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Commons Chamber

Volume 218: debated on Thursday 5 March 1874

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House Of Commons

Thursday, 5th March, 1874.

The House met at Two of the clock.

On which day, being the day appointed by the Royal Proclamation for the meeting of the new Parliament, Sir Thomas Erskine May, K.C.B., Clerk of

the House of Commons, Reginald Palgrave, Esquire, and Archibald Milman, Esquire, Clerks Assistants, and the other Clerks attending, according to their duty, Charles Romilly, Esquire, Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in Great Britain, delivered to the said Sir Thomas Erskine May a Book, containing a List of the Names of the Members returned to serve in Parliament.

Several of the Members repaired to their Seats.

A Message was delivered by Colonel Clifford, Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod:

"Gentlemen,

"The Lords, authorized by virtue of Her Majesty's Commission, desire the immediate attendance of this Honourable House in the House of Peers, to hear the Commission read."

Accordingly, the House went up to the House of Peers;—and a Commission having been read for opening and holding the Parliament, the Lords Commissioners directed the House to proceed to the Election of a Speaker, and present him To-morrow at Two of the clock in the House of Peers, for the Royal Approbation."

And the House being returned;

Election Of A Speaker

, addressing himself to the Clerk (who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down), said:—Sir Erskine May,—It now becomes the business of the House of Commons, in accordance with the gracious communication which we have just received from the Crown, to proceed to perform its first, and certainly not its least important duty, by the election of a Speaker to occupy the Chair, and although in making the proposal which I am now about to submit to the consideration of the House I am fully conscious that there must be many hon. Members who, from their greater and more lengthened knowledge and experience of the customs, practice, and traditions of this House, are more entitled to undertake this task than I am, yet at least I can say this much—that no one could experience more unfeigned satisfaction than myself in doing so on this particular occasion; because the name which I am now about to place before the House of Commons is that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire. It has, I believe, hitherto been deemed to be the accepted privilege of the majority in a newly elected House of Commons to elect its Speaker from among their ranks, and I apprehend that under ordinary circumstances that is a wise and a salutary rule, and one which, generally speaking, it would probably be convenient and fitting to observe. But on this occasion I myself am satisfied—and this is an opinion in which I think the majority of the House will unanimously concur—that even if there were no precedent for such a course we should do well to make one in favour of the Gentleman to whom I have referred. There are various considerations which, I think, must lead to that conclusion on our part. If we consider for a moment the position which is occupied by the House of Commons in these days, there is one thing in particular which, I think, cannot fail to impress itself upon the minds of its Members, and that is the enormous mass of business daily accumulating, ever increasing, and likely to increase still more in the future, which now is brought before them, and with which they have to deal; and we are all aware—or, at all events, those among us who do not sit within these walls for the first time to-day—that it is upon the wise and judicious exercise of the high functions and powers committed to the Speaker that the effectual and satisfactory progress of the Business of this House in a great measure depends. That is one consideration out of many which suggests itself to my mind; and when we see, as we do distinctly in this ease, our way to attaining so desirable an object, to put aside all party feelings in the matter is then most undoubtedly right. Sir Erskine May, I am speaking in your presence and in that of Gentlemen, many of whom were Members of the last House of Commons, and some of whom, no doubt, have witnessed the rise and fall of many a Parliament in succession, and to them it would be sheer presumption on my part to offer any further observations upon this point. But there are also some here to-day—and I believe by no means a few, to whom, with due respect, I may presume to offer some suggestions as to the qualifications which we expect to find and which we seek in a Speaker. His task is not a light one. His position is not always easy. He is the guardian of our rights, and to him is entrusted the care of our privileges. We look to him by precept and example to maintain due order and decorum in the conduct of the general Business of this House. "We look to him to order and to settle all disputed questions as they may arise; and there will he at all times—on occasions other than in debate—some among us who may find it necessary to seek his counsel and advice, which I am sure will in this case invariably be given with courtesy and wisdom. Members, therefore, will perceive how many qualifications are expected in a Speaker—firmness and impartiality, an accurate knowledge of the Business of this House, natural courtesy, and the highest sense of honour; experience teaches us most undoubtedly that Mr. Brand possesses one and all of these qualifications in a remarkable and in an eminent degree; and we are satisfied that under him the House of Commons will maintain in the future that great reputation which it has enjoyed for ages in the past. Sir, the Privileges of this House are many, and they are undoubted—ancient is its history, and great are its traditions. The names of noble and distinguished men have been enrolled for generations upon its list of Speakers. Yet confident am I of one thing—that by re-electing Mr. Brand, we shall be placing as our Speaker in the Chair one so greatly gifted with all the valuable qualities to which I have referred, and who will compare not unfavourably even with the most distinguished of those who have gone before him—one who is distinguished above all by that unerring instinct which takes the highest and truest sense of honour as its best and surest guide, and of whom I will venture to predict that he will bring oven fresh lustre to the office which attaches to that Chair, in a manner becoming the first Commoner in England. I now beg to move "That the Right honourable Henry Brand do take the Chair of this House as Speaker."

