HC Deb 22 February 1866 vol 181 cc902-10

Messages from Her Majesty considered, in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Messages read.


Mr. Dodson—You have read from the Chair two Messages from Her Majesty, and separate Resolutions will be proposed with respect to each of those Messages, but the observations I have to make, which I hope will not long detain the Committee, may well include the subject of each Message. The general rules and considerations which apply to Messages of this kind, and the course which the House is invited to take in considering them, are the same in respect to all members of the Royal Family. The House and the public are generally aware of the principles upon which the subject—which in other coun- tries often leads to difficulties—of providing for the Royal Family, is managed among ourselves. As the result of experience it has been found the wisest and simplest course to enter into a negotiation at the accession of each succeeding Sovereign, and the basis of that negotiation is that, whilst the Sovereign surrenders the life interests of the Crown estates, on the other hand a sufficient provision is made by Parliament for the maintenance of the Royal household and establishment. But it is well understood, that although that maintenance includes all that relates to the training of the family, it does not and cannot include that which relates to making competent provision for the members of that family, as they come to adult age and go out into the world. All this devolves upon the Government and Parliament, and they have to consider in each case as it arises what course it may be suitable to take. We have before us now two cases—first, that of the Princess Helena, and second, that of Prince Alfred. The nature of the subject I have to submit to the Committee does not at all require that any reference shall be made to special circumstances connected with the Royal Family. It is, however, a happy recollection, and must give us cheerfulness and satisfaction in the performance of this duty, to consider that the lives of the children of the Royal House have been so full of promise, so full of all that can give grace to youth and excite confident hopes for the happiness of their future lives. But with respect to the Princess Helena, I may venture to say one word beyond what has already fallen from me. Her position has been peculiar. It has been her lot to be the eldest unmarried Princess of the Royal Family during the time which has elapsed since that most crushing of all trials which can sadden human existence has befallen Her Majesty. Under those circumstances, she has been placed in a position which at a singularly early period put to the test all the most important qualities of her character—its strength, its wisdom, and its tenderness. It is but due to the nature of the subject to say that all I now state in Parliament is well known not only to the persons in immediate intercourse with the Royal House but to the public at large. It is well known that during those dark and trying years the Princess Helena, even at her early age, has been alike a stay and a solace to her illustrious mother. As regards the nature of the proposal I have to make in the case of the Princess Helena, it is very simple, for we have only to follow the precedent set in the analagous case of the Princess Alice. About four years ago when the marriage of the Princess Alice was about to take place, a proposal was made to the House, and accepted by the unanimous will and pleasure of the House. It was that we should empower Her Majesty to endow the Princess Alice with an annuity for life, amounting to £6,000 a year, and likewise vote a dower of £30,000 to be given by Her Majesty to the same Princess. These two steps will be precisely repeated on the present occasion. I can, consistently indeed with form, only introduce at this moment the first of the two proposals; that is to say, the Resolution relating to the annuity for life. And I will ask the Committee to resolve that the annual sum of £6,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, to be settled as Her Majesty shall think fit on the Princess Helena Augusta Victoria, and to commence from the date of her marriage with Prince Christian. The dowry will, in the regular course, be taken in Committee of Supply. It will be the first business, and to-morrow, when the Speaker leaves the Chair, it will be my duty to move that a dowry of £30,000 be granted to the Princess Helena. I come now to the subject of the second Message—the arrangement proposed with respect to Prince Alfred, on his coming of age. Nothing strictly analogous to this proposal has been submitted to Parliament for a considerable time; but Her Majesty's Government have considered with what care they could, on what footing it would be right to place the establishment of a young Prince of the United Kingdom on his coming of age, and the result I will submit to the Committee. I ask the Committee to resolve that an annual sum of £15,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to be settled on Prince Alfred Ernest Albert for his life, in such manner as Her Majesty shall think proper, and to commence from the coming of age of His Royal Highness. The annuity to the Princess Helena will date from an event still in the future—that of her marriage; the annuity to Prince Alfred will date from a period that is past, inasmuch as he attained his majority in the last year. The case of a Princess contracting a marriage naturally leads to an arrangement which, according to precedent, should be proposed and considered as a final arrangement. The case of a Prince attaining his majority does not stand precisely on the same position. Circumstances might arise affecting the condition of that Prince, and making it necessary to reconsider the grant to be voted to-night. It might be that he would attain a position of charge and responsibility elsewhere, which might have the effect of rendering him either wholly or partially independent of any provision from the revenues of this country. We feel that the possibility of such an occurrence will be best met, not by any provision of a positive character, but by a simple provision as to the right of the Crown and of the Legislature of the country to consider such a case as equity and policy shall require when the contingency arise. On the other hand, it is desirable that the House should clearly understand that the proposal we now make is a proposal for the due maintenance of the station and establishment of a son of Her Majesty during his unmarried life, and that in the event of the Prince Alfred contracting a marriage, it would be our duty again to submit the subject to the House, and call upon Parliament to make any further provision that the altered circumstances would require, both in regard to an annual allowance and to the contingency of jointure. This explanation, I think, contains nearly all I would say on the subject. As to the amount we propose should be granted to the Prince, I will add only a very few words. I think the amount ought to be considered from two points of view; and that no one can duly estimate it who forgets either of these points of view. If we look at it from the side of Parliament, from the side of those who grant the provision, of those who furnish the funds out of which it is paid, no doubt it is a liberal provision. It is a provision, the granting and accepting of which is made far more easy and satisfactory by its being given, as these provisions have been given by Parliament during the present reign, with general, I may say with unanimous, satisfaction. But, on the other hand, if we look to this provision from the second point of view to which I have referred, it cannot be regarded as immoderate. Considering the station of the receiver, considering how desirable it is, how essential it is, that we grant an income that will secure the independence so essential to the character and dignity of that station, considering the calls that station brings with it, and the heavy expenses in every form that attends it, I think it will be admitted by all classes of the community, that, having regard to the customs of the country, the habits of society, and the fortunes commonly attained and dispensed among various orders of men, that if this be a grant which it is liberal for Parliament to make, so also it is one as moderate as the Crown and Royal Family ought to receive. With these words I place, Sir, in your hands the first Resolution which I beg to move—namely, that an annual income of £6,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to be settled on Her Royal Highness the Princess Helena for life in such manner as Her Majesty shall think fit, to commence from the date of the marriage of the Princess with Prince Christian. I have only to say that the terms of the Resolution, according to the established form, are entirely absolute, and that the only conditions that attach to the grant of the annuity are usually, on these occasions, inserted in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following Resolution:— That the annual sum of Six Thousand Pounds be granted to Her Majesty, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, the said Annuity to be settled on Her Royal Highness the Princess Helena Augusta Victoria for her life, in such manner as Her Majesty shall think proper, and to commence from the date of the Marriage of Her Royal Highness with Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein Sonderbourg-Augustenburg,


