HC Deb 06 March 1974 vol 870 cc2-16
Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I am very pleased to welcome you, Mr. Strauss, on behalf of the House, bearing in mind that you are taking the Chair on this occasion and presiding over our proceedings, following recommendations by the Select Committee on Procedure that the arrangements for selection of a Speaker should be altered. I also welcome the fact that you have the full authority of Mr. Speaker on this occasion and that you are relieving the Clerk of the rather embarrassing situation which has arisen from time to time in the past.

The recommendations made by the Select Committee on Procedure represent attempts to meet feeling in the House that arrangements for election of the Speaker ought to be modernised. There have been criticisms about the arrangements for election of the Speaker, not only in 1971 but on previous occasions, when Mr. Speaker Morrison and Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown were elected. One of the major criticisms, however, advanced regarding selection of the Speaker in 1971 was that there had been inadequate consultation in the House with back benchers by leaders on both sides. In evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure, from the Leader of the House, from the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Chief Whips, it was recognised that there had not been adequate consultation. I trust and hope that there has been adequate consultation on this occasion.

It is with great pleasure that I beg to move, That the Right Honourable Selwyn Lloyd do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has had a distinguished record in many offices, at Defence, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and at the Foreign Office. Not only has he had a distinguished record but, in some of those offices, particularly at the Foreign Office, his record was highly controversial. He later earned a big reputation as Leader of the House and later still earned the good feeling of many hon. Members for the part he played in trying to improve the salaries and pensions of hon. Members.

Many hon. Members felt, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was elected to the office of Speaker in 1971, that it was not altogether desirable that an ex-Cabinet Minister should become Speaker. It was felt that it might be very difficult for the Speaker to free himself from the past and from various biases which might have arisen in the past. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has done his very best to free himself from those biases while in the office of Speaker. In the past, Speakers have not merely felt the disadvantages of their own past. Mr. Speaker Fitzroy told me that as a descendant of Nell Gwyn he felt great embarrassment in the House when he had to read the abdication statement of King Edward VIII.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given many good services to the House during his period as Speaker. As a member of the Speaker's Conference, I can say that members of the conference have much appreciated his chairmanship—not only his impartial chairmanship but the constructive suggestions which he has put forward from time to time.

On occasions such as this it is customary for various widely held desires to be put forward on behalf of back benchers as to what they hope and expect the Speaker will do. I am sure I speak on behalf of all back benchers when I say that it is hoped that no undue preference will be shown to privy councillors. It is also hoped that Mr. Speaker will encourage shorter speeches. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long".] Mr. Speaker Fitzroy had a habit of raising his hand whenever he thought that an hon. Member was speaking for too long, and the message soon got round.

There is a general feeling among hon. Members that Question Time should be speeded up, but I cannot suggest how this should be done. Mr. Charles Pannell, the former right hon. Member for Leeds, West, suggested in 1971 that action should be taken to control "phoney" points of order, and we hope that this will be done.

For the first time for many years a large number of minority parties are represented in the House. I am sure we would all agree that there should not be discrimination against minority parties; neither must there be discrimination in favour of minority parties. When considerable minority groups, such as the ILP and the Communist Party, were represented in the House there was a widespread feeling among back benchers on both sides that there was undue discrimination in their favour and that their spokesmen were called on to speak on almost every subject, whereas in the three main parties there were people of different views, all of whom had contributions to make to the debates. I hope that their contributions will be taken account of equally with those of minority parties.

Finally, I urge that in giving rulings Mr. Speaker should not be too conservative. The House is a very conservative institution, so far as procedure is concerned. No matter how modest the proposals made by the Select Committee on Procedure, only about half of them get through after they go to the Floor of the House.

Most new Members entering the House wish to change the procedure, but after a few years they wish to change hardly anything. There should be modernised procedure to suit modern needs and I hope that Mr. Speaker will in the future do his best, in making rulings, to help modernise procedure and make it more efficient.

I have great pleasure in moving that the right hon. and learned Member be elected as Speaker.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

It is a privilege and pleasure to be invited to second the motion which has been moved in such felicitous and persuasive terms by my old and valued friend, the hon. Member for Barking—[HON. MEMBERS: "Dagenham"]—I should say the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). One gets used to these new designations in due time, no doubt.

