Sir Francis Burdett
rose and spoke to the following effect:
In rising, Sir, at the present moment, in pursuance of the notice which I gave on a former evening, I feel some degree of embarrassment and reluctance in calling the attention of the House to the subject of it; after that attention has been engaged, and in a great measure exhausted, by the protracted discussion of other questions. It will not be necessary for me, however, to trespass long upon its patience, because the proposition I have to submit appears to me so plain and simple, that little argument, and few arguments will be necessary to convince gentlemen of the propriety of adopting it, although at this time I feel that I have to contend with greater difficulties than I should have experienced at any other period. In every point of view in which this subject can be surveyed, it appears to me to be one of the highest importance, affecting the great constitutional interests of the country; involving the restoration of the honour, the dignity, and the security of the throne, as well as the safety and the legal government of its subjects. It is not without having endeavoured upon various previous occasions to draw the attention of the members of this House, and of the individuals composing the administration of the country, to this question; it is not without having repeatedly, but in vain, attempted to induce some other individual of more weight and influence than I can pretend to possess, to bring it forward; it is not without having twice, but in vain, proposed Addresses to the Prince Regent, upon a matter so deeply interesting to his family, to his throne, and to his people, that I at length have ventured upon a task to which I feel myself so unequal. Finding none willing to take upon themselves the burden, I may be excused, if I have considered it an imperious duty I owed to 707 the people of Great Britain, to call the attention of parliament to a subject of the weightiest magnitude.
It appears, then, to me, that violent encroachments have been made upon the true principles and frame of the constitution of this country, by those measures that have been adopted in consequence of the unfortunate affliction under which his Majesty is suffering. The first encroachment occurred in the year 1788, the whole of which proceedings always appeared to me an unwarrantable departure from the principles of the constitution, and though I should be unwilling to introduce any personal animadversions, though I do not wish to attribute blame to any individual, yet I cannot avoid in general terms asserting that those proceedings seemed to me to originate in the violence of faction, and to have been supported and adopted with no other view than to keep power in the hands of the party then in office, without any regard to the interests of the state, or respect to the legal government of the country. At that period the constitutional and safe though not the successful doctrine, was maintained on the one side, that upon failure of the capacity of the person filling the throne, the exercise of the functions of royalty immediately devolved upon the heir apparent. On the other hand this simple and obvious position was denied, and it was insisted that the heir apparent to the, crown had no more right to the government of the nation than any other subject in the King's dominions. In the strict legal acceptation of the word 'right,' there certainly was no right, because there was no law, and where there is no law there can be no right; but upon parity of reasoning; upon every principle of propriety and expediency, there could be no doubt of the line of conduct that ought to be pursued: nothing could be more obvious than to follow that example, to which the faction seemed blind, that had been set at the glorious Revolution in 1688. If the proceedings of parliament had been governed by that wholesome precedent, ministers would not have been allowed for five months to take into their own hands the government of the country, instead of an odious oligarchy for that period being usurped by the executive, there would have been no suspension of the powers of the crown, no departure from the leading principles of the constitution. The steps, however, taken in 1788 were justified on 708 the plea of necessity. I have been always taught to believe that the exercise of the functions of the crown formed an essential part of the constitution; I have been always taught to believe that there are two grand leading principles that govern, in my opinion, the whole of this question: First, that the powers and prerogatives annexed by the common law to the crown, and which I conceive to be unquestionable, descend by hereditary succession, and not by election: Second, that its powers are never suspended; the functions of royalty never cease, for if they were for any period terminated it would be a destruction of one part of the three essential branches of the constitution, and a total dissolution of the legal government. At the period to which I have referred, it appears to me that these two great leading principles were unnecessarily and unwarrantably departed from.
