Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."The Gracious Message from the Queen which was read by you, Mr. Speaker, from the Chair on Wednesday, 4th November, invited us to consider an amendment to the Regency Act to provide that in the event of a child of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh acceding to the Throne while under 18 years of age, and also in the event of a Regency becoming necessary during Her Majesty's lifetime while there is no child or grandchild of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh who can be Regent, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh should be the Regent and be charged with the guardianship of the person of the Sovereign. It also asked the House to consider two further amendments of the law; first, to enable the heir to the Throne to be capable of being Regent at 18 years of age, and secondly, to add Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to the persons to be Counsellors of State when occasion arose for a delegation of Royal Functions to Counsellors of State. The House immediately adopted an Address assuring Her Majesty that we would, with the least possible delay, proceed to the discussion of the important question which Her Majesty had been pleased to recommend to our consideration, and would proceed to provide such measures as may be necessary or expedient for securing the purposes to which Her Majesty had alluded, and the Bill, the Second Reading of which I have the honour to move, is the result. It is a short Measure designed to amend in three respects the Regency Act of 1937. As will be remembered, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the House on 22nd July this year that amendment of the Regency Act, 1937, had been under consideration since shortly after the Queen's accession. Before the Act of 1937, it had been the practice of Parliament to pass, when occasion required, a Regency Act framed in the light of the then existing circumstances. The Act of 1937 made general provisions for the performance of the Royal functions by a Regent in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign in certain circumstances, and for the delegation of Royal functions to Counsellors of State in certain other circumstances. The circumstances in which there would be a Regent were, first, when the Sovereign is under 18 at the time of his accession and until the Sovereign attains the age of 18, and, secondly, any period when the sovereign has been declared, as provided in Section 2 of the Act, to be suffering an infirmity of mind or body which renders him incapable of performing the Royal functions, or is not available for their performance. In all these circumstances the Regent would perform the Royal functions. Thus, the Act of 1937 proceeded on the basis of making permanent provision to facilitate the uninterrupted exercise of the Royal authority during the minority, total incapacity, or total unavailability of the Sovereign. It provided that the Regent should be the person next in succession to the Throne and not subject to the disqualifications prescribed in Section 3 (2) of the Act. These disqualifications are that he is not a British subject of full age and domiciled in some part of the United Kingdom, or that he is a person incapable under Section 2 of the Act of Settlement of inheriting the Crown, that is, if he is a Roman Catholic or is married to a Roman Catholic. Under these provisions the person who would become Regent, if the Duke of Cornwall or any other child of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were to succeed to the Throne while under the age of 18, or if the Queen became totally incapacitated and there were no child or grandchild of sufficient years, would be the Princess Margaret. I am authorised to say that the Princess Margaret shares the desire of Her Majesty the Queen that the statutory provisions should be amended so that, if a Regency should become necessary, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh should become Regent. What the Bill now before the House does is to make a limited exception to the principle embodied in the Act of 1937 that Regency shall be exercised by the person with the necessary qualifications next in the line of succession to the Throne. It does not repeal that provision. It is designed to deal with the present circumstances. The Amendment is confined to the Duke, and accordingly, in the event of the Duke's death, which we all fervently hope will not occur for many years, the Amendment would cease to have effect, and in the circumstances in which provision is made by the Bill for the Duke being the Regent, the Princess Margaret would, if alive, be Regent. This is in no sense an exclusion Bill. I may be asked why it is that some 16 years after the Regency Act of 1937 was passed this course is being taken. I might further be asked whether I have in mind that the Home Secretary of the day said that the purpose of that Act was
I have, and I have also in mind that that Act was introduced because it was thought that"to provide a general code which may be put into operation, if need be, in any cases in the future."
The answer can be given quite shortly. Much as one sympathises with, and appreciates, the desirability of having some general principle on which to act, the wit of man cannot foretell every contingency, or every set of circumstances, which may arise. The mantle of Elijah is notoriously difficult to don, and the most careful thoughts of 1937, when Her Gracious Majesty was barely 11 years old, do not seem to us to fit the circumstances of today. The Act of 1937 provided not only for Regency, but for guardianship, of the Sovereign. It provided that if the Sovereign is under the age of 18 and unmarried, his mother, if living, should be guardian. It provided that, where the Sovereign, being married, is under 18 or declared incapable of discharging the Royal functions, the wife or husband, if of full age, should be guardian. It did not provide for the father being guardian, but set out that, in every other case, the Regent should be guardian. I cannot imagine anyone thinking that it could be right that, in the event of his child succeeding to the Throne under age, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh should not be the guardian of the Sovereign. As soon as it is thought right that he should be the guardian, we are faced with the position of the Sovereign during these important and formative years immediately before he assumes the Royal power. Only from the Regent would he receive the practical instruction in the relevant problems which he will have to face. I do not need to look into the past, or speculate whether opposing households are still a possibility of the present. The interests of the prospective Sovereign surely make a combination of Regency, guardianship, and paternal influence, in the same hand, the most desirable course. The ad hoc departure from the general principle which we propose is not revolutionary or unexampled. We have several precedents in which the surviving parent of the Sovereign was designated to be Regent, if a Regency should be necessary for a minor Sovereign. They stretch over the last 200 years. In 1751, Princess Augusta, the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales, was made Regent in the event of the death of George II before his grandson attained the age of 18. In 1830, the Duchess of Kent was designated as the Regent if William IV died before Princess Victoria, as she then was, attained the age of 18. In 1840, Prince Albert was designated the Regent in the event of the death of Queen Victoria while the heir to the Throne was a minor. And in 1910, when the heir to the Throne was 16, Queen Mary was designated as Regent if King George V should die before the heir attained 18 years of age. I hope that no one will think it out of place on my part if I say—indeed, I am sure that everyone will agree—that the Duke of Edinburgh has already won such a high place in the affection of the country, and has already proved himself such a great help to the Queen, as undoubtedly to merit a place in this line of potential Regents. It is difficult, and indeed profoundly distasteful, to look at what the Queen, in her Gracious Message, termed the uncertainties of human life, but, having done so, I am sure we feel fortunate in being able to say without reservation that, if we should be deprived of our Queen, no one could be more fitted to exercise the Royal functions on behalf of a young Sovereign than that Sovereign's father. May I now turn to the Clauses of the Bill? Clause 1 (1) of the Bill, amends Section 3 (1) of the Act of 1937, and provides for the Duke of Edinburgh being Regent if a child of himself and the Queen succeeds to the Throne under the age of 18. I might add that, with this alteration—if we pass this alteration into law—the Duke of Edinburgh as Regent would, under Section 5 (c) of the Act of 1937, have the guardianship of the young Sovereign's person. That is the first point to which I referred in my preliminary argument. Clause 1 (2), provides for the Duke of Edinburgh being Regent in the event of the total incapacity of the Queen and there being neither child nor grandchild qualified to be Regent. In parenthesis again, may I explain that, in accordance with Section 5 (b) of the Act of 1937, the Duke of Edinburgh, as husband, would have the guardianship of the Queen's person? We all unite, Sir, in wishing the Queen a long reign, and in the fervent prayer that it will never be necessary to have recourse to the provisions of the Regency Act. But the uncertainties of human life, to which Her Majesty referred, are such that it is only prudent to make provision against contingencies which we hope will never happen. Clause 1 (3) makes the Duke of Edinburgh subject to the disqualifications from becoming, or being, Regent set out in Section 3 (2) of the Act of 1937, which I have already mentioned to the House, and it applies to him the provisions made in the Act for the contingency that the Regent might be incapable by infirmity, or not available, to perform the Royal functions. Clause 1 (4) amends Section 6 (4) of the Act of 1937, which enables the Regent to appoint Counsellors of State in the event of his illness or absence. The Amendment is necessary, because the existing provision would be inappropriate in the case of the Duke of Edinburgh. Unless there is an amendment, the Regent's wife would be the first Counsellor of State, and the other four would be the four next after the Duke in the line of succession to the Throne. I now come to Clause 2 of the Bill. Unless the Act of 1937 were further amended, the Regent would remain Regent, in the event of the incapacity of the Queen, until the heir to the Throne attained the age of 21. As the heir to the Throne, if he became Sovereign under the age of 18, would assume the Royal functions at that age, it seems right and proper that provision should be made so that, at the same age of 18, he should also be empowered to perform those same functions as Regent. Clause 2 carries this proposal into effect, and under it the heir to the Throne would, in the event of the Sovereign's incapacity, become Regent at 18. I pause for one moment to remind the House that the Queen is Queen, not only of the United Kingdom, but also of her other Realms and Territories, and the Regency is, therefore, a matter of interest far beyond the United Kingdom. The opportunity was taken, during the presence in London for the Coronation of the Prime Ministers of Her Majesty's other Governments, to discuss with them the proposal that the United Kingdom legislation relating to the Regency should be amended to deal with the points which I have mentioned, and I am glad to inform the House that all agreed with the proposal which the Bill contains."instead of introducing such a Regency Bill … for a particular or possible case, the better course is to submit to Parliament this more comprehensive scheme to cover not only this particular contingency, but other contingencies which may arise from time to time in which the exercise of the Royal functions might become impossible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1937; Vol. 319, c. 1451–6.]
Assuming that the Sovereign became incapable of ruling and that there were no child heir of the Sovereign, and no likelihood of a child heir in the future, does it follow from that Clause that the Duke of Edinburgh would nevertheless become Regent?
That follows from Clause 1 (2). If there were no children and Her Majesty were incapacitated within the terms of the 1937 Act, so as to be unable to perform her functions, then the Duke would become Regent. Is that the point the hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind?
