Skip to main content

Regency Bill

Volume 319: debated on Tuesday 2 February 1937

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

Order for Second Reading read.

3.56 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Gracious Message from His Majesty, which was brought to this House a week ago and was read by you, Sir, from the Chair, invited us to consider:
"the making of permanent provision for the purpose of facilitating the uninterrupted exercise of the Royal Authority, not only during the minority of the Sovereign on His Accession, hut also…during any incapacity of the Sovereign and during the absence of the Sovereign from the Realm."
The House immediately, upon the proposal of the Prime Minister, adopted an Address, assuring His Majesty that we would, without delay, proceed to consider these questions and to provide such Measures as appeared necessary or expedient for securing these purposes. The Bill of which I am now moving the Second Reading is the fulfilment of that assurance.

The House is aware, of course, that from time to time in our Parliamentary history, Regency Bills have been introduced and passed into law. Perhaps I might occupy one or two minutes in reminding hon. Members of some of the historic instances. There was one, for example, in 1536, in the later years of the reign of Henry VIII, passed in view of the possibility of a child born of the King's marriage with Jane Seymour coming to the Throne while still under age. There was another Regency Bill, passed some 200 years later, in 1751, during the reign of George II, in case his successor should come to the Throne under age, though in that case the contingency provided for did not occur, since George II lived on till 1760, and by that time George III had reached the age of 22. Then there was the famous instance, the most famous of the Regency Acts in our history, the Regency Act of 1811, which was passed and put into operation when George III became incapable of exercising his Royal functions through infirmity of mind. There was the interesting case, almost forgotten now, of the Regency Act of 1830, passed when William IV came to the Throne, because at that time the Heir Presumptive, the Princess who was afterwards Queen Victoria, was only 11 years of age. The Act of 1830 provided that if the Princess Victoria was under the age of 18 at the death, without issue, of her uncle William IV, then her mother, the Duchess of Kent, should be Regent until the Princess reached the age of 18. It was a very near thing. Queen Victoria had just passed her 18th birthday when, on 20th June, 1837, she came to the Throne.

Then there is the final instance, which will be within the personal and Parliamentary recollection of a few of the older Members of this House, when, in 1910, upon the accession of George V at a time when the then Prince of Wales was 16 years old, the Regency Act of that year was passed providing for what would happen if the Prince succeeded to the Throne before reaching the age of 18.

These historical precedents will remind the House of the nature of the topic with which we have to deal, and they suggest two reflections, two comments which I think are relevant. The first reflection is this: I do not go back to very ancient times when the King of England was often on the Continent, because the King of England was also Sovereign of parts of France, and when in his absence there was an official called a Justiciar to discharge his duties. Subject to that, our ancient common law proceeded on the assumption that the Sovereign is always available here in this country, in good health of body and mind and therefore ready promptly to discharge day by day his Royal functions.

That is the assumption of our common law. I think the old lawyers sometimes called it "the doctrine of perfection," and it led, of course, to this conclusion, that however youthful the Monarch might be, he was treated in law as always old enough to undertake and discharge his duties; and the consequence of this formal theory was that when an occasion arose, or seemed likely to arise when either from the Sovereign's youth or from his ill-health he was incapable of carrying out his duties, then the common law has always had to be supplemented by legislation. That is the reason, briefly stated, why the enactment of a Regency Bill in some form or other has from time to time been necessary.

The second reflection which I think my brief historical sketch may provoke is this, and I invite the attention of the House to it. Hon. Members will observe that the Regency Bills which have been previously passed, the Parliamentary provisions which from time to time have been made, have hitherto always been made in connection with or in contemplation of some special case. The Parliament of Henry VIII provided for the possibility of there being a youthful Edward VI; the Parliament of George II provided for the possible minority of George III; and so on.

The present Bill does not seek to deal with a special case in circumstances where it might be desirable, but it makes a general provision which would be available and applicable should occasion arise at any time hereafter. We are not proposing to legislate merely against the possibility, which may never arise, of a change in the occupant of the Throne while the present Heir Presumptive is still a child, but we are seeking to provide a general code which may be put into operation, if need be, in any cases in the future. I hope the House will agree that that is very much the better course. There have been cases in the past when the framing and passing of a Regency Bill has had to be undertaken in a hurry and when its passage has not been made any easier because the actual emergency had already arisen. To give an instance which I think will appeal to hon. Members, the Regency Bill of 1811, passed because of the insanity of George III, presented Parliament and the country with this difficulty: If that was the condition of that unfortunate Monarch at the time how was he going to give the Royal Assent to the Measure when it had passed through both Houses? As a matter of fact, by resolution of both Houses very special machinery and arrangements were adopted to secure that that Bill reached the Statute Book by a special process.

The present Bill, therefore, if it passes into law, will provide permanent machinery to be used in case of need in any of the three contingencies which are mentioned in the Royal Message. Let the House note what those three con- tingencies are. They are all stated in the Message which was delivered to the House a week ago. The first case is the minority of the Sovereign on his accession. The second case is any incapacity of the Sovereign occurring during his reign. The third case is the absence of the Sovereign from the United Kingdom.

