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Mr Speaker's Retirement

Volume 32: debated on Tuesday 9 April 1895

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby) , rose, amid general cheers, to move, first:—

"That the thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for his distinguished services in the Chair for more than 11 years; that he be assured that this House fully appreciates the zeal, ability, and impartiality with which he has discharged the duties of his high office through a period of unusual labour, difficulty, and anxiety, and the judgment and firmness with which he has maintained its privileges and dignity; and that this House feels the strongest sense of his unremitting attention to the constantly increasing business of Parliament, and of his uniform urbanity which have secured for him the respect and esteem of this House."

And, secondly:—

"That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty that she will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of her Royal favour upon the right hon. Arthur Wellesley Peel, Speaker of this House, for his eminent services during the important period in which he has with such distinguished ability and dignity presided in the Chair of this House; and to assure her Majesty that whatever expense her Majesty shall think proper to be incurred upon that account, this House will make good the same."

He said: Sir,—When 11 years ago the House of Commons, with a happy prescience, invited you to occupy that Chair you addressed us in memorable words, which made a deep impression at the time, and which those who heard them have not forgotten and will not forget. You said:—

"I know how necessary it is for any man who aspires to till up that great office to lay aside all that is personal, all that is of party, all that savours of political predilection, and to subordinate everything to the great interests of the House at large to maintain not only the written law, but, if I may say so, that unwritten law which should appeal to, as it always does appeal to, the minds and consciences of the gentlemen of the House of Commons, to promote and to hand on unimpaired the traditions of this House, and over and above all its most cherished and inestimable traditions—I mean, Sir, that personal courtesy, that interchange of chivalry between Member and Member, which I believe to be compatible with the most effective party debates and feelings, and which, I am sure, is one of the oldest and, I humbly trust, may always be the most cherished tradition of this great representative assembly."

[ Cheers.] We are here to-day, to bear witness that these honourable pledges you have most honourably fulfilled. [ Loud cheers.] It has been said, and truly said, that in no other country is there anything that corresponds to the position of the Speaker of the English House of Commons. It is without an exact parallel anywhere. What is it we require of a Speaker? They are qualities not common in their single excellence; most rare in their happy combination. We expect dignity and authority, tempered by urbanity and kindness; firmness to control and persuasiveness to counsel; promptitude of decision and justness of judgment; tact, patience, and firmness; a natural superiority combined with an inbred courtesy, so as to give by his own bearing an example and a model to those over whom he presides; an impartial mind, a tolerant temper, and a reconciling disposition; accessible to all in public and private as a kind and a prudent counsellor. These are high and exacting

demands, and in you, Sir, we have found them all fulfilled. [ Loud cheers.] No one who has not spent his nights and days in the House of Commons can estimate the weight of the public care which falls upon the Speaker, the perpetual labour and the constant anxiety of that great post. The changes which have been made in our procedure during your term of office, have added greatly to its responsibilities. The real authority of the Speaker rests absolutely on the confidence of the House [ Cheers.] That confidence you have earned, and that authority you have exercised to your high honour and our great advantage. [ Cheers.] You have won from all the meed, not only of reverence and respect, but of esteem and affection—[ cheers]—and the severance of the ties which have bound you to this House and this House to you is to us a subject of poignant and of lasting regret. We know well that the weighty duties of your office makes great demands, not only upon mental power, but physical resource. It is with deep regret we learn that your strength is no longer equal to the strain. We trust that on your retirement from that chair you will still have many years of future happiness and health—[ loud cheers]—which we feel assured will still be given to public usefulness and your country's good. As we shall cherish the recollection of the services which you have rendered, it will be a satisfaction to you to know that those services are duly valued by this great Assembly, of which you have been so long the chief and the ornament. You will feel in the days that are to come, that you have added fame to a name among the most illustrious in the annals of the House of Commons—[ loud cheers]—and that you have exalted the dignity of a station the highest to which an English gentleman can be called It has been said that the memory of the departed who have deserved well of their country is a possession for ever, and the House of Commons, when you have left it, will enshrine the record of your Speaker ship among its purest and its noblest traditions. [ Loud and prolonged cheers.]—The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.