The great danger resulting from once admitting the plea of necessity is obvious, from subsequent experience, for in the year 1810 this mischievous precedent was followed, when I had the honour, though unsuccessfully, of resisting it throughout, and of supporting the principles for which I now contend. In 1810 the violent usurpation was renewed, and that which ought to have been considered as a beacon to warn ministers from a dangerous coast was mistaken for a sure light to guide them in safety to harbour. Unfortunately, from the evidence of the physicians, we know that during the interval between 1788 and 1810 his Majesty was sometimes in a state of mind that rendered him incompetent to the consideration of those important matters of policy that naturally devolve upon the sovereign, and the person whose duty it was to submit them to the King, abstained from so doing in consequence of the distraction of the royal faculties. To what degree insanity existed: how far ministers presumed, under colour of the royal authority, to exercise the powers of majesty at a time when the occupant of the throne was unable to discharge the duties annexed to that exalted station, I cannot pretend to say, but I cannot help asserting, that from the testimony of the physicians there is strong ground to believe that the government of the nation was carried on in the name of the King by his servants at a time when one branch of the constitution was incapacitated by disease—when the situation of his Majesty's mind did not permit him to perform 709 the important duties appertaining to his high office. Thus, then, there appear to have been two violent deviations from the established principles of the constitution of such a nature, I contend, as to be subversive of the interests of the throne and destructive of the security of the subject. The miserable fiction which was resorted to on those occasions, that which has been very justly denominated the phantom of royalty, electing and appointing an executive magistrate, was a deception too weak to deceive the most superficial observer: to my mind it seemed a most unnecessary consecration of an act completely illegal, to induce the Lord Chancellor, without any adequate authority, to affix the great seal, thereby pretending to give the royal approbation to a measure of which the King could have no possible cognizance.
I could certainly urge many reasons that with peculiar force call upon the House at the present moment to come to a decision as to the mode of proceeding on a contingency which is possible, though, perhaps, not probable, and which if not provided against may again place the country in that situation in which it would be deprived of all legal government, in which the majority of this House might usurp and retain all the powers that belong to the crown; my object is to prevent on future occasions this lawless assumption of authority, to destroy that pretence of necessity which it is plain never existed; because, in truth, by the constitution of the empire, a choice, indeed many choices of legal remedies remained. This illegal mode of proceeding was, however, resolved upon, and the House not only took upon itself to nominate the executive magistrate—not only, on its own authority, resolved to supply a throne, which I insist was not, and never could be vacant—but it went still further, and usurped the power of declaring that restrictions should be placed upon the person they selected to invest with some of the prerogatives of the crown, all of which were bestowed by the common law for the benefit of the people. They proceeded so far in their assumption of authority, that the Prince of Wales was unwilling, under such conditions, to take upon himself the task of government. In that able letter written by his Royal Highness in the year 1788, in which he so distinctly, accurately, and perspicuously defined the principles of the constitution, 710 and the insurmountable objections existing in his mind to the mode of proceeding suggested, he at length consents to act as Regent, with no other view than putting a period to the anarchy that prevailed, conceiving that the evils resulting from this line of conduct would be less than those that might arise from the continued abeyance of the third branch of the constitution: he accepted the kingly power, mutilated as it was, rather than permit the constitution to be further mutilated. I have said, that I could urge reasons that peculiarly call upon the House to adopt a measure like that which I shall have the honour of suggesting; but I am unwilling now to enter into any arising from peculiarities of situation. I shall leave the minds of gentlemen to suggest those inducements, only entreating them to recollect, that the greatest evil, the most dreadful calamity that the history of this country presents, arose out of a dispute regarding the succession of the crown, and that by not decidedly maintaining the constitution as it has been happily established in this respect, consequences equally fatal, calamities equally horrible may again be endured. My object is to guard against such dreadful results, and the House is called upon by a proper sense of its duty to guard the people of these realms against circumstances that may enable the minister of the day, on a pretended plea of necessity, to subvert the constitution, and usurp the government of the country. Such, Sir, is the object of the motion with which I shall conclude, but at the same time I have taken care, by the general terms I have employed, not to tie down the House to any distinct proposition, that may to me appear necessary, and which I shall feel it my duty to suggest. My motion will simply be for leave to bring in a Bill "to provide against any interruption in the exercise of the royal authority, in the event of the death of his royal highness the Prince Regent, during the continuance of his Majesty's malady;" but I have no hesitation in stating, that in my view, it will be right to give to the Regent powers as uncontrouled as those that belong to the King himself: the principles upon which I conceive this step should be taken is, that the incapacity proceeding from insanity is like every other species of incapacity, even that of personal disease, an utter vacating of the government.
I have always, Sir, understood that the 711 office of king is not according to the constitution vested for the benefit of the individual filling the throne, but that it is a trust exercised for the advantage of the people, and in this view it is of great consequence that it should never cease: it is a principle which none of the gentlemen of the long robe (of whom we have many in this House) will dispute, that the crown, according to the common law, knows neither infancy nor insanity, or any other cause that can incapacitate the person holding it to discharge his important duties, and if such cause do exist, it must be viewed in the same light, and treated in the same way, as the natural death of the monarch. If insanity should unhappily visit the sovereign, the authority, I submit, by the law of the land, immediately devolves upon the successor, without the interference, much less without the election of any set of persons that may be anxious to usurp powers that to them do not belong. Such is the plain, obvious, simple, and legal mode of proceeding, which will meet all possible circumstances, and preserve the various branches of the constitution independent of each other.
