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Hrh The Duke Of Edinburgh—The Queen's Message

Volume 217: debated on Tuesday 29 July 1873

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Message from Her Majesty [28th July] considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Queen's Message read.

said: Sir, the practice in the House of Commons on occasions of this nature varies somewhat from the practice which is adopted in the House of Lords; and it is right that I should make an explanation to the Committee on the subject. The usual practice of the House on occasions of this nature is to vote an Annuity without presenting an Address. In the House of Lords, where there is no Annuity to be voted, and the House waits for the communication of a Bill from the House of Commons, the course taken is to present an Address. In the instance of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, an Address was also presented by this House; but I believe I am pursuing the regular and established practice, from which in such a matter we certainly should not wish to vary, in proceeding to propose an Annuity in the case of a Prince who is not the Heir Apparent to the Throne. But, Sir, although the House will not be called upon by the Government to present a formal Address, assuring Her Majesty of the sentiments with which it has learnt the purport of the communication which Her Majesty has been pleased to make, I am quite sure I do not misconstrue or overstate the general sentiment when I venture to express my conviction that it is a communication which has been received, not only with those emotions of loyalty which, upon all occasions, govern us in our relations with the Crown, but likewise with a solid and a lively satisfaction, so far as the contents of the communication itself are concerned. This is an occasion on which a Marriage has been arranged, which, in the first place, presents to us that feature of all others, in my judgment, the most indispensable and the most satisfactory for a Royal Marriage—namely, that it is a Marriage which has been contracted, and which is to he solemnized on grounds of human and personal affection. So far as this country is concerned, I trust we have passed by the day when it was found necessary to enter into engagements of this kind without that great, indispensable, and I may well call it, consecrating, element of personal attachment. It is upon that most solid basis that the present union has been founded, and it constitutes the first and strongest reason for our wishing that it may be crowned with every blessing during the lives of the Illustrious Persons concerned. I may also say that, although in the vicissitudes of history the time came when we were compelled from special circumstances to regard the Russian Empire as a hostile State, yet God forbid that we should contemplate the recurrence of such a period—or, what is still worse, that we should accustom ourselves, or allow ourselves, to cherish sentiments of hostility or suspicion against a Power with which we are in alliance. I rejoice—and I believe the House and the country will rejoice—at the formation of this new tie of amity between two great Empires; and, permit me to say, that if we were to exercise a choice as to the period of time at which we could desire that a relation of this kind should be formed between the Imperial Family of Russia and the Royal House of the United Kingdom, we may well be pleased that it has happened in the reign of an Emperor like His Imperial Majesty, who has already signalized his sway—not by schemes of reckless aggrandizement, nor by mere pomp and display in the face of a too easily admiring world, but by that one great act of legislative wisdom and humanity which stands almost without a parallel in history, and which is of itself enough to make a reign not only honourable, but illustrious—I mean the emancipation of the serfs of Russia. Lastly, I rejoice that it falls to me to make this proposal at a time when, even within the last few months, the Imperial Government, under the direction of its Illustrious Head, has given to us more than one practical assurance of its desire to pursue a friendly policy towards this country. Now, I come to the proposal which I am going to submit, and which I trust—indeed, I entertain not the smallest distrust; I feel confident—will meet with the approval of the Committee. It will be recollected by the House that this is the closing portion of a transaction which awaits its full consummation. In the year 1866 it was my duty, on behalf of the Crown, to ask the House of Commons to grant to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, then Prince Alfred, an annuity of £15,000 a-year upon his coming of age. That was done by an Act of the same year, cap. 8, and there were two special observations with which my statement on that occasion was accompanied. One was, that if His Royal Highness should at a future time contract a marriage with the consent and to the satisfaction of Her Majesty, it would probably be the duty of the Executive Government of the day, whatever it might be—at any rate, I prepared the House to expect they would find it their duty—to make to the House a proposal, with a view to some increase of the income which was then so freely granted to His Royal Highness. The second special observation with which I accompanied the brief statement I then made was a reference to the fact that His Royal Highness is heir to a Principality abroad—namely, the Duchy of Saxe Coburg-Gotha; and accordingly in the Act of 1866 a Proviso was inserted, that—