May I put this point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman? Where does the principle that he was enunciating about the effect of the 1937 Act come in?
What I was saying about the 1937 Act was that, while I sympathise with an attempt to lay down general principles, I do not think that the general principles which were attempted to be laid down fit the circumstances of today, and I have indicated why. I think it is clear—and I gather that, broadly, the House is with me on the point—that in the case when there is a child, Regency, guardianship and paternal influence should be the same.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to continue? This is a point which requires clear explanation. If there were no child and Her Majesty was incapacitated, then we should all hope and pray that the incapacity would cease. In those circumstances, I ask the House to consider that it would be much better for Her Majesty to contemplate returning to the exercise of functions discharged by her husband. The hon. and learned Gentleman was suggesting that I am departing from the 1937 Act. I tried to explain that, with the best will in the world—and I voted for the Act myself, as did, I think, a number of us here today—we cannot foresee everything, and, now that we are faced with new circumstances, let us examine the circumstances and do what we think is best.
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to allow me to get on.
I think it would be against the wishes of the House if we were now to get involved in points which are more appropriate to the Committee stage. I think the points which the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised are such points. This is, after all, the Second Reading of the Bill.
I only wanted to make one point clear, and that is that I am not against the Bill in the present circumstances. What I was endeavouring to do was to draw attention to this possible contingency in order that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might consider whether some provision ought not to be made to meet it.
I think we have dealt with the contingencies. If there are any further contingencies, of course I respectfully agree, Mr. Speaker, that there is the Committee stage and, if necessary, they can be considered then. I have put the contingencies which are provided for by this Bill, and I hope the House will think that I have tried to deal reasonably, fairly and sympathetically with them.I was coming to Clause 3, which deals with a different matter—namely, the Counsellors of State. As the House is aware, the Counsellors of State exist so that the Sovereign may delegate to them, by Letters Patent, such of the Royal functions as are specified in that document—that is, in the Letters Patent—for the period of an illness or absence from the United Kingdom—that is, an illness or absence which does not amount to incapacity or non-availability. The House will recall that this power was exercised by His late Majesty on a number of occasions, including his visit to South Africa and the period of his serious illness in the autumn of 1951. The Counsellors of State are defined in Section 6 of the Act of 1937 as
Perhaps I may indicate to the House, in passing, that"… the wife or husband of the Sovereign … and the four persons who, excluding any persons disqualified … from becoming Regent, are next in the line of succession to the Crown."
involves the necessity of being of full age. During the last reign, in accordance with these provisions, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother served as a Counsellor of State on several occasions. We would, I am sure, feel that it would be most unfortunate that the Queen Mother's long experience and wisdom should not be available to support those members of the Royal Family who would become Counsellors of State during, for example, the Queen's forthcoming tour. Accordingly, Clause 3 provides that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother shall be added to the persons to be Counsellors of State who would exercise the Royal functions during the Queen's absence from the United Kingdom or the partial incapacity of the Sovereign. She is an addition to the five persons—the Consort of the Sovereign and the four qualified persons next in the line of succession—who, under existing law, are the Counsellors of State. I think that Clause 4 (2) is self-explanatory. The words in subsection (2, A) of Section 6 of the Regency Act, 1937, will have become unnecessary because Clause 2 of the Bill provides that the heir apparent or heir presumptive shall be capable of being Regent at the age of 18 years. The special provision contained in the Regency Act, 1943, which provided for the heir apparent being a Counsellor of State at the age of 18, is now, therefore, superfluous. I have tried to explain the provisions of the Bill. If there are any difficulties, perhaps the House will be good enough to let me speak again and endeavour to clarify them. I put this Bill before the House as a simple and straightforward Measure to which, I am sure, the House will give a speedy and unopposed passage."excluding any persons disqualified … from becoming Regent"
I rise to express our support for this Measure which the Home Secretary has explained with his usual lucidity. It is quite clear that there is no question of exclusion here. If Princess Margaret should be Regent, she would be well qualified to perform that service. We have also, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, in the Duke of Edinburgh the natural guardian of the children and, I think, the natural Regent if such misfortune should occur as the death of Her Majesty. I think, too, that the provision for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother being added to the Counsellors of State is altogether right.Therefore, I support this Measure, but it seems a little curious that in the discussions on the 1937 Act—and I have looked them up—there is only one faint allusion to the possibility that the surviving wife or husband of the Monarch should be made Regent. It seems the more curious in that—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says—there is ample precedent for it. The Prince Consort was named as Regent. I wonder why this provision was not made? The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that one cannot have everything, but at that time we had an extremely learned lawyer as Home Secretary, in Lord Simon. Looking at this question historically, I wondered whether there was any reason for it. Looking back into remote history one can see that Edward IV would have been very wise, in considering a Regency Bill, to have nominated Elizabeth Woodville and not Richard III as Regent. On the other hand, I can understand a certain doubt, if this had occurred in the reign of Queen Anne, about making Prince George of Denmark the Regent. These things are really matters of speculation, and I cannot quite see why, if we were then departing from the ad hoc Regency Bill and trying to make something which would apply all the way, we did not contemplate the possibility that the best Regent would be the survivor of the Monarch of the day—the Consort, whether husband or wife. I think that we are now acting very sensibly. It is perhaps best, on the whole, not to think that we can lay down these things for all time. That should be the lesson. When these Regency matters arise, it is better to deal with them on the facts of the day. I hope that this Bill will pass into law. I have looked at it, as have my hon. Friends who are legally qualified. It seems to me that the drafting is all right, I think it carries out the purpose, and I shall therefore support it.
I rise to support this Bill and to express concurrence with what has been said by the Home Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Should the need for a Regency unfortunately arise, it is natural, it is right, and it is proper that the Guardian and Regent should be His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. We are fortunate among nations in our Royal Family. His Royal Highness has won the admiration of all by his fine character, his ability, his manliness, his tireless energy and, above all, his high sense of duty.With regard to the Queen Mother, one need only add that there is no one who stands so high in the confidence and affection of the people.
I also rise to support this Bill and, like the other right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, I am quite sure that what we are proposing to do in this case is the right thing. Happily, it is 400 years since there was a minor on the Throne of this country, and I profoundly hope that the contingency for which we are providing will never take place.I should like to say a word on the general principle following on what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said. In 1937, when the Regency Bill was going through the House, I had some doubts on this matter and I expressed them. I raised with the Home Secretary—who was then Sir John Simon and is now Lord Simon—the question whether the possible widower of a Queen ought not to be considered particularly for the guardianship of the children, and therefore, I thought, also perhaps for the Regency. Lord Simon said that the matter had been very carefully thought out, the contingency had been looked into, and they had decided against it. As one naturally does on these occasions, I left the matter there. I have thought about it since, and I have come to the conclusion that in 1937 we made a mistake in trying to lay down a principle. I have been studying the history of the Regency a little, and I find that it is quite an innovation to suggest that the next heir to the Crown should necessarily be the Regent, or would normally have a right to be the Regent. If one goes back through history, one finds that, as early as the reign of Edward III, Parliament determined the provision for the King's minority, and that has happened on numerous occasions since. I should have thought, therefore, that it was a pity that in 1937 we laid down this principle, and I am a little sorry that the 1937 Act is not now being repealed rather than amended. Anyone who takes an interest in this matter would do well to read the speeches in the debate in the autumn of 1788, when there was a great controversy between Mr. Fox and Mr. Pitt as to the Regency, in the then unfortunate circumstances of the King's illness. Although Mr. Fox was a Whig and Mr. Pitt a Tory, Mr. Pitt laid down quite clearly, and eventually convinced the House without any doubt, that the Prince of Wales had no inherent right to become Regent. The arguments are very well set out there, and all the precedents are examined, and the House would perhaps be wise to consider at some time, whether we had better not revert to the principle of ad hoc arrangements. For this occasion I am quite certain that what is proposed to be done is the right thing and I therefore support the Bill.
I think this is the first time that I have agreed with what the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) has said, and I do not say that discourteously. In referring to the decision in 1937, I think that we should do justice to the then hon. Member for Fife, West and the then hon. Member for Gorbals. The decision in 1937, which we now all deplore, was taken by a majority of 305 to 1.
Both those hon. Members frequently made valuable contributions to the House. I am not surprised to hear that they did so on that occasion.
