Sir Edgar Chatfeild-Clarke M.P., D.L., J.P., C.C. 1863 - 1925
Impressions Of Westminster January 1923
This is an abridged version of a presentation given by Sir Edgar who at the time was the Member of Parliament for the island at a meeting of the Newport Fellowship at the Unitarian School, Newport on Tuesday 16th January. The Rev. Clark-Lewis welcomed Sir Edgar and said it was an honour to welcome a member of their community who held such a high office.
Sir Edgar opened his presentation by saying that the position of Member of Parliament for the island was a far bigger job than he had anticipated. He did not mean from a social point of view, but for the serious and solemn duty of which he was fully conscious in representing the island and his position gave him influence with ministers.
He had already had experience that the island was looked on as an important constituency, on several occasions when he had brought matters to the attention of ministers. In reviewing the election he said that the counting of votes was more exciting than gambling at Monte Carlo, although he had never been there.
He then went on to describe the impressive ceremonial state opening of parliament, and gave details of the furnishings within the Palace of Westminster. Next he describe the various sections within the building, which covered a total of eight acres and contained 1100 rooms and 100 staircases, there were also two miles of passageways. He explained an amusing event that happen on his first visit to Westminster, he asked for a card that secures him a seat for the day, the attendant remarked that “you must be on the government side of the house”. To which he had replied “Oh no I am quite a stanch Liberal” it appeared because I had my best coat on, the man assumed that I was to well dress to belong to the other parties.
Having described the swearing-in ceremony, Sir Edgar said that if any of his constituents managed to get a seat in the stranger’s gallery, they would usually see him sitting about the middle of the third row bench, on the left of the speaker, below the gangway. Sir Edgar then remarked that his salary of £400 had commenced. This may seem a lot of money he said, but it was subject to tax and there were enormous expenses involved in being a member of parliament. Jokingly he said that being a member of the house was the most expensive luxury he had ever had, and a considerable portion of his salary had already come to the island.
He continued by saying that he did not favour all night sittings and usually obtained a pairing and left at midnight, and in his view these lengthy sittings resulted in MPs. performance being slightly under par the following day. He told the audience that, though he had searched among the amenities of the house in the newspaper room, he had failed to find a copy of the Isle of Wight County Press!
Sir Edgar then went on to describe some of the more interesting events that happen in the Commons as they appealed to him. Of the Prime Minister Mr. Bonar Law, although he held different political views to himself, he was impressed by this skill and astuteness with which he conducted the business of the house. He stood head and shoulders above the rest of his parliamentary colleagues, his health was frail but he [Sir Edgar] hoped it would be sustained and maintained to allow him fulfil his duties. The Prime Minister generally spoke without minutes except for facts and figures, and he had heard him deal with three different and important subjects at three consecutive meetings. Sir Stanley Baldwin although he had not spoken much, had impressed the House and was seen as future leader of the party. Sir Douglas Hogg, the new Attorney General had made his mark, he had conducted the Irish Bills through the house and shown much ability. Mr Asquith health appeared to have improved and he had enhanced his Parliamentary reputation with lofty speeches with beautiful phrases. This had been the case when a Labour member of the house had unjustifiably attacked his honour and failed to apologies, he was verbally destroyed, then Mr. Asquith had walked from the chamber to the cheers of the Liberal and Conservatives members. Sir John Simon had yet again given more examples of his skills in dealing with complex issues, by presenting information in a way that a child could understand.
Mr. Lloyd George was not the Napoleon he was in 1918, but his keenness and alertness were still apparent and the house awaited his future with interest. Lord Robert Cecil’s worked hard for the League of Nations. Two lady members Lady Astor and Mrs Wintringham both spoke ably and did extremely good work. They were politically opposed but were good friends, and often would be seen debating subjects which effected women. Lady Astor was particularly quick in repartee, and in his view there was room for more ladies of their quality in the house.
As to his voting record, he said that he had voted for the importation of Canadian cattle, opposed the salary of £8,000 for the new Governor General of Ireland. He was one of the 81 members who supported the establishment of a larger committee tasked to go deeper into the question of the current position of the agricultural industry, than the present commission intended to do so.
He found being a member for the island was a pretty arduous duty, but as long as he had health and strength held out he would do his best. On his first morning in the house, he went to the post office, inspecting there would possibly be a postcard from someone on the island. To his surprise there were over 50 letters and they had not stopped coming since.
In concluding, he said that after many years of public service on the island, he imagined that he could possibly be bored in Westminster but that was not the case he found that Parliament was far more interesting and absorbing.
In proposing a vote of thanks to Sir Edgar, Mr Leonard said it had been an absorbing talk into the working of Westminster and congratulated him on attainting his high office.
Source: Isle of Wight County Press, January 1923.