Election of Speaker

– in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 15th June 1983.

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Photo of Mr Humphrey Atkins Mr Humphrey Atkins , Spelthorne 2:52 pm, 15th June 1983

First, Mr. Callaghan, I welcome you to your new role as Father of the House. A great many Members have held it before you, Mr. Callaghan but, while it is not unprecedented, it is rare that anyone comes to it with such a distinguished record of public service in so many of the highest offices of State. As one who arrived both in the world and in the House 10 years after you, Mr. Callaghan, I congratulate you.

As we have just heard, it is always the first duty of a new House of Commons to elect a Speaker, and I beg to move, That the right hon. Bernard Weatherill do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. I could easily list all the qualities that we require of our Speaker, but I do not intend to do so. It would take too long and, in any event, hon. Members are as well aware of them as I am. However, I shall refer briefly to three of the Aides and one of the burdens that we place upon our Speaker.

First and foremost, the Speaker is the sole guardian of that most precious of rights that each of us has the moment we are elected to this place—the right to state our point of view and to have it heard. It does not matter whether that view is generally acceptable or whether we are in a minority, even a minority, of one.

Photo of Mr Humphrey Atkins Mr Humphrey Atkins , Spelthorne

If we are in that position, only the Speaker will help us. We have been fortunate in the House of Commons for far more years than any of us here can remember in having a succession of Speakers who have upheld that right and made this Chamber the envy of the world. That right must never be allowed to disappear.

Secondly, the Speaker has to be at one and the same time both our servant and our master. We and our predecessors have laid down a long series of rules for the orderly conduct of our affairs. The Speaker cannot change them by so much as a comma. He is entirely bound by them, but he has to be ready at a moment's notice to interpret them, sometimes in the face of the most ingenious arguments, and, having interpreted them, to enforce them. Only someone who has the respect and good will of the House as a whole can possibly hope to do that.

The third duty is one that I think is new to the third quarter of the 20th century. Now that some of our proceedings are broadcast on the radio, far more people than ever before have the opportunity of hearing our debates. As everyone knows, the public reaction is not as favourable as we should all like. That is not altogether surprising, for we have always been an unruly lot when our passions are high. However, the one person who more than any of the rest of us in the House affects the world outside is our Speaker. If he is calm, courteous and firm, the good name and dignity of Parliament are restored, and each of us is the beneficiary of that.

The worst of the burdens that we place upon the Speaker is that of loneliness. He is one of us and yet he is not. The Speaker is always someone who has spent years in this place doing what we all do—making friends with our colleagues, talking informally with them in the Tea Room or in the Corridor, eating together and sometimes, possibly, even drinking together. It must be a great trial for someone who has been accustomed to all this to cut himself off to a great extent, as Mr. Speaker must necessarily do. We must be grateful to anyone who is prepared to do it, and we have such a one.

Perhaps I can claim to know my right hon. Friend—I expect that this is the last time that I can call him that here—as well as any right hon. or hon. Member. Those who were in this place before 1979 will know that he and I worked together for nearly 12 years. For the last five of those years we worked together especially closely. Certainly, we were working on the business of only one party in the House, our own party, but I can truthfully say how often I was amazed at the time by the trouble and the care that my colleague took to help members of our party, especially those who felt that they were being neglected or that the Government were not listening properly to their ideas. He could be firm, too, as Deputy Chief Whips sometimes have to be. I can tell the House that never in all that time did I hear him get angry, lose his temper, or even raise his voice, even though sometimes the provocation was great.

During that time the right hon. Member served the House, too, most notably on one of the Committees that was responsible to the then Speaker and whose main interest was the safety, comfort and convenience of all right hon. and hon. Members.

Some might think that a long period of such service to one party is not the ideal background to serving as Mr. Speaker, but every Speaker in one way or another has had that background. Furthermore, as everyone who was a Member of this place during the last Parliament will know, the right hon. Member has already proved by four years' service as Chairman of Ways and Means that a long period of service is not a bar. I believe that he has shown all the qualities that we want in our Speaker—knowledge of our procedures, recognition of the need to protect the rights of minorities, firmness where necessary, fairness, and always courtesy. To those who know the right hon. Member that is no surprise, for if he has one quality that stands above all others it is his readiness to serve our parliamentary democracy, to serve it in whatever capacity is asked of him. I believe that he will serve us well as our Speaker.

I hope that the House will approve my motion with as much enthusiasm as I have in moving it.