I want to raise one point of principle about which I am somewhat concerned with regard to this Bill, namely, its continuation of Section 6 of the Regency Act of 1937, which provides for the appointment of Counsellors of State during the absence of the Queen. I am in favour of Clause 3 of this Bill, by which the Queen Mother would become one of the Counsellors of State, if this system is continued, but I am very doubtful whether the system of appointing Counsellors of State during the absence of the Queen ought to be continued.I think it is out of accord with the present nature of the Commonwealth, because it makes a distinction between the United Kingdom and other countries in the Commonwealth in respect of their relationship to the Crown. All the other Commonwealth countries have Governors-General when the Queen is absent from them. Only this country has Counsellors of State. This seems to me to be in conflict with the basic principle about which the Home Secretary reminded us, namely, that the Queen is equal Queen of all her Realms. We must draw the conclusions from that principle, because it means that each Realm of the Queen is, or ought to be, in exactly equal relationship to the Crown. In that case there should be identical forms to express that relationship. If there are different forms, as in this case, it suggests that there is a difference between one of the Queen's Realms and another in their relationship to the Crown. It follows that these forms for representing the Queen during her absence should be identical throughout all her Realms. I suggest that we should bring up to date and alter our notion of what is meant by the very concept of the Queen's absence. We must now accept that when the Queen is in Australia she is absent from the United Kingdom in exactly the same way as, when she is in the United Kingdom, she is absent from Australia. She is absent from the Realm which she is not in, but she is not absent from the United Kingdom in a different way from that in which she is absent from Australia when she is not there. There should be the same representation of monarchy in this country during the Queen's absence as there is in the other Realms in the Commonwealth, and, as in all those it is done by the appointment by Her Majesty of a Governor-General, on the advice of her Ministers, so it should be done in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I regret very much that this Bill does not provide any authority to the Queen to appoint a Governor-General to represent her when she is absent from this one of her Realms. Doubtless, it would mean the appointment of the senior of those entitled to be Counsellors of State. That might be provided, if it were so wished, in the law. There would be then the equalisation between ourselves and the other Realms of the Queen in the Commonwealth in this very important matter, which is a symbolic matter admittedly but a very important matter, which sets forth the relationship of the various Realms of the Queen to the Queen. I should like now to turn to two arguments which may be made against this point, possibly by the Home Secretary, who, I hope, will deal with it in his reply. One is the argument from tradition, particularly where it concerns the Monarchy. However, here we are concerned with something that is quite recent and not at all traditional. As far as my researches go, the first occasion on which Counsellors of State were appointed was when the late King George V was ill in 1928 and again in 1936, when it was done by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, because there was no statute at that time to enable him to appoint Counsellors of State. The first statutory precedent which I can find is the Act of 1937. In other words, we have only 16 years' sanction behind this particular tradition, if, indeed, one can call something 16 years old in connection with the Crown a tradition at all, and I think it would be a very great pity if we were to allow a quite recent practice to harden into a tradition. It is a practice, incidentally, which is not a very convenient one, because it is much more awkward to have to collect four signatures—I think it is—for certain State papers instead of one. In certain circumstances the need to have four signatures might involve delays which could be serious, whereas if we were to have a single Governor-General, as in other Realms of the Queen, there would need to be only one signature. The other objection that may be made is that there has been no suggestion by any Commonwealth country that this change should be made. It may very well be so. I am no longer in a position to know about that, but I should say that it is wrong that in a matter of this sort we should always have to wait for such a change until there is pressure put upon us to make it, and when it looks as though the change is made by us somewhat reluctantly. The United Kingdom ought to take the lead in bringing these outward forms, in connection with the Crown, in relation with the reality of the Commonwealth today. If we had made changes in the past some of the symbols of Commonwealth unity might be accepted more widely today than they are. The Crown is the most important symbol of the unity of the Commonwealth. There is a danger which arises out of an anomaly, indeed, a defect, in the structure of our Commonwealth relations. This defect is that the symbols of Commonwealth unity are, for historical reasons, also the national symbols of this country, of the United Kingdom, like the Union Jack, and so forth. They have been simultaneously national symbols expressing our own nationhood and also symbols expressing the unity of the Commonwealth. That was all right when the Commonwealth was predominantly British, and when the United Kingdom was the only full nation in it, but now full nations are arising—full, developing nations desiring to have symbols expressing their own nationhood. So they are turning against symbols of the Commonwealth, not because they are symbols of the Commonwealth but because they are symbols of our national being. They want different ones of their own. The development of different flags all over the Commonwealth is one example. This applies not only to Ceylon, but to Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. We have to be very careful, even in symbolic matters of this sort, against this danger developing in relation to the Crown. There must be no hint at all that the Crown is related to the United Kingdom in a special way in which it is not related to all the other Realms of the Queen in the Commonwealth. In other words, we have to recognise the equal property in the Queen and the Crown of all her Realms, and it would be in accord with this principle if a Governor-General were to be appointed in this country in the Queen's absence. The link of the Crown is of very great importance, and that is why matters of this sort, which may be thought to be academic, are of very great importance, as anyone who has been in the Commonwealth knows. The Commonwealth today consists of Realms and Republics. There may be two Republics; the Crown in relationship to both the Republics and to the Realms also. It is the only link that binds them all together, Realms and Republics, and only if the Crown is really the Commonwealth Crown, separated from being in any special sense the Crown of any one country in the Commonwealth, can the Queen play her pre-eminent rôle as the one unifying factor in the Commonwealth; because as Head of the Commonwealth she is the link who binds the Republics and Realms together as well as being herself, of course, Queen of each of her Realms. I think it is very wrong to argue, as some people do, that when a country in the Commonwealth becomes a Republic the links with the Crown are thereby snapped, annihilated, or weakened so far as to make them non-existent. It is more important that we should emphasise all the links we can between the Crown as the head of the Commonwealth and the Republics. It was very fine, I thought, to see Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, in the Abbey at the Coronation amongst the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, without any distinction between him and the other Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth. That was a proof and demonstration of the reality that the Crown is the link, and of the link which the Crown can be in this Commonwealth consisting of both Realms and Republics. Therefore, I am very sorry that this opportunity has been missed. I hope that the Secretary of State, in reply, will be able to tell us that at any rate he will consider making a change in this Bill, perhaps in another place where there may be time, in this respect—a change, at any rate, to authorise the Queen to do this as an alternative means, so that in the future we have these two sorts of powers. I have no doubt that if this is done the appointment of a Governor-General will do a great deal to strengthen and raise the dignity of the Crown.
The voice of England has been heard and the voice of Wales, and it is not, perhaps, inappropriate that a voice from Scotland should also be heard upon this occasion. I have myself had the great honour of being Secretary of State and having charge of the Great Seal of Scotland in that capacity, and I can say that these Measures are watched with very close attention in the Northern Kingdom, and I think that today's debate will be followed very closely there.For that reason, I think we should, perhaps, hesitate before following up the interesting and thoughtful remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), because this Kingdom, the United Kingdom, is in a very special position. It has not simply, like the other Realms, a single Crown. It is the union of two Crowns, and any suggestion of a single Governor-General would need to be considered very carefully in that connection. I mention this only as indicating what delicate paths we tread if we depart from the suggestion which is brought forward in the present Bill.
I see the point of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I cannot understand how Counsellors of State can better represent a dual Crown than can a single person. I do not follow that part of the right hon. Gentleman's argument.
I should have thought that the precedent of placing this vital office in commission was one which was well understood, and that the concentration of authority in a single figure, which might be just as right and proper in the case of the actual tenant of the office, might not be so advisable when the deputy was taking charge for the time being. However, as I say, I do not wish to stress that point, because the right hon. Gentleman has only just thrown it out. It is reasonable that matters like this should be considered, but they should be considered with very great caution indeed, because those of us from the Northern Kingdom know very well how delicate these matters are and how jealously the Northern Kingdom watches her position in this matter.I would say only that I think that the Measure which has been brought forward is one which will gain general acceptance in all parts of the House and in all pans of the United Kingdom. I am sure that if there is one part more than another which will be acceptable, at any rate in the Northern Kingdom, it is that which provides for the position of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. We all know that both her experience and her wisdom have been of the very greatest advantage in the past, and that that advantage is by no means exhausted, and if occasion arises it will be of the very greatest service both to the Crown and to the United Kingdom, and indeed to the Commonwealth, should any emergencies arise which call for the appointment of Counsellors of State.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) mentioned the feel- ings of Scotland in this connection, and I should like to homologate what he has said. I agree with him also in his attitude towards the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). I rather expected my right hon. Friend to put this point, because it follows from what he said in our debate on the Royal Titles Act. I, like the right hon. Gentleman, am still not quite convinced it is a sound point. I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, undervalues the Commonwealth aspect of my right hon. Friend's point, but it may be, perhaps, that my right hon. Friend overvalues the complete similarity between the other nations and ourselves.I want to make just two points, and one of them follows on what the Home Secretary said in opening the debate. I was a little disquieted to find that we were going back to the method we used before the 1937 Act. Sir John Simon, now Viscount Simon, was very specific in explaining that that Act was intended to be a permanent provision. I am not convinced by the arguments which have been used against permanent legislation. It is not possible, says the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to foresee all contingencies, but the situation with which we are now dealing is a very normal situation in that it involves a parent surviving, and a normal situation in a country which allows both sexes to succeed to the Throne in that the parent concerned is the father. It seems to me that that is the kind of contingency which could well be provided for. I am not convinced either by the reference which has been made to the good reasons that existed in 1937 for not extending further the permanent provisions. If my recollection of reading that debate serves me aright, there was a general statement about the importance and goodness of those reasons made then, and then, as now, there was no clear indication what those reasons were. I should be interested if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would develop that point a little further. The making of more extended permanent provision does not, in any case, exclude the possibility of ad hoc legislation if we find that the permanent provisions do not actually cover the situation which has arisen. It seems to me, therefore, that it is by no means impracticable to make fairly comprehensive permanent provision always with the possibility of ad hoc legislation, but reducing that possibility so far as possible. I think it should be reduced, in so far as there is a certain element, or so it seems to me, of casualness in dealing with a question like this by ad hoc legislation. Our history, so far as the practice of the monarchy has been in the past, has not always been a happy one, and it is partly for that reason, I imagine, that the ad hoc practice has grown up. That situation no longer exists, and we do not expect it to exist; and it seems to me that the reasons for the growth of the practice of ad hoc legislation applying to the past should now not concern the future. The other point which I want to make is partly in emphasis of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick said. This is the first Regency Bill in a completely new situation so far as the relations between the Crown and the Commonwealth are concerned. I should have thought that the Commonwealth Relations Office would have been represented here and might have given us its views on the matter. This is the first Regency Bill under the condition of what has been called the divisibility of the Crown, a principle which has been implicitly accepted by the Government. It is the first Regency Bill in which we deal, with the new conception of "Head of the Commonwealth," and it seems to me that we might have expected a little more information, either from the right hon. and learned Gentleman or from his colleague, about the relationship between this Measure and the Dominions. I think that the constitutional changes which are taking place in the nature of the Monarchy, and which, of course, have taken place continuously throughout our history, are working in such a way that in a constitutional sense, and in a purely constitutional sense, the Monarchy in the individual nations of the Commonwealth, including this nation, is becoming less important. It is less and less the centre of decision and more and more the centre referred to in decisions; but so far as the Commonwealth as a whole is concerned it may be that the Monarchy is becoming more and more important, and, therefore, I think, while I do not agree completely with the specific point which my right hon. Friend raised, that a great deal of what he said in support of his case needs more attention from the Government. I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, for instance, to be specific on one point. I should like him to clear up the matter of the consultations that took place before the decision concerning this Bill was made. In his statement of 4th November, I think he mentioned consultations with the nations "concerned." I wonder if that excluded or included India? And I think that, generally speaking, the kind of consideration that is involved in that particular question would be the kind of consideration on which the House might reasonably be entitled to expect rather more information. We have now the responsibility of the Monarchy not primarily as a national possession, but we have responsibility in respect of the other nations of the Commonwealth as, perhaps, the leading one of those nations, to deal with the new conception of the place of the Monarchy in the Commonwealth. I think that perhaps we need rather more system, rather more care and rather more forethought about the situation of the Monarchy in relation to the other nations in the Commonwealth than we have sometimes in the past given to it.
