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The Royal Message

Volume 39: debated on Tuesday 12 December 1837

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Viscount Melbourne moved the order of the day for taking into consideration her Majesty's gracious message.

The message having been read by the clerk,

said, he had the honour yesterday to bring down from her Majesty the Queen the gracious message which had just been read, and he now rose to move that their Lordships should take that message into consideration, in order that they should return an address, declaring their readiness to concur in its recommendations, by agreeing to such measures as might be deemed fitting and necessary for carrying its object into effect. With respect to the general object of the message, he was sanguine enough to suppose that there would be but little, if any, difficulty in their Lordships agreeing to it. He was sanguine enough to hope that the loyalty and affection which their Lordships felt towards her Majesty—that the sense of gratitude which they must feel for her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent on account of the zeal, fidelity, and success with which she had discharged the great and important duties that had been confided to her in the cultivation of her Royal daughter's mind—he was sanguine enough to hope that all these motives combined would induce their Lordships on the present occasion to mark their feelings of approbation by agreeing to such an increase of the income of her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent as was called for by the difference of the situation in which she was now placed, and as would enable her to support her rank and dignity in a fitting and becoming manner. With respect to the manner in which this object was to be carried into effect, that would be discussed more properly in another place, and it would therefore be unfit for him to enter into any details. He trusted, however, that all the motives, that all the feelings to which he had alluded, that every consideration which could be brought forward, would induce their Lordships to concur at once in a general address, expressive of their readiness to concur in such measures as appeared to be necessary for carrying into effect the object of her Majesty's message. The noble Viscount concluded by moving—

"That an humble address be presented to her Majesty to thank her Majesty for her gracious message—to assure her Majesty that their Lordships were always most anxious and desirous to avail themselves of every opportunity to evince their dutiful attachment and loyalty to her Majesty's Royal person and family, and to express their Lordships' readiness to concur in all such measures as might be necessary to give effect to her Majesty's most gracious message."

said, that in his opinion the noble Viscount was incorrect in supposing that it was usual to answer a message like the present without the House being put in possession of the measures which were to be founded on it. In the case of the message which had been sent, down to that House in 1818, relative to the Royal Dukes, Lord Liverpool had stated that he thought it improper to move an address in answer until their Lordships were in possession of the measures to be brought in; and on that account the noble Earl postponed the consideration of the Prince Regent's message.

In the case of the message relative to her present Majesty, when Princess Victoria, which he believed was on the 3rd of August, 1831, the course adopted was similar to that which he now proposed.

understood the rule to be, that the message having come down on one day, it was to be taken into consideration the next? but the question for their Lordships to consider was whether it was not also usual to state first what were the measures to be brought in.

said, he believed not. He might be mistaken; but if their Lordships referred to their journals they would find that the course proposed was the regular one.

said, they could not look to the journals for the opinions or statements of any of their Lordships; but if the noble Viscount would take the trouble to look at the book which he held in his hand, he would perceive that Lord Liverpool considered it improper to take such a course. On that occasion Lord Liverpool said, in answer to an observation made by a noble Marquess (Lansdown), "that when the object of an address was merely to return thanks for a communication made to the House, the usual practice was, not to postpone it for a day, but to vote it immediately; but, when ulterior measures were to be proposed, it was due to the House that they should not be taken by surprise. He, therefore, thought it improper to propose to move an address until their Lordships were in possession of the measure which was to be recommended."

repeated that the course pursued in 1831 was precisely that which was now proposed.

thought that there could be no difference of opinion on the subject of the address. His noble Friend near him had merely referred to what had occurred on a former occasion byway of precedent, and to ascertain what was the usual practice. He was quite certain that there was no intention in the mind of any coble Lord to throw any obstacle in the way of the address. When their Lordships considered the conduct of her Royal Highness from the moment she arrived in this country—when they considered the care which she had manifested in the execution of the high duty which was intrusted to her, when they considered the important advantage which the country had derived from that care—and finally, when they recollected the number of years during which her Royal Highness was left without any provision whatsoever to meet the expense connected with the education of her daughter—he was convinced that there was no noble Lord in that House who could for a moment doubt the expediency of at once voting the address in answer to her Majesty's gracious message.

