Retirement of MR. Speaker Morrison

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18 September 1959.

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Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 12:00, 18 September 1959

I understand that in a short time we shall be summoned to another place, where this Session will come to an end by Prorogation. I also understand from the newspapers that this Parliament will shortly after that be dissolved and a new House of Commons will be elected to meet on the 20th of next month. As I shall not be here then, the time has now come for me to take my leave of you and to bid you farewell.

It is but natural that at such a time many ideas in one's mind should strive together for simultaneous expression. It is rather like one of our bigger debates when a large number of Members rise to speak and the Speaker is faced with the task of choosing one Member and disappointing twenty. But in the present case, however, I have no doubt at all which is the strongest emotion in my mind. It is that of gratitude to you for electing me to this high place and thereafter for sustaining me in it by your forbearance and loyal co-operation in our common task. I shall always remember these things with affection and great gratitude. It has been a memorable experience.

My thanks also go to the gentlemen who sit below me at the Table. Their learning and zeal have been a great support to me. We miss among them this morning the well-remembered figure of Mr. Douglas Gordon, the Clerk Assistant, and the House learned with great sorrow of his sudden death in Warsaw on 30th August last while he was attending a Parliamentary conference there. He was greatly esteemed by the whole House. We lament his loss and we tender our sympathy to his relatives.

Then there is the Serjeant at Arms and his staff, the other learned Clerks in the other offices of the House, the Library, my own office, our friends the police and custodians and the faithful band of men and women who minister to our comfort and amenities in this building. If I were to describe adequately all the ways in which they have mitigated the toil and enhanced my pleasure during my time as Speaker, I should be in danger of transgressing my own oft-repeated commendation of brevity in speech making. I ask them all to accept my sincere thanks.

I have no doubt as to the future of this House. Curiously enough, the granting by consent of all parties of more power and independence to former Colonial Territories has not diminished but has increased the importance of what we do here. These new Parliaments are anxious to learn our system, and they watch our proceedings closely. I have often been asked by them for advice as to how they should deal with this or that situation. I have always been careful to reply to those inquiries by saying, "Well, this is how we do it here." But anyone can master the technicalities of our procedure—the spirit of the House of Commons comes only by experience and cannot be put into the straitjacket of words.

As an old Member of this House, I think perhaps one element in that spirit springs from our traditions of free speech. We have got used on both sides of the House to listening to the expression of sentiments which are abhorrent to us, and without getting wildly excited. Perhaps underlying it all is the unavowed conviction that we all desire the good of our country and people, however diverse may be the measures which we propose to that end. But this unavowed conviction gives rise in this House, no matter how strenuously our political battles may be contended, to a certain sense of comradeship in a joint endeavour, and a measure of co-operation without any sacrifice of political principle where the good of the House or of the nation is at stake. I fed that it is this sense of comradeship among Members of an elected assembly, thrown together to work for a space of time by the electorate, which makes a democratically elected assembly able to discharge its function. It is the spirit that counts.

Looking back over my long voyage here, I can say with another Ancient Mariner: Under the keel nine fathom deep,From the land of mist and snow.The spirit slid: and it was heThat made the ship to go. So it is Chat I leave this House, where I have been proud to work for more than thirty years, and my office as your Speaker, which I shall have held for just eleven days short of eight years, filled with gratitude and confidence in this the oldest and greatest deliberative assembly in the world.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I beg to move, That the thanks of this House be given to the Right Honourable William Shepherd Morrison, M.C., Q.C., for his distinguished services as their Speaker for nearly eight years; that he be assured that this House fully appreciates the zeal, ability, and impartiality with which he has acted in his high office and the judgment and firmness with which he has maintained its privileges and dignity; that this House gratefully records his devoted and unremitting attention to his duties and his uniform urbanity and kindness which have earned for him the respect and esteem of this House. It was with keen regret that we learned last February of your decision to end after thirty years your Membership of this; House and so bring to an end your tenure of the office of Speaker. Now we sit under you for the last time. It is always a sad moment when we say the final "Goodbye" to Mr. Speaker. Each occupant of the office comes to stand for the corporate sense of the whole House, to which you have just referred, and none of us can see him go without experiencing a real sense of personal loss.

The qualities which we hope to find in our Speaker have often been enumerated, and they make up a formidable list—impartiality, calm, patience, a sense of humour, courtesy, independence, a good presence, and a high regard for our institutions. The very full extent to which these attributes have been found in you, Sir, has been a great boon to the House.

At your election on the last day of October, 1951, you spoke of the noble task of keeping alive the traditions of impartiality, freedom and order which have made this House what it is. It is, indeed, a noble task, and as we look back over the period of eight years we see how nobly you have fulfilled it.

If I may be allowed to introduce a more personal note, I am bound to say that I have been happy to see the Speaker's Chair filled by a very old friend for many years in the House of Commons and by a fellow Scot. At the same time, we have one cause for regret for having chosen you for this office, because by electing you Speaker we give ourselves very little opportunity of hearing you speak. Many of the older Members of the House will remember the happy turn of phrase and urbane humour with which you used to delight us when you spoke as a Member or a Minister. You gave us a reminder of those qualities, those who were fortunate enough to hear it, at the ceremony the other day at the centenary of Big Ben. Alas, for most of the time your present office has not allowed you scope for those speeches, although you charmed us with your lucidity and with your wit.

