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New Bill

Volume 91: debated on Monday 25 March 1901

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Demise Of The Crown

The object of the Bill which I ask leave to introduce is to render unnecessary fresh appointments to office on the demise of the Crown. The House may be aware that, according to the doctrine of Common Law, all offices held of the Crown were vacated by the death of the Sovereign, and fresh appointments by the successor were necessary. Until such appointments were made there would be a complete suspension of all functions of the body politic. The extraordinary inconveniences incident to such a rule have led to several qualifications by statute, but except as to commissions in the Army and Navy, as to which the rule was abrogated in 1837, it still prevails with the qualifications to which I have referred. These qualifications may be shortly stated. In 1707, by the Act regulating the succession to the Crown, it was provided that officers in Great Britain and Ireland and the Colonies should continue to hold their commissions for six months after the demise of the Crown, subject, of course, to the power of earlier removal; and in 1830 this period was for the colonies extended to eighteen months. These enactments apply only to British dominions, so that offices under the Crown in protectorates, which are not technically part of the King's dominions for this purpose, and in foreign parts generally, would still be vacated immediately on the demise of the Crown. As regards British dominions, reappointment is still necessary within the term of six months for the United Kingdom, and eighteen months for the colonies. This state of the law is productive of inconvenience, as the House is aware from the numerous questions which have been addressed to Ministers as to the tenure of office by Justices of the Peace; and, indeed, in the case of protectorates, if the rule were acted upon in practice, it would produce an entire paralysis of all government until the pleasure of the new Sovereign should be made known. It has been suggested that the necessity of reappointment in consequence of the demise of the Crown might have a further effect in the case of Ministers of the Crown who are Members of this House. The House is aware that in 1867 it was provided that, in the case of certain Ministerial offices, re-election should not be necessary in the case of a Member who had held one of these offices at the time of his election and afterwards accepted another in lieu of the first. The suggestion is that reappointment to the same office rendered necessary by the demise of the Crown is a casus omissus, and that while no re-election would be necessary on appointment to another office, reappointment to the same office might entail re-election. This, of course, would be a somewhat extraordinary state of the law. It may well be doubted whether reappointment under such circumstances would amount to an acceptance of office under the Statute of Anne requiring re-election, but the enactments as they at present stand are far from clear, and opinions may differ as to their effect on this point. I hope the House will agree that the point is not one which should be left in any doubt, and that the proposed Bill, if passed into law, will very properly put an end to a state of things under which conceivably this House might arrive at one conclusion and the Courts of Law at another. The rule that offices are held only during the life of the Sovereign by whom the appointments were made is, in fact, a legacy from days in which constitutional government as it now exists in this country had not been evolved, when, by the death of the Sovereign, Parliament was not only ipso facto dissolved, but all executive government, and indeed all judicial functions, were regarded as having their service in the personal will of the Sovereign for the time being. No good reason can be given for the continued existence of such a rule at the present time, and it is proposed by this Bill that the tenure of office should not be affected by the demise of the Crown. The Bill will apply to all offices under the Crown, whether within or without His Majesty's dominions, and it is proposed that it should take effect as from the last demise of the Crown. I have only to add that it will not in the slightest degree affect the prerogative of the Crown to dismiss at pleasure those who hold office, but it will only dispense with the necessity for reappointment. I beg to move.

Demise Of The Crown

Bill to amend the Law relating to the holding of offices in case of the demise of the Crown, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Solicitor General.

Demise Of The Crown Kill

"To amend the Law relating to the holding of offices in the case of the demise of the Crown," presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Thursday, and to be printed. [Bill 118.]