It is traditional and appropriate that the earlier contributions made to this debate should have come from Privy Councillors; but that, I take it, does not mean that private Members of Parliament who feel under an obligation to put views on this subject are not entitled to do so. At the same time, I fully realise that anyone who is a private Member of Parliament, and who addresses himself to a matter touching Her Majesty's Prerogative, and more particularly to some question of Her Majesty's representation or succession, must make certain that his zeal for the stability and welfare of the Crown does not outstrip his discretion.Better men than I have suffered from the displeasure of Sovereigns in earlier times for venturing on such a subject. There were those, like the one-time hon. Member for Barnstaple, who spent years of their Parliamentary careers in the Tower of London, and who made clear that the offence which their words caused sprang from defects of expression and not from deficiencies in loyal sentiment. They, like the men who occupy their places in this honourable House today, were concerned only to strengthen the institution of the Monarchy in the present and preserve its continuity in the future. I hope therefore, that Mr. Speaker, who is entrusted with the task of ensuring that Her Majesty places a favourable construction upon any words spoken in this House, will protect me from the consequences of my lack of eloquence and the inexperience I have in these high matters. I regret that Her Majesty's Ministers, when introducing this Bill, have not taken the opportunity of clarifying and amending the Act of 1937 in respect of the provisions contained in it for the appointment of a Council of State during the absence of the Queen. Here I should like to apply my remarks, following up those made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) to Section 6 (1) of the 1937 Act, which says that the Sovereign may during the period of Her Majesty's absence, appoint a Council of State—the significance of the word "may" being, I assume, not that there is an alternative to such an arrangement, but that during short visits abroad—for instance, State visits to the neighbouring countries on the Continent—no delegation of powers would be necessary. The Council of State is a cumbrous and unsatisfactory innovation in the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Historically it is an expedient used when the Sovereign or his advisers felt that the position of the former might be undermined if the powers of the Crown were delegated to an individual. When King George I wished to make his first visit to Hanover after his accession, he was advised by his Ministers that it was contrary to precedent to join other persons with George Prince of Wales in the exercise of the Royal powers. The relations between father and son in those days were not cordial, and the King therefore took the alternative open to him. Although he refused to make the Prince of Wales Regent, he appointed him Guardian of the Realm and Lieutenant. There are earlier precedents in our constitutional history. King Henry V, when he embarked for the great campaign of Agincourt, made his second brother, the Duke of Bedford, Lieutenant or Custos of England. It was the Duke, in this capacity, who summoned the Parliament of 1415. Earlier still, King Edward III had appointed Edward the Black Prince Lieutenant of the Realm while he, the King, was absent on the Continent. During the reign of King George II—and I would point out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) that this took place after the Act of Union—the absences of the Sovereign were frequent. On four occasions the wise and capable Queen Caroline was made Custos or Guardian of the Realm, and it is recorded that those were the only occasions when the absence of the Monarch did not cause difficulty for the Government of the day. During all his later absences a Council of State was appointed. The reason for this was that, as in the previous reign, the relations between father and son were not cordial. The King used the expedient of the Council of State to exclude Frederick Prince of Wales from Royal responsibilities. I submit, therefore, that the appointment of a single individual as Custos or Lieutenant of the Realm, or Governor-General, or Warden, or whatever may be the term, has powerful historic precedents, far beyond even those which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick has quoted; whereas the appointment or the use of a Council of State derives from unhappy and even questionable incidents in the long evolution of the institution of the British Monarchy. It is true that it is impossible for us to have all the foresight necessary to cater for all the changes which may take place in human life and in the course of the history of our country over the years ahead; but I think it will be agreed that it is our duty at the present time to show as much foresight as is possible in the interests of the preservation of the dignity and integrity of the institution of the Monarchy. I would advance these four arguments. In the first place, a Council of State can, under the 1937 Act, dissolve Parliament on the express instruction of the Sovereign; but I think it doubtful, con- stitutionally, whether it can summon a new Parliament or accept the resignation of a Prime Minister or entrust a successor with that office unless, of course, this is specifically mentioned in the Letters Patent which are issued appointing the Council of State. I should think it unlikely that specific mention of those powers would normally be made. The United Kingdom has no monopoly of the presence and services of the Monarch in the present state of the Commonwealth. We hope she will be spared to travel frequently abroad to other Commonwealth countries and will have prolonged absences from the United Kingdom. I submit that it would be greatly to the inconvenience of the Sovereign and her Governments overseas if any sudden political crisis were to disrupt all the careful and costly preparations needed for a Royal tour. In my view, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to prevent this from happening, and I feel that this Bill fails to do so. On the other hand, as I have shown from the precedent of 1415, a Lieutenant of the Realm—in that case the younger brother of the King, the Duke of Bedford—did possess the constitutional powers to summon a new Parliament, and therefore, in its present context, presumably would be able to confer the office of Prime Minister upon whomever was selected. My second argument—and here, I think, I am borne out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick—is that all those Ministers whose duty it is to wait upon the Sovereign, and take her pleasure on matters relating specifically to the interests and duties of the Crown, will, I am sure, bear out the fact that there are great inconveniences and delay ensuing from the fact that those powers are shared in the hands of four, five or more people. There must be a tendency among Ministers in such circumstances to omit proper consultation, and I submit to the House that one inevitable consequence of that is injury to the interests of the Crown. Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick has said, a Council of State is not an expedient common to other countries of the Commonwealth. In the absence of a Governor-General, or in the interval between the end of the appointment of one Governor-General and the arrival of another, it is common practice to appoint the Lord Chief Justice, or some other equivalent dignitary, to act in his place. I would say to the House—and this is contrary to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove—that that practice in Commonwealth countries is far more in accordance with the tradition of the British Constitution than is this modern innovation of a Council of State.
My hon. Friend is putting forward an interesting argument, but I warn him that in the different legal systems of Scotland and England he would find an immediate and great difficulty in the course which he suggests.
I have pointed out that no difficulty was found on at any rate four occasions which I have taken at random from history, when precisely the same situation arose in the past and when a Custos or Lieutenant of the Realm was appointed.
I have perhaps not made myself clear. I was referring to the suggestion of using the Lord Chief Justice.
I had no intention of doing that. I was merely saying that an individual, using the Lord Chief Justice as an example, was usually appointed in the case of Commonwealth countries.My fourth point is an intimate matter on which I touch with the greatest respect. We should look ahead to the time when the Duke of Cornwall reaches manhood. We anticipate a long and happy reign for Her Majesty. That means that Prince Charles will, if God spares him, be heir apparent for a very long period. If Her Majesty lives as long as Queen Victoria, Prince Charles will be heir apparent for 42 years after reaching his majority at the age of 18—that is to say, he would be 60 years of age on his accession. During these years—the best of his life—he will be hedged around by inevitable restrictions which prevent him from undertaking full responsibility; he will have many heavy duties, but no responsibility. That is an intensely difficult and almost unnatural rôle, which has led to many difficulties in the past. The position of King Edward VII, during the latter years of the reign of Queen Victoria, is one example. The tragedy, in some respects, of King Edward VIII is, perhaps, another example. If those instances are taken from our own time, we can look further back into history and to the relationship between King George I and King George II, between King George II and Frederick, Prince of Wales, and, still further back, to the relationship between King Henry IV and King Henry V. It seems to me, therefore, that these difficulties in the past, though we pray they may never happen again, are something which we should do our best, as far as it is humanly possible, to prevent in the future. What more splendid training in the art of kingship could there be for a young prince than to act as his mother's deputy during her absences overseas? It would at the same time take off the shoulders of the Queen some of the grievously heavy burdens which she is now called upon, and will continue to be called upon, to sustain. In the meantime, Her Majesty has experienced members of the Royal Family available for the duties. There is, in particular, as the House knows and would recognise quickly enough, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Why should not her matchless knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of Royal power be used to assist the Queen in this way? And if the Queen Mother were to be called on to assume some great office of State, there are other members of the Royal Family fully capable of acting in her place. I therefore ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider very carefully the point which has been put before him by both sides of the House. We are at the beginning of a new reign and one which holds out exceptional promise for the Commonwealth and for the United Kingdom, but one, too, in which the duties of the Sovereign will be very different and far more arduous than those which have been borne by any of her predecessors. We, in this, as I believe it, the most ancient of her Parliaments, supported by a long and continuing tradition, would be gravely at fault if we did not take every step within our power to assist Her Majesty in the faithful discharge of her duties.