Mr. Speaker,—The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has moved in the customary form of words our sense of the great services which you have rendered to this House, and in associating myself with him by seconding the resolution I feel that I am only expressing sentiment which every one of my hearers feels, that never before has this ancient formula been charged with such an amount of feeling as it is charged with on the present occasion. [Loud cheers.] We are going through no formal or merely complimentary ceremony this afternoon, but we are expressing from the very depths of our hearts feelings which far transcend the powers of expression which we may possess, and which, if they could be expressed, would hardly be fitting for an occasion of this kind. Sir, as the Leader of the House has just reminded us, you have held office during a period in which the future fate, as I think, of this House hung in the balance. The 11 years during which you have held office have been years of great change in this Assembly. There has been in those 11 years one great Reform Bill passed, the greatest Reform Bill since the Reform Bill of 1832; there have been great changes in the constitution of Parties; there have been questions mooted among us which have raised, necessarily raised, to fever heat Party passion; and, above all, there have been changes in our rules which have thrown upon you, Sir, responsibilities shared by none of your predecessors. [Cheers.] Sir, the Administration which proposed those changes and the House which accepted them were deeply conscious at the time that they were taking upon themselves no light responsibility, and were, it might be, in their desire to increase the efficiency of this Assembly, throwing upon the holder of your office a weight which it was impossible to bear; and many were the prophecies, made in no pessimistic spirit, that it would be impossible in the future for the Speaker to be, as he had ever been in the past, the impartial mouthpiece not of one Party only, but of the sense of the House taken as a whole. Sir, those prophecies have not been fulfilled. [Cheers.] Through the great qualities which you have displayed that crisis in our history has been safely passed, and I trust that no similar crisis is ever likely to arise, for it has been given to you, Sir, to show in the Chair that kind of authority which no rules and no privileges can give, which cannot be conferred even by the support of the House, but which must be inborn in the man who exercises it—[cheers]—and which shows the kind of genius appropriate to the great place which you fill. May it, Sir, be our lot in the future to find men, as in turn each holder of the Chair resigns his office, who, I will not say will equal you, but who will approach you at all events in the exercise of this incommunicable gift. [Cheers.] I cannot sit down without adding to this testimony of the great public service which you have rendered the expression of the personal feeling of grief which animates us all at the inevitable severance now so near. [Cheers.] For it will be said of you, Sir, not merely that you have occupied a great place in the long line of illustrious Speakers, perhaps the greatest place for many generations past—[cheers]—but it will also be said of you that each individual Member of the House found in you a kind and considerate guide—[cheers]—and that you carried with you in your retirement not merely the respect and the admiration of all who have watched your great career, but also the love and the affection of every single Member of that great Assembly whose interests you have served so well. [Loud and prolonged cheering.]

, who was received with cheers, said: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my Irish Nationalist colleagues in this House and for myself, I desire to say that we associate ourselves most gladly with the well-earned tribute which the House of Commons is about to offer to you for your splendid services in the Speaker's Chair. ["Hear, hear."] We cannot but remember at a time like this, and if we could have forgotten it your own words yesterday would have recalled to our memory that when you first mounted the Speaker's chair it was what you yourself in a most expressive phrase yesterday called a time of "storm and stress." It was a time of storm and stress for you; still more perhaps for myself and for my colleagues. But we have learned to know each other better since that time, and I am now glad to say, proud to say, on behalf of all my friends in this House, that we recognise your absolute impartiality [loud cheers], as well as all the many other exalted qualities which you have displayed in the Speaker's Chair. Many and many of us have had to consult you on questions of order and to appeal to you for counsel and guidance, and we have always been received by you in the kindliest fashion, and have been given the most willing advice. We have been received by you as comrades, if I may adopt your own enchanting expression in your speech yesterday. [Cheers.] Mr. Speaker, you were born to an illustrious name; you have added to that name a new and peculiar lustre. [Cheers.] I will only say, speaking for all the Nationalist Members for whom I am entitled to speak, that every Nationalist Irishman in this House will remember your past with the highest honour, and offers to you now the most cordial wishes for your future. [Loud cheers.]

I desire to add two or three words only, and I wish to do so lest silence should possibly be misconstrued, and lest it should be thought that any party, or any section of any party, in this House was indifferent to the services which you, Sir, have rendered or ungrateful to you for them. My friends and myself accept most willingly the words that have fallen from the leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition as our spokesman on this occasion, and we desire to associate ourselves with all that they have said. We recognise with them that the functions of the Chair will have been exercised in recent times in circumstances of increasing difficulty, anxiety, and labour. As had been said by the Leader of the House, these circumstances have called for the manifestations of great qualities, the possession of any one of which in its highest degree would be unusual, but the combination of all of which could hardly have been expected from a single personality. [Cheers.] Sir, I think it is the universal sense of this House that you have shown that remarkable combination ["Hear, hear!"], and that you have accompanied it with unfailing kindness to all of us who have, at any time, found it necessary to seek your assistance and advice. ["Hear, hear!"] We feel that you have added lustre to the great position you have occupied. We deeply regret your retirement, and we earnestly trust that you may have before you many years of happiness in which you may enjoy your well-earned and well-deserved repose. [Loud cheers.]

