HC Deb 13 December 1837 vol 39 cc1062-8
Mr. Bernal

brought up the report of the resolution for granting 8,000l. a-year to the Duchess of Kent in pursuance of the Queen's Message. On the question for agreeing to the resolutions,

Mr. Herries

wished to call the attention of the House and of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the position in which her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent would be placed if a Bill were introduced founded solely on this resolution. The effect of this resolution, if he understood the statement of his right hon. Friend, was, that a sum of 8,000l. a-year should be granted to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, in addition to the grants which had already been made to her. As far as he was concerned, he could assure his right hon. Friend that it was not his intention to offer the slightest objection to that part of the proceeding, or to the course pursued by her Majesty's Ministers in this particular instance taken altogether. He thought, however, that his right hon. Friend had, in bringing the subject forward, overlooked an objection which ought to have presented itself to his mind, as it was one of considerable importance. The last grant made to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent was in 1831, but he could not concur in the doctrine laid down by his right hon. Friend, notwithstanding his having taken competent legal advice as to the effect of that grant, and acting on the opinion which the law officers of the Crown had given him. His right hon. Friend stated, that the grant made in 1831 was to continue to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent and to her executors and representatives after her death, during the life of the Queen. He entertained very great doubts as to the correctness of this proposition, and what he was inclined to think was, that this grant of 10,000l. would continue to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent only during her own life, provided the Queen lived so long. He was clearly of opinion that by the decease of the Queen, the Duchess of Kent would be deprived of 6,000l. of this 10,000l. He had advocated the previous grant made to her Royal Highness in 1825. Now, the terms of the Act by which that grant was made were so precise and clear, and lay in so narrow a compass, as to admit of no doubt, and unless he was greatly mistaken, it followed that the sum of 6,000l. granted in 1825 had lapsed, and it would be necessary, in order to its continuance dining her Royal Highness's life, to go into another Committee, for the purpose of reviving it. The Act to which he referred was the 77th cap. of the 6th Geo. 4th, and the title of that Act expressly stated that "it was an Act to enable his Majesty to grant an annual sum to her Royal Highness Mary Louisa Victoria Duchess of Kent, for the purpose of enabling her Royal Highness to support and educate her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandrina Victoria." In the preamble of this same Act it was further stated that—"Whereas, it is expedient that his Majesty should be empowered to grant to her Royal Highness, the widow of his late Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, an annual sum to enable her Royal Highness to make adequate provision for the support and education of their daughter, her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandrina Victoria," and then it goes on to enact or effect that a sum of 6,000l. should be granted by his Majesty to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, for that express purpose. Now, it appeared to him that this grant, so made in conformity with this Act, was made, not only legally, but solely and exclusively for a specific object. That object had been accomplished, and her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent was no longer burthened with the obligation which the Act imposed on her, and to meet which the grant was made. If, therefore, there ever was a case in which the legal maxim, cessante ratione cessat lex applied, this was the case, for it must be obvious to everyone that, with the cessation of the specific purpose for which the grant was made, the grant itself must cease. If, then, the effect of this Act were such as he apprehended it to be, it seemed clear that the change which had taken place in the circumstances of the Princess, now Queen Victoria, would, even with the 8,000l. proposed to be given by way of increase, leave her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent an income of only 24,000l. and not 30,000l. a-year. If he had understood his right hon. Friend correctly, it was the intention of the Government to give her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent a clear income of 30,000l., and, for one, he would not object to that grant, but he believed that could not be done without going into a fresh Committee, for the purpose of reviving the grant of 6,000l., with a view to its being continued. He threw out this suggestion because he feared that, otherwise, his right hon. Friend would not be able to carry his own purpose into effect.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thanked his right hon. Friend for the objection which he had stated, and the mode in which he had made that objection. His right hon. Friend was quite right as to the intention of her Majesty's Government. The object which they had in view certainly was to give to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent an income of 30,000l. a-year for life. There could, he thought, be no mistake as to that, and he must say, that he was glad the proposition had been so unanimously responded to by that House. He was exceedingly happy to know that his right hon. Friend meant to make no objection to it, but, on the contrary, that his suggestion was thrown out for the sole purpose of giving full effect to the resolution of the Committee of last night. He could tell his right hon. Friend, that he had not undertaken to bring in the Bill without previous consultation and advice. Those whom he had consulted on the subject, and he considered them to be fully competent to form an opinion on such a question, informed him that the prior grants were made to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent for her life, and therefore, that the grant now proposed to be made to her Royal Highness, was to be regarded only as a supplementary grant. If, then, this were to be considered merely in the light of a supplementary grant, the course which former precedents had pointed of as proper, was to bring in a Bill to consolidate the whole of the prior grants, and at the same time carry into effect the object which the resolution on which it was founded had in view. Suppose he were right in saying that he had a sum of 22,000l. a year under prior grants, then it would follow, that all he need call on the House for was a vote for the difference between that sum and 30,000l. a year. He should, however, cause a proper inquiry to be made on the point before the Bill reached the Committee, and this he should do because he was fully aware of the value and weight which ought to attach to the opinion of his right hon. Friend, whose authority on the subject of grants of this kind was so deservedly respected by every hon. Member of that House. It was true that he had obtained leave to bring in the necessary Bill, but, although it would not empower him to ask for more than 8,000l., still, as the blanks were not filled up, he would have an opportunity between this and the Committee of ascertaining whether the suggestion which his right hon. Friend had thrown out was well founded or not. If it were well founded, all he could say was, that he should not hesitate to move for a new Committee, but, if it were not, the House would have the power of carrying the intention of the resolution into full effect by filling up the blanks themselves.

