HC Deb 23 December 1837 vol 39 cc1509-16

On the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Duchess of Kent's Annuity Bill being read,

Sir G. Sinclair

said, that he rose with great reluctance to address the House on this occasion; but the more any duty was painful in itself or likely to be followed by circumstances of personal disadvantage, the more it was incumbent upon any honest public man not to shrink from the faithful discharge of it. When the message in reference to this grant was first read from the chair, he had anticipated a very different arrangement from that which had since been submitted. He thought that the two grants of 6.000l. each, awarded expressly for the support and education of her Royal Highness the Princess Victoria in 1825 and 1831, had, of course, reverted to the public, certainly in point of equity, and probably in point of law, in consequence of her Royal Highness's accession to the throne, and that her Majesty's Ministers intended to propose that a part, or even the whole, of this sum, should be settled for life upon the Duchess of Kent, although, from the crown having devolved upon her royal daughter, her Royal Highness had been exonerated from the greater part of that very expense on account of which the two additional sums had been successively voted by Parliament; for, in his opinion, what was termed her Royal Highness's nearer proximity to the throne had rather diminished than augmented the demands upon her income. To this proposition he was persuaded that a cordial and unanimous assent would have been given. He deeply felt, and gratefully acknowledged, how much the country was indebted to her Royal Highness for the unwearied solicitude and sound discretion with which her Royal Highness had superintended the education of our beloved Queen, although he might be excused for adding, that he trusted there were in the humbler spheres of life hundreds of attached and anxious mothers who had attended with as exemplary a faithfulness to the discharge of their maternal duties. He could not but take this opportunity to observe, that both in this House and out of doors, a custom was far too prevalent of showering down upon illustrious personages exaggerated panegyrics, to say nothing of fulsome adulation. It was cruel and unjust to poison their minds with inflated encomiums, which tended to make them think of themselves above what they ought to think, and forget that they are by nature subject to like passions with the wicked, and to like infirmities with the weak. The question now before the House was a very simple one; it was neither more nor less than this—namely, whether an illustrious personage could enjoy all the comforts and maintain all the splendor of her rank upon a clear income of 22,000l. per annum, amounting to above 4001. per week—an income equivalent to the laying of sixty golden sovereigns upon the breakfast table every morning, and this without any deduction whatever—no house-rent — no taxes — Kensington Palace and Claremont kept up at the public expense —no ill-paid rents—no fluctuations in the value of property—no local burdens—no insurances to provide for younger children. He could not lay his hand upon his heart, and maintain the inadequacy of such an income for such a purpose, and he must, therefore, respectfully object to the new grant of 8,000l. per annum. One sentiment was often uttered by Gentlemen, and loudly cheered on all sides, which was not nearly so often expressed by candidates on the hustings as by Members in the House — namely a disregard for popular applause. He should be sorry to purchase the approbation of any individual, or class of persons, by a sacrifice of principle; but he must say, that, in his opinion, it required more moral courage to brave the frowns of a court, from which honours and affluence might be expected, than to disregard the smiles of the people, who had nothing to give or to take away. He thought, that profuse or unnecessary grants to the members of the Royal Family tended to bring the Monarchy into discredit and the House into contempt. He had acted consistently in this view of the subject, and not without a sacrifice of private feeling and of personal interest. He well remembered, that in 1819 a proposition was brought before Parliament for allowing 10,000l. to the Duke of York, as custos of his royal father—a proposition submitted by a Tory Government, which he was supporting, and strenuously opposed by the Whigs, who were not then in power, and were politically adverse to his Royal Highness. In spite of his Royal Highness's proximity to the Throne (to which he was immediate heir presumptive), in spite of his eminent and acknowledged services at the head of the army, Mr. Tierney, the then Whig leader, mate an eloquent appeal against the grant, and two divisions took place, on both of which he had the good fortune to vote with the noble Lord opposite, and all the principal Whigs of that day—one proposition being, that the 10,000l. should be charged on his Majesty's privy purse, a course which he humbly" thought might with singular propriety have been followed on this occasion. Times are now changed, and the Whigs are in the full tide of court favour; but his own principles continued the same; he would act in 1837 as he had done in 1819, be the consequences to himself what they might. He hoped he had expressed himself calmly and respectfully: the duty which had devolved upon him was a very irksome one, but he had followed the dictates of his conscientious conviction, and should content himself with entering his protest against the grant.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that if the dissent which had been expressed proceeded only from those with whom he generally differed, he would not think it necessary to express any opinion; but when that dissent had been expressed by one whom he so much valued and respected as his hon. Friend, the Member for Caithness, he should not be doing justice to his own feelings if he did not state his opinions in a few words. He hoped that he should, equally with his hon. Friend, be found indifferent to the smiles of a Court, or the frowns of the people, in the honest and conscientious discharge of his duty. However, he did not think that this question was to be decided by reference either to the one or to the other. The question was merely one of calculation, and was to be considered in reference to the actual situation of the illustrious person in reference to whom this grant had been proposed. It had not been stated that it had been in the course of probability that the Duchess of Kent might have been Queen of England. If her husband had lived, she would now have been Queen Consort: and this ought not to be forgotten in estimating her actual position relatively to their only child and to the Throne. As it was, she was now the mother of the Queen—a position certainly far more prominent and exposed to a greater scale of expenditure, and entitled to more consideration, than that which she recently occupied. He believed that the amount now proposed was not the utmost which was originally proposed for her Royal Highness, and that the country was indebted to the disinterestedness of her Royal Highness for the refusal of a much larger sum in a different shape. There was a prevalent rumour abroad which he believed to be true, but which he did not mean to call upon the noble Lord either to affirm or deny, that a much greater sum had been proposed to her Royal Highness's acceptance in another shape. There was a report that the payment of her Royal Highness's debts had been offered and had been distinctly refused. He had had no communication with her Royal Highness., nor did he know anything of her debts, or whether she had any debts, but if such a report were well founded he thought that they were indebted to her Royal Highness's liberality. He could not refrain from repeating his regret that any opposition to the Bill should come from that side of the House; and, in conclusion, he hoped the House would cordially concur in the third reading of the Bill.