Before I make any references to the Clauses of the Bill there is one matter of more general importance which I should like to explain as clearly as I can. I must explain to the House what is the range of this Measure and show that in drafting it we have not overlooked the principles which are now recognised as governing the relation between laws passed by this United Kingdom Parliament and the Dominion legislatures. The Bill deals with the exercise of Royal functions and the Bill will be effective, when it becomes an Act, in the United Kingdom and in the Colonies. So far as the Dominions are concerned it will be for each Dominion Government to decide whether any legislation is necessary. So far as we are aware, the introduction of such legislation in any Dominion would not in any case be contemplated unless the necessity for a Regent should hereafter actually arise. The reason I make that assertion is this: When the Dominion Prime Ministers were here in London in the month of May, 1935, at the time of the Silver Jubilee of King George V, the opportunity was taken of discussing informally with them the introduction of legislation to make provision for a Regency, if it should be required. The House is aware that the matter was already under careful consideration because, as the Royal Message of last week reminded us, King George V had been concerned on this subject in the course of both his illnesses. We outlined to the Dominion representatives the general form which we thought our Bill should take, and we have kept the Dominion Governments informed of the proposals now before the House. The provisions as explained to the Dominion Prime Ministers were found to be generally acceptable, but it was, of course, made clear that it was entirely a matter for each Dominion to decide whether any legislation of its own may be necessary, now or hereafter, to make provision for the performance by a Regent or by Counsellors of State of Royal functions in relation to that Dominion.

The House will, therefore, see that on this occasion we are deliberately following different lines from those that we followed in the Abdication Act of last December. We are doing so deliberately. The Abdication Act, of course, was a law "touching the Succession to the Throne"; that is the phrase in the Statute of Westminster. Therefore it was proper that in the Preamble to the Abdication Act Dominion assent should be indicated, as contemplated in the Preamble to the Statute of Westminster. And it was so stated. But the present Bill is only a piece of machinery to be used if for one reason or another the existing Sovereign cannot for the moment discharge all his normal functions; it does not touch the Succession to the Throne, and after consultation with the Dominions it is agreed that it would be better and simpler to take the course of legislating here and now in the United Kingdom Parliament in the terms of the Bill before the House, and of recognising that the Dominions would prefer to take no positive action unless and until the occasion arises which seems to make it necessary.

There is a very good practical reason, apart from any theoretical or constitutional argument, why this course, in which the Dominion Governments and our own Government concur, should be followed, and it is this: A Dominion which has a Governor-General gets its ordinary day-by-day business done in the name of the Crown by the executive action of the Governor-General. The state of health or absence of the Sovereign does not hold up the machinery at all. Therefore the incapacity of the Sovereign for the time being to discharge his day-to-day functions has not the importance to the Dominions that it has to this country.

There is one other thing which I would like to mention. One has now had a long experience of the work that has to be done by a modern Sovereign. It is, of course, perfectly true that a constitutional Sovereign in this country is not engaged in exercising his independent judgment and giving his personal decisions upon a vast range of matters, as for all I know used to be the case centuries ago, but it is a very grave mistake to suppose on that account that the modern Sovereign of this country or the Commonwealth has not a great deal of necessary business to do. The different Departments of government—and the Home Office is quite as strenuous as anybody—are constantly sending to the King, for the purposes of signature and formal approval, a very great range of documents, many in pursuance of Statutes passed by Parliament, and it is necessary that that approval should be formally given, often by the Sign Manual, and the inconvenience that results if that work cannot be carried on day by day, as it ordinarily is, is very great. I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite who have had the same experience as I have will confirm me in that.

It is a very important and useful function, and I think it is only right to say that in my own experience, and I am sure in the experience of others, the diligence and punctuality with which this vast mass of business, which must, I daresay, be uninteresting and not very exciting, has been discharged by the Sovereigns whom I have had the honour to serve, are indeed very remarkable. On the other hand, if it so happened that the Sovereign could not discharge it, the inconvenience to the public service would be very great.

I have pointed out to the House that there are really three matters to be dealt with, and I would call attention to the Clauses which deal with them. Clause 1 of the Bill deals with the minority of the Sovereign on his Accession, and must be read with Clause 3, which provides that the Regent is the next person in the line of succession to the Crown, being of full age and so forth. I would ask the House to observe that the Bill has been so drawn as to define who the Regent will be by the mere application of the language of the Act of Parliament; that is to say, the Bill does not leave a Regent to be chosen between a range of persons when the time comes—various persons who especially might be passed in review to determine who would be the most suitable choice. We think it is very much better to give the Regent a Parliamentary title, as it were. One could imagine a case in which it might appear convenient and appropriate for the Queen Mother to be Regent; but one can also imagine a case in which that might not be thought to he the most appropriate choice. We are satisfied for several reasons that it is better to leave no place for controversy or doubt, but to identify the Regent, if we have occasion to turn to his help, by the terms of the Act itself. The most natural person to choose is the person next in the line of succession, if he is of full age and resident in the country, who would succeed to the Throne. I think the House generally will approve of that provision.

Clause 2 deals with the second of the three contingencies mentioned in the Royal Message, namely, the possibility of the total physical, or it might be mental, incapacity of the Sovereign during his reign. It appears that, great as has been the care in the preparation of this Bill, there has been, in the drafting of Clause 2, an arrangement of detail which might not in all circumstances be thought to be quite convenient. If the House will look at Clause 2, they will see that six persons are named as persons who may
"declare in writing that they are satisfied on the evidence of physicians or otherwise that the Sovereign is by reason of infirmity of mind or body wholly incapable for the time being of performing the Royal functions,"
but that any three of them are enough to give the certificate. The Clause goes on to say that in like manner those persons, or any three of them, may certify that there has been a recovery of the Royal health. One can imagine the rather ridiculous but unlikely situation in which three out of the six take one view and three the other, and so cancel one another out. We propose to avoid even this theoretical possibility by moving in Committee, in line 19, to substitute "four" for "three." Perhaps I might be allowed to say that it was those who drafted it who found out the mistake. I hope it is the only defect in the Bill.

