Mr. Speaker-Elect, by long established custom it is the privilege of the Prime Minister to be the first to congratulate you on your re-election to your high and responsible office and it gives me great pleasure to do so, both on my own behalf and on behalf of my friends who sit on this side of the House. It gives me special pleasure because on the last occasion, owing to public duties in another place—at Potsdam—I was unable to be present to felicitate you.
For seven years you have presided over our deliberations and I think your experience is unique, because at the beginning of that period the major parties in this House were all together in one Government. That was one extreme. Today, you have a House that is more evenly divided than any House has been for the last 100 years. This is the third time you have received this signal tribute of confidence of your fellow Members. The majority of Members of this House have had experience of your conduct in the Chair; they know and appreciate your impartiality and fairness, your patience, your knowledge, and your knowledge not only of the letter but, I think, still more important, of the spirit of the Rules and regulations and conventions under which our proceedings are conducted. I am quite sure that the new Members, as they gain that knowledge, will share that appreciation. Very soon they will, as the older Members do, as you said, regard you as a friend and not merely as an impartial umpire.
I said that the House is more evenly divided between the main parties than ever before. I think it is, therefore, especially agreeable that the first act, the first Business, of this House, should be one in which it acts with unanimity. There are fewer small minority groups in this House than in any of the Houses of which I have been a Member, but your duty to protect minorities and preserve the rights of individual Members remains, and we know that you will always do it.
I should have said, Sir, that the undying tradition of this House is so strong that despite all changes of persons it never loses its essential character; it is always recognisably the same thing, but every Parliament has its own distinctive characteristics. I should not like to speculate on what the characteristics of this House will be; nor should I like to speculate about the parliamentary weather to come; I should hardly think it would be "set fair"; it may be "stormy," "stormy with fair intervals," or "unsettled." But I can assure you, Sir, on behalf of all my colleagues that, recognising as we do the supreme importance of the authority of the Chair, we shall at all times do our utmost to support it.
I have heard a Speaker proposed many times, but I do not think I have ever heard the Motion proposed and seconded more felicitously than it has been today. On this occasion, although the mover and seconder both came from Scotland, it is undoubted that they were chosen to represent both Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the wish of us all is that you may enjoy strength and health to carry out the onerous task which your fellow Members have laid upon you.