3 pm

Photo of Mr Jack Dormand Mr Jack Dormand , Easington

I wish to add my congratulations, Mr. Callaghan, on your becoming Father of the House. Your vast experience and personal qualities will be of great guidance to us in our future deliberations.

It gives me great pleasure to second the motion, which was ably and graciously moved by the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins). My period in the House has been comparatively short, but it has been long enough to enable me to know how crucial it is to secure the right person to occupy the Chair. If the occupant is to be wholly successful in carrying out his onerous and important duties, he requires a combination of qualities which at first sight appear beyond the capacity of any human being.

The House has many moods — serious, joyous, jubilant, sometimes bad-tempered, rebellious, bitter, frustrated and to the outsider it may sometimes seem a little crazy—and it requires a touch of genius in Mr. Speaker to determine how to deal at a moment's notice with a particular situation. I believe that the right hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill) will meet that challenge in full measure, he having demonstrated his capacity in that and many other directions during his four years as Deputy Speaker. His decisions have been firm and fair and he has earned enormous respect from right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.

It would be impossible to undertake the Speakership without a sense of humour. In that respect some people may compare the right hon. Gentleman with his distinguished immediate predecessor, but I say that if the motion is carried we shall see a different, but equally compelling, sense of humour. Perhaps above all we can say that the right hon. Gentleman is his own man —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] — and we shall see a unique occupant of the Chair.

I shared an experience with the right hon. Gentleman. We saw long service as Whips. The House may know that Whips have been described as people who know more and more about less and less. They are sometimes known by other names. Serving as a Whip in your Government, Mr. Callaghan, was no easy task—[Laughter.] I was going on to say that it was because we had a small majority, and then we became a minority Government.

In such circumstances, tempers became shorter, unwise things were occasionally said and sometimes actions were taken that would have been better left undone. It was inevitable that there would be some strain between the Government Whips' Office and the Opposition Whips' Office, but I have an abiding memory of the dealings we had with the Deputy Chief Whip at that time. I suspect that on occasion the right hon. Gentleman did things that did not entirely please his party, but his word during the whole of that period was his absolute bond, and that increased his already high reputation on all sides.

I hasten to add that I am not for a moment implying —I mean this quite seriously—that other members of the right hon. Gentleman's Whips' Office did not act with the same principles. But it was he with whom we dealt every day and it was he with whom we came to know the intimate, daily and practical details of the work in that difficult period.

It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that we should today be considering such a man for such a position. There is a saying about a Scottish wedding reception that there is plenty for everybody, but you have to be quick.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

You have to pay as well.

Photo of Mr Jack Dormand Mr Jack Dormand , Easington

I believe—I know that my feeling is shared by my hon. Friends—that we should be quick to elect the right hon. Gentleman today.

There is an oft-repeated aspect of the Speakership. The right hon. Member for Spelthorne mentioned it, but it is worth repeating. It is that the work and duties of the Speaker make for a very lonely job. The incumbent says goodbye to the comradeship of the Tea Room, the bar and the Dining Room. It is a considerable sacrifice for anybody to make. It is particularly difficult for the right hon. Gentleman, who enjoys the company and respect of hon. Members from all parts of the House. Equally important, he is welcome by everyone for his warm personality, his ever-present optimism, his sharp and subtle sense of humour and, perhaps above all, his transparent honesty.

The right hon. Gentleman is already aware, from his experience of the past four years, that it is not possible for the Chair to please everybody at all times. One reason why I support his election today, and am delighted to be speaking now, is that every decision he takes is, and will be, made because he believes it to be correct. There will be no fear and no favour. He will ensure that the rights of Back Benchers are safeguarded; and I would take this opportunity to say that the rights of the Opposition must be safeguarded, too. I understand that some hon. Members feel that any Government with too large a majority is not conducive to a healthy democratic process.

I can think of no one more worthy to safeguard all our rights than the right hon. Gentleman. He will also ensure that certain traditions of this place are guarded with the utmost tenacity. He will serve all of us well in that respect, and he will require and deserve the help of all of us in such an important task.

There are few more important acts En this House than electing Mr. Speaker. The result is all-pervasive in our work and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman named in the motion will meet the exacting demands of the Chair. I am honoured and delighted to be associated with the motion and I commend it strongly to the House.

