it has been possible to achieve so much. The Prince Consort, after the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt, had the desire that it should become the treasure house of British Art, and a beginning, I hope, has been made. May I be allowed to express the hope that the work will be carried on, and that fresh support will be forthcoming from those who care for the Palace of Westminster to see that the work is carried to its conclusion?
I have tried to be a true guardian of the liberties of this House. I believe more than ever that it is by means ofits old and tried system of consultative government that this country, this Empire will go on in the future to greater triumphs than it has seen in the past. Consultative government is attacked in these days from different and quite opposite quarters, but we have a history here, a tradition, a heritage, with which we do not like to part, and I am sure that those Members who come here and, indeed, any body of citizens of this country, have learned in their hearts to treasure their House of Commons, and that to any man it must be a privilege to have been one of its guardians.
Lastly, if the House will allow me, I should think it right from this place to give my thanks to my constituents. It was the first time that a Member for a great industrial constituency had ever been elected to this Chair and it was a doubtful question—I had many doubts in my own mind—whether it was possible to combine the two duties. It has been with the most wonderful and generous forbearance and consideration on the part of my constituents that it has been possible for me to perform the duties of this Office. The House will forgive me, I am sure, for thinking it right at this time, and from this place, to pay them, that tribute. In saying farewell to the House my prayer is always for the House of Commons, for its honour and for its usefulness.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying His Majesty that He will be most Graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of His Royal Favour upon the Right Honourable John Henry Whitley, Speaker of this House, 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 His Majesty that whatever expense His Majesty shall think fit to be incurred upon that account this House will make good the same.