HC Deb 25 July 1873 vol 217 cc1000-7

Order for Committee read.


said, it was not his intention at that stage of the Bill to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice to the effect, that it would be undesirable to proceed with further legislation concerning the "private estates of the Crown," unless provision were made for the publication of accounts of the annual receipts and disbursements of such estates. He proposed, however, to bring forward a clause in Committee, and to divide the Committee on that clause.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Recited Act extended to manors, &c., devised by Her Majesty).


rose to move as an Amendment, in page 2, line 36, at end, to add— and all laws applicable to wills and dispositions of private persons, and imposing probate, administration, legacy, and succession duties shall apply to wills and dispositions by or in favour of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors.


said, the hon. Member was precluded from moving the Amendment, inasmuch as it imposed a charge from which the Crown was at present exempt.


contended that that objection did not hold good with regard to the real property of the Crown to which the Bill applied, if it did with regard to the personal. He would accordingly submit his Amendment in an altered form, declaring that the law should be applicable as regarded succession duties to wills and dispositions by or in favour of Her Majesty, her heirs, and successors.


said, the Amendment would impose a new tax on the Sovereign, without her permission or the previous permission of that House, and it was clearly out of Order. If the old Act had imposed the duty, the declaration would be of no effect; but the Act did not impose any such, and it could not be extended by an Amendment of this character.


said, if the Amendment varied the law otherwise than he had mentioned—by consent of the Crown or of the House—it was not competent to the hon. Member to propose it.


suggested, independently of the other grounds named, that the Amendment would require the consent of the Crown if it affected the interests of the Crown.


argued, that as that was a Bill to remove a doubt, and so to secure to the Crown certain property, which could not be at present regarded as secure, and in that way to augment its revenue, a restriction effecting an incidental charge upon that source of income which the Bill was necessary to secure could not be considered as imposing a new charge upon the Sovereign.


submitted there were three distinct grounds on which the Committee ought to decline to entertain the Amendment. The first was a ground upon which the hon. Member ought not to press it; it was not fair to the Promoters and the House to move an Amendment totally distinct from that of which Notice had been given. Upon a question of that kind, involving subtle argument, it was unfair to ask the House for a decision independently of Notice. On that account he hoped the hon. Member would not press the Amendment. Secondly, that was a matter affecting the permanent interests of the Crown, and the Motion proposed a charge which did not exist, and which could not be imposed without the consent of the Crown. Thirdly, irrespective altogether of the question on whom the charge would fall, it was a new charge, unless it were provided for already; and if it were provided for there was no occasion for the Amendment. If it was a new charge, the hon. Member could not proceed without a Resolution passed in Committee.


suggested whether the discussion was not altogether somewhat irrelevant, and out of Order.


said, the alteration made in his Amendment did not re- lieve the hon. Member from the difficult), in which he had placed himself. As the Amendment would affect the rights of the Crown, it would clearly require a Committee and the Royal Assent.


thought the Committee was not being met in the spirit in which the House had met the Government in voting for the Bill. It was undesirable to place the Crown in respect of private property in a position different from that of private persons, and it might become a question, whether the Bill should not be opposed altogether.


said, the object of the Amendment was good, for it would meet the difficulties about the secrecy of the Sovereign's disposition of property. He thought the hon. Member for Stroud had been unfairly treated, and the only course for those who thought so was to give the hon. Member an opportunity of putting himself in Order by delaying the progress of the Bill.


suggested that, after what had passed, it would be in the interests of the Crown if the Government were to consult the feeling of the Crown in the matter, and allow the Bill to drop for that Session.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Section 11 of the Crown Private Estates Act 1862, extended to certain private estates of Her Majesty, &c.)