Mr. Speaker, the years during which you have presided over us have not been quite the same epoch-making character as those of your two predecessors. We have not been fighting a world war, we have not been bombed out of our old Chamber and restored to a new Chamber; but this period has been one of great importance in the history of Parliament, not only here but in the Commonwealth. You have referred, Sir, to what has been the particular character of this period, the very close associations between Parliaments in the Commonwealth. You have done a great deal to help by maintaining the dignity of the institutions and by your friendship and contacts with the Parliaments of the Commonwealth countries.

I am sure you would be the first to say how much you have been helped by the support you have received from the Deputy-Speaker, and I would like to take the opportunity of saying, if it is in order, how much we shall miss the wisdom and the quiet authority of the Chairman of Ways and Means, who is another who will not be returning to this House, which he entered 35 years ago.

It has often been observed, Mr. Speaker, that you have a remarkable knowledge of the works of Shakespeare. Perhaps you would recognise these lines: He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one;Exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading. It would be hard, I think, to find a more succinct description of the qualities which we have found in you.

There is one further matter I should like to refer to. You have not in all your time as Speaker missed a single day of our proceedings through illness. It is a great record, and I hope a presage of many happy years of good health that await you.

It would not be right for me to close without saying how much we have been indebted to Mrs. Speaker for the charming and gracious way she has carried out all the tasks which have fallen to her lot.

It only remains for me, therefore, to commend this Motion which I have read out to the House and to express the hope that you and Mrs. Morrison will enjoy many years of happy retirement.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I have very great pleasure in seconding the Motion which was moved by the Prime Minister in such appropriate and felicitous terms.

Few posts are more important to the working of Parliamentary democracy than that of Speaker, and few relationships more important than those between the Speaker and the Members of the House, but the character of this relationship depends a very great deal upon the occupant of the Chair. I cannot say that I regard the position of Speaker as an easy one. He has to be a master of Parliamentary procedure; he has to be patient; he has to be tolerant; he has, above all, to listen to a very large number of speeches.

Sir, it is the view of all of us that you have discharged these functions with wit, with urbanity, with dignity and with understanding. You did not perhaps have it so easy right at the start. You had one grave disadvantage: you had been one of His Majesty's Ministers. That brought you under certain suspicion, possibly not only on this side of the House, but I can assure you that you lived that down very quickly. We became reassured that, despite your past, you were nevertheless fully capable and fully determined to be entirely impartial.

In expressing our thanks to you, I should like to associate myself with what the Prime Minister has said about the Deputy-Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, who is also retiring at the end of this Parliament. We will long remember with affection the way in which he has handled our affairs, and we wish him a very happy time in retirement. May I also associate myself with what has been said about the Clerks of the House and, in particular, extend our sympathy from this side of the House to the relatives of the late Mr. Douglas Gordon.

Sir, in your moving and impressive statement to the House, which we shall long remember, you perhaps naturally emphasised that in an assembly of this kind harsh things are said from time to time. It is not unlikely that they will be said again in the next three weeks. Perhaps it is significant, and typical of a British assembly, that we should end this Parliament on a note of unanimity. That note is to express our heartfelt thanks to you for what you have done as Speaker, for the way in which you have presided over us, and to express our wish that you and Mrs. Morrison will have many happy years of retirement and that we shall see you from time to time again within the Palace of Westminster.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

I should like to add a few words on behalf of my colleagues and myself in support of the Motion moved so admirably by the Prime Minister and supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

I have been in this House a mere ten years, but during those ten years I have learned something of the very great importance of the rôle of Mr. Speaker in our Parliamentary life. Before I came here I had read about it. but now I know. I also know that you, Sir, have lived up to the very highest traditions of your office. You have gained here great respect, but I think you have also won many friends. We all hope that you and your gracious lady will have a very happy time in the years that lie ahead and also, I trust, many happy recollections of your long association with this House.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

I desire to join in the felicitations which have come from both sides of the House and I do so, Sir, because during the course of your Speakership I was very often the subject of your good advice. It was not always sought and, unfortunately, very often was delivered in two stentorian words which I forbear from repeating. But on this occasion, when we are passing from the sphere of performance to the land of promises, I should like to seek your advice, and I crust that you will forgive me if I should try very briefly indeed to outline the background in which your advice is sought for the last time so far as you are concerned but not so far as I am concerned.

Since we rose, in my Division redundancy has been increasing continually. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. Sir, during your opening remarks you said that this was a free democracy in which there was freedom of opinion, and this is my last chance to direct the attention of the House to the fact that not only is redundancy increasing numerically amongst the engineers, amongst the draughtsmen and threatened amongst the miners, but that this redundancy does not accord with the promises that the Prime Minister has been making so lavishly. Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will now tell the House how his promises, so lavishly given, accord with the actual facts of the situation that present themselves to me in my Division and throughout Scotland as a whole? [HON MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I rise to express my thanks for the kind words that have been said by the two right hon. Gentlemen and by the hon. Member for Hudders-field, West (Mr. Wade). I know that I do not deserve half of the things they said, but I am grateful none the less for the kind hearts behind the speeches.

I fear I cannot give advice to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin). No doubt on the subject which he has mentioned there will be a great deal of advice given to our people in the next three weeks. Some of it may be conflicting, but it will be there in plentiful measure, and I am not one to add to the volume of that good advice at this time.

I thank you very much, and it is now my duty to put to the House this Motion.

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I beg to move, That this Resolution be recorded as having been agreed to nemine contradicente.

Question, That this Resolution be recorded as having been agreed to nemine contradicente, put, and agreed to.