Mr. Goulburn

did not rise to object to the additional grant, on the contrary, he concurred in its propriety. As, however, her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent was no longer called upon to provide for the support and education of her illustrious daughter, Queen Victoria, he wished to know whether the sum which had been allowed her for those purposes had been paid to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent since the accession of her Majesty to the Throne. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: Certainly.] If such had been the case, it was only right that they should see whether the course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite was pursuing was the regular one or not.

Mr. Grote

took that opportunity of saying a very few words with which if he had been in his place last night he should have troubled the House. If he had been present he should certainly have felt it his duty to express his concurrence in the views of the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Hume), although he believed what his hon. Friend had stated did not meet with the general approbation of the House. It did, however, appear to him that the proposed provision was not justified on good and satisfactory grounds. He could not help saying, however unsuitable the statement might be to the judgment of most Gentlemen in that House, that his opinion was confirmed by those with whom he had communication out of that House, and, he believed, by many persons throughout the country. When he looked at the present income of her Royal Highness, which was 22,000l. a-year, and found that an addition of 8,000l. was proposed to it, he really could not see sufficient ground for making an additional charge to that amount on the people of England. If he could allow himself on this occasion to be swayed by respect and esteem for the character of her Royal Highness, undoubtedly he should readily accede to this grant, and even a much larger one; but he maintained that his judgment of the personal character of her Royal Highness should not prompt him to give her unnecessarily an additional income, and ought not by any means to form the leading consideration in determining his vote. He was sure that so far as the incomes of those who composed the royal family were concerned allusion to personal character had been generally disclaimed, and decidedly never made a leading ground for deciding the vote of the House. When, too, h considered that in the present situation of her Royal Highness she was relieved from a large outlay, he could not but declare that the proposition for increasing her income was made at a very unsuitable season. If he had any such connection with any Member of the royal family as would authorize him to tender to them a respectful opinion, he would certainly take the liberty of offering them his humble advice, and of saying that they who were in an exalted position should impose as slight a burden as possible for their support on the people. And he was quite sure that in expressing these sentiments, so far from speaking in a manner derogatory to the esteem and respect entertained towards the royal family, he should be only giving utterance to the opinions of that large portion of the community who entertained those feelings in the very strongest degree. He thought it incumbent on him to express what he had now said, more particularly because he was one of those who took the strongest view of the duty of economising the public money. He often, therefore, felt bound to resist the claims made on the public purse by those who belonged to the middle station, and to that more humble than it. He could not take that course with satisfaction to his own feelings or conscience, unless he was prepared to exercise the same scrutinising investigation into the claims of those who filled an exalted station, and to mete out the same measure towards those in whose favour every respect which could be derived from position was enforced. This grant ought, in his opinion, never to have been proposed, and he felt convinced that it never could be justified by her Majesty's Ministers on tenable grounds.

Mr. Borthwick

said, that in much of what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down he concurred, but he, at the same time, thought the hon. Gentleman had misunderstood the grounds on which the grant proceeded. The fact was, that it proceeded not on the ground of either respect or esteem, but upon two other totally distinct grounds. In the first place the grant was made as a mark of the country's gratitude to the Royal and illustrious person who had been named, for the admirable manner in which she had educated the Princess Victoria, and for having placed on the throne of Great Britain not only the most accomplished but the most beloved Sovereign of Europe. The second ground was the remembrance which they had of the heavy charge which had been imposed upon her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, and the care, pains, and labour which that Royal person had expended on the education which had effected these accomplishments which now adorned their Queen. It was upon these two grounds that he had given his support to the motion of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). If the grant had been proposed merely as a testimony of their respect and admiration for her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent he would agree that it ought not to be granted. He thought it would be a very bad precedent to give the public money away merely out of respect or esteem to individuals, because they held exalted situations, and were placed near the throne; but he must say the case was very different when the grant was made as a mark of the country's gratitude for services so important and so efficiently rendered as those which her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent had performed.

Mr. Courtenay

said, that t boh sides of the House the real facts of the case seemed not to be understood. matter was one of simple calculation, and as the right hon. Gentleman he Chancellor of the Exchequer, had apologied for the manner in which he had discharged his duty he (Mr. Courtenay) would not hesitate to supply one deficiency in the statement which the right hon. Gentleman had made. The truth was, that the right hon. Gentleman had not brought the matter forward in a way that was very intelligible. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House seemed to suppose that this was an additional grant of 8,000l., but it was not exactly so because they ought to take into account the difference of value between annuities for the life of the Queen and the life of her mother. This, according to the ordinary calculations, would give a sum of 30,000l. and it was, therefore, clear that the burthen to the public would be diminished to the extent of that sum.

Resolutions agreed to.