Question proposed,That the Right Hon. Bernard Weatherill do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton 3:08 pm, 15th June 1983

This motion proposed today does credit to the House of Commons, to which the decision to elect its Speaker belongs uniquely, and not to the Executive. During the first 16 years that I was in the House, I watched with growing apprehension the decay of the office of Speaker. Its manifestations were there for all to see: more and more of the decisions entrusted by the House to its elected Speaker taken instead, in his name, by those who were not elected; alleged private rulings by Mr. Speaker recorded, not in the words in which Mr. Speaker gave them; rulings given in the House by Mr. Speaker being only incompletely recorded in "Erskine May", with sections that did not meet with the agreement of the Clerks of the House omitted from that fallible record, too often overtrusted by Members. That process can be described rightly only as the decay of the office of Speaker. It was reversed by one great Speakership, that of Mr. Speaker Thomas.

One further task had yet to be performed for the House of Commons to recover to itself the choice of its Speaker, a choice which too long had come to be regarded as appropriated by the Executive of the day as a reward for past ministerial services, or for something other than the choice to serve the House rather than to serve in Government.

It is therefore particularly healthy that the choice of the House should be one who chose as his dedication the service of the House, and not the service of Government. Both are entirely honourable and proper courses, but they are different. I believe that, in choosing my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill), the House has judged itself, as it would wish to be judged by others. It has not chosen a clone of the greatest Speaker in living memory, his predecessor: it has chosen an outstanding member of the House in his own right.

I am confident that the House will come, with the passage of time, to know what it now believes—that it will have made the right choice.

Photo of Mr Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Torfaen 3:12 pm, 15th June 1983

The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) began by telling us how important it was that the Speaker accord regard to the most individual voices that come into our proceedings. Therefore, when most of us are naturally relaxed because we have survived and when there is good humour within the House, I regret that I have to introduce—exercising the right that the right hon. Member for Spelthorne mentioned — what may be regarded as a discordant note.

The only comment by the Prime Minister during the election campaign with which I agreed entirely was when she explained that there was an ex-Chief Whips' club. She went on to say: They are very unusual people. She did not use the term "unusual" as a mark of commendation; she used it pejoratively.

Photo of Mr Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Torfaen

The club is not as exclusive as the right hon. Lady has suggested. Nor do I doubt that they are anything other than unusual. The club extends further. It extends throughout the Whips' Offices and, as we may have gathered from the contribution that we have had from the Opposition, it is a club that can easily extend across the Floor of the House.

It is important, as has already been said, that the Speaker-to-be should be the appointment of the House and not of the Executive. It is no less important that the decision who is to be our Speaker should be decided not by battles between the Executive and Whips' Offices or ex-Whips, and I realise that the threat to the exercise of independent judgment by every Back Bencher comes not just when the Executive seeks to appropriate the Chairmanship of the House but also when Whips seek to expropriate the Chairmanship of the House.

There is no greater threat to all Back Benchers than that there should exist a belief that there could possibly be any collusion between Whips on both sides and the Speaker in putting through legislation and business. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Let the House have patience. The individual Back Bencher must also make his point and it is no more important than on such an occasion.

The business of the House is the business that Whips on both sides wish to put through expeditiously. Anyone with experience—I do not have your experience, Mr. Callaghan, but I have 25 years' experience in the House —knows well that when a Bill is going through, Whips are not interested in its content; they are interested only in its conclusion. Therefore, individual mavericks, wherever they may come from, are uncomfortable fellows. They are people who do not act as the lubricants that enable proceedings to go through easily and simply. I therefore put in a caveat. George Thomas in his article in The Times claimed rightly that the most important step to be taken when a man assumed the dignity of Speakership was for him to emancipate himself entirely from all political ties. It is equally important when a Speaker comes into the House that he may have to go against all his habitual grain, because he must become someone who is not the employee of the Executive, nor in any way under the control of partisan political view or the manipulation of any form of any Whips' Office on either side.

My caveat is clear. I wish and hope that the new Speaker, who will need great support and who has come into conflict with some sections of the House, as he did with my Welsh colleagues, will succeed. I am glad that I was not present on that ominous night.

I hope that the new Speaker will realise that the good will which all Opposition Members, and I believe every Member, feel towards him will ensure that the Speakership's dignity is upheld; and that the office is in no way diminished. It will be more important than ever. It is not just a question of broadcasting. In the House it is not improbable that we may even be foolish enough to decide to bring in the cameras. For those reasons, the position is important.