The Government, on this occasion, lay themselves open to two grounds of criticism in connection with this Bill. The first criticism relates to the tactics or methods which the Government have employed leading to the submission of the Bill to the House, and the second relates to the nature and terms of the Bill itself.We have been made aware, from a variety of sources, not as the result of any statement by any right hon. Member to the House, that, privately, conversations of various kinds have been going on for many months past, almost since the beginning of the present reign, with Commonwealth Premiers. But the nature of those discussions has never been divulged to the House, although fairly factual reports have appeared from time to time in the Commonwealth Press and on one or two occasions Commonwealth Premiers have referred publicly to them. That means that throughout this period the House has been kept in a much less favourable position to understand or to appreciate what was going on than a number of people in other parts of the Commonwealth. The Home Secretary said, in introducing the Bill, that the consent of all the Commonwealth Premiers had been obtained. I take it that when he makes that statement, he wishes us to understand that, for example, the Prime Ministers of India, Pakistan and Ceylon were consulted and told what was in the minds of Her Majesty's Ministers of the Crown and that they agreed to, or accepted, the proposals that were put to them. It may, of course, be desirable that the consent of all the Commonwealth Premiers should have been obtained, as the Home Secretary has given us to believe, but there is one query which arises. When the House was discussing the 1937 Regency Bill, it was made quite clear that the 1937 Act did not require the endorsement of the Dominions and that the Governors-General in each of the Dominions already had powers to enable them to perform all the Royal functions, even during the incapacity of the Sovereign in this country. I take it that that is the position today with regard to the Bill and that it does not legally require the endorsement of any of the Dominions or countries of the Commonwealth, especially those where Governors- General are still operating. A different problem, of course, arises in those parts of the Commonwealth where it looks as if the system of representation by means of Governors-General is on the verge of being terminated. My complaint is the lack of information that has been given to the House. The Home Secretary did say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when acting Prime Minister, informed the House on 22nd July that amendments of the Regency Act, 1937, were to be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion:
The point I should like to make is that I very much doubt whether the House would have been given even that snippet of information had I not addressed a Question to the acting Prime Minister then. That leads me to suppose that, but for the fact of this Question having been put down for answer on 22nd July, we should not have been told until the opening of the present Season of Parliament that the Government were proposing to do anything at all in the matter. I should like to revert to what happened on 22nd July when I put this Question and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the first official declaration of the Government's intentions. When I raised the question the Chancellor made it quite clear that the delay had nothing at all to do with the matrimonial intentions of Princess Margaret or any other member of the Royal Family. I am quite sure that many people were glad to have that assurance. It will be within the recollection of the House that on 9th July, 1952, when we were discussing the Civil List, a point that was very strongly stressed by hon. Members on all sides of the House was that the additional financial provision that we were proposing to make for Princess Margaret in the event of her marriage was so as to give her a much greater freedom of choice than might otherwise be the case. The Home Secretary told us today that this Bill is not an exclusion Bill. It does not exclude anybody. I accept that he is right, and the primary object of the Bill is not to exclude Princess Margaret but to move her one place down in the list of persons who may act as Regent. It may still be that the status and the future matrimonial intentions of Princess Margaret did not enter at all into the discussions that the Dominion Premiers had here. In that I am fortified by a statement made by Mr. Menzies. In the only report that I have seen of that statement, which appeared in the "Daily Herald" on 24th July, two days after the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered my Question in the House, Mr. Menzies said:"It is the Government's intention to introduce a Bill before Her Majesty leaves on her Commonwealth tour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd, July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 373.]
That may be so, but I find it difficult to understand how it was possible to agree to the substitution of the Duke of Edinburgh as Regent in the place of Princess Margaret without some kind of discussion about the Royal Lady herself. What struck me as particularly remarkable after the Question and answer in the House on 22nd July was the similarity of language and detailed accuracy in the Press reports of the actual provisions of this Regency Bill. Whatever organs of the Press are referred to about that time, this astonishing similarity of language and accuracy of detail about the Bill will be noted. I wonder whether that was a complete fluke or a lucky accident by the Press of this and other countries, or whether the authorities did not take belated steps to let the world know something of what they had been talking about for so many months, and what their intentions were. That brings me to a typical example of Press comment. It is an editorial which appeared in "The Times" on 24th July last. The writer points out, quite rightly, that any action taken in connection with the Regency is a matter of the greatest constitutional importance, and then he goes on to say:"The Commonwealth Premiers did not discuss Princess Margaret during their talks as reported in Britain."
That indicates a state of affairs not within the knowledge of most hon. Members of this House. The Home Secretary did not take advantage of the opportunity today to indicate the several occasions when the Act has been found, in practice, to be a misfit though that situation had arisen from time to time. "The Times" went on to say that the arrangements under which Princess Margaret would become Regent would seem to be curious, for this very interesting and significant statement is made:"It is common knowledge that the need to amend the Regency Act, 1937, began to be discussed within the first month of the reign. That Act, though intended to lay down rules of permanent validity, was hurriedly drafted, and has several times been found, in practice, to be a misfit to situations unforeseen when it was shaped."
It is not for me to comment on the propriety of that expression of opinion, but in view of what the Home Secretary has disclosed to the House for the first time this afternoon, that Princess Margaret shares the desire that the Duke of Edinburgh should become Regent, it seems to me to indicate a remarkable degree of prescience on the part of the gentleman who wrote the leader in "The Times" that day. The editorial went on to say that the reasonable order of succession to the Regency would be, first of all, the Duke of Cornwall when of full age and, then omitting Princess Anne, the Duke of Edinburgh. It added:"There is no reason to doubt that Princess Margaret feels likewise; indeed, Mr. Butler has as good as said that she does."
I am almost inclined to believe that "The Times" leader writer that day was their racing correspondent, among whose professional duties it is to place the first three a long time before the event occurs. Underlying many of the speeches we have heard today there is a rather bland assumption of complete unanimity of opinion in this country as to the desirability of the Duke of Edinburgh being the Regent. I am not in a position to say—no one is—to what extent that assumption is valid, but it would be overstating the case if the Government or any hon. Member were to try to create the impression that there is complete unanimity throughout the country in this matter. Let me refer to the editorial which appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" in July of this year. Their leader writer wrote:"Princess Margaret, as third choice of the law, would be honourably placed in the list."
Last July the "Manchester Guardian" saw a complication in this proposal, which they got to know about long before we did, that the Duke of Edinburgh should take a closer and more detailed interest in the affairs of State—I do not think many of us would object to that because at present perhaps he has no right of access to all State papers. The "Manchester Guardian" then wondered whether the conception of a Victorian Prince Consort with near-regal influence, was being advanced or was likely to be advanced by the Government in the not too distant future. It is perhaps relevant to remember that although we had the Regency Act of 1840, appointing Prince Albert as Regent, it was not until 1857 that he was made Prince Consort. I have referred to what the "Manchester Guardian" said. The "Daily Express" took the view that the decision of the Government to amend the Regency Act would be widely regretted. That was their statement of editorial policy on 23rd July last. They went on to say:"There will be many who feel that the custom embodied in the 1937 Act should not lightly be set aside. It seems to be more in the spirit of the traditions of the British Monarchy that the Regency should be kept in the line of succession rather than pass to one who is not. The need for change is not obvious, although a minor change to include the Queen Mother among the Counsellors of State, who act during the Sovereign's absence from the country, will obviously be welcomed."
I find it difficult to disagree fundamentally with that point of view because there is no absolutely essential reason, constitutional or otherwise, for requiring the Regency and the guardianship to be necessarily in one and the same pair of hands. The "Daily Express," no doubt representing a not inconsiderable majority of its readers, said that there were powerful arguments in favour of keeping the Regency within the present line of succession. On an issue of this kind, as the newspaper to which I have referred pointed out, which concerns a Royal personage in the line of succession to the Throne, the nation as a whole is inevitably and widely interested, and this cannot be dismissed as a matter of idle curiosity or held to be an improper subject of public interest or comment. I could quote other examples to indicate that there is by no means that degree of complete unanimity which perhaps some of the speeches to which we have listened today might lead to us believe. There are one or two other matters of important constitutional significance to which I think attention should be directed. The best, and indeed the only, precedent for the action which the House is being asked to take today is the 1840 Regency Act, which is itself the only complete precedent that can be regarded as on all-fours with the present situation. There we had Queen and husband, for whom it was thought right and proper to make certain arrangements. Bills of this kind are initiated by a Royal Message to this House. It is quite clear, and good constitutional practice to maintain, that although it is a Royal Message, in the same way as the speech from the Throne is the Queen's Speech, nevertheless the Royal Message and the various forms of communication which the Crown employs for communication with this House are suggested by the advice of the responsible Ministers of the Crown. Therefore, the Government must accept responsibility, and is open to criticism or challenge in relation to the terms of the Royal Message itself. Erskine May, at page 801, makes it quite clear that these several forms of communication are suggested by the advice of the responsible Ministers of the Crown. It is of great interest, therefore, to see how different was the Royal Message of last week from the Royal Message which led to the 1840 Act. The latter was brief, and it will not take a long time to read, if I may be permitted to do so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because it may not be easily or quickly available to hon. Members. The Royal Message of 1840 said this:"Many people will regret this change, even if Princess Margaret herself has consented to it. The Duke of Edinburgh would be the natural choice as guardian of his son, Prince Charles. But there is no reason why the State duties devolving on a Regent should not be separated from the tasks of guardianship."