I rise to second the nomination of the right hon. Henry Brand as Speaker of this House; and in doing so I feel that I possess no qualification for the duty I have undertaken, except one which, in the minds of younger Members, may be deemed rather a doubtful one—that of having the misfortune to be one of the five Members who have sat for the longest time in this House. I believe this is the eleventh Parliament in which I have sat, but I hope that on this occasion I shall not be accused of obtruding the garrulousness of old age upon my hearers, if I take advantage of the honour conferred upon me to make a few remarks. I may be permitted to observe that although I wish it were in bettor hands, yet no more grateful task-could have been allotted to me than that of seconding the nomination of my right hon. Friend to the Chair, for I have served with him in this House for many years, and I have long been bound to him by the strictest ties of intimacy, friendship, and esteem. But, Sir, I think-there are peculiar circumstances which render this occasion a very interesting one, because I believe that on no former occasion has the House, through one cause or another, from each side, lost so many of those Members who formerly took an active part in discussions regarding the Rides and Business of this House, and who were so conversant with its proceedings and Privileges. It would be invidious to allude to those Members individually, but still there are three who were so conspicuous among them that I hope I may name them without trespassing on the limits of good taste. First, I may refer to the gracious presence we have lost in the person of Sir George Grey, whom we shall long miss in this House, and who was always regarded as one of its greatest authorities. Then, on the other side of the House, we shall miss Colonel Wilson-Patten, who has been promoted to another—shall I say to a better—place? There was no man more assiduous than he in attending to the Private Business of this House, nor one more ready to give us the benefit of his acquaintance with that Business whenever he was called upon to do so. Thirdly, through the fortune of war—although, I hope, only for a time—we have lost Mr. Bouverie, than whom, I suppose, there was no hon. Member who had given a closer and more accurate attention to the Rules, Privileges, and Proceedings of the House. But why do I name these Gentlemen? Because it is under these circumstances that I think it is the more incumbent upon us to select a tried man for our Speaker—one who has given us proof of his intimate acquaintance with our Rules and Proceedings, and who is already known for his services in the Chair. Were it not that our debates were ruled by his almost imperceptible sway—were not our deliberations guided by his moderation—those debates would soon fall into disorder and our deliberations into disrepute. I recollect that nearly 40 years ago I happened to stray into the precincts of "another place," where an animated debate was going on in an august assemblage, and just as I entered one Member of that august assemblage had managed to irritate another Member to that degree that the latter rose and called upon the Clerk to read a particular Order of the House—the Order was read, and it directed that no Member of that august assemblage should use "sharp and taxing" language to another Member. That left a great impression upon my mind, and I have never lost the memory of it since. Its lesson, I think, can easily be apprehended. Although we are an elected body, and may, perhaps, be said to be of rougher workmanship and of coarser grain than that august assemblage, and therefore amenable to other influences, yet, Sir Erskine May, I do not recollect that you or any of your predecessors were ever called upon to read to us a Rule of this House calling its Members to order. I think that our exemption from that necessity is due to the fact that amid the perturbations which are incidental to an elected body, where the various opinions of our constituents seem sometimes sharply represented, our successive Speakers have been able to maintain the dignity of this House and to allay any rising tempest. I am sure that the Members of this House will perceive that even the slightest contraction of the Speaker's brow, or the ruffle of his gown, indicating his intention to rise, will be sufficient to quell a Member who may be out of Order, and to disperse even the semblance of tumult. Sir, in the presence of my right hon. Friend it would be distasteful to me, as it would be to him, to enter fully into those qualifications which he possesses for the office, and it would be presumptuous in me, in the presence of so many hon. Members who know him and have witnessed his conduct in the Chair, if I were to do so. Suffice it to say—and it is no derogation of the merits of many Speakers who have preceded him—that at no time has the dignity of the Chair been more uniformly maintained, at no time have the Privileges of this House been vindicated with greater spirit, or the Rules and Proceedings of the House been laid before us in readier and more correct decisions—at no time has more kindly courtesy been displayed to every Member of the House, than during the time the Chair was occupied by my right hon. Friend. In concluding these remarks, permit me to say it has given me very great satisfaction to see from what quarter this proposition has arisen, and I therefore most cordially support it. I think it is an earnest and good augury for the moderation and temper with which our debates will be carried on, that no political bias, no party spirit, has been allowed to interfere in the selection of the Member whom we all believe to be the best man for the distinguished position of Speaker of this House. And I am quite sure that if the House shall, as I hope it will, unanimously concur in the Resolution which has been placed before it, we shall not only see the Chair filled with dignity, but we shall insure to the right hon. Gentleman that he will meet with the general support and concurrence of every hon. Member of this House. I beg now to second the nomination of the right hon. Henry Brand to the Chair of this House.