It would be idle in me to occupy the attention of the House, by noticing the many vague reports that have been circulated, with regard to my intentions and object in bringing forward the present motion. Some persons have regarded it as if I were actuated by a spirit of hostility towards his royal highness the Prince Regent. I can safely say, that I am influenced by no such feeling, and that, in all I have ever said or done in public, I have been actuated by a sentiment of respect for his Royal Highness, a respect proceeding from my confidence in those public principles to which he had preferred his attachment; and my conviction that his Royal Highness was as ill-treated as any subject in the King's dominions. I thought I saw in him a wish to unite more closely the common interests of the throne and the people, a desire of building the honour of the former on its only permanent and solid basis, the affections of his subjects. I looked upon him as the friend and advocate of those principles which his family was called into this country to maintain; I indulged the hope that he would prove the restorer of the nation to that safety and prosperity which it formerly enjoyed, that its liberties would have been cherished by his fostering protection, 712 that his reign would have been blessed by those who happened to live under it, and regarded by posterity with gratitude and veneration. These, Sir, are the only feelings I ever indulged, and these are the only feelings I now entertain; and for the motion I now offer, I have the authority of his Royal Highness himself, and I have nothing to do, but to read a passage from that excellent and eloquent letter written by him, in 1788, to bring forward an advocate in this cause infinitely more able to do it justice than myself. In that production the Prince of Wales puts the argument in so strong, so clear, and so admirable a manner, that I cannot forbear stating a part of it to the House. He says, "the Prince holds it as an undoubted and fundamental principle of the constitution, that the powers and prerogatives of the crown are vested in trust and for the benefit of the people, and they are secured only as being necessary to preserve that poise and balance of the constitution, upon which experience has shewn, depend the true security and liberty of the subject." His Royal Highness then goes on to state the mischiefs that must inevitably result from mutilating the prerogatives of the crown, and exciting suspicion in the mind of the monarch; he also makes various other complaints, and he declares that nothing but the anxious desire he feels to put an end to the anarchy then prevailing, could induce him to overcome his objections, and to try that experiment which he deprecates, "with how little power the executive government of the country may be carried on." Unfortunately, since the date of this letter, another experiment has been tried in his person, under circumstances most disrespectful to his Royal Highness, and more injurious to the public: to prevent, therefore, the recurrence of such events; to provide against contingencies; to preserve that "poise and balance of the constitution upon which experience has shewn depends the true security and liberty of the subject," and to defeat the usurpations of the legislature, in opposition to a particular statute, by which the penalties of a præmunire are incurred by those who attempt to pass any measure without the consent of the King, is my design. I wish to interpose such a Bill that parliament shall never pass any measure, and on its own authority order the chancellor to affix what I must term the counterfeit great seal to it, 713 for the purpose of giving it an authority and sanctity which does not and never can belong to it. It would have been, I think, much more becoming to have supported the enactment on the authority of the legislature, without resorting to trick and chicanery for its maintenance.
Various, Sir, are the reasons that impel me to bring forward this proposition; but if it be true, as is pretty generally believed, that certain great individuals, by different means, do place their dependents in this House, it becomes a matter of double importance, that a Bill should be passed to restrain such individuals from usurping and exercising illegal power; to remove a new motive for ambition; to shew that the crown is not to become the prey of greedy cormorants, and that factions must not hope to deck themselves in the trappings of royalty. What, therefore, I should propose would be, that the powers now exercised by the Prince Regent, should, in case of the death or disability of his Royal Highness, be exercised by the heir to the crown, the Princess Charlotte of Wales. I know not whether gentlemen have any objection to this mode of proceeding, or whether they think her Royal Highness an unfit person to wield the sceptre in case of the incapacity of the Prince of Wales. I confess I see no reason to the contrary; but I shall merely submit the motion, and after leave has been given that the Bill shall be brought in, I shall leave it to the House to modify it as they conceive will be most conducive to the public interest. All I wish is, that factions should not have the power to fill the throne with whomsoever they please, and under what conditions they please. I wish to avoid consequences to which we have been exposed, at least by want of foresight, if not by something worse. I presume I shall not be told by the gentlemen of the long robe that the princess Charlotte of Wales is not of sufficient age, because the common law, as far as relates to the crown, knows no infancy, and giants may be produced, made by children in such situations, that have been held by lawyers to be absolutely binding: the security the public require is, that there shall always be an executive government, zealous in the discharge of its duties, and responsible, not only for the acts done, but