HC Deb 13 February 1871 vol 204 cc172-82

Message from Her Majesty considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


I rise, Sir, to make a proposal the same in terms and the same in substance which has been made on former similar occasions—namely, on the occasions offered by the marriages of the Princess Louis of Hesse and the Princess Christian. And I should have been very glad if it had been consistent with my duty to assume, without doubt, as the Government has been able to assume at the periods which I have named, that there would be an unanimous—either literally or substantially—acceptance of the proposal. I feel it to be a subject for regret that there should be any doubt—I do not say as to its acceptance by the House: of that I have no doubt, nor of is acceptance by a very decisive expression of opinion have I any doubt—but of the vote which any hon. Gentle- man may feel disposed to give on such an occasion. Nor is it the House alone that would be disappointed, I think, if any real difficulty were to be interposed in the way of passing such a measure; for I am persuaded that the whole nation, with very rare exceptions, would regard with surprise and dissatisfaction the hesitation of Parliament to make the becoming and usual provision for a Princess of the Royal House of Her Majesty.

With respect, Sir, to the circumstances of the contemplated marriage between the Princess Louise and Lord Lorne, it is not necessary for me to dwell upon them at any length. The character of the Royal Bride is known to some of us by personal intercourse, to others by the voice which rumour carries forth; and I do not think that rumour has ever carried forth, in any case recorded in our modern history, impressions more satisfactory or more delightful than those which have been conveyed to the popular mind with respect to the Princess Louise. But happily, that is not a novelty in the records of our time, for the daughters of the Queen, for whom we have been formerly called to make a becoming provision, have had every claim upon our admiration and regard. But there is a novelty in the present instance, although I am persuaded that novelty can hardly be in the mind of any among us (or, if in any, it must be in the mind of a few only) a source of doubt or dissatisfaction, —it is that the Princess Louise is about to bestow her hand upon a British subject. Now, Sir, in the resolution which the Queen has taken that the absence of Royal rank shall not of itself, and in every case, form an insuperable bar to a suit for the hand of one of her daughters, she is not acting without the advice of responsible Ministers. But she has shown, in coming to such a resolution, another manifestation of that principle which has governed her life—the principle which has taught her, amid the pomp and splendour, and amid the duties and cares of Royalty, never to forget the womanly and motherly character. She has justly impressed on the mind of the country a belief that there is no mother throughout the wide expanse of her dominions to whom the personal happiness of her children is more intensely dear. Her object has been ever to choose, as husbands for her children, or to favour the choice of, persons upon all the points of whose character and, above all, upon whose governing principles she could entirely rely. Acting upon that rule, she has seen marriages of her daughters to foreign Princes, which have been to her a source of delight and satisfaction; and it is not from any disparagement of or disappointment in such marriages that in the present instance a different course is pursued. The real principle now is the same as it has been on each successive occasion—namely, the desire that the person who is honoured with the hand of the Princess Louise should be one in whose character her future destinies should, humanly speaking, be safe.

But anyone who doubts the prudence of the course now to be pursued may do well to reflect that if the Queen has been pleased, and if the Princsse Louise has been pleased, to depart from the former practice, the practice so departed from can hardly be termed ancient. It was no unusual thing in the history of this country, but far otherwise, for persons of the Royal House to bestow their hands upon British subjects. And I must say that such a practice is agreeable to the usages and social system of the country. The feelings, habits, and convictions of the country are not altogether favourable to the formation of classes absolutely exclusive. We have a perpetual blending of class with class familiar to our daily experience. We see it in the intermingling of the titled aristocracy of the country with the untitled gentry, and of the untitled gentry with the middle classes; and this interlacing we all believe to be wholesome and beneficial, and not the least operative among the many sources of the happiness of the people and of the firmness of the social structure. I know no reason why such a principle should not be applicable to the highest class of all, in which we have not seen it recently applied; or why there should not occasionally be a descent, if so it is to be called, of the Royal Family itself into the ranks of the higher nobility. I will not dwell further upon the special circumstances of the marriage, because I rest confidently in the belief that they are calculated to give, and that they have given, very general satisfaction.