If we compare that message with the message received last week, it will be noted that there are substantial differences, differences to which I think it is my duty to draw attention, because we are creating in matters of this kind important constitutional precedents. In the first place, the Royal Message for which the Ministers of the Crown are responsible was of a much more mandatory character on this occasion than it has even been before; much more mandatory in character than the Royal Message leading to the 1937 Regency Act. We are told in specific words that several things ought to be done. So far as I have been able to ascertain, this is the first time in connection with arrangements for a Regency that this House of Parliament has been given specific and detailed statements indicating what it was that the House was expected to do. What I call the mandatory tinge which colours this last Royal Message indicates that, presumably, the proper constitutional practice was followed and the advice of the Prime Minister and, possibly, other Ministers was taken in connection with it. I leave that point there, because having made it I hope that on future occasions, if it becomes necessary, it will be found more suitable to follow the precedent of 1840 and to make some reference to the"The uncertainty of human life and a deep sense of duty to my people, render it incumbent upon me to recommend to you to consider contingencies which may hereafter take place and to make such provision as will in any event secure the exercise of the Royal authority. I shall be prepared to concur with you in those measures which may appear best calculated to maintain unimpaired the power and dignity of the Crown and thereby to strengthen the securities which protect the rights and liberties of My people."
and to the need to"deep sense of duty to My people"
It seems to me that it would be a pity if traditional words of that kind were omitted or not used on future occasions. I think that they are words which have significance and ought not to be discarded lightly in favour of the far more detailed kind of recommendation as a result of which we are discussing this Bill today. Reference has been made to debates here in connection with the 1937 Act. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) pointed out that the only people in this House at that time who objected to the 1937 Act—to a permanent provision being made based on the hereditary principle—were Jimmy Maxton, George Buchanan and William Gallacher. They were treated with scorn at the time. I think they were wrong in the line that they took then, as I think the Government are wrong now in accepting the line that those three gentlemen advocated then—that is, making ad hoc arrangements every time there was a new accession to the Throne. The Home Secretary and other hon. Members have made quotations to show that it was clearly the intention of the House at that time to make permanent provision to get over these difficulties of canvassing personalities and deciding whether or not in the particular circumstances of a given situation A was better than B or C should be moved down one place so that D should take over. That was the whole object of the 1937 Act. Yet, 16 years after it was put on the Statute Book, the Government throw it back into the melting pot and we have immediately the old situation in which the House, whether it likes it or not, has to consider the relative merits of different Royal personages. That must be just as embarrassing to the Royal personages themselves as it is to hon. Members of this House who wish to raise and discuss these matters. As the then Home Secretary pointed out in 1937, on the subject of identifying the Regent clearly and quickly without the necessity of legislating every time that there was a new accession:"strengthen the securities which protect the rights and liberties of My people."
The House then approved of that proposition, and I still approve of it. Perhaps we shall have the spectacle of seeing people who voted for the absolutely opposite thing in 1937 voting for this Bill today."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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1937; Vol. 319, c. 1455.]
There is nothing new in that.
I do not think that the House has yet been given all the reasons for the change in the Regency arrangements. The reasons ought to be explained in full. It is certainly not right to brush the issue aside in a brief and almost perfunctory speech as if important matters were not involved. We now come to the precedent of 1840. This is the strongest precedent on which the case for these proposed arrangements is based.Let us examine it for a moment. I have already said that the 1937 Act was passed, with the full approbation of all the major parties at the time, in order to do away with the need for special legislation every time that a situation arose which required Parliament to take action. But the situation today is not really analogous to that of 1840, for reasons which I can explain fairly briefly. In 1840, the next person of full age in succession to the Throne was Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who had become King of Hanover in 1837. Queen Victoria was an only child. If the Home Secretary is to say that 1840 should be the precedent by which we must be guided now, how can he be absolutely certain that if Queen Victoria had had a younger sister at that time. Prince Albert would necessarily have been made Regent none the less? So in that one important respect there is a considerable difference between the situation now and that in 1840. The Duke of Cumberland who became King of Hanover was universally distrusted, although he was the actual Regent for a period from 1837 to 1840; and matters would not have been improved if the Regency had been given to Queen Victoria's next surviving uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who was regarded as an amiable eccentric and who protested in the debate in another place when the 1840 Act was being passed through that House. Another point in connection with 1840 is that at that date there was not in existence any prior Act which gave the Regency to someone else. In other words, there was no question of Prince Albert displacing some other member of the Royal Family who had already been named as Regent in an existing Act of Parliament. That is an important consideration which seems to have been overlooked. That confirms the argument which I am trying to advance, that the proposed change in the Regency arrangements should be agreed to only if very cogent reasons exist for the change to be carried out. I do not say that circumstances could not arise which would justify a complete reversal of whatever legislative arrangements we may have made in the past, but I do not know that there has been such a complete upheaval in the situation as to justify the change which the Government now ask us to accept. Whether we like it or not, any change will cause some misunderstanding in some quarters, and I ask whether it is worth while to create such misunderstanding, and possibly distress, for the purpose of pushing this Bill through so rapidly without a full opportunity being given to the House of considering all the important implications involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick raised the idea of having a Governor-General in this country during the Queen's absence in other parts of the Commonwealth. He first advocated this when we were discussing the Royal Titles Bill in the House, and the idea found some measure of support among hon. Members opposite. With the Second Reading of this Bill today and the Committee stage tomorrow, how is it possible for the Home Secretary, with the best will in the world, to give serious consideration to that and other points which may be regarded as of material importance? The House has been placed in a very difficult position as a result of the secrecy which has surrounded this whole affair for so many months past and also as a result of the rapid speed with which we are being asked to approve the Bill. In my opinion, the public are entitled to know about the negotiations which have been going on for at least the past 19 months. An attempt seems to have been made to hustle and stampede the House into a hasty acceptance of a pre-arranged plan, kept secret until the last possible moment. We do not know what exactly is meant by the references which the Home Secretary has made to consultations with Commonwealth Premiers and to the consent of all members of the Royal Family. We do not know what members of the Royal Family he has consulted. The whole object of the 1937 Act, as I tried to make clear, and as other hon. Members have made clear, was to make it unnecessary to canvass personalities or to name one personality as more suitable than another whenever there was an accession to the Throne, yet that is precisely what the Government are now doing by deviating from the hereditary principle, which is the most important principle upon which the Monarchy of this country is based. Whatever they may say, the Government are deviating from the hereditary principle and to that extent are weakening the basis of the Monarchy in this country. The strength of the Monarchy depends upon the hereditary basis, because we do not have to argue whether a successor to the Throne is the most suitable person or not. That is made unnecessary by the rules of heredity. It may well be that there could be a younger brother or a younger son who would make a far better Monarch than—
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is repeating his argument at some length. To me it is becoming rather tedious.
I consider it my duty, even if I am the only hon. Member to do so, to give expression even to what may be a tiny minority of opinion in this country, and I therefore make no apology for dealing with the matter at greater length than otherwise would be the case. After all, this situation can arise only once in very many years, and this is the only opportunity an hon. Member has of dealing with these problems.
I do not take any exception to the minority view at all, but I was taking exception to the tedious repetition of the same argument.
In those circumstances, I shall rapidly draw to a close.It may well be that delicate personal issues are involved in the proposals now before us. If that is so, the Government must not seek to evade their responsibility for throwing the 1937 arrangements overboard. There are doubts about the wisdom which has been shown by the Government in this matter, and even if those doubts are entertained by only a minority, it is, nevertheless, right that they should be expressed here. Hon. Members should be treated as responsible representatives of an adult democracy, quite capable of reconciling the public interest of this country and of the Commonwealth with a human understanding of the position of the Monarchy. We are all prepared to show every consideration for the feelings of the Royal Family, even if we think that the Ministerial advice by which they must be guided, in this as in other matters, is not acceptable to all of us. In a matter of this kind it must be firmly understood and made quite clear that not only has Parliament a final right to decide, but that we cannot and are not prepared to abrogate that right.
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but as I listened to the interesting suggestion by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) that the system of a Council of State should be replaced by the appointment of a Governor-General, it occurred to me that, in addition to the possible difficulties in relation to the Northern Kingdom of Scotland, there is a difficulty in relation to Northern Ireland.This problem should not be overlooked. It is that we in Northern Ireland already have a Governor. It would be possible for confusion to arise if a Governor-General were appointed for the United Kingdom. It could seem strange for a Governor of Northern Ireland to take orders from a Governor-General of the United Kingdom.
I see this problem about Northern Ireland, but it exists in Australia, where there is a Governor-General and also a Governor of each State of Australia. They have no difficulty in reconciling the appointments and in understanding the relationship between the Governor and the Governor-General.
I think it would make for a very difficult problem.However, to revert to the Bill, we hope that this eventuality will never arise. In Northern Ireland we hold the Duke of Edinburgh in very great respect. Last July, we were very glad to be able to welcome Her Majesty and His Royal Highness when they paid a visit to that very loyal corner of the United Kingdom. May I add, in conclusion, that in Northern Ireland we are completely devoted to Her Majesty the Queen Mother? I believe that this applies to all sections of the community, irrespective of politics or creed.