for the advice they give. But there have been Bills for regencies on certain occasions, in which it was provided, that the king or queen should have a particular 714 council till he or she came to a certain age. Those, however, were provisions totally distinct from those to which his royal highness the Prince Regent has been subjected after he had attained a full maturity of age. The country never before heard of such a regency, except the attempt of 1788. It has been indeed enacted for particular purposes, in the reigns of Henry 8, and Philip and Mary, that the full age of the successors to the crown shall be 18 in the males; and in the females 16, in the one case, and 15 in the other. But there is no occasion to dwell upon these cases, as the princess Charlotte of Wales is in her 18th year; and therefore, by the admission on all hands, either is, or will very soon be, of age, to exercise the royal functions. In the event of the death of the King, and of the Prince Regent, no one can doubt but the royal power would descend upon her, without its being in the power of that House to prevent it. It may be alleged, however, that his royal highness the Prince Regent may have male issue,—but from the disunion which at present exists in the royal family, and which is greatly to be lamented, such an event is far from being probable. It may likewise be said that there is no necessity for any such regulation as that which I an" about to propose; but I trust the House will not think that those matters, which even in private families are not left to the frail contingency of human life, ought to be left to such a contingency, in cases of so much greater importance. We have already experienced the mischief resulting from the want of a fixed rule to follow: and it is our duty to prevent the recurrence of those contests in which the power of the crown was torn in pieces for private and factious purposes. And I trust, Sir, I may depend upon having those with me who supported the doctrine once contended for by the late Mr. Fox, namely, that the crown of right, in cases of the incapacity of the reigning sovereign, devolves upon the heir: and I may also hope for the concurrence of those who opposed that doctrine; for in the proceedings which they adopted, they acknowledged that they departed from the strict rules of the constitution; but pleaded necessity as their apology. Then, Sir, it is surely their duty to prevent such a necessity from again recurring. The danger to the crown from the late proceedings, in regard to the Regency, must be obvious. The two Houses directed the Chancellor 715 to put the seal to an instrument appointing a person to exercise the royal functions; and this they called giving the royal assent to that instrument. Now, Sir, what is there to prevent their making a similar use of the great seal, if they chose it, to alter the descent of the crown?—nay, such a thing was in fact done by the parliament of Paris in the reign of Charles 6. If the principle is once admitted, there is no limit to the mischief that may follow. In the interregnum that took place not long ago, they might have affixed the seal to bills of pains and penalties. The danger both to the crown and the subject is imminent; and the House ought not to shut their eyes to that danger, but provide against it. My only object is to preserve the constitution. I do not wish to excite any contention. My sole view is to induce the House to be prepared, and not to wait till the necessity comes upon them, like an armed man, and forces them to subvert instead of upholding the royal authority. It is my wish to prevent the recurrence of the dire necessity of again raising the hideous phantom which was conjured up on a late occasion by the two Houses, to assist them in their distress,—a phantom which reminded one of the phantom described by the Poet,———"The other shape,If shape it might be called which shape had noneDistinguishable in member, joint, or limb;And on its head a kingly crown it wore,While in its hand it shook a dreadful dart:But instead of the dart, the phantom which we have conjured up takes a fatal seal; a seal certainly not less deadly to the constitution than the dart of the poet's phantom to human life. In the great constitutional principles which I am desirous of establishing, I am supported by the authority of the Prince Regent himself, and by that of the royal family; for it is well known, that in I810, the royal dukes did protest against the proceedings adopted at that time, and were reviled, in the grossest manner, on that account, by the ministerial writers, who called them the College of Princes, and made use of other abusive terms, though the royal dukes, both as subjects, and as persons nearly connected with the throne, were perfectly justified in the step which they took on that occasion. Considering, Sir, that the House has been exhausted by so much previous business, I will not dwell longer on the subject, nor do I conceive it to be 716 necessary: "in rebus non dubiis argumentum non necessarium." But I cannot help making one further observation before I sit down, which is, that it appears to be the intention to keep the crown always in a state of pupilage to the oligarchy in this House; for in the Regency Act to which I have so often adverted, it was provided, that, in the event of its being necessary to appoint another regency, the House shall meet and take the proper steps for that purpose. My object is to prevent the necessity of this, and to put it beyond the power of the two Houses of Parliament to render the royal authority subservient to their will, and to parcel it out as they may think proper. I shall conclude, Sir, with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill, to provide against any interruption of the exercise of the royal authority, in the event of the death of his royal highness the Prince Regent, during the continuance of his Majesty's malady."