I trust that the House will not consider it out of place on my part if I ask its permission to add just two or three words to what has already been said in support of this resolution. [Cheers.] It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that the real value of this resolution largely depends upon the absolute unanimity with which it will be passed. ["Hear, hear!"] The character of this House has of recent times undergone one remarkable change. Instead of two great parties only existing in the State, to-day this Assembly consists of many sections of many groups of Members with many individual aims and distinct interests of their own. This resolution will, indeed, be a high tribute to the absolute impartiality of the Chair if it receives, as it will receive, the hearty support of every Member of every section in the House. [Cheers.] I belong to, I believe, the smallest group of Members in this House, and on their behalf I desire to be permitted to associate myself with all that has been said in support of this Motion. The authority and impartiality of the Chair are the property of the House at large; they are the guarantee of its continued power and influence in the State; they are in a special manner the safeguard of the minorities—["Hear, hear!"]—and the smaller the minority may be the more need there is for the strong and impartial hand which will protect them from the despotism of majorities and safeguard them in the exercise of their just rights and privileges. ["Hear, hear!"] You, Mr. Speaker, yesterday spoke of having presided over this Assembly during many Sessions, some of them, as we have been reminded, of storm and of stress. It was my fortune to sit as a Member of this House during all those Sessions, and I cannot help remembering that during the whole of that time I sat here as a Member of a Party which was in a minority, and during a considerable portion of that time as a Member of a Party which was in a very small minority indeed. I cannot help remembering also that the storms to which you alluded were storms which raged round the Party to which I belonged, and the cause which I was advocating. Sir, I recognise also that in the past we have more than once been forced by our conception of our duty to utter what seemed a jarring note in the deliberations of this House, and to take action which undoubtedly was distasteful to the sentiments of the majority of its Members. But, looking back now, as I do, over all those years, I can truthfully say it is my belief that on all these occasions, and under every circumstance of excitement and unpopularity in this House we met with, from you, uniform courtesy and impartiality. [Cheers.] The alteration in the procedure of this House put into the hands of the Speaker a new and enormous power. That power, we believe, has been used by you invariably for the protection of the just rights of minorities, and for the maintenance of freedom of debate. [Cheers.] I venture most humbly to express the belief that, should it ever come to pass that the great office of Speaker of the House of Commons should be degraded to the level of a mere partisan office to be scrambled for by successive party majorities in successive Parliaments, not only would the power and prestige of the House of Commons suffer, but those who would suffer most would be those small minorities who must, in the nature of things, look for protection to a strong and impartial occupant of the Chair. [Cheers.] Sir, as a Member of one of those small minorities, I desire to express our deep regret at your resignation of the high office that you have elevated and adorned, our gratitude to you for your unfailing courtesy and fairness to us in many troubled times in the past, and our sincere hope that you may for many years to come enjoy the rewards of your laborious and honourable services. [Cheers.]

In the peculiar position in which I am placed here I offer to you, Mr. Speaker, my most sincere and heartfelt gratitude for all the kindness and helpful counsel you have always extended to me. [Cheers.]

addressed the House as followeth, all the Members being uncovered: I am greatly honoured and deeply touched by the speeches which have been delivered in moving and seconding the Resolution now before the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I am not less touched and honoured by the speeches which have been delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Longford, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford City, and by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Finsbury. It was my duty yesterday to give such expression as I could to the emotions which were aroused within me by my imminent retirement from this Chair. The fewest words, perhaps, will best befit me to-day. If I use only conventional language in returning thanks for the honour which you do me—which the whole House has done me—[Cheers]—I hope it will be believed that there underlies that merely conventional language a deep and abiding sense of gratitude to this House—a deep acknowledgment of that personal kindness, I would say, which has been shown to me from all quarters of the House—a kindness the expression of which adds perhaps to the poignancy of my feelings and accentuates my regret on leaving the Chair, but the memory of which will after a short time mitigate, I am sure, to me the inevitable pain of parting. [Cheers.] I desire respectfully to thank you. [Loud Cheers.]

I beg to move that it be entered in the Journals of the House that this motion was carried nemine contradicente. [Cheers.] I also have to move that—

"The thanks of this House be given to Mr. Speaker for what he has said to the House, and that the same be printed in the Votes of this day and entered on the Journals of the House."

Motion agreed to unanimously.

I have now, Sir, to make the second Motion which stands on the paper, namely—

"That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty that she will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of her Royal favour upon the Right Honourable Arthur Wellesley Peel, Speaker of this House, for his eminent services during the important period in which he has with such distinguished ability and dignity presided in the Chair of this House; and to assure Her Majesty that, whatever expense Her Majesty shall think proper to be incurred upon that account, this House will make good the same."

Motion carried unanimously amid loud cheers.