I also associate myself with the welcome extended by the hon. Gentleman to you, Mr. Strauss, in the position which you have so fittingly occupied today.

The office of Speaker is one of the greatest in the land and we are fortunate in having as the proposed incumbent a man who in every respect is worthy of that great office. It is an office which confers an added distinction on him who holds it because of the means by which he is chosen. The office is bestowed, and can only be bestowed, by the collective choice and corporate will of the House of Commons as a whole, that is, by those who know him best and who can most surely assess his worth and quality. It was not always thus. In bygone days, as the House knows, the choice was that of the Sovereign and of the Sovereign alone. Mr. Speaker was in those days the Executive's man at Westminster, and, as such was subject to the vagaries of Executive power—literally so in the case of some of them, who actually suffered execution in consequence of the discharge of their duties.

Nowadays, it is a less perilous but even more exacting task. It is a task for a man of great ability and many parts, and such a man undoubtedly is the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). Among his many qualifications is that of being a Queen's Counsel, though in fairness it can be said of him, as Dodsworth said of Burke, that, though a lawyer, he has the grace not to practise his profession. In that profession it is forbidden to refer to a man's record until after he has been convicted, and I am certain that we shall have a triumphant verdict here today.

Fortunately, however, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's record of achievement is so well known as to need only the barest reference. It is as varied as it is distinguished. He has been the holder of some of the greatest offices of State. To each he has made his contribution and in each he has added to his high repute: Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit". All that he has touched, he has adorned. Yet it might be possible for a man to have this comprehensive range of achievement and this variety of excellence and still not have the qualities of a Speaker. For a man to be a successful and acceptable Speaker he must have qualities of decision and tact, of patience and understanding, of warmth and humour. He must be as near to omniscience as is humanly possible, but accept that infallibility is not given to mortal man.

Fortunately, we do not have to speculate whether this rare assemblage of qualities is to be found in the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We know it, because we have seen their deployment in the office of Speaker over the past three years and have respected and esteemed them. I say "we", but of course there and those who so far know these qualities only by repute—those new Members of all parties whom we warmly welcome to the House this day. But they, too, will soon find confirmation at first hand.

It is customary on these occasions to refer to the Speaker's position as guardian of the rights of individual Members and of minorities, and it is appropriate that I should mention this today. I do so because not only have we new Members but we have new parties and new groupings to an extent unprecedented in modern times. Each and all of them will speedily find that under the presiding genius of Mr. Speaker their rights are safeguarded and their due contribution assured, and they in turn, if I mistake not, will soon feel the magic of this place.

The election of a Speaker marks the beginning of our Parliament. He in his office is the sign and symbol of the authority of Parliament, the sign and symbol, too, of those parliamentary institutions which, cradled here in Westminster, have gone to the uttermost ends of the earth, to the envy of the bond and the glory of the free.

It is, therefore, with a keen sense of pride and privilege, and of personal pleasure born of long friendship, that I beg to second the right hon. and learned Gentleman's election today.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)

(standing in his place): In accordance with tradition, I submit myself to the judgment of the House.

I should like to join in the congratulations to you, Mr. Strauss, on becoming the Father of the House. No doubt you are reserving judgment as to the qualities and disposition of this your first parliamentary child.

You, Sir, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) have between you served the House for 110 years. If I may say so with the greatest possible respect, all three of you look extremely well. Therefore, it may comfort new Members to know that the physical strain on Members of Parliament is not as intolerable as some people suggest.

I pay tribute to those who helped me in the Chair in the last Parliament—Sir Robert Grant-Ferris, the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson), Mr. Lance Mallalieu, and the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton). I should also like to thank the members of the Chairmen's Panel, whose arduous work is sometimes not sufficiently appreciated. I also thank the former Clerk of the House, the present Clerk of the House and the other Clerks and officials of the House.