I wish the new Speaker well. I hope that we shall all work with him. I hope that in return he will affirm again, as every Speaker has, and implement a pledge to respect all minorities and Back Benchers.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West 3:18 pm, 15th June 1983

As you know, Mr. Callaghan, some of my Scottish colleagues and I had considered earlier the possibility of putting up one of our group for the Speakership. It was decided eventually not to contest it on this occasion, but I should like to put a few points to the new Speaker before he takes the Chair. The reason why we considered contesting the Speakership was not personal animosity. We recognise, and I personally recognise, that there is a great deal of respect for the right hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill) on both sides of the House. I wish him every success in his new job and I hope that he is—I am sure that he will be—a fair but firm occupant of the Chair. I only hope that he is not too over-ready with the issue of red cards or anything like that.

Some of my colleagues and I were anxious about the tradition in the House with regard to the passage of Scottish legislation and Scottish business in general, because in the last Parliament the occupant of the Chair often picked one Member from the Government side and then one from the Opposition side, and so on, without fully appreciating that the Labour party in Scotland had more seats than the rest of the parties put together. That has happened also as a result of this general election, yet once more a Government who were clearly rejected by over 70 per cent. of the people are being foisted upon the people of Scotland. Whatever the Prime Minister thinks about her mandate from the people of Britain, she received no mandate from the people of Scotland. It would be a tragedy if she expected the people of Scotland to suffer the consequences of another four or five years of Thatcherism, with another increase in mass unemployment, the destruction of our industries and nuclear weapons being foisted upon the people.

I hope that the new Speaker will give us the opportunity for a fair hearing. People from other parts of Britain may think that different political complexions constitute the majority or minority in those different parts, but the Scottish case is unique in that we have a different body of Scottish legislation, yet we have no distinct legislature to deal with that Scottish legislation because the Prime Minister absolutely refuses to accede to the majority wishes of the people of Scotland. If the Executive is unwilling to abide by the democratic wishes and democratic rights of the people of Scotland, I hope that the Speaker, the guardian of our democratic rights as the elected representatives of the people of Scotland, will not only give us a fair hearing on the Floor of the House but consider the possibility of setting up a Speaker's Conference to investigate the constitutional future of Scotland. Make no mistake about it: if the House continues to deny the democratic rights and aspirations of the people of Scotland, parliamentary democracy will be brought into disrepute and the new Speaker's job will be made more difficult.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West 3:22 pm, 15th June 1983

I have much sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said. However, we must recognise that for the present this is a United Kingdom Parliament. In relation to Scottish affairs, while there are many parties in other parts of the United Kingdom, the Scottish dimension is more multi-party than the United Kingdom as a whole. Therefore, the Speaker, in choosing to call hon. Members on Scottish issues, has much more difficulty, because the Labour party in Scotland is the majority party. Although he has a right and an obligation to look after the rights of minorities in the House, I ask him, in Scottish affairs, as perhaps in others, to acknowledge that the majority there has to be considered as well.

The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) mentioned the relationship of the House to the media. That is a changing dimension. Mr. Speaker Thomas gained great notoriety and popularity because of his call, "Order, order," while the House proceedings were broadcast. However, other dimensions are related to the media. There is the pressure for the House to be televised, which may become irresistible. The Speaker has to take cognisance of such pressure and also of the pressure for the House and not the media to be the forum of the nation.

My second comment is about the function of the opinion polls. The Speaker has an obligation to democracy as a whole and to ensure that it is not distorted. I press on him, although he does not have a manifesto, to include in his "manifesto" discussions with the promoters and perpetrators of opinion polls between now and the next general election, to ensure that we do not have the farcical procedure, not only of the taking of the polls but of the primary and secondary reporting of the polls.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 3:24 pm, 15th June 1983

I wish to add to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). During the last Parliament, on several occasions I raised with the then Speaker the role in the House of the two so-called separate parties, the Liberals and the Social Democrats. I asked then that they be considered by Mr. Speaker as one party and one party only. They fought every by-election as such during the last Parliament. They have now fought the general election in exactly the same way. They fought it as one party. They did not fight it as two parties. I ask that the new Speaker take that into account.

In Scotland the position is even worse, because the Labour party has a clear majority of all the seats. The minority parties have 10 seats out of the 72. Three are held by Privy Councillors. Three call themselves party leaders —I am sorry; one of them has just resigned: two of them now call themselves party leaders. In debates the Speaker normally gives some rights to Privy Councillors for when they are called, which means that, if we have a Scottish debate, the minority parties get too many speakers compared with the majority party in Scotland, which is the Labour party.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I am asking that the new Speaker—I know that he is sympathetic to my view on this matter —should take account of that.

