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House of Commons Hansard
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Choice Of A Speaker
30 April 1857
Volume 145
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addressing himself to the Clerk (who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down) said;—Sir Denis Le Marchant: In conformity with the Message which the House has heard this day delivered through the Royal Commission, calling on the House to proceed forthwith to the election of a Speaker, I now venture to present myself to the attention of the House with the view of inviting it to give effect to that gracious command. We, who have served in former Parliaments, have been long accustomed to associate the name of Charles Shaw Lefevre with all our proceedings, and it had become a matter of routine, as it were, to propose his honoured name for the Speakership at the opening of every new Parliament. Now that he has retired at the close of the last Parliament from the Chair, a very heavy and grave responsibility rests on any Member who undertakes the task of proposing his successor. Mr. Lefevre was a man, Sir Denis Le Marchant, who united in himself all the eminent qualities that fit a member to preside over the deliberations of this House, and it will be difficult, though perhaps not impossible, to find any Member who combines so many and such fine qualifications for the office in his own person. His lofty and dignified bearing, his equability of temper, his unquestioned impartiality, his extensive and profound knowledge of all the forms and usages of Parliament, his intimate acquaintance with the private business which occupies so much of the attention of Parliament, his readiness to afford information to every Member who sought his advice upon any point—all these constituted a union of qualifications difficult to equal and which it is impossible to excel. The character of the Speaker of this House necessarily exercises an important influence over the proceedings of the House, and therefore the greater need is there of care in the selection. In former times that independence of character and that firmness of purpose which could alike resist the blandishments and frowns of the Crown seemed to be primary qualities required in the Speaker of this House. In these days, no doubt, it is essential that we should choose a man who will stedfastly uphold the privileges of the House; but in fact and reality we entertain but slender apprehensions of failure in any Speaker in that respect; and there are qualifications, which, in modern times, stand forward with greater prominence as qualifications for the Speaker of this House. We ought, in choosing a man for that high office, to select a man of high character, of accomplished mind, of dignified and commanding exterior, courteous in demeanour, and removed from all party bias, and one who will on all occasions on which reference is made to him decide with equal justice and according to the law, forms, and usages of Parliament. But this is not all. The magnitude and importance of the private business which is now brought before the House, and the multiplicity of the rules and regulations laid down from time to time for the despatch of that business, render it absolutely necessary that we should choose a man of long Parliamentary experience, practically cognizant of those rules and regulations, ready to apply them to every emergency, firm to guard them from being unduly relaxed, and yet, at the same time, with a mind not unduly prone to adherence to antiquated rules and practices, but of view sufficiently large to suggest alterations whenever the growing business of the country requires and experience proves that alteration may be beneficially adopted. It appears to me that we have in this House a Member who unites many, if not most, of the qualifications required in a Speaker; and many who near me and who have observed the Parliamentary career of my hon. Friend Mr. John Evelyn Denison, the Member for North Nottinghamshire, will recognise in his character the possession of these different qualities. Without any disparagement to other hon. Members—for I am ready to admit that many Members might be found on both sides the House with qualifications of a high order—I may be permitted to say that when a Member, during a long Parliamentary career has combined those high moral and intellectual advantages, has, at the same time, been unconnected with official life, has devoted his mind to the private business of the House, and has made himself master of all the details of Parliamentary law and usages, it does appear to me a fitting testimony to render to such a man to elect him our Speaker. Do we want a precedent for such a course? We find that the brightest example of a Speaker in our time stood in precisely similar circumstances. Mr. Charles Shaw Lefevre was chosen from among the county Members of England. He was out of the sphere of the legal profession or official career, and a more successful example of a Speaker could not be found in modern times, or perhaps at any former period. I have, therefore, the greatest pleasure in proposing that Mr. Evelyn Denison, the Member for North Nottinghamshire, do take the Chair. In doing so, I may perhaps in some degree be influenced by private feelings; but, at the same time, I should not venture to propose my hon. Friend as a fit person to be elected to the Speakership of this House if I did not feel convinced that he unites in himself, in a superior degree, the external, moral, and intellectual qualities which we ought to look for in our Speaker. Under this impression, and having served in former Parliaments with him, I feel convinced that he possesses all the requisites for this important position. He has sat in Parliament for a long series of years as the representative of various constituencies. He was at one time elected a Member for the very important constituency of Liverpool, the second commercial town in the kingdom; he afterwards represented a county constituency; and subsequently a smaller constituency, and was thereby enabled to devote much of his time to the private business of this House; and he now represents a large commercial and agricultural district, and is thereby placed in a peculiarly favourable position for understanding the wants both of town and country constituencies. He has also acquired a very intimate knowledge of the mode of conducting the private business of this House; and knowing this, I entertain a certain conviction that if the House ratifies the proposition which I am about to make, the experience of the future will prove the wisdom of their choice. I have the greatest pleasure in proposing "That John Evelyn Denison, esquire, do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."