If the House will be good enough now to turn to Clause 6, they will see that it deals with the third contingency, namely, the absence of the Sovereign from the United Kingdom; and it also deals with the event of illness not so extreme as to amount to complete incapacity, but nevertheless such as to make it necessary for day-by-day functions to be discharged in the King's name by somebody else. I do not think I need read the Clause; I hope it is clearly drafted, and, as far as I am aware, it does not call for any correction. If we have a case of infirmity of mind or body which does not amount to complete incapacity, then no Regent is appointed, because you do not want a Regent in such a case, but certain Royal functions specified in the Letters Patent referred to in the Clause will be discharged by Counsellors of State. The Royal functions specified in the Letters Patent will be limited to those which in the circumstances it is appropriate should be so discharged; and in the event of the Section being used, for example, in the intended absence of the Sovereign from this country, then the Letters Patent would reserve to the Sovereign the personal exercise of his functions in so far as that is found to be practicable. All this, no doubt, has a slightly academic air, but it is the result of a very great deal of careful consideration, and, as I have said, the whole subject has been in the mind of this Government, and, I believe, of the previous Government, for some time.

The objects of the Bill are very simple and straightforward, and I hope they will commend themselves tq the House. The provisions necessary to give effect to these objects are somewhat complicated, and have required very careful consideration. As the King's Message last week indicated, this matter has been under the consideration of successive Governments since the time of the first serious illness of King George V, and, indeed, has been the subject of a great deal of thought and discussion. On the Accession of his present Majesty, it would, in accordance with precedent, be necessary to introduce a Regency Bill on account of the fact that Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth is under age; but we have reached the conclusion that, instead of introducing such a Regency Bill—one more in this long list—for a particular possible case, the better course is to submit to Parliament this more comprehensive scheme to cover, not only his particular contingency, but other contingencies which may arise from time to time in which the exercise of the Royal function might become impossible. That is the reason why this Bill was anticipated in the Address moved by the Prime Minister last week as being a Bill to make permanent provision for dealing with any such contingency. I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, which, as will be seen, makes permanent provision for dealing with any such contingency which may arise in the future, and therefore will obviate the necessity of considering special measures in the event of special occasions arising.

Would the Home Secretary kindly explain the provision in the proviso to Clause 1 for the Dissolution of Parliament by telegram during the absence of the King? Why this novelty?

That does not seem to be very wrong. If the advice to His Majesty that Parliament should be dissolved is advice which His Majesty can act upon personally, it would seem to be a very proper thing to secure such action, and, in these days, there is nothing very remarkable in its being done by telegram.

It strikes me as very peculiar. The King can be absent from the country on an important occasion which means the Dissolution of Parliament, and, if a telegram were sent, there could be no guarantee of the signature. It seems a very funny procedure.

The hon. Gentleman can discuss it in Committee if he still thinks so, but I am sufficiently marching with the times to think that sometimes it might be a very good way.

4.27 p.m.

The House has given more than one indication of its readiness to give a Second Reading to a Bill of this kind. The Government have certainly lost no time in fulfilling the pledge that was given to the House about a week ago; I would that all their promises were as completely fulfilled. I shall be suspected, perhaps not without cause, of being predisposed to differ from the Government, but I confess that with respect to this Measure I should find it almost impossible to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman, though there is one point, as to the meaning of a Clause to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, on which I should like to add a few words later. We have heard, in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, some very interesting historical details, and I cannot find fault even with them. I accept the view that, under our existing monarchical system, it is best not to wait for some contingency to arise, but to anticipate circumstances such as the three contingencies referred to in the Home Secretary's speech, and to make provision now, by the necessary Parliamentary machinery, for dealing with any such situation when it arises.

I conclude, from the right hon. Gentleman's exposition, that the Bill is in the right hands. In the hands of so distinguished a lawyer as the Home Secretary, the legal aspects of the Bill have been plainly explained to the layman, and it is as a layman that I address but a few words to the House on the Second Reading. I am not learned in the law, and have never been in the hands of the law—a fact which, I imagine, will not raise me in the estimation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I conclude that there is no controversy whatever on the principle or on the main purpose of the Bill, and I have reached the conclusion that, with the increasing importance of the place in the world of the Dominions which form part of our Empire, it is probable—I go beyond saying it is possible, and say it is probable—that the reigning Sovereign may have cause to be out of the United Kingdom even more than any Sovereign has hitherto. In view of the possibility of such absences, a provision of this kind, in my view, is essential.

This is not a moment for discussing the general position of the Throne in our country, and I shall say no more than that the Throne is accepted as a serviceable and popular institution by all classes in the land. It belongs not to England, but to the Empire, and that emphasises, I think, the argument which I have adduced of the possibility of more frequent visits on the part of the Sovereign to the remotest parts of our Empire. There is perhaps a little employment for the speculative mind in this singular fact, that as the Labour party have grown in this country, Republicanism has declined. I offer no explanation, and I do not connect the two; it is sufficient to draw attention to it as a fact which is beyond dispute. The agreement of the parties in the House is therefore assured, and when we are found in agreement with the Government, the Government may be assured that they are in the right.