§ Mr. Bathurst
highly approved of the open and candid manner in which the hon. baronet had submitted his motion to the House. The hon. baronet had rested it on a few plain propositions, and had very properly kept out of view every thing not connected with his subject. It would not, therefore, be necessary for him to take up much of the time of the House, in stating the reasons why it appeared to him that the suggestions of the hon. baronet ought not to be adopted. The hon. baronet had, in his opinion, stated the difficulties to which they had been formerly reduced in much too strong colours. It appeared to him, that the discussion of the subject was altogether unnecessary, and that therefore it ought to be avoided. It would be impossible to agitate the question, without raising again all the passions which the question had formerly called into action. This was not a desirable object, and the matter ought to be allowed to rest till the necessity of the case should call for it. When that necessity should arise, the House would again, upon a review of all the circumstances, exercise a sound discretion. No general fixed provision had ever been made against the event of such a malady as that by which his present Majesty was visited: nor had any one been pointed out as the person with whom the royal authority should rest in such a case. These were events which must be dealt with according to the peculiar circumstances of each case, and the 717 two Houses of Parliament were the best judges of what was proper to be done on such occasions. The hon. baronet appeared to think that the heir to the crown had a sort of right to exercise the royal authority, in the event of such an interruption to the regal functions as that to which he had adverted. That, however, was a question which might now be considered as at rest. Whatever doubts there might formerly have existed on the subject, none such were stated during the progress of the last Regency Bill. The only question then was, whether they should follow the example of the time of the Revolution, by calling a person to the exercise of the royal authority by a mere vote of the House, or have recourse to that more solemn form of proceeding which had been at length adopted. As to the restrictions, that was merely a question of prudence at the particular lime, and under the particular circumstances; and he did not see that there was any ground for the apprehensions at one time expressed by his Royal Highness, and the royal dukes. The case of the demise of the sovereign was totally a different matter. That was an event which had been provided for by law; but he saw no reason for making a fixed provision against the occurrence of such cases as that of the calamity with which his present Majesty was visited. It might be safely left to the discretion of the two Houses of Parliament to provide against such cases as they occurred. There was no necessity, therefore, for entering upon the discussion; and without a strong necessity the subject ought, in his mind, not to be agitated. The hon. baronet had represented the Regency proceedings as a factious contest for power; and if such was his opinion why should he wish to revive such angry feelings? There was another objection to the motion of the hon. baronet. He rather thought that it could not be received by the House, unless it came recommended by the crown. If any such measure was thought necessary or proper, application might be made to the House by the crown, as had been done in cases of a similar nature by other sovereigns. In its present state it would be improper to entertain it. He was sorry that he had been led to say even this much on the subject, as he was anxious to avoid all discussions respecting it. These were his reasons for opposing the motion. It did not come recommended by the crown, 718 and he saw no necessity for agitating the question; but there were, on the contrary, in his opinion, many very solid reasons for avoiding all discussion on the subject.
§ Mr. Brand
was desirous of stating his reasons for supporting the motion of the hon. baronet; but in doing so, he would carefully avoid the introduction of all extraneous matter. He would refrain from all allusion to those circumstances which at present formed the subject of general conversation, nor would he say any thing as to the party views which had been displayed, as was alleged, in the former discussions on this subject. The right hon. gentleman had assigned as his reasons for opposing the motion: first, that it did not come recommended by the crown: second, that there was no necessity for it; and that the House ought to wait the arrival of a case of necessity before they agitated the question. On these points he differed entirely from the right hon. gentleman; for he could not believe that it was essentially necessary to have the recommendation of the crown before the House entered upon the discussion of a question of such vital importance both to the crown and the community; and he could see but very little wisdom indeed in waiting the arrival of a case of necessity, and taking measures on the spur of the moment, instead of providing for the case upon previous mature deliberation. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that there was no necessity for bringing forward the question at that time. In his opinion, it was a point of great magnitude, and of commanding necessity. What must be the feelings of the person who was to exercise the royal authority?—what must be the feelings of every one who felt an anxiety that the crown should be supported in its dignity, in looking at the contests of rival parties tearing the powers of the office in pieces? These matters ought to be provided for by digested plans, in order to prevent the recurrence of such disgraceful scenes, as they had on former occasions witnessed. Such contentions of factions—such restrictions on the royal authority—such violations of the constitution—must inevitably have the tendency of holding out to the people that the powers of the crown were not necessary in their full extent for the government of the country. Something ought therefore, to be done, without delay, to put an end to the possibility of such occurrences. It was now more necessary than it might be in 719 other times. There was only one life between us and the recurrence of the difficulty; and under such circumstances the Bill ought undoubtedly to be received, and the remedy proposed by the hon. baronet, or some other remedy, ought to be adopted. It might perhaps be urged, that this would lead to discussions in regard to some other unfortunate circumstances connected with the royal family; but legislation ought not to be impeded merely because such discussions might accidentally be introduced. He was convinced, however, that the House would have too much delicacy, and too strong a sense of propriety to introduce such discussions without the most unavoidable necessity. Upon the whole, the right hon. gentleman had stated no good reason against the proposed measure, which should have his most cordial support.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
could not conceive how those who had defended the Regency restrictions on the ground of necessity, could possibly oppose the present motion, the object of which was, to prevent the recurrence of such necessity; a necessity, of which he could not sufficiently deprecate the recurrence, when he called to mind, that at one period during the indisposition of his Majesty, ministers had actually exercised the functions of the executive in all their plenitude: for it ought never to be forgotten, that in 1804 circumstances did arise which made it more than suspicious, that publicity was not given to the real circumstances of his Majesty's indisposition, and that ministers did then contrive some way or other to exercise the royal authority, at a time when his Majesty's state of health rendered him quite incompetent to the discharge of the functions of royalty.