"In the event of his said Royal Highness succeeding to any sovereignty or principality abroad, it shall be lawful for Her Majesty or her successors, with the consent of Parliament, to revoke or reduce the said annuity, by warrant under the Sign Manual."
Of course, it need not be said, with regard to the power of Her Majesty and of Parliament, that such power, considered in the abstract, requires no reservation; but it is customary in many classes of Bills to insert a notice of this kind, which disposes of any question of good faith which might be involved in the matter, and makes the reservation of the discretion as well as of the power of Parliament perfectly effectual for its purpose in case the occasion should arise for the exercise of that discretion. The proposal which I shall now make is—
"That the annual sum of Ten Thousand Pounds be granted to Her Majesty, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, towards providing for the Establishment of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, the said annuity to be settled on His Royal Highness for his life, in such manner as Her Majesty shall think proper, and to commence from the day of the Marriage of their Royal Highnesses, such annuity to be in addition to the annuity now enjoyed by His Royal Highness under the Act of the twenty-ninth year of her present Majesty."
The Proviso which I have read would not be represented in the Resolution which I invite the Committee at present to accept; but it will be inserted in the Bill, which in due course will be founded upon the Resolution, the practice being, as those who are conversant with our method of conducting business know, that in Parliamentary Resolutions it is usual to state the general proposition, and that any limitations are for the most part introduced into the Bill when it is laid before the House. That is the first and the principal branch of the proposition which I have to make in the name of the Government. The second branch relates to that contingency which we all trust either may never arrive, or may be a very distant one. That contingency is the widowhood of the Illustrious Princess; and my second Resolution will be—
"That Her Majesty be enabled to secure to Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, in case she shall survive His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, an annual sum not exceeding Six Thousand Pounds during her life, to support her Royal dignity."
This is, I think, the first occasion upon which it has been my duty, or the duty of any Minister during the present reign, to make a full and final proposal to Parliament having reference to one of the Members of the Royal Family not being the Heir Apparent. And although I am fully persuaded that the House will not think that the proposal I have made is one requiring very special or elaborate justification, I may say one or two words upon its amount. A good many years have now elapsed since the Government of Lord Palmerston took into its consideration the general subject of a provision for the children of our Sovereign and the Prince Consort, and Lord Palmerston endeavoured to arrive at something like a consistent and general, though it could not be absolutely a binding view—except for that Government—as to the manner in which it would be proper to proceed in making these provisions. One question, indeed, which has been raised by some persons is, whether these provisions should be made by Parliament at all. Upon that question I do not propose to enter. We discussed it at some length when it was my duty to ask for a grant from the Legislature upon the occasion of the marriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise. The arguments in favour of such a provision appeared to me overwhelming and conclusive to such a degree as to put the matter out of possible doubt as room for fair controversy. They were seconded by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, were supported by other Members of the House, and were felt to be of such a nature that it is totally needless; and, if needless, it would be officious and impertinent on our part to revive any such discussion upon the new proposal we are now making. With regard, however, to the amount of the provision, what I wish to say is this—It is quite possible that those who refer to some former precedent may find occasion for criticism and objection, either from one point of view or another. Cases may be discovered in which larger grants have been asked from Parliament, and possibly have been obtained. Other cases will be found by those who have diligence enough to search for them in our Parliamentary records, in which, perhaps, grants not quite so large have been given. At this time of day—when I think Parliament has shown a great consistency of view, as well as great moderation of view, upon this subject—it is not necessary for us to go back to times when the arrangements between the Crown and Parliament with reference to the support of its dignity and the support of the junior branches of the Royal Family were much less well understood and regulated than they now are. We have, passed, happily, froth a state of things in which the Civil List, settled at the beginning of a reign, represented no final arrangements at all, but was liable to be disturbed from time to time by new applications to Parliament. We have passed out of that irregular state of relations into one in which with some—I may say with great—success something like rule and method have been introduced. And what we have endeavoured to has been—both in former years and upon the present occasion—to look back to the general effect of our records, and of the cases which they bring before us, and to the general equity and reason of the case, in fixing the proposal which it will be our duty upon our responsibility to submit to Parliament. I think that those who are disposed to examine the matter upon such a basis as I have endeavoured to describe will think that the provision which we now ask Parliament to sanction—a sum of £25,000 a-year—is a provision which, while it does not err on the side of parsimony, certainly does not err on the side of excess. If that be so—and I believe that will be the general feeling of the House and of the country—I venture humbly to remind the House that the readiness and cheerfulness of a gift like this adds to its value. I would even make an appeal to that very small proportion of the Members of the House of Commons who—I have no doubt actuated by the most patriotic motives—have on a former occasion raised objections not merely of amount, but directed to the very foundation of the proposal. On the occasion of the marriage to which I have referred—the marriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise—we thoroughly sifted and discussed the principle involved in these grants, and the question of principle was decided not by a mere majority of this House, but by what I may almost presume to call a moral unanimity—a majority approaching so nearly to unanimity that there would be no discredit and no deviation from public spirit—on the contrary, there can be nothing but consideration, courtesy, and taste—in recognizing the decision of the House upon that occasion, and in forbearing to revive the discussion. I think the general feeling will be that this proposal is one which, on the ground of its reasonableness and moderation, may safely be commended to the approval of the House; and if it is one which may be safely commended to the approval of the House, the gracefulness of the act will be much increased, and our own feelings of loyalty and attachment to the Sovereign and her Family will be spared what, even at the best, amounts to something like a painful jar, should it prove upon the present occasion that we can, without difference of opinion, go forward with this offering in our hands, and lay it at the foot of the Throne, adding to it our fervent prayer to the Disposer of all Events that the marriage which is about to be con- tracted, as it has been founded on right principles of mutual attachment, may be crowned with all the happiness of which such a union ought to be both the pledge and the fulfilment. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving Resolutions.