Now, Sir, as I think it is my duty to anticipate every reasonable, or even unreasonable, objection that, so far as I can divine—and I own that I find the task one of difficulty—may be made, or scruple that may be entertained, I proceed next to notice what I hardly think will form the subject of difficulty in the minds of anyone who reflects for a moment—namely, the amount of the provision I now ask the House to make. The annuity of £6,000 a year is now proposed to the Committee, and in the regular course the portion of £30,000 will be voted as one of the grants of the year. I do not think, whatever may be his political opinions or social position, that any Gentleman will consider this provision an immoderate one in connection with the position of the Royal Bride, and with the scale of living and expenditure in this country. But, in order to show that the hand of modern economy has not been idle, I may compare the provision made for the younger daughters of the Royal House of our time with that made at an earlier period for the younger daughters of George III. The Princess Augusta Sophia had an annuity, partly out of the Consolidated Fund, and partly out of the Civil List, of £15,000 a year; the Princess Elizabeth had £14,000 a year; the Princess Sophia had £13,000 a year; and the Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, had £14,000 a year; besides which there was a similar sum voted for her husband. I will assume, therefore, for the present, that it is not on the amount of this provision that the controversy—and I confess I regard it as a somewhat unworthy and paltry controversy—can be raised. But certain questions may have occurred in the minds of hon. Gentlemen. It seems to be asked, are we now called upon to make provision in a case where provision has virtually been made already? That, I understand, is the doctrine which some are disposed to maintain. My contention is that no provision whatever has been made for this case. I know that a vague idea is entertained that the Queen has a large income, and that out of this it would be her duty to effect savings, like other parents, out of which her daughters should be competently endowed. But there is not the same power of regulating expenditure as in the case of private incomes, nor an equal facility, therefore, for storing annual receipt with a view to family arrangements. Undoubted, the Sovereign of this kingdom has a large income; but, although it is a large income, it is an income which, far more than any other large income in the country, is predetermined to special purposes; an income of which only very limited portions are under the control and discretion of the Sovereign. The nominal amount of the Sovereign's income, if we add together the Civil List and the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster, may be larger, possibly, than that of any subject, though there are a few among subjects who may come near it; but there are, undoubtedly, subjects in this country who have the real command over, and can expend at their free choice and pleasure, larger sums than are practically at the disposal of the Sovereign.