The House then unanimously calling Mr. BRANSD to the Chair—

stood up in his place and said: Two years ago this House did me the high honour to call me to the Chair. At that time I was much impressed with the gravity of the charge, and I doubted whether I was sufficient for such things. Further reflection and some experience of service in the Chair have deepened my sense of the grave responsibility attaching to that dignified position, and I should shrink from the undertaking, unless I was assured of that support which this House, in its generosity, uniformly extends to its Speaker. The support of this House is the only sure foundation of the moral authority of the Speaker. Without that support, he is powerless; but with it his weakness becomes strength. Should this House think fit upon this occasion to call me for the second time to the Chair, I shall be specially honoured, because my nomination is now commended from both sides of the House—thus, if I may so speak, doubling my obligation to the House. I desire to speak with sincere respect of party attachments, on whatever side of the House they may be formed, for they are essential to the healthy action of Parliamentary government; but whoever may be the man chosen by this House to preside over its deliberations, he is bound, as an honourable man, to keep party attachment in abeyance. I am very sensible of my short-comings in many ways. I am well aware also that there are many hon. Members of this House more fit than I am to adorn that Chair; but I yield to no man in a firm determination to discharge the duties of the Chair in a spirit of impartiality. I know, Sir Erskine May, that this House, faithful to its traditions, will sustain the Speaker in vindicating our Rights and Privileges, in maintaining our Rules and Orders, and in securing freedom of debate according to our established usages; and, relying upon that support, I shall humbly place such services as I can render at the disposal of this honourable House.

The House then again unanimously calling MR. HENRY BRAND to the Chair, he was taken out of his place by the said Mr. CHAPLIN, and the said Lord GEORGE CAVENDISH, and conducted to the Chair.

Then

, standing on the upper step, said: I beg to tender once more my acknowledgments to the House for the honour it has conferred upon mo. It is the greatest honour that can be conferred upon any Member of the House, and it will be my earnest endeavour to deserve the confidence thus reposed in me:—and thereupon sat down in the Chair. And then the Mace (which before lay under the Table) was laid upon the Table. Then—

said: In the unavoidable absence of the Leader of this House and of others upon whom this duty would naturally fall, because of constitutional rules with which we are all acquainted, it has de- volved upon me, unworthy as I am, to endeavour, in the name of the House, to offer to you, Sir, some few words of congratulation upon the high honour to which you have attained. Sir, it must be peculiarly gratifying to you that, unanimous as those elections generally are, in your case the selection commands an unanimity of no ordinary character. Sir, it is true that the demands made on the Member who holds the high position of Speaker of this House are of an exceptional character. It is required of him that he should possess dignity, impartiality, firmness, and decision; and, Sir, those of us who have served in the House before under your auspices will certainly all of them unanimously concur with me in saying that you possess those qualities in no small degree. It is unnecessary for me to detain the House with many remarks upon this subject. Long may you live to wear your honours and preside over our proceedings. Certainly, if your life is spared, there can be no doubt among those who have witnessed your conduct hitherto that you will attain that distinction which was prophesied of you by my hon. Friend behind me, who moved your election. I will only, in conclusion, say that, from long entertained feelings of friendship, it is a matter of great gratification to me that, unworthy as I am, I should be selected on this occasion, to pay you this honour in the name of the House.