said, their Lordships were not called on by the motion to vote for any specific grant, nor to pledge themselves to give their assent to any measure which the House of Commons might send up to them. They had before them what was done on the 3d of August, 1831. At that time Ear] Grey stated, in the strongest terms, that the amount of the grant which might be made in accordance with the message then sent down must be settled by the other House, and when it came up to their Lordships, it would be for them to say whether the allowance would or would not be sufficient, and that was all their Lordships could say as to the details. On that occasion no objection was taken to the course proposed by Lord Grey, and he believed that it was the ordinary and general course pursued on similar occasions. The House, therefore, was only called upon to acknowledge the address, to express its loyalty to the throne and its affection to the royal house of which her Majesty was the head, together with its readiness to give due consideration to such measures as should come from the other House in compliance with the message.

did not consider the address as pledging the House to any specific grant.

wished to called the attention of their Lordships more particularly to the address, in order that they might see whether they were about to do anything or nothing except to acknowledge the gracious message from her Majesty. What, then, did the address say? It assured her Majesty, that their Lordships would take every opportunity of showing their dutiful attachment to her Majesty's royal person and family, and that they would heartily concur in giving effect to the object of her gracious Majesty's message, that object being to make a further provision for supporting the dignity of the Duchess of Kent, such increased provision being rendered necessary in consequence of her Royal Highness being placed in the situation of Queen mother. That was the meaning of the address. Now, if the address went merely to express their Lordship's dutiful attachment to her Majesty's royal person and family, to return her thanks for her gracious message, and to declare their desire to contribute in every way to the dignity of the Crown which her Majesty wore, and to the comfort of the family to which she belonged, and of which she was the head, no person for a moment could object to such an address, because it pledged the House to nothing specific. If the address, however, taken in connexion with the message, were to be considered as pledging the House to concur in whatever measure might be sent up to it from the other House for an increased provision for the Duchess of Kent, it was his opinion that their Lordships should pause until they knew the effect of their acquiescence, and what the other House was inclined to grant. Some might say that the proposed grant was too little—that it was not sufficient to accomplish its purpose; but on the other hand, it was possible, in the present state of parties, that there might be a conflict of rivalry between them—that they might wish to outbid each other in the disposal of the income of the public, to show their loyalty, and in that case a proposition might come up, which probably one or two, and he would not say more than one or two, of their Lordships, might think excessive. The address, if carried, pledged the House to whatever was sent up from the other House. Now, in his opinion, it was necessary that that should be modified. He spoke with great diffidence on this subject. He had not the remotest idea of objecting to what had been so well expressed by the noble Duke. He felt with their Lordships, and with a large proportion of the nation, if not with the whole nation, the merits, the high merits of the illustrious personage of whom the noble Duke had spoken. Ever since she arrived in this country, but above all, time she was deprived of the comfort and assistance of her Royal husband, she had been placed in a peculiar situation, in a situation also of the utmost importance. During that period her conduct had been above all censure—it had been out of the reach of censure—and beyond all panegyric. Nevertheless, as they were not assembled to pass compliments on any personage, however exalted, they ought (if they did not meet as a mere matter of formality) before they pledged themselves to an increase of income, as necessary, to be satisfied as to the particulars of the case. He conceived, that they ought, in the first instance to know what was the present amount of the Duchess of Kent's income. He believed that he might venture to ask their Lordships whether they were aware of the amount of that income, without any chance of receiving a satisfactory answer. Looking at the Acts of Parliament connected with this subject, particularly that of 1831, it was difficult to say whether that income was 16,000l. a-year, or 22,000l. a-year, He knew, that in at once acceding to the address now before them, their Lordships would feel that they were discharging a most pleasing duty. It was, therefore, exceedingly painful to him to be forced, by the absence of information, into the present line of observation which was likely to be misrepresented, as misrepresented it assuredly would be. He was well aware of the universal and ardent desire which prevailed to make the grant as liberal as possible, and therefore, he repealed, he felt great pain in making these observations. But still no consideration should prevent him from performing an imperative duty. Well, then, he found that the letter of the Act of 1831 limited the grant to her Royal Highness to 16,000l. a-year. A sum of 4,000l. was then added to the income of 12,000l., which she previously enjoyed for her own life, and 6,000l. during the life of herself and her illustrious daughter, in consideration of the expense arising out of her daughter's education. The words of the Act confined the last-mentioned grant to the period "during which the Princess Victoria should continue to occasion additional expense." So long it was enacted should this grant of 6,000l. be continued. Such was the letter of the Act, whatever might be said of its spirit. The additional expense had now, however, ceased, and they ought, he conceived, to take into consideration that sum of 6,000l. a-year as if it were now to be added to the original income. He was very far from saying that this would be a sufficient provision. It might be completely insufficient. For ought he knew, an increase very much beyond that income might be necessary. But, nevertheless, he should wish to know why they should at once pledge themselves to the affirmative of the present proposition. They ought to consider, whether if they agreed to the address now before them, they could hereafter draw back if they were so disposed, in consequence of what might be proposed elsewhere, and say that the 6,000l. a-year to which he had already adverted was, though not exactly in form, an actual addition, for all that, to her Royal Highness's income as originally fixed. He should not he surprised if the civil list were voted quite independently of the revenues of the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. If so, surely it was right that Parliament should first know something about the amount and nature of these revenues. He thought although this House was by the constitution of the country restricted to the mere "yea," or "nay" on money bills, that they should, at all events, inquire into the framework of the proposed arrangement, so that the House might not pledge itself to any declaration upon the subject before being fully acquainted with it. If a grant had been asked for any of the princes of the blood—for instance, during the reign of George 3rd., before the civil list had been arranged—it would have been said, "How can we legislate in the dark upon this matter before we know what provision may he made in the civil list, and which may supersede the necessity of any Parliamentary grant?" Why, then, should they be called on to act differently in this instance, when they were about to make an additional provision for the Queen-mother?