Gentlemen who study the structure of the Civil List Acts will perceive that Parliament studiously lays down the application of the monies granted to the Sovereign, and confines them to the special services for which they are destined. In truth, when an arrangement of this kind is made with a Sovereign, the most sanguine expectation commonly entertained by a rational Legislature is that the Sovereign shall, by good husbandry, remain in a position to keep strict faith with the people, and shall not come to Parliament from time to time making pleas on one ground or another to show the insufficiency of the provision, and to disturb the bargain made, by new demands for the same purpose upon the public purse. I need hardly remind the House that we are now in the 34th year of a reign during which on no single occasion has any such demand been made. The management of the Royal household, and the management of the Royal income, have set an example of economy and good order to all the families of the country. But the present question is whether there is any, the slightest, foundation for the belief some may entertain that it is the duty of the Sovereign to effect such savings out of the income of the Crown as will be sufficient to meet these purposes. Now, Sir, I will say that I believe that this is not only not the duty, but even that it is out of the power of the Sovereign. This is a matter that is governed by practice—I do not mean by a written rule of practice, I do not mean by a literal covenant—I mean that practice of honour and good understanding and loyalty, which arises out of, and which is irrefragably confirmed by, a long and unmistakable course of precedent. The House knows very well that it is only within the present century that, after much labour directed to that end, it has been found practicable to come to a close, intelligible, and satisfactory arrangement with regard to the support of the Royal dignity and person. At the commencement of every reign a sum is allotted by an Act called the Civil List Act for that purpose. Does that Civil List Act contemplate a provision being made out of the funds it grants for the maintenance of the Royal children? I say it does not; and the proof that it does not is that, under all circumstances, it has been the established and understood practice of every Government to come to Parliament from time to time, and to ask for some separate provision to be made on behalf of the Royal children. The expense of the Royal children in their youth—in their youth I include the period up to their marriage or their attaining full age—has been borne by the Sovereign without any appeal to Parliament; but the practice has uniformly been that when the Royal children pass into independent life, whether by marriage or by attaining full age, or at whatever precise date, to apply to Parliament to make a provision. I fully admit that I am not prepared to quote anything in the nature of a written agreement on the subject; but I am prepared to affirm that the argument of practice has in this case the force of a demonstration. Now, in 1830, the Civil List of William IV. was fixed at £435,000 a year, and no better period for an economical precedent could be taken. I doubt if even a period as good could be found. I do not say that the commencement of the present reign has not also been excellent in that respect; but certainly there never was a time when there was a greater desire evinced on both sides of the House to draw the reins tightly and to prevent anything like extravagance in public expenditure than there was at the commencement of the reign of William IV. The sum then assigned to the Civil List was £435,000. But the sum given on the accession of the Queen was reduced to £385,000, And why? I think it evident that the amount was reduced because, in the case of William IV. there had been a Queen Consort, whereas Queen Victoria was unmarried at the commencement of her reign, and the contemplation was that if Her Majesty were to marry, then the time would arrive for Parliament to consider what increase of expenditure would necessarily follow upon any change of establishment and life which would so be produced. Shortly after, Her Majesty was happily married. And what then happened? A new proposal was made to Parliament, and a Vote was taken on behalf of the Prince Consort as the husband of the Queen, in addition to the Civil List. Therefore, from the Civil List, originally fixed in 1830, a reduction was made in 1837. It was made when the Queen was a maiden, it was altered when the Queen was married. It is impossible to have a stronger attestation of the principle upon which these matters have been uniformly regulated.

Now, the fact that there is a uniform practice of this kind — what I should call a loyal and honourable understanding and practice—is quite conclusive; but, at the same time, I would beg the House to consider that the contract or arrangement is no very unfavourable one to the public. When we granted the Civil List, at the commencement of the reign, we did not grant it without an equivalent. We received in return those lands which formed the endowment of the Crown. It would, at least, be not too much to say that in a country governed by a monarchy the Crown ought to have the largest of all personal endowments. Accordingly, the Crown of this country has had, and so the Crown of this country would at this moment have had, an income much exceeding any private income, if the estates of the Crown had been used from time to time as those belonging to private individuals are — namely, solely for the purpose of extracting from them the greatest amount of profit it is possible to gain. Still, it so happens that, at the present day, the net revenue of the estates of the Crown has just reached the sum paid to Her Majesty under the Civil List Act. The sum paid from the Consolidated Fund on account of the Civil List Act amounts to £385,000, and the net sum paid into the Exchequer as the proceeds of these Crown lands is estimated for the present or coming year to amount to £385,000 also. Therefore, there is no very great or glaring difference in the case thus viewed. I know, of course, that there are some other emoluments enjoyed by the Crown, and that various other grants have also been made to members of the Royal Family; but, on the other hand, we should look at the valuable acquirements made by the people in the Parks of London and the Parks in the neighbourhood, which have been devoted for every practical purpose to the benefit of the nation. I ask, what do you believe would be the income of the Crown if the Parks of London, instead of being placed under particular provisions for the public good, had been cut up into building lots, and if the Parks in the neighbourhood of London had been, or were now to be, laid out for the erection of villas—that is, if this land had been used by and for the interest of the Crown for years, or rather for generations past, as it would have been used if it had belonged to private proprietors? I believe, though I have no right to give an estimate with authority, that in that case the annual independent income of the Crown would, perhaps, be not less at this moment than a million sterling.