Despite that conclusion, may I draw attention to what I will describe as the principle of Clause 4, Sub-section (2)? This Sub-section imposes a really far-reaching disability upon the Regent, and, as I say, the right hon. Gentleman did not draw attention in his review of the Bill to this point. One of the main virtues of the Constitution is that anything whatever can be done at any moment by Act of Parliament, and it is generally held that no Parliament can ever fetter the hands of any subsequent Parliament, but Clause 4 (2) puts certain legislation out of the power of the Regent, Lords, and Commons. I do not raise this point because it deals with two particular Acts of Parliament, but as a matter of general principle. While there is a Regency and this Sub-section stands, the Bill proposes to make certain legislation impossible by any means whatsoever. The King, who could assent, is replaced by a Regent who cannot, according to the terms of this Sub-section. If the Subsection does make legislation impossible, the result might conceivaly be disastrous; if the Sub-section is simply ineffective on the ground that the Regent, Lords, and Commons must first assent to a Bill repealing Section 4 (2) and then assent to the legislation in question, things are not so serious, but I raise the point in order that the matter might be cleared up and a statement be made in regard to it. I offer, therefore, general support for this Measure on behalf of those with whom I act on this side of the House.

4.35 P.m.

I could not help differing from one sentence in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who has just sat down. I should rather have said that when the two Front Benches find themselves in agreement, that is an occasion on which Members on the back benches ought to be most on their guard to scrutinise the legislation which is brought before the House. But on this occasion I rise also to support the Bill, in which there may be, and from what the Secretary of State himself said in introducing the Measure there probably will be, some need of Amendment in Committee; but which in broad outline seems to me admirably framed to give effect to the recommendations contained in His Majesty's Gracious Message and to make prudent provision for the exercise of the Royal authority in certain contingencies.

Everyone will hope that the contingencies in which a Regent would have to be appointed will never arise, but it is none the less our duty to take them into account and to take such action as will prevent constitutional embarrassment and controversy being added to the public sorrow which they would bring in their train. On the other hand, in these days, when the contact between the King and Emperor and his Dominions is closer, more intimate, and more constant than ever before, it is not unnatural to anticipate that occasions will arise more frequently in the future than in the past when it will be convenient and almost imperative to delegate the exercise of the Royal authority to Counsellors of State, and for that purpose the provisions of the Bill seem to be well adapted. The Bill seems to embody a natural response to demands which have resulted from the constitutional development of our country and Empire, and I hope, therefore, it will pass quickly into law.

4.37 P.m.

I always feel a deep sense of regret when I am completely out of sympathy with the general attitude of the House, but I must say I find nothing in common whatever with the point of view that has been expressed by the three previous speakers on this Measure. I enjoyed listening to the Home Secretary's historical survey. It is always good to have one's historical education brought up to date and handled by an expert. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Clynes) speaking for the Labour party, and after he had expressed the things which he had to say in very well-chosen language, both my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and myself were at a complete loss to find at what point he expressed either a Socialist point of view or the point of view of a party struggling for the establishment of a great working-class democracy in this country. When I listened to the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and recollected how the Liberal candidate for the division in which I was born used to have Republicanism as the first item in his election programme, I did agree with the right hon. Member for the Platting Division that, so far as democratic, Socialist thought is concerned, we are progressing backwards.

To-day we are here seriously and solemnly discussing the advisability of permanently—and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on three occasions emphasised the permanent nature of the legislation which he was bringing before the House—placing the ultimate governmental direction of this country in the hands of four or five absolutely unknown persons, defining the future governmental control of this country over posterity, without knowing the personality, character, or mentality of the four or five persons who may at some future time be called upon to exercise the functions laid down in this Measure. Quite frankly, I have not the type of mind that can grasp the common sense of that sort of procedure. [An HON. MEMBER: "Have you read the Bill? "] Yes, I have read it. I have sat up at night pondering over it and asking myself, is it possible that my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals and myself are mentally defective? We do not think so, but then one has to confront the alternative question, Are the other 613 Members lost to all sense of reason? There is a tag which says:
"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!"
When one starts trying to put over, on to a mass of educated people, the idea, at this day, that monarchy has some intelligent justification as a governmental form, one has to go on from step to step keeping up the delusion, a delusion which, in my view, received its final quietus when the conception of the divine right of kings was thrown overboard, and which received a terrible knock only a few weeks ago.

If we had a President, would there not have to be some sort of provision like this?

There certainly would have to be some such provision in any form of government, and I believe in making the provision when one knows the circumstances to be confronted and the men who are available for meeting the circumstances; but what are we asking here? In certain circumstances the Regent would be the Queen Mother. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, the Regent might be the Queen Mother. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I am always ready to be corrected, and I must quite frankly admit that when I begin working among these titles, I am not on what I would call terra cognita.