admitted that his noble Friend was right. On a point of that nature, he humbled himself before his noble Friend. He was rude and uncultivated in speech. The tongue of his noble Friend was so well hung, and so well attuned to courtly airs, that he could not attempt to enter into competition with him on such subjects as these. The motions of his noble Friend were more nicely poised and governed on these points than his were. To come back to the point to which he had been calling their Lordships' attention, the Duchess of Kent was nearly connected with the throne, and might it not, he would ask, be a question, whether, from the civil list, ample provision would not be made for her Royal Highness? At all events, in the absence of any information on the subject, surely their Lordships ought not, unless their office was merely to say, "yea" or "nay" to what was proposed to them from other quarters to pledge themselves to any particular course without being; fully satisfied that it was just to themselves and to the country. He hoped that their Lordships would reflect before it was too late upon the anomaly, the absurdity, the extraordinary nature of the proceedings which that House of Parliament was now called on to adopt. They were called on in the dark—they were called on when in a state of ignorance, to decide, prospectively, upon what ought to be done, for what he trusted might, and he hoped would be, a very, very long period—a long and happy course of years— he might say, probably, for fifty or sixty years. They were required to legislate, in one sense, finally and irrevocably, because the present arrangement would be taken as part and parcel of the whole arrangement of the civil list. They were called upon to do this, because they had acted in a similar manner before. The case was, however, diametrically opposite to the former case. The Sovereign was in that instance of a very advanced age. They had then only to legislate for a few years, but they were now required to legislate for perhaps half a century. They could not tell what the value of money might be in five or six years, much less in fifty or sixty. They could not now estimate what the price of anything necessary for supporting the state and dignity of the Crown might be at that distant period. Yet, under these circumstances, they were called on to legislate, when they could not tell what the state of society might be hereafter, when they were in entire and utter ignorance of every particular connected with the matter introduced to them—under such circumstances they were required to tie the country and themselves up to certain arrangements. This was a course of proceeding which, if they had not precedent for it, no man in his sober seness—no legislator—no person who was called on to administer the affairs of a country would ever consent to adopt. What was done in the first year of George 3rd., in 1760, was no encouragement for proceeding in the same course now. It ought, on the contrary, to operate as a discouragement. It was considered that the provision then made was too little. In two years afterwards Parliament was resorted to for an additional grant, and nine years afterwards another additional grant was required. They would observe, also, how it bore upon the country. If too much was granted, there was no chance of abatement. It was that sort of compact in which one party was fast and the other was loose. If too little was granted, it was a matter of course to supply the deficiency, but if the case were different, if the grant were too large, he did not believe that the most sanguine person in Parliament or the country would suggest an abatement of the provision that had been made. He hoped, therefore, that before the arrangement were finally agreed upon, the propriety of making it temporary would be admitted and acted on—that provision would be made for its being revised and altered, so that the answer, for the next half century, to any one who might be competent to call for a diminution of the provision, would not be the answer that he had constantly heard since he came into Parliament—" Oh, it is a bargain with the Crown, and until a demise of the Crown, takes place it cannot be altered." In order to prevent that, the arrangement should, he conceived, be only temporary. If the provision were found to be too little, steps might be taken for the proper support of the Royal dignity, and in case it appeared to be too large (not at the time the provision was made, but in consequence of circumstances that had afterwards occurred) another arrangement might be adopted suited to meet the change of times and circumstances. In making these observations, which were so intimately connected with the subjects of the civil list his object was to call their Lordships' attention to the peculiar situation in which they were placed. No person could feel more sensibly than he did how painful it was to enter into these matters—no person had a higher sense of the exalted virtues and incomparable qualities of the illustrious individual who had been so often alluded to than he entertained, and no person would more unfeignedly rejoice than he should if, upon an examination of the subject, it should be found necessary to grant the augmentation of income required by the message, in giving his assent to it. It was, however, the duty of their Lordships not to act with their eyes shut, but to understand the grounds on which they were called on to give a pledge before that pledge was given.