Sir, I rise to second what I believe to be the judicious and well-considered proposition of the Ministry. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did right in recalling to the recollection of the House, and the country, the conditions under which Her Majesty at her accession relinquished her power over the large estates of the Crown, At the time when the Civil List Act was passed I confess that I had very great doubts as to the policy of that measure, because it occurred to me that when the time arrived that appeals to Parliament by the Crown of this character had to be made, the circumstances under which the original Civil List Act was passed would be forgotten, that Her Majesty would be appealing to a new generation, and the whole character of the Royal claim might be subject to great misinterpretation. Therefore, I think it was most wise and discreet on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to call to the recollection of Parliament the circumstances under which the Civil List Act was originally passed. But I have pleasure always in feeling on occasions like the present that the happy circumstances under which we find ourselves in this country with regard to the Royal Family have baffled all the forebodings that were felt at that moment. The Royal Family have built up their hearth on the principle of domestic affection—a principle which is deeply, and I trust will be for ever, cherished in this country. Therefore, when occasions like the present occur, there is really no embarrassment for the Crown and no difficulty for the Minister. And Her Majesty may be assured that, on this and on all similar occasions, when a claim such as this is made upon her subjects, it only elicits a fresh renewal of respectful affection from a grateful and devoted people.

Resolution put, and agreed to.


moved the second Resolution— That the Annual sum of Fifteen Thousand Pounds be granted to Her Majesty, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, the said Annuity to be settled on his Royal Highness Prince Alfred Ernest Albert for his life, in such manner as Her Majesty shall think proper, and to commence from the date of the coming of age of His Royal Highness.