"If the Sovereign is under the age of eighteen years, and unmarried, His mother…"
Who is that? What is her title? What is the title of the reigning Monarch? [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member is making the speech."] I was beginning to doubt that I was making the speech; I thought I was interrupting somebody. [Interruption.] I do not mind the matter being treated as a subject of jest at all. That will suit me right down to the ground, because that is how I regard it. In certain circumstances the husband of the Queen or the wife of the King, in the event of illness the Counsellors of State—a general term—shall be the wife or husband of the Sovereign,
"and the four persons who, excluding any persons disqualified under this Act from becoming Regents, are next in the line of Succession to the Crown or, if the number of such persons next in the line of Succession is less than four, then all such persons."
They are laid down for all time as the. persons fit to govern this land in the event of certain contingencies happening to the reigning Monarch. [Interruption.] Is that objected to also? I may be wrong but, as I read Sub-section (3), it means that those who lay down the Letters Patent are to decide how many of these persons, but it is these persons on a birth basis. You are tying up the future. The right hon. Gentleman in his introductory speech told us of a Monarch who was insane. If a monarch can be insane the next in the line of succession can be insane, and the one after that, and also the one after that. At any rate, sane or not sane, the one thing that is probably true is that no one of them has any training or experience in the problems of Government.

If the proposal of the Bill had been to meet contingencies by placing responsibility in the hands of the four persons mentioned in Clause 2, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls, four men who have occupied responsible places in different aspects of the governmental and administrative life of the country, four men of experience, four men of judgment, four men whom the people living at the particular time when the problem has to be faced would know, four men holding posts that they could not hold if they had mental defects, I would have said it was a proposition that the House of Commons could have looked at as a reasonable one, but to ask us to tie up responsibility for the holding of a key position in the governmental affairs of the country to the hereditary principle, placing responsibility in the hands of people without qualifications, without experience, and without training, is a complete negation of every democratic principle that I hold, and I certainly shall not be prepared to give my support to this Measure.

4.51 p.m.

We are told that foresight is being used in this Bill. No doubt it is necessary that time should be taken by the forelock, but I am at a loss to understand why in the year 1937 whoever is on the Throne should not be able to have any religion he likes. It appears to me to be entirely out of date. I do not find fault with an established faith. I trust that no Member of the House will feel very upset, because there are men of all faiths here—[An HON. MEMBER: "And none"]—and some with none, and I pity them. When I am told that preferential treatment is to be continued under a Regency Bill which is up-to-date and which takes time by the forelock with a view to being prepared against all eventualities, supposing this House passed a Bill, as I understand it the Regent would not be able to give it sanction. I am at a loss to understand the prescribed powers given under a Regency, but ipso facto a Regent should he a substitute for the Monarch. If he is incapacitated, a Regent can be appointed, but in that case, in my opinion, the Regent should carry all the power vested in the Monarch and be able to sign under the jurisdiction of the Government. I should imagine, Monarch or no Monarch, Regent or no Regent, if the House of Commons passes a law there should be no question of anyone standing in the road when, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said, the ordinary use of a rubber stamp seems to be one of the great mental efforts necessary in affixing the Royal signature to a Bill.

I feel that the will of the people at all times should carry weight. I respect the opinion of every Member of this House and I pay full tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity, but I came here with one object only, to speak my mind, and, if possible, to change things which I do not feel are up-to-date or are an insult or ought to be deleted from the Statutes of the country. That being so, I feel that we ought to be able to take matters more into our own hands and be more modern and be able to say that we are moving with the times, and advancing the rights of democracy. I believe that this is the most democratic country in the world, but we have to show democracy that there is no ostracism in regard to any citizen, more especially when it is a case of the Monarch claiming a right in the matter of faith. If he is a true lineal descendant and is compos mentis surely, regardless of faith, he ought to be allowed to reign, and I contend that we should no longer be insulted with these words. I feel that we are divesting the Monarch of a right. The question of faith is a personal matter and to me this is an insult. Why should the religion be prescribed, and why should the House of Commons in the year 1937 stoop so low as to say that a Regent, who may perhaps reign for many years, may deny the right of citizens of having what they desire carried by Act of Parliament?

4.59 p.m.

I rise after what has been described as a family compact betwen the two Front Benches to express the approval of a back-bencher. I am grateful for the simple putting forward of the Bill which we always expect from the Home Secretary, and we are also grateful to the leader of the new Popular Front, who has put humour and a touch of controversy into the discussion. Assuming that he was sincere, I would reassure him on one point. He is worried with fear lest the Counsellors of State should all be in a condition of lunacy. He will find that that is ruled out. Those four persons cannot act as a Council of State if, by any reason, they are disqualified from being Regents. If any of them was insane he could not be a Regent, and, therefore, that should convert the leader of the Popular Front on that point.

The hon. Gentleman got as far as three being insane, and left the mental condition of the fourth a matter of conjecture to the House. It is on page 4, Clause 6, Sub-section (2). I think that the Home Secretary will bear me out that they could not act. The House will agree that this is the proper place where the perpetuation of the Monarchy or the substitution of Republicanism should be discussed. This House is not easily stampeded. I ask the House, and, in particular the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) whether humanity or civilisation has found any substitute for Monarchy. Look at the world to-day. Compare the condition of this country, say, for the last 25 years, with any country which takes another form of Government. In spite of the voices that are raised against the Constitution under which we are governed, we have yet to find any adequate substitute for Monarchy in this world. Until that time has come, this House will support the system to deal with which this Bill is being passed.

5.3 p.m.