I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West said. There is an anomalous position in Scotland for the second Parliament running. There is a separate Scottish entity, there is separate Scottish legislation and there is a separate Scottish administration, yet the Labour party, which clearly won in Scotland, is not forming the Government in Scotland. We accept that as members of the United Kingdom Parliament, but we ask that the Speaker calls a Speaker's Conference to consider the constitutional consequences of that anomaly, which suggests that a Scottish Assembly should be established.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South 3:26 pm, 15th June 1983

I shall not follow either my Scottish or my Welsh colleagues. This is the fifth Speaker whom I have seen elected. I should like to add a brief word of commendation about 44the right hon. Gentleman.

It is generally assumed that the House is just the Chamber, but it is not. This place is now electing its No. 1 servant, but it is also served by about 2,000 servants in all parts of the Palace of Westminster. I should like to commend to the House the way in which the right hon. Gentleman is regarded by those who serve us in other places, for example by the police, those concerned with security and people in the catering Departments. A few of us are privileged every Christmas to be invited to some of the Christmas parties. I have had the privilege of sharing with the right hon. Gentleman such an invitation over the years. The right hon. Gentleman is regarded as a servant not only of the House but of the Palace of Westminster.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

I intended to address the House at length, but I shall not do so. I shall make one or two points, if only because it might help me towards the deputy leadership. One of the two reasons why I speak is that I think it is necessary for this House to understand that one of its principal functions should be to encourage people to speak rather than—as has been suggested by at least one hon. Member—to attempt to prevent them from speaking. That is the first reason.

The second reason is that when I was in my party's Whip's Office I had the pleasure of working with the right hon. Gentleman who is the subject of the motion before the House today. I, too, found throughout the whole of my experience that his word was his bond, and that he was an absolute gentleman to work with. I am perfectly certain that he will serve the House well. I felt that it was rather important for those of us in minority parties who have been the subject of some attack this afternoon to make it clear that we strongly support the nomination before the House.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East 3:32 pm, 15th June 1983

(standing in his place): In accordance with ancient custom, I submit myself to the will of the House.

I begin with a heartfelt tribute to the last Speaker. In your speech, Mr. Callaghan, in this Chamber on 12 May, you said of him: he has been an outstanding Speaker who has— elevated Parliament and made it the rightful focus and centre of the nation's attention".—[Official Report, 12 May 1983; Vol. 42, c. 929.] I am acutely aware of how difficult it will be to follow a man whom the Prime Minister described as a legend in his lifetime. I can only promise the House that I shall seek to do my best. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity and the privilege of serving as his Deputy for four years—an invaluable apprenticeship, which will, I pray, stand me in good stead if today I command the confidence of this House.

I thank most warmly my proposer and my seconder. I must say to the new Members who are here for the first time today that this is a place in which friendship takes no account of party allegiance. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) and the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) for their overgenerous comments about me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was my boss for five years, and I am particularly glad, especially—if I may say so—in the light of press speculation this week, that he volunteered to propose my name today. I am deeply grateful to him.

The hon. Member for Easington is the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party. It is both a pleasure and a comfort to me that he has seconded my nomination in such a generous manner. As he said, we have one important bond—we were both not just Whips but pairing Whips, and I may say to other hon. Members that Whips are a much misunderstood breed of man. However, they have in common an understanding of the procedures of the House and the importance of mutual confidence and trust, without which the usual channels would break down. I thank the hon. Gentleman most warmly for what he said about me this afternoon.

There is much that I should like to say, but, having listened in the past to many long and over-long speeches, I shall spare the House. I hope that perhaps my example will be followed. I say that without pointing a finger in any direction. Perhaps a lead might be given by my fellow Privy Councillors. In a House which has been greatly enlarged as a result of major redrawing of parliamentary boundaries, and an increased number of new Members from Ulster—I bid them welcome today—I hope that brevity will be the order of the day. As has been said by other hon. Members, one of the Speaker's most difficult and most important duties is to balance a debate, and in this Parliament that will be a formidable task. It is a cherished right to speak in this House on behalf of our constituents, but not—may I say—at the expense of others.

This is a proud day for my constituency and for Croydon in its centenary year. It is also a very proud day for me, and for my family. My service in the House is very much less than that of many other right hon. and hon Members. Nevertheless, on this, the opening day of a new Parliament, I am acutely aware of my feelings in October 1964. I was so frightened that I spent most of it locked away in a room not a million miles from this Chamber, and my confidence was not increased when I heard a familiar voice say to one of his friends, "I don't know what this place is coming to, Tom—they've got my tailor in here now!" I must say to new Members who may have an equally modest background, and who may be feeling much the same way as I did on that occasion, that we are all equal here. The human qualities and character of hon. Members are rated and earn the respect of the House.