I have listened carefully to the statement of the Home Secretary and to the speeches of hon. Members. From my point of view, I object to the proposed change. I do not do that because of any opinions I have outside the question of a Monarchy or a republic. I have always been a republican, though I realise that this country does not accept my point of view.During my recent visit to Australia I saw there an overwhelming amount of loyalty to the Crown which would have surprised anybody with similar views to my own. Five times a day, at every change of programme in every cinema, a portrait of the Queen is shown and the band play the National Anthem. Every person in the audience speedily rises to his or her feet. That loyalty seems to be the keynote throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. I say that because I have republican views. There is something in this Bill which has not been fully explained to the House. The Home Secretary has not given us exactly the reason why the change is being made. I agree that a father is the proper person to look after his son if the latter is, unfortunately, deprived of his mother. I hope that such a contingency will not arise, but if the heir apparent is deprived of his mother I think that, as this country places great reliance on the proper management of its affairs, the custodianship should pass to another member of the Royal Family. I wonder what the reasons are when the Home Secretary says that Princess Margaret has been consulted and has agreed. I wonder whether that is the sort of answer they get behind the Iron Curtain when the prisoner comes before the court and agrees to all that is taking place and admits all he is charged with. A sensible reason should be given for the change. Has Princess Margaret really been consulted in a proper manner? Has she given her agreement, or is this being forced upon her? It is all very well to speak, like the hon. Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford), of the great and valued services of Prince Philip. It was nauseating to hear such talk about the Duke of Windsor. All the people who said all the nasty things about him later were those who had said the good things in this House and resented anybody making any criticism. These people are all human beings. I say this about Prince Philip because he is not in line of succession. There is not only Princess Margaret, but there is the Duke of Gloucester and the Princess Royal. All these people seem to be passed over in favour of Prince Philip. I do not say that Prince Philip is not rapidly establishing a place in the hearts of the people, but great care must be taken in this matter. I noticed the other day that he even entered into the field of controversy in one or two items about National Service, conscription, and so on. One can heap too many gifts, too many duties and too great a power on to the head of an individual, and his head may become a little turned. I also want to ask the Home Secretary what will happen in the unfortunate event, which we hope will never happen, of the child being deprived of his mother, and the Prince marrying again completely outside the field of Royalty? Do we still continue to allow him to supervise and superintend both the education of the young Regent and also the work and duties with which he may be entrusted? The Home Secretary made another comment that disturbed me. He said that in the event of anything unfortunate happening to Her Majesty the Queen which put her out of ordinary service, we, to a large extent, make the Duke in essence the King, because we give him the complete duties of the Crown. That is carrying the matter a bit far. Therefore, so far as the whole of the affair is concerned, I say that when we get the Royal Message here it looks to me to be coming from the Queen more as a form of command to this House that this has to be carried through, and that the Members are taken to be robots to carry out the will of the Monarchy whenever it is desired to make a change. Changes are going on all the time according to the needs of the time, and also to modernise the whole institution in accordance with the will of the people and the needs of the country. I am not against that but, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) said, this has been shrouded in a great amount of secrecy. There has been a great amount of private conference on the matter before Members were told what was going on. The command from the Queen and the secrecy applied to this by the Ministers, and the leaders of the Opposition as well, make it appear that it has been taken for granted that we shall all click our heels and spring to attention when somebody gives the command. I object when people assume that I am in their pocket and that they need only command for me to obey. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) suggested that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, might have been trusted with the job. If I had to vote between the two, my vote would go to Prince Philip.
I merely used the precedent of the constitutions of the Commonwealth countries. I did not suggest the Lord Chief Justice, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) misunderstood what I said.
I am very glad that I was mistaken. I hope that nobody in this House would suggest Lord Goddard.I should like to know what happens if any of these contingencies arise and anything should happen to Her Majesty and her job should be entrusted to Prince Philip. What happens if he remarries outside Royalty? We must be very careful. We all know what happened to the Duke of Windsor, and so on. I am not asking that he should be entrusted with looking after the young Prince. I suggest that an explanation is required about the passing over of Princess Margaret. In view of the controversy that went on around the Throne about Princess Margaret for some time, I wonder whether there is not a deeper objection to her being entrusted with the task instead of Prince Philip.
The House will congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Col. Lipton) on his remarkable speech, during which he not only exhausted constitutional research but the House as well. Although this is an important Measure I think that some hon. Members have been overdoing it. For a moment one ought to consider what this Bill is really about, to consider its dimensions and its effect.The first observation I should like to make is about the speech of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport). Does the hon. Member think that what he said was relevant to the immediate task of the Bill? If we were to adopt what he wants, we should at once work ourselves into the most amazing constitutional complications, and it would be entirely outside the scope of anything that the Bill seeks to do. The object of the Bill as I see it is to meet the special circumstances that exist today. That principle, surely, is unobjectionable. It is unobjectionable for a very sound, safe constitutional reason, that if the circumstances were to change tomorrow Parliament would still have the power in its hands to deal with the question of Regency according to the changed circumstances. Therefore, subject to one observation, I regard Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill as wholly good. I have raised the question of a special contingency because this is a Bill of contingency. It is said by the Home Secretary that it is not a Bill of exclusions, but it is a Bill of contingency. I was anxious to bring to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind a contingency which had occurred to me and which I thought he ought to consider, and which, I think, he will agree ought to be ventilated as far as the public are concerned. The public should be informed of all the relevant aspects of this matter as it relates to the special circumstances which the Bill seeks to provide. This Bill is, of course, only an ad hoc Measure. Looking at the matter as broadly and carefully as one can, it seems to me to be the only method of dealing with the matters for which it seeks to provide; I cannot see any other way of doing it. If the circumstances should change, then, by the same ad hoc method, those changed circumstances can be dealt with. I should like to make this comment on the appointment of the Duke of Edinburgh as Regent. In my opinion, he obviously must be the proper person. There is no question here of the matter of Prince Consort, and it is irrelevant in any case. The question here is the Regency, and nothing else. The Duke is, obviously, closely associated with the Queen in her Sovereignty. He is asso- ciated with her in affairs of State, in Royal functions and Royal visits, and, no doubt, also in day to day events so far as the discharge of her Sovereign functions are concerned. I should have thought it was manifest that the Duke of Edinburgh was the most likely personage to protect the Queen's interests and to protect the child's interests, if it became necessary, and, in addition, to protect the country's interests too; all three things are bound up together and are inseparable. Therefore, both as a husband and as a father, the Duke is the natural guardian and Regent in the present circumstances. It is important, but not necessarily entirely relevant, that the Duke has endeared himself to the country. It makes him all the more acceptable in addition to the qualifications that I have mentioned. It is not merely, and it ought not merely to be, a matter of affection, but I think that as far as the Duke is concerned he has earned not only the trust but the respect of the country, and those are two very important elements in considering his appointment. Another element that appeals to me and, I am sure, to the country—and, I think, it will appeal to the middle class and to the workers—is that the Duke has had a very special experience which particularly equips him for a democratic outlook. Therefore, no one could be better, if, unfortunately, it ever became necessary, to discharge the functions of Regent. I am in absolute agreement with Clause 3. Not only is it right that the Queen Mother should be included as a Counsellor of State, but a great deal of experience which she has gathered would be lost if she were not so included. Therefore, on all these points, which are really the short point of substance, and not the wider point which is not relevant to the immediate circumstances, I heartily support the Bill.
With the leave of the House, I should like to deal with one or two points that have been raised, because I think that the right hon. and hon. Members who have raised them will expect me to do so. I am grateful for the support which the Bill has received from the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), who put very modestly his undoubted claims to be the only vocal Member of the House in 1937 who had seen the difficulty with which there is general agreement we ought to deal today. That support was implicit in all the speeches down to that of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), who indicated his support for the practical provisions of the Bill in no uncertain voice.I should like to divide my remarks into two parts, to deal first with Regency points and then come to the Counsellors of State point, which is in a slightly different field. With regard to the Regency points, I think it would be right for me to say a word or two about the arguments that have been advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton). The hon. and gallant Member suggested that this matter had been wrapped in secrecy. I thought that that point might not be absent from his remarks, and I have with me a note of what was said on the occasion that he asked a Question on 22nd July. Far be it from me to deprive him of the prescience and encomium of having asked the Question; he was perfectly entitled to do so. He asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister:
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied:"whether he has yet reached a decision on the introduction of legislation to amend the Regency Act, 1937."
The Leader of the Opposition said:"Amendment of the Regency Act, 1937, has been under consideration since shortly after the Queen's accession and was among the matters discussed with Commonwealth Prime Ministers when they were here for the Coronation. It is the Government's intention to introduce a Bill before Her Majesty leaves on her Commonwealth tour."
My right hon. Friend replied:"May we assume that the contents of the proposed Bill will be agreeable to all the members of the Royal Family?"
Then the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton asked:"Yes, Sir. That is certainly the case, and I can give a definite answer to that in the affirmative."
My right hon. Friend replied:"Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this amending legislation has not been held up all this time by a desire on the part of some Ministers and their advisers to interfere with the wish of members of the Royal Family, in their private and personal affairs, to live their own lives?"
At that there was "Hear, hear" generally in the House. In face of that, it cannot be said that the matter was kept in secret. It was quite clear that the Bill was to be introduced. My right hon. Friend repelled with some justifiable warmth the suggestion of interference regarding Princess Margaret, which was implied in that matter. Therefore, I should like to make it clear, as the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has raised this point again, that there was consultation, that the matter was put clearly to Princess Margaret and that Princess Margaret had every chance to consider it and to authorise me to make that statement after full consideration. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants an assurance of that kind, and will not persist in an allegation which would give pain, apart from anything else, if I say that with the utmost clarity, directness and personal knowledge."Such a matter has never even required Ministerial advice, and it has never come before the Cabinet. I think I am voicing the opinion of all Members when I say that in a personal matter of this kind, the feelings of those concerned should be respected by everybody and the present deplorable speculation and gossip brought to an end."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 373.]