Sir E. Codrington

expressed his full approbation of the grant in question. The people of England would readily pay for services to the country, and he considered her Royal Highness had rendered most valuable service by her whole deportment, as also by the manner in which she had educated her illustrious daughter.

Colonel Sibthorp

—Though he had heard the right hon. Baronet express his regret that the opposition to the Bill should come from that side of the House, he must tell that Right hon. Baronet that he might pursue what line of public conduct he thought proper, but at the same time the hon. Baronet must leave him the same liberty to pursue what line of conduct in public affairs he thought his duty prescribed. Though he sat on that side of the House he would not be bound to the politics of that side or any other. He could with perfect consistency oppose any measure which he did not like, come from what side of the House it might. The two hon. Baronets who had preceded him had said it was with pain they spoke upon the measure. It was with pain that he considered such an important subject had fallen to his hands as to oppose the nefarious doings of that Government which came in on the principles of economy and retrenchment. He had no doubt but there were debts, and it would have been much more honest and manly had the Government at once come forward and laid the state of the case before the House. Though he had been unsuccessful in his endeavours to reduce the allowance to 22,000l., yet he would persevere in his duty, and bring forward two other motions.

The Speaker

—Those motions can only be made after the Bill has been read a third time.

Colonel Sibthorp

would content himself, then, with protesting against the Bill, and would move the clauses after the Bill had been read a third time. This grant was unnecessary and uncalled-for on every account. He (Colonel Sibthorp) could not forget what he owed to the public, and he would not buy favour from anyone by neglecting what he considered to be a public duty. He had only expressed his honest and undisguised opinions, and he saw no reason to retract one syllable of what he had uttered. But, with such a House as the present it appeared to him to be totally impossible to oppose the Bill. He should, no doubt, have to give an account of his conduct to the constituency he represented. [" Hear," from Captain Pechell.] He feared not what the gallant Captain might have to say, and he had no doubt that he should go with as a clear a conscience to his constituency as the hon. and gallant Captain would. He had no doubt the same result would then follow as had followed the late election—namely his return to parliament by a large majority of electors. He did not intend to divide the House.