One thinks also of the others who are no longer here. When I was proposed in January 1971, I was proposed by Dame Irene Ward and seconded by Mr. Charles Pannell. Both could be quite tiresome at times, in their different ways, but they loved this House. There are many others of whom we think who have left us either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Now for the motion. I acknowledge with gratitude the very kind words spoken by the proposer and seconder. If I believed what they said, or even only a part of it, it would appears that election to the Chair is one of those sentences of hard labour where good conduct does not procure remission of the sentence but rather prolongs it. But I noted the remarks about the guillotine.

On a similar occasion in October 1964, Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster said: Re-reading the past, I find that the then Prime Minister—it was Mr. Attlee—presented the Speaker-Elect in March 1950, Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, on the occasion of his third election, to a House more evenly divided, I think, than the House had been for the last hundred years. The majority was seven.

We have refined the art of being evenly divided"— [Laughter.] That was said by Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster— by being even more evenly divided. The majority was then four. Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster continued: Whether that is progress or not it is not for me to say".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October 1964; Vol. 701, c. 7.] Well, in this House we have carried the process of refinement even further —I am not sure what the chemical term would be—to no majority at all. Whether or not that is progress, it is not for me to say. It will certainly present problems for every individual Member, and perhaps for some more than others.

On the occasion of my election in 1971, I said that the great traditions surrounding the Chair were: utter impartiality; respect for minorities, however or wherever constituted; regard for the interests of back benchers; and the maintenance of the dignity and order of our proceedings. I tried to sustain those traditions in the last Parliament. At times it was not easy. Members who have sat in previous Parliaments are familiar with the problems: the length of speeches, the selfishness of the longwinded; the interminable supplementary questions, cutting out others; the points of order which are not points of order at all; and irritating and disorderly interruptions from sedentary positions. These have been the bugbears of the Chair in Parliament after Parliament. Whether there will be much improvement in this Parliament is anyone's guess. The Chair can do a certain amount, but self-discipline, in all parts of the House, is the only real solution.

Reference has been made to the duty of the Chair with regard to minorities. Obviously, in this Parliament there will be an added problem. Whether they will need protection from me or I protection from them, time will show. But if I am re-elected I shall do my best to be fair.

There are more than a hundred new Members who have not sat here before. I welcome them. I shall try to marry their faces with their names or vice-versa as quickly as I can, but I hope that I shall be given a little tolerance to begin with. I believe that the Speaker should try to establish personal contact with every Member. I want all new Members to know that I shall be readily available to every Member to give such counsel as he or she may feel in need of.

If re-elected I shall be very proud. I shall also be very humble, knowing the difficulties ahead, the heavy responsibilities upon us all in these anxious times, and of the responsibility in particular which will have been placed upon me by the House.

I thank again the proposer and the seconder. I thank the House for its attention, and I submit myself to its judgment.

Resolved, That the Right Hon. Selwyn Lloyd do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

Whereupon, the Right Hon. George Russell Strauss left the Chair, and the Right Hon. Selwyn Lloyd was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Mr. Parker and Sir Derek Walker-Smith.

Mr. Speaker-Elect

(standing on the upper step): I express my most sincere gratitude to the House for the very great honour which it has done me by re-electing me to the Chair.


sat down in the Chair.

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

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, it is my privilege to offer on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends—and here I am sure I am speaking for the whole House—our congratulations on your re-election as our Speaker. I do so even more warmly because the majority of us have come to know you as a Speaker and can appreciate your qualities.

It used to be the case on these occasions—happily it is a practice which is fading away—that my predecessors, and I myself, stressed the somewhat negative qualities which are expected in every Speaker—namely, a total deafness and selective myopia. Over the past three years when you have presided over our proceedings I have not noticed these qualities in you any more than I noticed them in earlier years of close friendship across the party lines.

Certainly none of your predecessors has had wider experience and understanding of the House and of public life generally. I have been a strong opponent of the practice which developed in the early 1950s of electing ex-Ministers to the Speakership. It is a tribute to you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, in your tenure of this demanding office, that you have largely converted me from that 20-year opinion.