agreed with an hon. gentleman, that if a message should come down from the crown, for the purpose of settling the question of Regency in future, it would be the most regular and graceful way for parliament to proceed upon the subject. At the same time, it must be recollected, that parliament had at different times proceeded to alter the succession of the crown, and sometimes without any message. Those great men who passed the celebrated Exclusion Bill, did not wait for a message from the crown upon the subject. It was most clearly within the power of parliament, to originate the question themselves. It was said, that there was no great probability of the contingency 720 arriving. In that case, it appeared to him that the subject might be discussed without any irritation, and without any revival of those angry feelings which had been so much deprecated, but drily as a simple constitutional question. If the contingency should really happen, then there would be a tenfold acrimony in the discussion; whereas the question might be now settled with the utmost temperance. Concurring entirely in the principle of the hon. baronet, he thought however there was a more eligible method of attaining his object, than that which he had chosen, namely, the referring the consideration of the question to a committee of the House.
said, that although the question might have come better from the ministers of the crown, yet as the hon. baronet had thought proper to bring it forward to the consideration of the House, he wished, before he gave his vote in favour of it, to explain, in a very few words, the reason of his so doing. He allowed that such measures as the one now proposed, should generally proceed from the government; but there might be cases, where, if parliament was moved to the consideration of them, it was fully competent to them to determine them, even although government might be unwilling to invite their attention to the subject. As to the contingency itself, it did not appear to him so improbable as it seemed to some gentlemen; for all knew, that although his Majesty was afflicted with a severe mental malady, which made him incapable of exercising the functions of royalty, yet that he enjoyed as sound health as any man of his age, and that there was a great probability of his living for many years. If that was the case, there only stood one life between us and all the difficulties which had been experienced on two former occasions. Supposing that event to take place, he thought that it would be too much for any member to expect, that his individual arguments would be able to induce parliament to act differently from the mode they had adopted on the two former occasions. He supposed, that in such a case, parliament would act according to the precedents then laid down. The proposition of the hon. baronet, which was now under their consideration, was not for determining the quantity of power to be given to a future Regent, nor for declaring who should be that Regent: it was merely a motion for 721 leave to bring in a Bill to provide against any interruption of the royal authority, in the case of the contingency taking place which was stated. Now it appeared to him, that if this motion was granted, and the Bill brought in, parliament would have it in its power, without departing from the principles established in the former instances, to make such provisions as would (should the case occur) remove a great deal of the difficulties which were experienced in the former instances, and enable the government to put itself into activity in a much shorter space of time. As he thought that this good might arise from allowing the hon. baronet to bring in his Bill, he should vote in favour of the motion.