admitted to his noble Friend and to the House, that this address would pledge, and was intended to pledge, the House to some augmentation of the income of the Duchess of Kent, which was necessary, in consequence of the alteration of the circumstances in which she was now placed, compared with her former situation. Those who thought there ought to be an augmentation would vote for it. Those who thought there ought to be none, under all the circumstances, would vote for his noble and learned Friend against the address if he thought proper to push it to a division or to propose a postponement of its consideration. His noble and learned Friend had said the House did not know what was the present income of the Duchess of Kent. Undoubtedly that income was enveloped in two or three Acts of Parlia- ment, which it was not very easy to interpret. Those acts of Parliament had been carefully examined by the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, and the law officers of the Crown, and they had given it as their opinion that the Duchess of Kent was entitled, partly for her own life and partly for the joint life of the Queen, to 22,000l. a-year. That was the opinion on which the Government acted. The Government conceived her present income to be 22,000l. per annum, and he saw no reason why he should not state that it was the intention of her Majesty's Government to propose to the other House of Parliament that there should be granted to the Duchess of Kent 8,000l. a-year in addition to that sum, making her whole future income 30,000l. per annum. He thought it impossible to say that this was an extravagant proposal. It certainly had nothing of profusion in it; and their Lordships being in possession of that information, being apprised of the intentions of Government in that respect, he could see no reason why they should not at once proceed to carry this address in answer to her Majesty's most gracious message. He had taken the liberty, in the course of the noble and learned Lord's address, to suggest that he was confounding two things—that he was making a mistake in a matter not wholly immaterial in its bearing upon the present question—as if there did not exist a considerable difference between the Queen-mother and the mother of the Queen. The noble and learned Lord said that was only a distinction to be learned in courts — a distinction only recognised where there is glozing and flattery—where tongues are better hung, as the noble and learned Lord expressed it. "I do not know," continued the noble Viscount "I do not know what the noble and learned Lord means when he says my tongue is hung well, I cannot speak of the hanging of the tongue; and as to glozing and flattering, I must be allowed to say I know no man in this country who can more gloze and flatter, and bend the knee, than the noble and learned Lord himself, not one; and, therefore, when he says he cannot compete with me in those arts, I beg leave to say I feel myself totally unable to compete with him when he finds an opportunity or an occasion offers for exercising them." But the noble and learned Lord said, he did not know what the income of the Queen might be—the Queen would have the revenues of the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster which might render it unnecessary to make this increased grant to the Duchess of Kent. Now undoubtedly it was the intention of her Majesty's Ministers to remove entirely the veil of secrecy which had hitherto hung over those revenues, to let in the light of publicity upon them; but at the same time they would not advise the Crown to make a renunciation of those revenues, for reasons he would be prepared to state whenever the matter came properly under discussion, or whenever he was called upon to do so. It was their intention to vote what was proposed for her Majesty, besides the revenue of the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. If any noble Lord thought that too large a provision for her Majesty, let him say so. If any one thought that her Majesty in consequence of so large a provision should be charged with some other expenses to which the Crown had not hitherto been subject, let him distinctly say so, and the House would understand what they were about. But, undoubtedly the provision which Government proposed should be voted for her Majesty; and the revenues of the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster should also be appropriated, as they had for so many years been appropriated—for the use of the Sovereigns of England. The noble and learned Lord also suggested that they should not vote the civil list for the life of her Majesty, but reserve the power of revising it, in case a change in the value of money or the altered circumstances of the country should make its revision desirable. But such a reservation would be altogether novel; it would be a departure from the fundamental principles, an alteration of the entire system on which the civil list had hitherto been voted; and he begged leave to say, on the part of her Majesty's Government, that they did not intend to make any such reservation; on the contrary, they would propose the civil list in the form and manner in which ever since the Revolution it had always been proposed, and proceed to debate it in that House as it had hitherto been debated.