It is some years since there has been a "Mrs. Speaker", and if I am elected today it will be our wish to bring a family atmosphere into Speaker's House, and in particular, to welcome Members' wives, to whom we owe so much, and their families.

Those who have dined in Speaker's House will know that the coats of arms of all previous Speakers are displayed on the walls of the State Apartments. If I have the confidence and trust of the House today, mine, too, will be there in due course. My motto will be expressed in one word—faithful—by which I shall seek to live: faithful in my service to this House and its Members; faithful in seeking absolute impartiality and fairness; faithful in protecting minority rights as carefully as the rights of majorities; and faithful in upholding the high and historic traditions of the Speakership of this honourable House of Commons.

It is with great humility that I now submit myself to the will of Members

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the Right Hon. Bernard Weatherill do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

Whereupon, the RIGHT HON. JAMES CALLAGHAN, left the Chair, and the RIGHT HON. BERNARD WEATHERILL was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by MR. HUMPHREY ATKINS and MR. JACK DORMAND.

Mr. Speaker-Elect:

(standing on the upper step): Before I take the Chair, I should like to thank the House for the great honour that it has bestowed upon me. As long as I retain the confidence of the House, I dedicate myself unreservedly to its service.

Mr. Speaker-Elect:

sat down in the Chair.

Then the Mace (which before lay under the Table) was placed upon the Table.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:41 pm, 15th June 1983

Mr. Speaker-Elect, you are, I believe, the 154th Speaker that this House has met to elect, many of them more than once. It is more than 600 years since the Commons met at Westminster just after sunrise to elect men such as Sir Thomas Hungerford or Sir Peter de la Mare to speak on their behalf. And so today we are keeping one of the oldest and most fundamental traditions of the House, fortunately a little later in the day than some of our ancestors.

There are, by now, few if any original ways in which to congratulate you on achieving the highest office that the House can bestow. However, we do so wholeheartedly and wish you well in carrying out your exacting duties.

The office of Speaker is more than a tradition. It is an office whose burdens have changed and increased with the times as a result of the growing number of hon. Members and the longer hours that we spend here. Additional pressures have come with the broadcasting of our proceedings to the ears of the world. Your call for order will quickly become as famous as that of your predecessor, albeit in a different intonation and with a different accent.

With the changes that there have been in the House over the years, it is no longer safe to rely on the words of Mr. Speaker Yelverton who, some 400 years ago, described the qualities that he thought his office required. They were "a voice great, a carriage majestical, a nature haughty and a purse plentiful." That would not do today. Such qualities, if they could all be found in the same person, would hardly win the confidence, respect and love of the House. Indeed, that is hardly an accurate description of Mr. Speaker Yelverton who described himself as "small, his voice low, his carriage lawyer-like and of a common fashion, his nature soft, his purse thin, light and never yet plentiful." That feeling will be familiar to several hon. Members.

Whatever our ancestors may have had to say about the qualities required to be Speaker, each of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker-Elect, has brought his own ability and style and each has risen to the demands of his great office. It is true that some may have been executed, that one may have been canonised and that some may have become Prime Ministers, but they have all seen it as their foremost duty to protect our liberties and, in the biblical phrase, to see that all things are "done decently and in order".

You, Mr. Speaker-Elect, bring to the Chair your unique experience. You have served some three apprenticeships and each has led to mastery of the craft. One led, as you have already said, to your becoming a master tailor. I believe that you still carry the thimble that you used as an apprentice as a symbol of dedication to learning and of the custom among earlier master tailors that if they carried the tool of their trade they could always pick up a little business on the way. Doubtless in your new occupation there will be occasions when a stitch in time will save nine.

Another apprenticeship was served in wartime when you served in the Indian Army in one of the original Bengal Lancer cavalry regiments. You took the trouble to master Urdu. That accomplishment enabled you later to establish a fruitful and abiding sympathy for the Asian community in your constituency and in the country. Your special concern for minorities which chat record reflects will be well used in your Speakership.

Last but not least, you have served your apprenticeship in the House. I remember a debate one Friday afternoon, which you secured by chance, which you devoted to the then little publicised topic of small businesses. It led directly to the setting up of the famous Bolton committee. You thus understand the aspirations of the many Back Benchers, whether they be in the majority or in the minority, who want to make a similar mark in the service of their constituents and others whose cause they wish to further.