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I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion that Mr. Evelyn Denison do take the Chair as Speaker. No doubt the position of Speaker does require a gentleman of much experience in the business of this House. The Speaker of this House ought to be intimately acquainted with the mode of conducting business; he ought to be a man of great patience and great sagacity, and especially of strict impartiality. Mr. Evelyn Denison has occupied a seat in this House for nearly thirty years; and having watched his conduct since I have had the honour of a seat in Parliament, I know that he has given great attention to the forms of procedure of this House; that he has been a member of more Select Committees than almost any other Member of the House, and that he has very frequently indeed presided as chairman. I have the utmost reliance that, with his long experience in the House—with the attention which he has given to the business of the House—he has all the qualifications to make an excellent Speaker. The private business of the House has most enormously increased of late years. The wealth of the country has increased, and its distribution in railroads and other public works is very great indeed. When I first came into this House, some twenty years ago, Private Bills were considered in Committees of some forty or fifty Members, many of whom voted without having heard a word of the evidence. We owe it to Mr. Abercrombie and to the late Speaker, Mr. Shaw Lefevre, that these Private Bills have been put on a very different footing. We have now a Committee of Selection, which is understood to have a good knowledge of the qualifications of most of the Members. They select a Committee of five Members, who sign a declaration that they will not vote upon any private Bill unless they have given attention to the evidence. In this way there has been the greatest possible improvement in the mode of getting through the private business of the House; and I am convinced that if Mr. Evelyn Denison be elected he will continue suggesting further improvements in our procedure. Thus, though much may be done by the Speaker, yet there is much which must be done by the Members themselves; and though I may be travelling a little out of the ordinary course, I will take the liberty of suggesting, on this very important occasion, whether we might not carry into effect a plan which was discussed some few years ago for shortening the speeches of our Members? I would appeal with great respect to the leading Members on both sides to commence important speeches at five or six o'clock, as soon as the private business is over, rather than wait till ten or eleven o'clock, keeping us here out of our beds. I beg pardon of the House for having mentioned this subject, but it is one of so much importance that I would appeal to those Members who have it in their power, to do all they can to shorten the length of their speeches. I do not feel it necessary to add anything to what has been said by the noble Lord as to the qualifications of Mr. Evelyn Denison for the office of Speaker, except to say that if he be elected I have the utmost hope and confidence that, when he vacates that Chair, he will leave behind him as high a reputation as his predecessor has done, Mr. Shaw Lefevre. I beg to second the Motion that Mr. Evelyn Denison do take the Chair.

The House then calling on Mr. EVELYN DENISON,

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stood up in his place and said: Sir, I return my grateful thanks to my noble and my hon. Friends who have introduced my name to the House—in terms, indeed, far too flattering—in terms, suggested by the partiality of private friendship rather than by any qualities to which I can pretend to lay claim. I offer my respectful acknowledgments to the House for the manner in which it has been pleased to receive the mention of my name. It is calculated to afford me much encouragement and support. But when I think of the business of this House, increasing year by year—when I consider the importance not only of maintaining the rights and privileges of the House, but that the position of the House itself in the framework of the constitution should be carefully and exactly preserved, I might well shrink from the responsibility which must attach to any one who has a considerable share in its management and guidance. I shall be at a disadvantage in being placed in immediate contrast with a right hon. Gentleman who filled that chair for so many years in a manner which gave universal satisfaction. I shall, however, have the assistance of that distinguished Gentleman, as I have had the benefit of his example. And, under his immediate supervision, the rules and practice of Parliament have been digested and arranged by a Gentleman who now sits at that table (Mr. Erskine May, the Clerk Assistant) in a manner which cannot fail to afford material assistance to all who shall succeed to that chair. If I rightly interpret the wishes of the House it would not become me to intrude longer upon them my doubts and hesitations. I shall content myself, therefore, with expressing my high sense of the distinguished honour which it is proposed to confer upon me; and falling in with her suggestion of my hon. Seconder, and contracting my address within the narrowest possible limits, I submit myself, with all duty and respect, to the will of the House. The House then again unanimously calling Mr. Evelyn Denison to the Chair, he was taken out of his place by the said Lord Harry Vane and Mr. Thornely and conducted to the Chair. Then Mr. SPEAKER ELECT, standing on the upper step, said, "I beg to be permitted once more, from this Chair, to offer my respectful acknowledgments to the House. In carrying on the business of the House I shall not so much rely upon any power of control which may be vested in myself, I shall rely rather upon the good feeling and right-mindedness of every Gentleman composing this assembly—upon their spirit of forbearance, and upon their determination to carry the deliberations of the House to a successful and profitable issue. I freely dedicate to the service of the House all the strength that shall be granted me and all the faculties of my mind, and I confidently rely on the cordial co-operation of the House and on its generous support in giving effect to its rules and its orders, and in performing the various important duties which the House has this day imposed upon me." And thereupon he sat down in the Chair; and then the Mace (which before lay under the Table) was laid upon the Table.