Did Princess Margaret herself ask for these phrases, or was she asked to make them?
I cannot go into initial matters.I have dealt fully and clearly with the point which the hon. Member for Shettleston raised, and I wanted to make it absolutely certain. I know that he would not have put it forward if he had not felt some concern. I hope he will take it that there was a full and clear opportunity for consideration. After that, the authorisation was given to me to say what I have said today.
I accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said on both points, but I asked him for something other than that. What were the real reasons?
That was the next point. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton asked me for that as well. I did try at that time, and I thought that the majority of the House understood and appreciated the reason which is the most compelling one in this matter. The full basis of the argument of the hon. and gallant Member is that there should be separation between Regency and guardianship, and he said so specifically. I said before, and I repeat, that I do not think that is a good thing.Perhaps I might ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to use their imagination on this point. The hypothesis of the hon. and gallant Member is that there is a Regent who is carrying on the Royal functions and is, for that reason, living in certain places, performing certain duties and having a style of life necessary to do that. We cannot get away from it that that existence must be a separate one. Then we have a guardian who, again, has his establishment, his household, his position. Take the last two years. Take the position where a future Sovereign is in that period from 16 to 18 years of age. Everyone wants him to receive training and gradual introduction and initiation into the duties which he has to assume at 18. Imagine that during that time there is this separation, which is the keynote of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument. It is easy to imagine, to put it at its lowest, that the future Sovereign will be deprived of that chance of instruction and initiation which is so important. I do not want to go through the happenings of the past which the historians among our listeners will have very much in mind, where there has been conflict between households and a character undermined by that position. That is the answer. I have tried to crystalise it by saying that anyone who approaches this matter imaginatively will agree with me that the combination in one hand of Regency, guardianship and paternal influence is surely the best state of affairs. That is the best answer to the argument on its merits. I believe that the hon. Member for Shettleston would be the last to resent a slight amount of mildly humorous recollection with regard to the other limb of the argument. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton has said, "Lay down your general principle. Set that out for the future and do not deviate from it." I can remember enjoying very much the speeches of hon. Gentlemen who used to sit on the Front Bench below the Gangway before the war, corresponding to the one where the hon. Member for Shettleston is sitting today, and which was occupied by the Independent Labour Party; and particularly of the hon. Gentleman who was a dear friend of all Members of the House, the late Mr. Maxton. There was Mr. Buchanan, who is still with us though otherwise employed, and Mr. Campbell Stephen. Of course, on our side we enjoyed the speeches better when their criticism was directed laterally than when it was directed at us. After the hon. Member for Shettleston had spoken, I wanted to see what his hon. Friends had said in those days. Mr. Maxton's argument against the Bill was: "You are tying up the future." We are saying today that if we tie up the future we shall have to look at it again, and that was how I began my opening speech on the Bill. It is interesting to see that Mr. Buchanan's argument was that that method precluded that consideration of the position of the Monarchy which he thought it might be healthy for the House to make. True, the hon. Member for Shettleston was not there, but remembering his loyalty to his comrades at that time, as those who are now old-stagers can, I cannot believe that he had any great opposition at that time to the other three Members of his party. If the hon. Member is accusing us who take the other view of a volte face, we can say with the utmost good temper and good will: "You also are in the same galley."
I was abroad in Sweden at the time, but I am in agreement with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it should not be hard and fast. All that is happening tonight is that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton is under the impression that the idea which he put forward is the correct one, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has now explained that it is not.
I am much relieved. I confess that until this last intervention I believed, from the speech of the hon. Gentleman, that he was acting as junior counsel to the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton and putting forward his view; but as he has explained that he does not hold a hard-and-fast view, that leaves the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton in splendid isolation so far as the vocal expression is concerned.I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not mind me referring to old days, because it is very pleasant to do so, especially when one can make, as I felt I could, some point out of it. But before I said that, I tried to deal, and I think the House understands that I did, with every serious argument on the merits of this matter, and I tried to do it again. I think that is the answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton. I have quoted the whole of what was said on 22nd July because I think it made the position clear and expressed the almost universal opinion of the House against the circulating of rumours and suggestions of the kind which my right hon. Friend denied. But the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton, in marshalling his journalistic support, quoted, I think it was from a leader, from the "Manchester Guardian," saying that it was not the custom of our Constitution in the past to put forward a Bill of his kind. With very great respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, Homer can nod, and even the "Manchester Guardian" can be wrong on historical matters. If it was my own poor knowledge of history which I was pitting against them, I would not be so sure, but the whole basis of Sir John Simon's argument in putting forward the Bill in 1937 was that the custom of the country was to bring in an ad hoc Bill, whereas the Government of the day thought that custom ought to stop and that instead there ought to be a general Bill. We cannot have it both ways. Either Sir John Simon and his carefully marshalled facts were wrong, or the "Manchester Guardian" was wrong. I suggest that for once the "Manchester Guardian" was wrong. The hon. and gallant Gentleman raised what I venture to submit is a very bad point with regard to the question of the Message. It is quite true, and of course we accept it, that the Message is something which is done on advice. The responsibility is ours, and I hope that no one will think otherwise. I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not want to suggest anything else, but he thought that the form was wrong. The form used was that of the Message of 1937, which read:
It is a form which, with slight variance, has been used on many occasions before. I want to make it quite clear because, believe me, the Government had not the slightest intention of seeming to use a mandatory or dictatorial form. It will be remembered that what was asked was that we should take into consideration the expediency of amending the law. The Resolution which I moved said that the House would discuss the matter and then do what appeared to be expedient. Therefore, in my view, there was no substance in that point. That is one side of the matter, and now that we have clarified the position of the hon. Member for Shettleston, the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton remains alone in that argument. I do not think that any evidence has been put forward—and none, in fact, exists—of secrecy or motives other than those put before the House. The other point is one of great interest and great importance. It was raised by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and referred to the Counsellors of State. The right hon. Gentleman regretted that we had continued the existence of Counsellors of State, and he got some support from my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport). The point I want to make clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester is, if I may say so with great respect, that he has got the position entirely wrong. He talked the whole time about a "Council of State." There is no such thing as a Council of State. There are Counsellors spelt with an "s," but they have no corporate capacity. They are the qualified individuals who perform such Royal functions as are set out in the Letters Patent. Therefore, his whole argument against the existence of a corporate body seems to me to fall to the ground. But that is not the whole matter, because there is the other argument which the right hon. Member for Smethwick adumbrated and which my hon. Friend, pro tanto, supported—the question whether should be a Governor-General, or something of that sort. Clearly, that is a very much more extended purpose than the obvious purpose of this Bill. I do not want to go into the argument in any great detail because I think that the spirit of so doing would be out of order, even though it were technically correct on Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman has raised a most important point, which I believe is in all our minds, as to the symbols of the Commonwealth and the unfortunate effect it would have if we seemed to be monopolising these symbols. There is also the other point that we ought on all occasions to be looking for not only greater but clearer and more obvious things that are shared by the Commonwealth as a whole. I entirely sympathise with that point of view, but I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the point is not an easy one. Actually, as he knows, the whole procedure that existed from 1688 to 1821 consisted of appointing Lords Justices. Lords Justices were appointed to exercise Royal functions in the Sovereign's absence. In 1845 the law officers advised that such appointments were not legally necessary. They said that improved means of communication and changed conditions made them unnecessary, and from 1821 no appointments of Lords Justices were made when the Sovereign visited the Continent. There is slightly more antiquity than was suggested, because in 1911, when His late Majesty King George V went to India, Counsellors of State were appointed, and again in 1925 during the Mediterranean cruise after his illness."These circumstances lead Me to recommend that you should take into your consideration the making of permanent provision."
Without statutory authority, I take it, because there was no statute?
The first statute was 1937.But the position is that the Counsellors of State in this country, and the Governors-General acting in the Realms of the Commonwealth, do provide a practical method of carrying on the Royal functions that are devolved. It was really part of the mistake which my hon. Friend made in having the concept of a Council of State, but it is not nearly so difficult to work, because it is prescribed in the Letters Patent how many Counsellors of State are necessary to perform any function and sign any document, and in fact, over the greater field of the work, two can act. There is not much difficulty there. Therefore, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that everyone in the House, certainly the Government, believe that he has raised an interesting point. I promise that I shall certainly consider it myself, and my colleagues will also, but I do not think at the moment that it would be right so greatly to enlarge the field of this Bill by changing to the conception that he has in mind, especially when we have heard doubts expressed in this House. As he knows, it is a matter on which there would not only have to be consideration and discussion at home, but it would have to be very carefully discussed with all the Governments of the Commonwealth before anything could be done. But I hope that he will take it as sincere when I say that not only the Government, but the whole House, is grateful to him for having put this point before us. We will consider it in that spirit, but I cannot make any promise as to the Bill. After all, as I said, the Bill is limited, and practical and straightforward. It makes no exclusion, but it does put the Duke of Edinburgh in this position in these two events, where his children are under 18 or his wife is incapacitated and ill. Apart from that, it makes the difference, against which I think no one has said a word, of making the age of Regency for the heir 18 years; and then it adds the Queen Mother. I hope that, after this discussion, the House will give this Bill a fair wind, and now let us have it unopposed.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. R. Thompson.]