With reference to this grant I am not going to make any objection, because I believe I only express the unanimous feeling not only of ourselves, but of our constituents when I say that we are always glad when this House can do anything that contributes to the comfort and happiness of Her Majesty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has, however, referred, in vague phraseology, to certain contingencies which may arise in reference to this annuity, and which, I think, were not quite understood or appreciated by the House. My impression is that one of the contingencies to which he referred, although he did not expressly say so, was the circumstance that the principality of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is settled upon Prince Alfred, and that he is at any rate the heir presumptive of that sovereignty. The right hon. Gentleman did not explain the nature of the conditions he proposed to make if that contingency occurred in regard to that principality, but I gathered that he intended that the annuity now to be voted is not at any period absolutely to cease, but that provision is to be made when the contingency arises, so as to give Parliament an opportunity of reconsidering the question. Now, I must say that that is an arrangement which will place Parliament and the House of Commons in a very ungracious position. Although I own it would be more acceptable to the public that the annuity should cease when that contingency arose—and this would be the more reasonable arrangement of the two—yet, if I were asked whether I would prefer such an invidious reservation as that at which the right hon. Gentleman has hinted, or that the annuity should be granted absolutely, I confess I should prefer the absolute grant, and not entail upon our successors in this House the task of deciding whether, upon that contingency, the annuity should continue or cease. I do not know whether I drew the right inference from what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I thought it my duty thus early to express an opinion upon this subject.


said, he wished to ask whether this annuity would be alienable? Would it be in the power of the Prince to transfer it, or charge it in any way whatever? Of course, he wished the Prince to have the sole personal enjoyment of the annuity.


In answer to the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, I wish to call his attention to the terms of the Resolution, that the annual sum specified Be granted to Her Majesty, to be settled upon his Royal Highness Prince Alfred Ernest Albert, in such manner as Her Majesty may think proper. The course that has been usually taken by Pariament, and which, I trust, will be taken on the present occasion, is to recognize the function of the parent; and, certainly, if ever there was a case of a Royal Family and of a parent in which we ought to recognize that their station and responsibility, their cares and enjoyments, have done nothing to abate the strength of domestic affection, or deaden the sense of domestic duty, it is the case in which we are now concerned. Therefore, the Resolution rests upon the proper basis when we propose that the annuity shall be settled in such manner as Her Majesty shall think fit. But it has been the practice of Her Majesty to call in the aid of her great Council of Parliament in cases where it is thought fit that particular conditions should be inserted in the Bills to be enacted for the purpose of giving effect to the Resolutions. Perhaps I ought to remind my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) that, not in this case only, but that generally in the case of money grants, from the nature of our forms in preliminary Committee, we begin by making our grant in the widest terms, because it is not in the power of this House to make any extension of the Resolutions imposed by the Committee, and that any provision for limitation is always reserved for the subsequent stages of the Bill. In that manner it is proposed to proceed on the present occasion, and to follow the precedents afforded in the cases of the Crown Princess of Prussia and the Princess Alice—especially the latter, because there the analogy extends, even to the sum inserted in the Resolutions. My right hon. Friend suggests that it would be agreeable to the people of this country to provide for an absolute cessation of this annuity in the event of the arrival of a contingency to which he has alluded. I may again say that I would venture to recommend my right hon. Friend to see and to weigh any terms that may be inserted in the Bill before he forms a final judgment upon them. I will at once say that we are not prepared to insert such a clause in the Act, and on this one ground, which, I confess, appears to me to be absolutely conclusive—that it will be impossible to define absolutely all the contingencies on which such a cessation ought to take place, if it is to take place at all, and that nothing could be more inconvenient than to refer to one such contingency, and thereby by implication to exclude every other. On that ground I hope my right hon. Friend will abandon that idea, and with respect to his approval or disapproval, that he will kindly look to the words in the Bill, and then form his judgment upon them.


said, he thought that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. E. P. Bouverie) were entitled to great weight, and he did not think they had been adequately answered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It appeared to him that they ought to take one of two courses: either they should give the annuity absolutely and on the understanding that under no circumstances occurring in future should it cease, or else they should provide for the cessation of the annuity in the event of His Royal Highness becoming a foreign Sovereign. If they did not do that he thought they would not only place those who might sit in Parliament when that contingency arose in an invidious position, but would place His Royal Highness himself in an awkward situation. Any hon. Member might rise and propose the cessation of the annuity, and then a discussion would occur, which he thought would be unpleasant both to the House and the Royal Family. His Royal Highness would be placed in a very awkward position in having to defend his annuity after he had become a foreign Sovereign in the event of any one proposing that it should cease. He would, therefore, impress it upon the Government that they should look the question in the face as a matter of business, and decide upon it now, making up their minds when they introduced the Bill whether the annuity should be granted absolutely, or whether it should cease upon the contingency to which he had referred.

Resolution put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morroio.