But the truth is, Sir, that this is a very narrow view of the case to take. There is a much deeper and a much broader question involved. The competent support—not the lavish and extravagant, but the competent and becoming support—of the Crown and the Royal Family is an important and an indispensable part of our political system. It is not the money paid back from the Crown lands into the Exchequer that forms the real equivalent to the public. That equivalent is to be found in the additional security given for the political benefits and blessings that we enjoy. We have not far to look to learn how difficult it is on this side of the Atlantic to bestow upon democratic and popular forms of government on a large scale the conditions of stability, and how difficult also it is to root monarchical forms of government in the affections of a nation where unhappily the union of tradition may not have been altogether favourable to such an association. And we have seen, too, how instability of succession places dynasties in this position—that the interior policy of a country becomes subservient, almost of necessity, to the interests of family, and that questions of peace and war, if pursued to their first causes, may be too often referable to considerations of what would be popular, or what would be unpopular, in reference to the interests of particular families. I trust, and I do not doubt, that this House, acting with that wisdom which guides it upon every great constitutional question, will perceive that we should commit the grossest of all errors if we were to be content with entering into minute pecuniary calculations upon a subject of this nature; if we were to regard this simply as a question whether or not a grant should be made on mere pecuniary grounds as matter of account, and not as one affecting the happiness and welfare of the people of this country, for which the existence of an ancient and deep-rooted monarchy constitutes one, at least, among the best and most effectual guarantees.

I admit, indeed, that there is something to be said from another point of view. The practice of the House has been on all occasions to make those grants with cheerfulness—almost with eagerness. I think, unless my memory deceives me, I have heard a large number of Members in this House object to the grants more on the ground of their being too small than as being too large; and I am afraid that objections now taken may hereafter tend to promote a reaction in the direction of excess. But these Votes have on all occasions within my recollection been liberally and cheerfully voted, and if they were no longer to be liberally and cheerfully voted the act of asking for them would become intolerable to any person of high spirit and of due self-respect. It would be impossible for the Sovereign—it would be impossible not for a Sovereign only, but for any person endowed with, a just sense of duty, and, therefore, with that self-respect which is a part of duty, to enter into angry controversy with Parliament, should Parliament be so disposed, on such questions. And what would be the consequence? We should have to change our system. At the commencement of a reign, besides giving to the Lord Steward what he requires, and giving to the Lord Chamberlain what he requires, and so forth under the various heads, we should have to do what is done in so many private families—we should have to provide for all these distant contingencies and secure beforehand a becoming income to the children of the Sovereign. The effect of that would be—first, a great diminution of the moral control of Parliament over the Royal Family; and, secondly, a great diminution of the moral control of Royal parents over their rising families of children. It is, to my mind, open to much doubt whether it can be in the interests of a State that such a change should be made. And, undoubtedly, it is not in the pecuniary interests of the Sovereign that the present system is pursued. It exposes the Sovereign—it exposes the younger members of her family, who have never known reproach in any form—to idle vituperation, or, if vituperation is too harsh a word, to idle objections and to cavil. No doubt for the Sovereign it would be convenient enough that all these provisions should be made beforehand. But the present system, whatever it may be in other respects, is a system national and popular in its spirit—a system founded on those free relations of generous confidence which ought always to govern the conduct of the Sovereign of this country towards the Parliament. The Sovereign confides and trusts that when a reasonable and becoming demand is made, the occasion having arisen, Parliament will not hesitate for a moment to meet that demand; and Parliament has ever acted in such a manner as to justify this confidence by facts. I am sure that no one who considers the case will fail to see that this method under which from time to time, as mature age is attained by members of the Royal Family, or as marriage is about to be contracted, Parliament is asked to make proper provision, is a system conceived in the interest of the people, and likewise one which can only work as long as harmonious and cordial relations are maintained between the Sovereign and the Parliament. Sir, I think that if that be so it is needless for me to go further in the discussion of this important matter. It may be that some Gentlemen have discovered elements in it which have not met our view; but confident as I am that we are acting according to the principle of good faith, according to old and uniform precedent, and according to sound policy, I have not the least hesitation in putting, Sir, into your hands a Resolution which I am confident will command the assent of an overwhelming majority of the House, and which has for its object to make, in view of her approaching marriage, the usual provision for the daughter of the Queen.

Resolved, Nemine Contradicente, 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 Princess Louise, 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 the Marquis of Lorne.

House resumed.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.