said: I must crave permission to trouble your Lordships with a very few observations, in reply to what has just fallen from the noble Viscount with respect to two topics of very unequal importance—one the more important as being immediately relevant to the subject under discussion; the other of little importance to any but one individual—to myself personally. And first as to the less impor- tant matter of the two. I positively and solemnly deny, and I call upon the noble Viscount to produce his proofs, that I ever in my life did, any more than I ever in my nature was capable of doing, that which the noble Viscount has chosen to-night, unprovoked, to fling out as a charge against me—[Viscount Melbourne.—Not "unprovoked."]—I say utterly unprovoked. I spoke in as good-humoured a tone, with as perfectly inoffensive a meaning, as it was possible for man to speak with, or for man to feel, when my noble Friend observed, with a contemptuous sort of air, that I should not say "Queen-mother, but mother of the Queen," as much as intimating, "Oh! you know nothing of these things—you don't speak the language of courts." I said far be it from me to enter into competition with the noble Viscount, whose tongue is now attuned and hung to courtly airs. My noble Friend answers that, by saying he cannot enter into competition with me in hanging of the tongue. It was not the hanging of the tongue I spoke of—it was the attuning of the tongue—the new tune, with recent variations to which his tolerably well hung tongue had now attained. But that he should take such an opportunity to level a charge at me which he knows—which he must feel and know, when he comes calmly to reflect on it—is utterly and absolutely, and I may add notoriously, inapplicable to me, produced in my mind, not unaccustomed to feelings of astonishment of late years, I own some little degree of surprise. I repeat what I have already said—first, that the imputation or insinuation that I ever in the discharge of my duty stooped to gloze or to bow before or to flatter any human being, much more any inmate of a court, is utterly, absolutely, and I will add notoriously, without foundation. The next part of the insinuation is, if possible equally groundless, that if I had an opportunity of having recourse to these arts, peradventure I should excel in them. I want no such opportunity. If I did, I have the opportunity. I disdain it. No access which I have had has ever to the injury of others, to the betrayal of duty, to my own shame, been so abused—not even for one instant; and opportunity to abuse it I have, if I were base enough so to avail myself of it.

could not see what connexion all this had with the address to her Majesty.

begged the noble and learned Lord's pardon. He ought to apologise for having been led away by personal matter from the subject more immediately before the House. The proposition was substantially to add 14,000l. a-year to the provision for the Duchess of Kent. Her Royal Highness, had now 22,000l.; but the expences for which 6,000l. a-year was granted had ceased to press on her on the accession of the Princess Victoria to the throne, and they were now about to add to it the annual sum of 8,000l. If their Lordships did not think that too large an accession, of course they would grant it; for his own part, being utterly in the dark on the subject, until he heard more particulars with respect to the exigency of the occasion, and the details of the necessity which was alleged to exist, although he would not divide, lest he should stand alone, and have nobody to tell, he must content himself with protesting against the additional grant.

could not think his noble Friend was correct in supposing, that by agreeing to this proposal, their Lordships necessarily pledged themselves to adopt whatever proposition might be sent up from the other House, the words of the address being only general "to do what is fitting and proper," in that respect.

Address agreed to.