Election of Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 March 1950.

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Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham 12:00, 1 March 1950

(who was received with general cheers): I rise to submit myself to the will of the House. I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman who proposed me and also to say how glad I am to see him back well and strong after his illness. I should like to thank him for what he has said, and I should like also to thank the seconder of the Motion for the kind things he said about me. I realise now, although I had not realised before, that they are two Scotsmen from the west. I realised that they were Scotsmen because I live very close to Scotland, and I hope I may almost consider myself a neighbour. After all, it just shows what an important place Scotland is. Later on, I believe the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will take part. They represent England. I believe that the Leader of the Liberal Party will also speak, and he represents Wales. In any case, my proposer's first name is David, and today is St. David's Day. So Wales comes into the picture.

I should like to thank the leaders of all three parties, because although I had opposition in the Election they gave me their support. It could not be unopposed but perhaps—I do not know—it is unlikely that an unopposed return could happen to the Speaker nowadays. After all, when votes are so close, as they are in the House, one vote in one constituency is of prime importance. Naturally, some electors do not want to have to elect one who might be called a non-combatant. In view of the fact that I shall not present myself at the next General Election, whenever that may be, I may say that I appreciate that there are a certain number of disgruntled people who think that perhaps they are not being represented because the Speaker does not vote, who think that they are being deprived of a vote if an unopposed return is threatened. I think that is a delicate matter which perhaps ought to be borne in mind.

This is the third time you have done me the honour to propose and second me for the Speakership of this House. It is a very great honour indeed, I can assure you, and I very humbly submit myself to the will of the House. My seconder said that perhaps I might be quick at learning the names of Members. I shall do my level best; I do not think there are quite so many new faces this time as there were in the last Parliament. Anyhow, I warn hon. Members that if they suddenly find me looking at the book and looking at them very hard, it is not because I am going to call them to order; it is because I am trying to put new faces to new names and new names to new faces.

As Speaker I have duties to perform. My seconder mentioned the Rules and my proposer said that I knew them by heart. Yes, there are Rules and we have to obey them, but I want every Member, especially every new Member, to regard the Speaker not as a schoolmaster but as a friend. I do not want this afternoon to talk like a schoolmaster talking to new boys—and new girls. I want them to realise that the Speaker is one who is anxious to help; he has to be obeyed, he has to see that the Rules are obeyed, but not with the authority of Rules behind him. When I was a young soldier I was taught by a very wise commanding officer that to be readily obeyed one has to be perfectly esteemed, and that is the spirit in which I endeavour to carry out my duties in the Chair.

My last word is that, quite frankly, I attach great importance to the pageantry of Parliament. This little ceremony which we go through now, when I resist my proposer and seconder, has its links with the past. Every one of the things we do arc part of history and in carrying on and building up this House of Commons we are merely following on the paths of our forebears. This House of Commons, this Parliament, is a very human institution. It can mould itself, it can change, but the spirit of Parliament is always the same—service of the people and representation of the people. As Speaker I must be careful to see that no unruly remarks are cast across the Floor, that there is fair play between every party, that freedom of speech is secured for everyone and that minorities have their rights; these are some of the things that have made our Parliament great and which make it the envy of the world. It will be my duty and endeavour to the best of my ability to see that its Rules are observed.

These are difficult times in which we live. I end by recalling that at the end of the war, when I lit the light on Big Ben, I said I hoped it was a sign that the representatives of a free people were assembled in free Debate, and that was the sure hope of a sorely troubled world. I have put my views before you, I have tried to say exactly what is in my mind. In all humility, I now submit myself to your will.