trusted that he should be able to shew, that there was not a sufficient necessity to induce the prudence of the House to agree to the motion before them. He allowed that the hon. baronet had brought the subject forward with great candour and fairness. The hon. baronet, however, who had been induced by his constitutional view of the subject to bring forward the present motion, appeared to him to be more anxious to destroy the authority of the parliamentary proceedings in the two former instances, than to provide for the contingency he had stated. He appeared to think it of the greatest importance, to rebut and subvert all the principles which the House had laid down upon that subject; and to get rid of what he considered a pernicious precedent. For his part, he had a view of the subject directly opposite. He thought that it was a benefit, and a blessing to the country, that the great constitutional difficulties which attended this subject had been removed, and the point settled on the fullest discussion, which was afterwards revised upon the late occasion; and in which the greatest legal and constitutional learning had been displayed. He considered that those precedents would be a great protection to the country, hereafter, from similar difficulties. He allowed that parliament had a right to enter into such considerations without a message from the crown; but it was always for their prudence to consider, whether they should expose themselves to a conflict with the crown upon the point? In any thing respecting money, all conflict with the crown was prevented by the necessity of the crown proposing or previously consenting to the grant. In common 722 legislative measures this was not necessary; but it was obvious that there was no description of questions more likely to involve the House in a conflict with the crown, than a question which touched the crown so nearly. The contingency which was mentioned, appeared to him to be so very remote a one, that he thought the hon. baronet, upon his own principles, should rather have proposed a permanent Regency Bill, applicable to all cases, than have confined himself to this particular contingency. It appeared to him, however, that what the hon. baronet wanted, was to destroy the discretionary power of parliament upon the subject; and that he preferred the question being determined on the hereditary principle, than by the discretion of parliament. In determining upon which principle the question should be decided, there was certainly a balance of inconveniencies. But the reason why it was better that it should rest in the discretion of parliament, was, that parliament felt it its first duty, to take care that the royal power should be restored undiminished into the hands to which it legitimately belonged, as soon as the sovereign was again capable of exercising his royal functions: whereas, upon the hereditary principle, the royal power being fully and immediately transferred to the Regent, there was not the same security for the resumption of it by the sovereign, when the temporary cause which suspended his personal exercise of it was removed. The noble lord conceived, that the contingency was not sufficiently probable to justify parliament, in the exercise of its prudence and discretion, in adopting the proposition of the hon. baronet, for which reason he should certainly give it a decided negative.
§ Mr. Whitbread
declared, that he should be sorry to allow the question to go to a vote, without saying a few words upon it. On the former discussions relative to the Regency, a party in that House contended, that the proper mode of proceeding would be to address the heir apparent, to take the executive authority into his own hands. Parliament however decided, that the Regency should be constituted by Bill. Now, what was the proposition of the hon. baronet? Not that, in the event of the death of the Prince Regent, the Regency should devolve on the Princess Charlotte, but that a Bill should be introduced, to enable parliament to provide for an event, the contingency of which was 723 not very great, although it was not so small as the noble lord, for the benefit of his argument, had represented it to be. What had been the state of the country since 1788, in consequence of what he conceived to be the dilatory and improper conduct of the legislature, in not providing against contingencies of this nature? And yet the hon. baronet's proposition tended not to bind the legislature to any particular measure, but to leave the subject freely open to discussion and deliberate arrangement. In 1788, his Majesty was afflicted with a malady which continued so long that a Regency Bill passed the House of Commons, and was in progress through the Upper House. Many were then of opinion that some distinct proceeding should be adopted; but the delicacy of the royal advisers restrained them from advising his Majesty to send a message down to parliament on the subject. In 1804, his Majesty had a relapse of his indisposition. On that occasion, ministers thought proper, the King being in a state in which private persons would not be permitted to manage their private affairs, to carry on (the noble lord, who spoke last, being one, and the Lord Chancellor another of those ministers) the business of government under the mask of the royal authority. In 1810, his Majesty became again afflicted. The House well recollected the angry discussions that had taken place in parliament. The House recollected that the Prince of Wales thought that the indignity with which he had been treated by the servants of the crown, equal to that which he had experienced in 1788. Hopes were, from time to time, held out of the recovery of his Majesty. In the mean time the executive authority remained in abeyance. And in the subsequent discussions the greatest inconvenience was sustained in consequence of no kind of provision having been made on the subject after the occurrences of 1788. In 1811 he had taken the liberty to bring these circumstances under the consideration of the House. He had stated what he conceived to have been remissness on the part of the servants of the crown, and had proposed the appointment of a committee to provide against the recurrence of such serious inconveniences. The House had thought proper to negative that proposition. From that day no proceeding whatever had been adopted. This however appeared to be the precise moment for some parliamentary 724 arrangement on the subject; for party heats were so allayed, that there would be no danger of reviving those animosities to which former discussions had given birth. Of this, the temperate tone of the debate of that evening afforded a practical proof. Unquestionably the death of the Prince Regent before that of his Majesty was not a very probable event. But that it was a very possible event every day's experience in common life gave ample evidence. If such an event should occur, in what a situation would the country be placed! The Princess Charlotte was competently qualified both by age and by talents to assume the royal authority; and yet parliament must go through certain forms before they could confer on her that which unquestionably they would confer on her—the unrestricted Regency; for the restrictions originally imposed on the Regent were imposed only in the contemplation of an event now hopeless—the recovery of his Majesty. On these grounds he felt the utmost satisfaction in supporting the motion of the hon. baronet, persuaded as he was that he could not better fulfil his duty than by doing so.