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then said, Mr. Speaker Elect, I cannot forbear saying a few words to congratulate you most sincerely upon finding yourself in the high and exalted position in which the decision of this House has placed you. It must be a matter of well-founded pride and gratification to any man in the land to find himself placed as president or director of that which I am not saying too much in affirming to be the greatest and noblest representative assembly in the world. The position which you now occupy is one of the highest to which a commoner of this country can aspire; and from every consideration—from respect for your character and a knowledge of your eminent qualities—I am glad to find that the House has made so wise and proper a choice. But, Sir, in congratulating you upon the dignity to which you have been raised, I cannot shut my eyes to, and I am sure that you have not disguised from yourself, the difficulties of the arduous position which you have now assumed. You will have, however, to aid you in the performance of those duties assistance which I now see before me, to afford you advice and counsel in any difficulty which may arise with respect to the proceedings of this House. But, Sir, you have duties to perform, unconnected with the deliberations of this House, of no less importance to the public service, and the proper discharge of which will no less entitle you to the approbation and gratitude of this House and of the country; and with regard to the discharge of these duties you have for your guidance the lights of those who have gone before you. Your two immediate predecessors have both ably fulfilled the duties to which I am now referring. Mr. Abercrombie, now Lord Dunfermline—who filled that chair too short a time for the public good, having unfortunately been early compelled by ill-health to retire—Mr. Abercromby devoted his able and comprehensive mind to the improvement of our proceedings, which in his time so much required amendment. The memory of his good services exists in the minds of all those who are at all acquainted with our Parliamentary arrangements, and his name will long occupy a place in the list of those who have filled that Chair as one of the most eminent and the most entitled to the gratitude of the country. The Speaker who succeeded Mr. Abercromby, more fortunate in the duration of his tenure of office, was able to accomplish greater things, and I trust, Mr. Speaker, that you, in the performance of your duties, may equal the merits of Mr. Shaw Lefevre; it would be flattery to tell any man living that it was possible for him to surpass them. I think I am not assuming unduly to be the organ of this House when I assure you, Sir, that in the performance of your duties—whether in the course of our debates, or beyond the deliberations of this House, you will be supported by the full confidence and co-operation of all its Members, and that it will be remembered that your position is one of peculiar difficulty, on account of the circumstances of the moment at which you have succeeded to that Chair. While you are yourself a new Speaker, on the other hand there are a great number of the Members of this Parliament who are new to these walls, and, consequently, the task which you have to fulfil may be more difficult than was that of some of those who have preceded you. I am persuaded, however, that, while on the one hand, you will show yourself to be possessed of all the high qualities which are essential to the performance of your duties, on the other the Members of this House will give you that full confidence and support without which no Speaker would be able to discharge the duties of his office.

The noble VISCOUNT then moved "That the House do now adjourn."

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Mr. Speaker: Sir, I cannot but regret the unintentional absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), who, owing to a misunderstanding as to the hour of meeting happens not to be in his place at this moment. Had he been here, I am sure that he would have joined with the noble Lord in congratulating you upon being placed in that Chair. In his absence I will venture to say, referring to those observations, marked equally by good taste and good feeling, which have fallen from you, that there is not a Member on this side of the House—for those on the other side the noble Lord has already spoken—who will not heartily join with you in maintaining the dignity and authority of the Chair, and who will not, in the public proceedings of this House, or in the transaction of private business, render you every possible assistance. We shall be happy to find that you equal, although, as the noble Lord has said, we cannot hope that you will surpass, the admirable conduct which marked the conduct of your predecessor in that Chair.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.