The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), when he was opposing the Abdication Bill, quoted an old and well-known nursery rhyme that will be in the memory of all hon. Members who were present. This Bill is a proof of the correctness of the hon. Member for Bridgeton. The Bill expresses complete lack of confidence in the Monarchy of this country. The Home Secretary says that he could have introduced a normal and ordinary Regency Bill, as has been the case on past occasions, but the situation now is of an entirely different character. There is not only the fact that you have had the abdication of a Monarch, who had been presented as the last word in the ideal man, but you have now a Monarch of whom nobody is sure at all, and you cannot carry on without having some alternative arrangement. Never before in the history of this country was such a Bill contemplated. No other explanation can be given than that the Government do not expect the present Monarch to last out his time. At the same time, while there is a complete lack of confidence in the present Monarch they must try, as they tried through the Abdication Bill, to patch up the unpatchable. Why should any Member ask, where is the substitution for Monarchy? You do not want a substitution for Monarchy. It is an absolute anomaly. It plays no part at all, but that of a rubber stamp, as has been mentioned, or that of occasionally providing circuses, and that sort of thing.

The Home Secretary told us that the Monarch to-day has a great amount of work to do, but when he tried to tell us what the work really was, it was, "Oh, groups of documents coming down from the Foreign Office to be signed." Does the Monarch have to sign personally these groups of documents, a grant for some mother or some old person or this, that of the other? A private secretary with a rubber stamp does the job. If there is work of an important character, this hereditary principle is very dangerous and undesirable. The Home Secretary says that if we agree to the Bill we shall know who is to be Regent. Of course we shall. We know the name of the one who will be the successor, but we know nothing about character or ability, and we have no chance of knowing. Take the case before the Abdication. In every paper you read, every cinema you visited, and in every lecture-hall where anyone had a chance, there was talk in the most grandiloquent way of the qualities of the ex-King. Never had there been a man with such qualities, and the great masses of the people of this country believed it. Wherever you went, you heard them expressing opinions of regard for the King, but when the Abdication took place, they told us they had been mistaken and that he had been a weakling all the time. The "Times" said it. It is not possible to know the character of a King, other than that, in a very nice way, we can always say that he does not show any particular qualities. If there is important work to be done, the Home Secretary says that it is better to know who is to be the Regent, rather than, when the occasion arises, to choose the Regent from a variety of persons. Would you run your law courts and conduct any of your big cases in such a manner? Would you run any business in the country in such a manner? When the occasion arises for the appointment of a manager, say, of the "Daily Express" or any big undertaking, all the circumstances are taken into account, and the qualities of character, and the abilities of those who make application are considered, and the man best qualified for the job gets it.

If the point of the hon. Member is that the King is nothing but a rubber stamp, why should he be so anxious as to the character of the rubber stamp appointed in his place?

The hon. Member does not follow my argument. I said that the Home Secretary tried to impress on us the fact that there was important work to be done. I drew attention to the fact that if, as he said, there is important work to be done, are you to relegate the important work to someone who may be totally unqualified to do such important work, or are you to wait until the necessity arises and appoint, for the carrying out of that important work, the very best qualified man you can get? Is not that clear enough? That argument would apply in any business. The very fact that you do not do that and can have a Bill of this sort means that there is nothing in it.

Because it is being used for a specific purpose. I mentioned in the Debate last year, when discussing the Civil List, that Members on the other side did not know the meaning of the word "loyalty"; that they knew only of profits and were concerned only with profits. As long as the King was concerned to keep the system of profit going, they would keep the King, but when he failed to keep the system going, they would throw him out. Members were indignant, but it was only a few weeks afterwards when this sort of thing happened. They will use the Monarch in order to distract the attention of the people and provide all kinds of diversions. It is not our business, when the economic foundations begin to decay, and cracks show in the superstructure, to patch up the superstructure. It is our business to get rid of the rubbish and work nearer the foundation. That is why I oppose the Bill, as I opposed the Abdication Bill. The Government just get out of one difficulty into another.

The Home Secretary discovered, as a result of his very acute legal mind, that of the six persons specified in Clause 2, three are given power to make a decision as to whether the Sovereign is sane or insane. He says that they are to change that number to four. He gets himself into this fix. This is a permanent Bill, and a Queen or King may be unmarried, and that would leave five persons. You would then have to have four out of five, and that would be a very difficult job. The persons include the King and Queen, the successor, and the others. The whole Bill is part of the process—a very necessary process now—of patching up and trying to cover the general decay that is everywhere in the Monarchical system in this country. I tell hon. and right hon. Members that they are playing with this House and playing with themselves in thinking that they can continue to fool the people of this country. The people are not going to be fooled any more. They will take part in some of the celebrations, but down beneath it all is the recognition of the fact that all that is represented in this Bill is dying very rapidly, and I oppose everything connected with it.

5.14 p.m.

The decay of Republicanism, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) said was coincident with, but not necessarily caused by, the rise of the Labour party, has obviously left unaffected the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). His speech seemed to have very little to do with the Bill which the House is considering, though we are grateful to the hon. Member for his sympathy in the difficulties in which he thinks we may get on certain Clauses of the Bill. These remarks apply to a lesser extent to the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). His views on the general topic of the Monarchy are well known to us, but that subject does not arise on this Bill. This Bill is to make provision, assuming that there is a Monarchy, for certain eventualities that have to be provided for. Under any other Constitution, whether it be a Republic or a Dictatorship, or a Monarchy, provision must be made for eventualities such as sickness or absence from the realm.