The Resolutions having been formally proposed,

I rise, Sir, to second the proposition made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I feel sure that he did not assume too much when he said that the marriage announced in Her Majesty's gracious Message has afforded great gratification to the House and to the country generally. These are not clays when dynastic alliances much affect the fate of nations; but, at the same time, we cannot but rejoice that the friendly feeling which exists between the two countries will be cemented afresh by this alliance. With respect to the amount proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, I think that the terms in which he has alluded to it are amply justified. Had the right hon. Gentleman proposed even a larger amount than he has thought proper to do. I feel certain that this House would cheerfully have granted it. At the same time, in those matters we look to the direction and guidance of the Government, and I feel satisfied that in proposing the amount the right hon. Gentleman has done on the part of the Government, he has had due regard to all the circumstances of the case. I can only echo the sentiments which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed, and hope that this alliance between these two Illustrious Houses may be followed not only by the happiness of the principal parties concerned—His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Marie—but that it will give satisfaction to Her Majesty and to the other Members of the Royal Family.

said: Sir, although a very humble Member of this House, I have thought it my duty to rise to protest against the proposition made by Her Majesty's Government, as being unwarranted by precedent, and wholly uncalled for, by the circumstances of the case. ["Oh, oh!"] I can only say—and I say it with a sincerity that I think ought to find credit even in the minds of those who disagree with me—that it is a painful thing to me that I cannot respond to the appeal of the Prime Minister. ["Oh, oh!"] I am by no means so fond of standing alone or of occupying an unpopular position, and nothing but a deep sense of duty compels me to take the decision of the House upon this question. I have been informed by the highest authority that it is most in accordance with precedent and the custom of the House that any opposition to a Vote of this nature should take place not at the present stage, but on the second reading of the Bill that will be brought in. I am quite aware that those who agree with me are few in number, and may be a small minority, and it is neither my inclination, nor would it be morally right in me to attempt any factious opposition to the measure. I therefore content myself with giving Notice that on the second reading of the Bill I shall raise a discussion, and take the sense of the House upon it.

On a former occasion some statement was made to the House by the Government with reference to the religious convictions of the Illustrious parties. ["Oh!"] I know that it will be in accordance with the feelings of a large number of persons that some communication should be made to the House on that subject; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to do so. ["Oh! Oh!"]

It may be well, because other persons may fall into the same misunderstanding as the hon. Member has fallen into, that I should say that the Constitution of this country does not, as a general rule, investigate those matters connected with personal religious convictions, either within the precincts of the Royal Family or out of it. It is quite true that under the Act of Succession security is taken against the possession of the British Throne by a person professing a particular religion. That security is taken, not on the ground of what is properly religious in that religion, but on account of political dangers which were conceived—and I hope I will offend no one if I say rightly conceived—to attend the profession of that religion when the Act was passed, in conjunction with the occupation of the British Throne. That was the ground, I apprehend, beyond all doubt, of the Act of Settlement. That being so, it is obvious that the question of the hon. Gentleman goes beyond that ground; and if I were to undertake to answer it I would be forming a precedent for an investigation which, in my opinion, would be equally odious in itself as it would be wholly unjustifiable. I hope, and believe, that what the House of Commons intends to do is to respect religious convictions wherever it finds them; and, at the same time, I trust that I do not very far deviate front the principles which I have laid down in this instance, when I express my confident belief and expectation, from the nature of the arrangements that are in course of being made upon this occasion, that the marriage about to be contracted will be productive of no difficulties whatever, and will in every respect be found to give satisfaction to the country.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to concur with those Members of the House who think that the Question of the hon. Member for North-east Lancashire (Mr. Holt) is anomalous and unusual. I beg to remind the House that on the occasion of our being asked to make provision for Her Majesty upon her marriage, and also upon the occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales, questions analogous to that of my hon. Friend were put. I hold in my hand the reply of Lord Palmerston, to whom on one of these occasions I put the Question, after consultation with that noble Lord. Although on this occasion we are providing for the happiness of a Member of the Royal Family who is not the Heir Apparent, still I think that the question of my hon. Friend, seeing that the children of this marriage might possibly become Heirs Apparent to the Throne, is quite justifiable and ought to be answered.

asked what day the second reading of the Bill to carry the Resolutions into effect would be taken?

replied that at the present period of the Session, in accordance with precedent, they proposed to proceed with the Bill de die in diem. The Second Reading would be made the first Order for to-morrow.

Motion agreed to.

  • (1.) Resolved, That the annual sum of Ten Thousand Pounds be granted to Her Majesty, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, towards providing for the Establishment of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, the said Annuity to he settled on His Royal Highness for his life, in such manner as Her Majesty shall think proper, and to commence from the day of the Marriage of their Royal Highnesses, such Annuity to be in addition to the Annuity now enjoyed by His Royal Highness under the Act of the twenty-ninth year of Her present Majesty.
  • (2.) Resolved, That Her Majesty be enabled to secure to Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, in case she shall survive His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, an annual sum not exceeding Six Thousand Pounds during her life, to support her Royal Dignity.
  • Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.