In addition to your long period as Chancellor and as Foreign Secretary, you held one office which I am certain has been of value to you as our Speaker. For a year you were Leader of the House of Commons, and, of those Leaders of the House whom we have known, few, if any, have shown greater perception and concern than you showed for the rights of the minorities, for the wishes of the House as a whole, and for the interests of individual Members of this House. Some of us who welcomed your election as Speaker three years ago took comfort from your record as Leader of the House. And so it has been as Speaker.

We know you, Mr. Speaker, as a great fighter for the rights of the House, and for a continuous improvement in the services available to the House and to individual Members. Since the House of Commons building was nationalised rather less than 10 years ago and removed from the control of the Lord Great Chamberlain, the duty of administering it has rested with Mr. Speaker, advised by the Services Committee. We know how much you have done, Mr. Speaker, to initiate and assist improvements.

In the last Parliament, Mr. Speaker, you had the further burden of presiding over the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform, though the work which you were doing was cut short by Dissolution, not, however, without several changes in electoral law and practice having been agreed and put into effect.

Mr. Speaker-Elect, as you sit in the Chair and gaze upon this new assembly, you may, like other speakers before you, wonder what the new Parliament will be like. There will be differences. We have more political parties represented here. You cannot, I think necessarily assume that the degree of unanimity which has been shown in these proceedings will necessarily inspire and inform all our debates. I am sure that you will already have concluded that no matter how Parliament, with its infinite and unpredictable capacity for changing its moods may present you with problems, this will be an exciting Parliament for all of us and, I hope, for you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, from time to time, Mr. Speaker, you may feel it necessary to attempt to contain the excitement generated within the rules of order and of parliamentary decorum.

We know that in you, Mr. Speaker, every one of us will have a friend and counsellor. We know that in the inevitably lonely life of Speaker some of your happiest moments will be when you have divested yourself of your wig and your gown, and when you will be entertaining over a drink or a meal one or a small group of your parliamentary colleagues, the colleagues who have today by their decision conferred upon you the highest honour it is within the power of the House to accord.

Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, it gives me the greatest possible pleasure to associate my right hon. Friends, my hon. Friends and myself with the words of the Prime Minister in offering you our warmest congratulations on becoming Mr. Speaker-Elect.

I also take the opportunity—and it is the first opportunity available to me at the opening of a new Parliament—to offer to the Prime Minister on behalf of the whole House the congratulations and the understanding which are due to any right hon. Member who assumes the immense responsibilities of the First Minister of the Crown.

For you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, this occasion adds further lustre to your long record of service to the nation in many of the highest offices of State, and in the last Parliament as our Speaker. I was personally unable to be present to offer you my tribute when you were first elected to your great office in January 1971. At that time I was attending a meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government. I would have wished then to express my confidence that one who has been so loyal and so steadfast a House of Commons man for more than 25 years, and who, as the Prime Minister said, has led the House with such distinction, would prove to be the impartial friend and wise mentor which the House looks for in its Speaker.

Mr. Speaker-Elect, it is a matter of history that the hopes of the House in the last Parliament were more than amply fulfilled. In the course of the last three years you have not only presided over our debates with tact and impartiality but you have shown, as we rapidly came to realise, that slightly irreverant and slightly impish sense of humour which can do so much to cool the occasional heated exchange.

If I may say so, with great respect, I believe that you owe your success as Mr. Speaker in the last Parliament to your intensive love of the House of Commons and to your respect for its traditions and its institutions. That love is there for all to see. Your heart is here in the Chamber and you have worn it in office on the ample sleeves of your robes.

Mr. Speaker-Elect, when you were first elected you pledged your entire devotion to the service of the House. Nothing illustrates that more vividly than your untiring determination to preserve the rights of the back benchers. That will stand you and the House in good stead in the present rather remarkable and possibly unique state of the parties upon which the Prime Minister has already commented, as have the proposer and seconder of your re-election.

You will need to exercise all the great skills and gifts which you have developed in the Chair in the interests of back benchers, whether they belong to the minor parties or to none. You will need your skills to protect alike the rights of the Opposition which are in the minority and those of the Government which are in the minority. We who come from past Parliaments recognise—and this has often been commented upon—that the great office which you have held, and which you now hold as Mr. Speaker-Elect, is one of considerable loneliness. Those of us who have sat under you as Mr. Speaker would like to thank you for the very great kindness and courtesy which you have always shown to individual Members and for the hospitality which you have extended to us.