There is provision in regard to that, but there is no provision on the Statute Book for the emergency for which we are providing in regard to the Monarchy. I do not want to enter into the controversy which the hon. Member for Bridgeton started as to whether he and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) are sane and the rest of us insane, or vice versa. It reminds me of the story of the gentleman who came back from sitting on a jury and said that II more obstinate other men he had never met. I should like to express on behalf of my right hon. Friend the appreciation by the Government of the support given to the Bill by the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) and the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and other speakers. There is very little for me to say. The right hon. Member for Platting made reference to Clause 4 (2), and reference was also made to that Clause by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). The hon. Member for the Scotland Division raised no objection to the words down to the word "Crown" in line 34, but he objected to the subsequent words. It seems to me that he will have to take up that matter with hon. and right hon. Members representing Scotland. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate the general feeling which lay behind the hon. Member's speech, but there are certain historic reasons which lie behind these matters.

It was a Treaty. The Lord Advocate has been sitting on this bench with the Act of Union in his hand and he pointed out to me that the safeguarding of this particular Act of the Scottish Parliament was expressly mentioned in the Act of Union, and that is the historic reason why it appears here. The sovereignty of Parliament undoubtedly exists and must remain. Parliament has the power to repeal any Act.

May I mention that in regard to Clause 4 (2) it is provided that the Regent shall not have the power to assent. I take it that whilst he would be Regent during the incapacity of the Monarch, even if Parliament passed it, he would not sanction it.

Parliament could, if it so desired, repeal this Subsection. The Sovereignty of Parliament is the one thing which no Parliament can hamper in the future.

5.20 p.m.

I should like to make a few comments on the speech of the Attorney-General. He said that there had been no real criticism of the Bill, and expressed thanks to his friends of the Labour party and the Liberal party for their support. I do not deny the right of hon. or right hon. Members to support the Measure, or the right of the Attorney-General to thank them for their support, but if I thank any hon. Members on the other side of the House for their support on any occasion, members of the Labour party say: "Look at your Tory friends." To-night I would say to them: "Look at your friends on this side below the Gangway, and on the other side." It is not the first time that such a thing has been done. On the occasion of the Anomalies Act all parties combined to rob the poor, just as all parties are joining to-night to defend the Royal Family.

We did not raise the Republican issue to-day. That issue was raised by the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) who made the comment that Republicanism had gone down while the Labour party had gone up. If Republicanism has been dragged into this Debate the responsibility for it ought to be imputed to the quarter whence it came. Incidentally, I may say that we are glad to see the right hon. Member for Platting here, because we so seldom see him. We oppose the Bill on other grounds and not on the question of Republicanism. Hitherto, when a Regency was being appointed the Government of the day introduced a Regency Bill. That meant that on each occasion the House of Commons was able to review the whole position in regard to the Monarchy. The House of Commons seldom gets an opportunity to review the Monarchy. It is only when there is a constitutional crisis that that opportunity arises.

By this Bill the Government are seeking to take away one of the few chances that the House of Commons have, and ought to have, to review the position of the Monarchy. The Monarchy ought not to be something apart. It ought to be subject to review in this House, but this Bill takes away the opportunity of such a review, quite apart from the question whether Monarchy be good or bad. If the Labour party were upholding the rights of the Opposition and of this House they would protest against any limitation of the opportunity to discuss the Monarchy. By this Bill you are saying that Parliament's right to criticise the Monarchy in the future shall be considerably limited. But for this Bill Parliament would have to consider a new Regency Bill on every occasion, and the Monarchy would then be the topic of discussion.

Hon. Members may sneer at the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), but I can see a position arising, whether hon. Members like it or not, which requires attention. The line which we took on the last Bill affecting the Monarchy was unpopular, but we suffered nothing on that issue as compared with what we suffered in regard to our action on the Jubilee. On the last issue I have no doubt that we could have fought any election and won it, but on the question of the Jubilee the position would have been different. To-day there is a growing feeling on our side with respect to this matter, and, having regard to that feeling, we ought to have a chance of reviewing the Monarchy from time to time when the occasion arises. The House is to-day declaring that it will not put the Monarchy into the melting-pot. The House is afraid of the democratic Chamber examining the Monarchy as it examines every other problem. I leave aside for a moment the question of whether the Monarchy is good, bad or indifferent. By this Bill you are establishing the Monarchy practically for all time, and taking away our right to discuss it, or at any rate limiting it. That

Division No. 61.]


[5.28 p.m.

Acland, R. T. O. (Barnstaple)Benson, G.Cartland, J. R. H.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.Blair, Sir R.Carver, Major w. H.
Adamson, W. M.Blindell, Sir J.Cary, R. A.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.Bossom, A. C.Castlereagh, Viscount
Albery, Sir IrvingBowater, Col. Sir T. VansittartCayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)
Ammon, C. G.Bower, Comdr. R. T.Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Br.W.)
Anstruther-Gray, W. J.Brass, Sir W.Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)
Apsley, LordBriscoe, Capt. R. G.Channon, H.
Aske, Sir R. W.Brocklebank, C. E. R.Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)
Assheton, R.Bromfield, W.Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)Brown, Col. O. C. (Hexham)Clarke, F. E.
Atholl, Duchess ofBrown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)Clarry, Sir Reginald
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)Cluse, W. S.
Barnes, A. J.Bull, B. B.Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.
Barrie, Sir C. C.Burke, W. A.Colfox, Major W. P.
Baxter, A. BeverleyBurton, Col. H. W.Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.Butler, R. A.Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)Campbell, Sir E. T.Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)
Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N.Cape, T.Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)

is why I object to the Bill, and not because the Monarchy is good or bad.