Sir Francis Burdett
rose to reply, amid a loud call for the question. He was glad to find, notwithstanding the opposition his motion had experienced, that it was met from the other side by a direct negative, a mode certainly more manly than by the previous question. One right hon. gentleman (Mr. Bathurst) seemed desirous to leave things to themselves; and whilst he avoided the consideration of the question in a constitutional way, he argued that sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof. The noble lord, on the other hand, justified his objections by the necessity of the case, which called for the interposition and discretion of parliament. If, indeed, the noble lord thought the great seal sufficient to fill up the void caused in the exercise of the kingly power,—if he thought the majorities of the two Houses sufficient to supply the want of the monarch's rights and prerogative,—then he would readily admit that the noble lord's objections were just. For his own part, he wished to see the crown surrounded and strengthened with all legitimate properties and authority; and it was that wish, and that wish only, as connected in its necessary results with the benefit and happiness of the subject, that influenced him to submit to the House the present motion. He had tried 725 every avenue, he had explored every channel, for the purpose of bringing this truly important question to a point; but he had to lament, that hitherto all his industry and exertions had proved useless and discouraging. He had been charged by the noble lord, with preferring hereditary power to parliamentary discretion; but the real fact was, that he preferred, and would at all times prefer, hereditary power to contingent and purely accidental power placed in the hands, of a few ministers, supported by such majorities as he had seen in that House. The contingency of human life, which depended upon so great and mixed a variety of events, could not be set up as an argument for preventing the House to do that which they were bound to do, in order to provide a remedy certain and efficacious for a possible or a probable evil. He was decidedly of opinion, that the hereditary succession of the crown could not be restrained and mutilated; for, to his mind, the consequences would not be dangerous alone, but would be attended with inevitable ruin. If the prerogative of the crown were to be suspended at any one time, what reason could be urged, that it might not be suspended at all times, and under all circumstances? The hon. baronet concluded, with requesting the House to consider well the magnitude of the question in every constitutional point of view; and to decide, whether they would, by negativing it, debar themselves, the crown, and the people, from the true provision and remedy against future dangers and evils which were not at all unlikely to occur. For his part he was at a loss to conceive how a greater good could be done to the country than by determining this important subject at a period like the present, when it did not appear possible that feelings of heat and animosity would be introduced into the discussion.
§ The House then divided, when there appeared,
|For the motion||73|
|Majority against the Motion||—||165|
|List of the Minority.|
|Althorpe, visc.||Bernard, S.|
|Atherley, A.||Bennet, hon. H. G.|
|Brand, hon. T.||Calvert, C.|
|Baring, A.||Creevey, T.|
|Barham, J.||Combe, H. C.|
|Barnard, visc.||Cavendish, lord G.|
|Brown, A.||Cocks, J.|
|Chaloner, R.||Monck, sir C.|
|Dillon, hon. A.||Milton, visc.|
|Dundas, C.||Martin, J.|
|Dawson, R.||Moore, P.|
|Ebrington, lord||North, D.|
|Frankland, W.||Neville, hon. R.|
|Fitzroy, lord J.||Ossulston, lord|
|Foley, T.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Fitzgerald, lord H.||Phillips, G.|
|Foster, F.||Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.|
|Greenhill, R.||Pym, F.|
|Gordon, R.||Ramsden, J.|
|Grant, J.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Hamilton, sir H.||Russell, lord G.|
|Heron, sir R.||Russell, lord W.|
|Heathcote, sir G.||Smith, S.|
|Halsey, J.||Smith, A.|
|Hornby, Edw.||Scudamore, R.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Tavistock, lord|
|Johnes, T.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Johnstone, hon. C.||Talbot, R.|
|Jekyll, J.||Wrottesley, H.|
|Kemp, Thos.||Whitbread, S.|
|King, sir J. D.||Wynn, sir W. W.|
|Lester, B.||Wynn, C.|
|Langton, W. G.||Wharton, J.|
|Leader, W.||Webster, sir G.|
|Macdonald, J.||Sir F. Burdett|
|Madocks, W.||Lord Cochrane.|