Bill read a third time.

On the question that the Bill do pass,

Colonel Sibthorp

again rose, and proposed the following amendments:— That it shall be lawful for her Majesty to give and grant by letters patent under the Great Seal of Great Britain to her Royal Highness Maria Louisa Victoria Duchess of Kent, for the term of her natural life, for the adequate provision for her said Royal Highness a certain annual payment or annuity of 22,000l. of lawful monies of Great Britain, in lieu of the proposed grant of 30,000l. Provided always, and be it further enacted that in case her Royal Highness Maria Louisa Victoria Duchess of Kent shall, after passing any grant by Act of Parliament for the sole and separate use of her said Royal Highness, marry with any person, without the consent of both Houses of Parliament, or shall cease to reside in, or shall absent herself from, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, without such aforesaid consent, for more than twelve months at any one period, or without the intervening period of six months' residence in Great Britain shall afterwards return abroad, a portion, not exceeding one half, of such grant as may be given by way of annuity to her said Royal Highness, shall, in either such case absolutely and entirely cease — that is to say, immediately after such marriage, or such period of absence, or, at any rate, from and after the payment of the quarterly portion that may be first due, and such portion of annuity shall be hereafter wholly void of any claim whatever on the part of her Royal Highness Maria Louisa Victoria.

Lord John Russell

opposed the bringing up of the clauses. One hundred thousand pounds had been granted to the Queen Dowager, and no condition was attached to the grant, either with regard to her residence in this country or in any other respect. As to the Duchess of Kent, he thought that it would be unbecoming to impose any such restrictions as those now proposed to the House. He begged to recal the attention of hon. Members to a few circumstances connected with her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent. When upon the death of her husband, and large debts had been incurred, it was to be remembered that her Royal Highness had the temptation before her—she who had been born and bred a foreigner—to go to another country and to reside there during the infancy of the Princess Victoria. The Duchess of Kent, however, preferred her duty to what might be considered her inclination, and determined upon bringing up her daughter here. In 1825, it was proposed by the Ministry of the day, to increase the grant to her Royal Highness—they did propose it, and to that proposal no condition was attached. If it were ever proper to propose such a condition that was the proper time for doing it, as the Duchess of Kent then had the care of her daughter, and the main object of the grant was to be applied for that purpose. Parliament showed its confidence in her Royal Highness; while, with respect to another royal person, Parliament imposed restrictions; but, doing this, they felt no disposition to impose restrictions upon her Royal Highness, and the confidence then reposed had been proved to be well deserved, and was fully sustained. Besides, as they were aware, the Duchess of Kent having the best preceptors for the Queen, he must mention this fact, which he did not know had been stated before, that when the present Queen was eleven years of age, not content with what she had done, the Duchess of Kent referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Bishop of London, and the Bishop of Lincoln, to inquire into the education bestowed, and to suggest what other course would be the most suited, to make her, if it should please Providence that she should be called upon, fit to reign over this country. Another grant had been made by Parliament in 1831; no condition was annexed to that grant; the same confidence before reposed in her Royal Highness by Parliament was continued; and he thought that no one could contradict the assertion that that confidence of Parliament had not been misplaced. Having, then, upon former occasions, made these grants without any restriction, now that they were to express their gratitude for the care that bad been bestowed upon the Sovereign, and when they had to consider that her Royal Highness was now nearer to the Throne than she had been then—now, when they had to do this, was there not to be the same liberality manifested towards her Royal Highness, when her task had been successfully performed? In such circumstances, he considered it would be most unbecoming, it would be most indecent, if the motion proposed were to be successful, and that restrictions were imposed which could only be regarded as derogatory to the merits of her Royal Highness.

Mr. Briscoe

, in supporting the Bill declared, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, that it was his opinion that her Majesty's Ministers were entitled to the gratitude of the country.

Clauses negatived. Bill passed.

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