A Bill of this character has no right to tie up a future Parliament, and I shall make every effort to divide the House on it. The Attorney-General said that provision has to be made for the President of a Republic. What happens in regard to Mr. Speaker? You make provision for the present Speaker but not for the next Speaker. When the present Speaker goes, we start afresh, and we can exercise our right, but under this Bill provision for a Monarchy goes on for all time. Would you do it for a Prime Minister or for anybody else? What right have these people to claim a privilege? Are they any better than the ordinary man? Are they any more capable than any Members in this House? Have they any right to get this privileged position? The House of Commons has decided, or will decide, the question for this Parliament; they have beaten me, and I shall accept the decision, but I am not prepared to let it affect the next Parliament without protesting. The Liberals more than any party in the early days stood up for the rights of Parliament. I do not mean that sarcastically, because they have a right to be proud of what they did for the defence of liberty. The Dilkes would never have stood for this Bill. To-day you are doing more than creating a Regency; you are taking away the power of future Parliaments, and I protest against it.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 305; Noes, 1.

Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Courtauld, Major J. S.Hudson, R. S. (Southport)Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.Hunter, T.Remer, J. R.
Critchley, A.Hurd, Sir P. A.Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. PageInskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.Ridley, G.
Crooke, J. S.John, W.Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)Ropner, Colonel L.
Croom-Johnson, R. P.Jones, L. (Swansea W.)Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Cross, R. H.Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Crowder, J. F. E.Keeling, E. H.Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Culverwell, C. T.Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)Salmon, Sir I.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)Salt, E. W.
Davison, Sir W. H.Lamb, Sir J. Q.Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Dawson, Sir P.Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.Sandeman, Sir N. S.
De Chair, S. S.Lathan, G.Sanderson, Sir F. B.
De la Bère, R.Lawson, J. J.Sandys, E. D.
Denmart, Hon. R. D.Leach, W.Scott, Lord William
Denville, AlfredLeckie, J. A.Seely, Sir H. M.
Dixon, Capt. Rt. Hon. H.Lee, F.Selley, H. R.
Dobbie, W.Leech, Dr. J. W.Shakespeare, G. H.
Doland, G. F.Lees-Jones, J.Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Drewe, C.Little, Sir E. Graham-Short, A.
Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)Lloyd, G. W.Silkin, L.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)Looker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.Simmonds, O. E.
Dugdale, Major T. L.Loftus, P. C.Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Duncan, J. A. L.Lovat-Fraser, J. A.Simpson, F. B.
Dunglass, LordMacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)M'Connell, Sir J.Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)Macdonald, G. (Ince)Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Scot. U.)Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Ellis, Sir G.MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)Smithers, Sir W.
Elliston, Capt. G. S.McEntee, V. La T.Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Elmley, ViscountMcEwen, Capt. J. H. F.Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Emmott, C. E. G. C.McKie, J. H.Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Emrys-Evans, P. V.Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.Spens, W. P.
Everard, W. L.Mander, G. le M.Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Findlay, Sir E.Manningham-Buller, Sir M.Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Fleming, E. L.Margesson, Capt, Rt. Hon. H. D. R.Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.Markham, S. F.Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Foot, D. M.Marshall, F.Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Fremantle, Sir F. E.Mathers, G.Strickland, Captain W. F.
Furness, S. N.Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Fyfe, D. P. M.Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Ganzoni, Sir J.Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)Sutcliffe, H.
Gardner, B. W.Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Gibson, R. (Greedeck)Morris-Jones, Sir Henry
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)Thorne, W.
Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)Tinker, J. J.
Gower, Sir R. V.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)Touche, G. C.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.Muff, G.Tree, A. R. L. F.
Green, W. H. (Deptford)Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.Munro, P.Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Gridley, Sir A. B.Naylor, T. E.Turton, R. H.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.Viant, S. P.
Grimston, R. V.O'Connor, Sir Terence J.Walkdan, A. G.
Groves, T. E.Orr-Ewing, I. L.Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Guy, J. C. M.Owen, Major G.Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Hanbury, Sir C.Palmer, G. E. H.Warrender, Sir V.
Hannah, I. C.Patrick, C. M.Wayland, Sir W. A
Hannon, Sir P. J. H.Peake, O.Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Peat, C. U.Wells, S. R.
Harbord, A.Peters, Dr. S. J.Wiokham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Harris, Sir P. A.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)Petherick, M.Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Henderson, A. (Kingtwinford)Pickthorn, K. W. M.Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Henderson, J. (Ardwick)Ponsonby, Col. C. E.Wise, A. R.
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.Porritt, R. W.Withers, Sir J. J.
Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-Potts, J.Womersley, Sir W. J.
Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir AsshetonWood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Herbert, Major J A. (Monmouth)Price, M. P.Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Herbert, Capt. Sir S. (Abbey)Procter, Major H. A.Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.
Hills, A. (Pontefract)Radford, E. A.Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)Raikes, H. V. A. M.Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Holmes, J. S.Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.Ramsden, Sir E.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hopkin, D.Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)Sir George Penny and Lieut.-
Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)Colonel Llewellin.
Horsbrugh, Florence


Mr. Maxton and Mr. Gallacher.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Thursday.—[ Captain Margesson.]