Moreover, it was a remarkable ransition to move successfully, as you have done, Mr. Speaker-Elect, from the party work of Deputy Government Chief Whip to the absolute impartiality that is required of the Chairman of Ways and Means. That you were unanimously endorsed by the House for that post speaks volumes for the trust and regard in which you are held by your colleagues. I am sure that the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) will echo that. As Deputy Speaker you served the last stage of your apprenticeship in the Chair.

We believe that your qualities of friendliness and devotion to the rules and traditions of the Chair will make you a worthy master of one of the most difficult tasks that anyone is called upon to perform—that of regulating the affairs of our House with firmness, fairness and good humour. We give you our earnest and unstinting support and wish you well as the foremost member of this, the foremost House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent 3:46 pm, 15th June 1983

It seems only a few weeks ago that we met to pay tribute to the previous Speaker, who was acknowledged by both sides of the House to have been an outstanding, Speaker—perhaps one of the greatest. Both sides of the House paid tribute to him. I said then that I pitied his successor, but you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, have already referred to that matter with such grace that that will give you a happy start in the office that you have undertaken. On behalf of the Opposition I wish you the very best of success.

Earlier, some right hon. and hon. Members referred to the connections that you and other right hon. and hon. Members who have been associated with today's proceedings have had with the Whips Offices of both sides of the House. You might be the first person from the Whips Office whose nomination was proposed by one Chief Whip and seconded by a pairing Whip. On the face of it, that looks like a put-up job—the usual channels up to their usual tricks. I would not describe it in those terms as I have grown, in my beneficent mood, to have a benignant view of Chief Whips or ex-Chief Whips. I used to hold the view that was expressed a wise man—perhaps I said it myself — that once a Chief Whip, always a Chief Whip. We know that the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) broke that tradition. I do not doubt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) also aspires to the highest offices in the State. Therefore, I do not agree that the Whips can be up to no good in these matters. Sometimes Whips are able to make recommendations that we can all accept.

One of my oldest friends in the House, Mr. Emrys Hughes, used to occupy the seat that is now occupied by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and, on less happy occasions for the country, the seat on this side of the House which is normally occupied by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He wrote a book in which he described some of our procedures as mumbo-jumbo. Many Members arriving in the House, especially those who have seen what we do at the start of our proceedings, may believe that there is something in what he said. Some of our proceedings resemble mumbo-jumbo, but some of them, when we inquire a little more carefully, are seen to have good reasons for them. The way in which the usual channels, or other channels, operate in such matters to choose a Speaker has some advantages. At least the occupant of the Chair does not know which way they may have voted in the proceedings for nominating a Speaker. None the less, the procedure discovers the general mood of the House, and I do not have the slightest doubt that that is what has happened on this occasion. The discussions that have taken place, the exchanges that have occurred and the arrangements that have now been finalised can be of great benefit to the House, and I wish you the greatest success in your office. Each new Parliament has a different character, and that character is shaped partly by the Speaker, who plays a foremost part in ensuring that the highest traditions of the House are sustained from Parliament to Parliament.

The Prime Minister, when she spoke from the Opposition Benches in response to a similar motion when Speaker Thomas was elected, quoted one of the greatest Speakers we have ever had in the protection of our liberties —the Speaker in the Commonwealth Parliament—and I repeat those words because they are the most famous words uttered by a Speaker of the House and they should be engrained on the mind not only of the Speaker but of the entire House. On that occasion, the King was in the House of Commons, although in the other building, demanding that the Speaker should submit to him, and Speaker Lenthall replied: May it please Your Majesty. I have neither eye to see, nor tongue to speak here, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here. That was said to the Monarch, and it should be said to anyone who wishes to challenge the authority of the House. The House is the democratic authority of the country and you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, are its foremost upholder. I wish you the very best success in the office.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party 3:52 pm, 15th June 1983

On behalf of my Liberal colleagues, I warmly congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your election and extend our best wishes for your period in office. You have a difficult task, following as you do the great speakership of Speaker Thomas, and at first sight you have two grave disadvantages. The first is that you are not Welsh, and the second is that you came from the Whips Office. However, we believe the second disqualification to be a qualification because of the reputation that others have confirmed that you enjoy for straight dealing and for fairness. The latter characteristic is one that we shall value greatly.