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I am sure that I express the feelings of all of us when I re-echo our warmest thanks for your devotion to the nation in great offices of State in the years passed. May we wish you fulfilment and happiness in your service to the House in the years to come.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, I extend to you on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends our warmest congratulations. I had the privilege of commending such a motion on the previous occasion and therefore do so now with knowledge of your tenure of office, which has been characterised by its fairness, firmness and sense of humour. As I indicated on that former occasion, in your election as Mr. Speaker I lost a neighbour who sat immediately behind me and who, from his strictures not merely upon the party opposite but upon his own party, showed that he was capable of total neutrality in his criticism of all parts of the House.

You, Mr. Speaker-Elect, have an extremely difficult and extremely interesting task ahead. It is fair to remark that during the election campaign various incursions were made into the Wirral constituency, which, from your presence here today, appear to have been universally unsuccessful. The fact that those incursions took place in no way detracts from the universal support which you enjoy in all parts of the House for the excellent and neutral way in which you have discharged your duties.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) referred to the perils which your predecessors at least faced. Whereas you need have no fears that you will follow in the footsteps of Mr. Speaker Thorpe, who was beheaded by the mob at Haringey, there will be other difficulties which I can see. You have been referred to by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) as being the defender of minorities. Looking around the House, one realises that we are all minorities now—indeed, some more than others. The reasons for this it would not be appropriate to go into at this stage, but certainly you will have a full-time job and as you face it I assure you on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends that you will have our support, our sympathy and our good wishes.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, we have heard from the leaders of the parties eloquent and well justified tributes to you for your qualities as Speaker. As Father of the House of Commons. I should like to add a few words, particularly on behalf of back benchers. I can express the views of all those who sat under your chairmanship in the last Parliament when I say that there is, I believe, a complete consensus among them that you not only proved yourself an exceptionally able Speaker, combining the essential qualities of firmness, tolerance, impartiality, endurance and humour to a remarkable extent, but with it all showed a modesty and a warmth which have greatly endeared you to the House.

I have heard many Speakers say that they had a deep affection for the House of Commons. You have something more, something which is, I believe, more difficult—a deep affection for all Members of the House collectively and individually, with a practical concern for their welfare, which you have shown in so many ways, not only in your conduct of debates. When, for example, you were a member of the Services Committee you strove hard to improve the conditions under which hon. Members have to work, and I can bear witness to the fact that when you were a member of the Pensions Committee you were constantly pressing that ex-Members and their wives and families who had a claim to some pension should get the maximum pension possible, or even something greater than that. It was perhaps fortunate that you remained a member of the Pensions Committee for only a short time, otherwise the pension fund might well have been bankrupted.

I can assure the new Members of the House that, remote and formal as Mr. Speaker is bound to appear when presiding over the affairs of the House, you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, are really a very human person, anxious to help hon. Members, particularly back benchers, in every possible way. New Members will be astounded by the amazing accuracy with which you are able to remember their names and their constituencies. They will soon appreciate, too, that it is your constant endeavour to carry out that first duty of a good Speakership, the protection of the minority, including the individual, against the majority.

That does not mean, of course, that Mr. Speaker will be able to call hon. Members whenever they want to be called. Some hon. Members will go home on some occasions with frustration in their hearts and undelivered masterpieces of oratory in their bag. Theoretically, of course, in carrying out the duties of selecting speakers for debate, to the Chair all Members are equal. But in the past with some of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker—Elect, there has been a suspicion that in the eyes of Mr. Speaker some Members have been more equal than others.

This Parliament is starting its life in conditions of potential instability. Strains may develop which may threaten the effective functioning of our parliamentary democracy. I hope that if that happens all loyalties, including party loyalties, will be subordinated to maintaining the authority of Parliament and the respect in which it is held throughout the land. I am confident, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that this will be your purpose as long as you occupy that Chair and that you will successfully sustain in future, as you have done in the past, the high traditions of the office to which you have been unanimously elected today.

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