HC Deb 09 August 1845 vol 82 cc1555-8
Mr. Borthwick

said, the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down had given him a lesson in Parliamentary tactics which he would not fail oh a proper occasion to put in practice. What was most important was, that he the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had made it impossible for him to bring under the consideration of the House, and of the right hon. Gentleman who had just entered (Sir R. Peel), the great constitutional question alluded to in the Notice which stood in his name. He meant the necessity of appointing Lords Justices in cases of the temporary absence of Her Most Gracious Majesty from her dominions, according to the Constitution and invariable usage of the realm. The noble Lord the Member for the city of London, had in the course of a speech delivered a few nights ago, with a delicacy at once and a courage which well became his position and his name, made a pointed allusion to this grave matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had in his reply made no observation whatever upon that part of the noble Lord's speech; and he had been in hopes that the silence he alluded to indicated, if not acquiescence in the noble Lord's views, at least that the subject was under the serious consideration of the Government. There was not time left for him now to enter at all upon the subject in detail; but his duty compelled him to say thus much. Notwithstanding the high authorities which he had seen alleged in favour of the opposite opinion, he believed that the Constitution as well as practice required the authority of the Crown to be exercised within the realm. Constitutional law, like civil law, was to be interpreted not only by the written maxim of the Statute, but by the unwritten authority of prescription. From the earliest periods to which the Constitution of England could be, traced there was not one exception to sanction the absence of the Sovereign without a delegated power to act in certain cases. The Act of Settlement, indeed, in so far as it bound the Sovereign to remain within the realm, unless by special sanction of Parliament, had been repealed. But the great constitutional principle for which he contended, namely, that the functions of the Crown could only be exercised within the realm, interwoven as that principle was with the whole frame of the State, and sanctioned without a single exception as he had shown it to be by uniform precedent, had never been altered or repealed. He could not hope, from all he heard, at this period to do more than record a protest; but his object would be to a great extent gained, if he obtained from the right hon. Baronet some assurance that the present example would not be drawn into a precedent for future times. That he might be able to obtain that assurance he would now say no more, except to congratulate the House and the country that in the present state of things there was not likely to arise any practical evil, such as had existed before, and as might befal posterity, if the integrity of the principle for which he contended was not maintained. He prayed, as did all her subjects, with one heart, for the happiness and safety of the Queen.

Sir R. Peel

I hope the hon. Gentleman will not attribute the abruptness of my reply to any want of courtesy towards him, but rather to the shortness of the time which I can now occupy the attention of the House. I will begin at once by saying that the hon. Gentleman is wrong on every single point which he has thought proper to advance. First of all, he is wrong, utterly wrong, in point of precedent. He said that there was no instance where the Sovereign had been absent from the realm, and where a Commission of the Lords Justices had not been appointed. Now, Sir, that is not the fact. The hon. Gentleman says he will go back to the earliest periods of the history of our Constitution. I cannot say what he means by Constitution, but there are instances within—

Here the Usher of the Black Rod appeared at the Table, and summoned the House to appear in the House of Lords, to hear Her Majesty prorogue the Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, followed by the Members present, proceeded forthwith to the House of Lords, and on his return read Her Majesty's Speech; after which the House separated at eighteen minutes past two o'clock, and the Parliament stood prorogued.