I am glad that you, in your acceptance speech, and indeed the Prime Minister in her speech, referred to the rights of minorities. Naturally, that is a subject on which we, in the wake of the election, are especially sensitive. When we seek to speak in the Chamber in this Parliament, we shall do so not as a dozen or a couple of dozen Members speaking only for our constituencies, but we have a duty and an obligation to speak for the quarter of the electorate who voted for us—the almost 8 million people who supported the views and the policies that we shall expound here.

In looking across the Chamber, there is no doubt that there has been a landslide of backsides on Benches, but that is not quite the same as a landslide in the hearts and minds of the people, of which there is no evidence. It is as well to remember, when we see the crowded Conservative Benches, that the Government have been reelected with lower popular support than in the previous election and with the lowest popular support of any Conservative Government since that of Bonar Law in 1922. In those circumstances, we believe strongly that we have rights in this Chamber. We look to you, Sir, with confidence to uphold those rights and we wish you well in so doing.

Speaker Lloyd once listed his faults, and I have a nagging suspicion that you share those faults. They were: selective myopia, selective deafness, and a marked inability to let every hon. Member speak or question whenever he or she wishes. I am afraid that you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, will also be imbued with those faults.

I know that it has been your habit in recent years to come on holiday to my constituency. I hope that you will still do so for your refreshment.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley 3:55 pm, 15th June 1983

Mr. Speaker-Elect, you were good enough in your acceptance speech to welcome the new Members from Northern Ireland, and on their behalf I thank you warmly for that remark. You will realise that the arrival of my colleagues is due in large part to the decision taken by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) who, appropriately, presided over your election. On behalf of the fourth party in the House, may I offer you our good wishes and our warmest congratulations. I hope that you have forgiven me for an offence that I committed when I was in receipt of the Conservative Party Whip. During an all-night sitting, I was approached by a Conservative Member, who was new to the place and who offered to pair with me. Naturally, I accepted gladly and we both had an early night. The following day you, Sir, reprimanded me by saying, "Jim, it was bad enough your going off yourself without taking with you that other gentleman" —although those were not the words that you used. I hope that the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) has also forgiven me in the intervening period.

I hope that you will be spared such calculations or such problems during what I hope will be your long term of office. I promise you that we on this Bench will do our best to ensure that such problems are kept to a minimum.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Glasgow Hillhead 3:57 pm, 15th June 1983

If the outgoing may salute the incoming, I add my congratulations to those that you have already received, Mr. Speaker-Elect. We welcome your accession to the Chair. Although, after 12 years in the Whips Office, to which almost too much reference has been made this afternoon, you cannot be regarded as an undefiled Back Bencher, none the less you are one of the minority of Speakers since the Second World War who has never held high ministerial office. That is a good thing and is a qualification for your office. However, you already have great experience of the Chair and a high reputation in the House for fairness and for calmness. You follow a remarkable predecessor, but I believe that you will impose the stamp of your character and personality upon your high office, and will do so in a way that will commend itself to the House and make you a most notable Speaker. I know that you will have regard to the rights of minorities—all minorities—and not exclude those who have massive support in the country behind them.

I wish you well and congratulate you on your accession to the Chair.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar 3:59 pm, 15th June 1983

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and myself, representing as we do one of the smaller parties—my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has asked to be associated with my remarks—I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your election. The occupant of the Chair is of more than usual interest to the smaller parties. We have already had advice today from certain hon. Members that, although the rights of minorities should be heard, they should perhaps be recognised in theory but not in practice. I am quite sure that under your occupancy of the Chair we shall have the fair deal that we have had in the past. You enjoy our full confidence, and I convey our very best wishes for your tenure in the Chair.

4 pm

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I am sure, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that when you referred to Ulster you were referring to both sides of the House. The Democratic Unionists can speak for themselves and do not need the leader of the Official Unionists to thank you for the election of any new Member on our Bench.

In the past, I have had great difficulties with Speakers. I am sure that you will occasionally be looking to the Members' Gallery to see whether my colleagues and myself are sitting there, as that might be a signal for some action on your part. I wish you well in your office. I agree with what the leader of the Scottish National Party has said. Those in a minority do appreciate the Chair most of the time, as well as what the Chair does for them.

On another occasion, I also received certain strictures from you because of attitudes that my colleagues and myself adopted in the House. On that occasion you did not use language that I could not repeat, but the glint in your eye and the frown on your face were enough to tell an Ulsterman what was burning in your heart. I hope that I shall not see that glint in your eye or frown on your face, and that there will be no fire in your heart, when I address the House, but only the future will tell.

I wish you well in your office and I trust that the House will benefit much from you and your desire again to bring a family atmosphere to Speaker's House.