Sir, the various parts connected with this important transaction have been performed with excellent ability, and with a cordiality which, I must say, I have never known exceeded. Under these circumstances, perhaps it may appear superfluous and obtrusive on my part to rise, but I do so to offer you in a few words my hearty congratulations; and I may find an apology for thus intruding myself upon the House, in the fact that at no very distant period I was responsible in some degree for the original selection and proposal of your name as Speaker. I therefore, Sir, avail myself of this opportunity to state that which I deeply feel—not only my great satisfaction at the manner in which everything said relative to yourself personally has been received on all sides of the House, but likewise at the unanimity with which the House has on this occasion affirmed and acted upon the usage of what I may call your continuity in the Chair. That continuity and that disposition of the majority of the House to waive the power which they undoubtedly possess to select a candidate for the Chair from among themselves is, in my judgment, a matter of high importance not only to the person who, having been once lifted up to this peculiar dignity among us, ought not, even out of mere regard to ourselves, by the mere record of votes to be lightly deposed from it, but also because—unless I much mistake the matter—this usage of continuity is an important element in the weight and authority of the Chair. The remarkable precedent of 1841, for a variety of circumstances, to which it is not necessary for me to refer in detail, was one that I hope will always have its place in the recollection of the House—one that I trust will be followed in every case except where strong and valid grounds of objection to the conduct of the former Speaker can be shown. Sir, it is idle for me to say that no such ground can be supposed to exist in the present case. I will not, Sir, trust myself to speak of the personal feelings of esteem—of more than esteem—with which I presume to regard you, and for this reason, at any rate, among others—that I well know that those feelings are shared with me by all who have the honour and the pleasure of knowing you, exactly according to the measure of their intimacy with you. I will say one word as to the charge which you have been called upon to undertake. It has often been my lot to endeavour to explain to foreigners of political eminence the nature of the Speakership of this House, and I have invariably found that a description of the position of the Speaker, with his complete, effective, and immediate control over the proceedings of the Members of the House—subordinate only to the collective authority of the House—has called forth the most noted attention, and I may say admiration, of such foreigners. The Speakership is an institution less important, perhaps, but not less characteristic, not less truly national in its character, than is the House of Commons itself, over which the Speaker has the honour to preside. Sir, we expect much from our Speakers. We expect from them not only such an assemblage of qualities as may be ordinarily and frequently found in many excellent and able men among us, but we expect from them a combination of qualities which are rarely united in the same person. We look to them for extensive and well-digested knowledge, for a high and delicate sense of honour, and for, at all times and in all cases, an unvarying and unswerving impartiality, and we look also for great dignity of manner, for patience and forbearance in an eminent degree, and in combination with these we look for prudence in coming to, and firmness in carrying out the decisions necessary to maintain the good order of the House. There is no fear, Sir, that any of those requisites will ever be wanting in you, nor is there any danger of their being unduly put to the proof. Sir, I trust and believe it will never be forgotten—indeed, after the manifestation of to-day, I have increased confidence it never can be forgotten—how heavy is the charge imposed upon you. You have yourself, with a becoming modesty, and not going a line beyond the strict truth, to-day stated that nothing but the cordial support of the House could enable you properly to perform your duties; and I am firmly convinced that, assembled as we are here to-day—some of us having grown old in the service of our country; others who are only entering upon that service, together with men in all the intermediate stages of a public life, the old and experienced in Parliament, the young and inexperienced, those who sit on this side of the House and those who sit opposite—all, I am sure, are animated by but one desire, and that is to vie with each other in maintaining your authority and strengthening your hands for the performance of those great and important duties to which you have now been unanimously called by this House. The hon. Member then moved that the House do now adjourn.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at Three o'clock, 'till To-morrow.