In reply to Sir CHARLES W. DILIKE,


said, he was not aware of any express legal decision on the subject; but the most eminent lawyers had never doubted the right of the Crown to leave personalty by will.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

New Clause.


rose to move a new clause, to follow Clause 3, providing for the publication of accounts of the receipts and disbursements on account of the private estates of the Crown to be sent to the Treasury and laid before Parliament. The Prime Minister had said they were small, and there was no immediate prospect of their becoming large; but if such a concession as the present were not made, they might become very large in a single day, without Parliament having any knowledge of the fact, unless accounts were published. Large legacies might be left to the Crown by persons desirous of notoriety, or wishing to see it independent of Parliamentary Votes, and the money might be invested in land to an enormous extent. If the estates of the Crown were to be treated as private estates, no doubt, it would be inconsistent to require the publication of accounts; but as the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stroud had fallen through, it was the more necessary to press for the publication of accounts respecting them—especially when the fact was remembered that they increased daily in value. They were published in the case of the Duchy of Lancaster, which at the beginning of the reign produced £8,000 a-year, and now £40,000 a-year. The annual publication of the accounts of the Duchy of Lancaster by the authority of Parliament was a case in point. The Prime Minister on a former stage of the Bill was understood to say, that if these private estates of the Crown became considerable, that ought to be considered in fixing the Civil List at the beginning of each reign. The advanced Liberals had often dallied that the estates of the Duchy of Lancaster should be regarded on the same footing as the other Crown lands; but that claim had always been resisted by the Ministry of the day. When Bolingbroke came to the Crown he brought the Duchy of Lancaster with him as his private estate. The Crown had always maintained the private character of the Duchy estates; but the income of the Duchy was annually published, and was taken into account as part of the income of the Crown on the accession of each Sovereign. The late Lord Derby asserted in the House of Lords that the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster were as little the property of the public as were any of the estates of their Lordships, yet he gladly consented to the publication of the annual accounts of the Duchy. In the Civil List Act of George III., it was stated that His Majesty surrendered the revenue arising from the whole of the Crown estates, "except the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall." The Duchy of Lancaster was not named, yet it was held by Parliament and the Crown not to be included in the surrender. All he asked for was that accounts of the nature of the Duchy might be presented to Parliament yearly, and the clause which he had placed on the Paper was drawn up exactly in the words which applied to the Duchy of Lancaster, except that he would substitute the Keeper of the Privy Purse, who should render accounts to the Treasury for submission to Parliament, instead of the officer who performed that duty with respect to the Duchy. If, however, the Government preferred to name any officer of the Treasury he should not object, so long as the thing were done. He would conclude by moving the clause of which he had given Notice.

Clause (Accounts of receipts and disbursements to be sent to the Treasury and laid before Parliament,)—(Sir Charles Dilke,)—brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


thought that it was an improvement that that question was now being considered in Committee on its merits, but, having considered it on its merits, he could not find that it had any. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) was under a mistake as to what he (Mr. Gladstone) said on the second reading of the Bill. He had not used the ambiguous word "considerable" in the reference made by the hon. Baronet. What he stated was that there was not the slightest probability that the private estates of the Crown would ever come to resemble those immense masses of property that were held by private individuals in that country, but that if they ever did come to resemble them, that would be the time for Parliament, on the accession of a new Sovereign, to take the subject into account. With regard to the Duchy of Lancaster, there was not the slightest analogy between that and Osborne or Balmoral, and the hon. Baronet's argument in that respect as to the publication of the accounts of the Duchy was altogether fallacious and irrelevant. That revenue had risen from £8,000 to £40,000 a-year, and the hon. Baronet said that because that was so, the smaller properties of the Queen at the places before-mentioned might have made a similar increase. The hon. Baronet, however, knew no such increase could accrue for this reason—the possessions of the Duchy were large, varied, scattered, and held under different conditions, and the income had been carelessly administered for several generations. What analogy, therefore, would there be between such an estate and property purchased by the Crown at rack-rents and according to modern usages? He was not responsible for the declaration made by the late Lord Derby. Lord Derby's opinion was no doubt entitled to respect, but he declined to be held by it. The hon. Member had no right to quote that opinion and call upon the House to act in conformity with it, unless he was prepared to plant his foot and take his stand upon it. He (Mr. Gladstone) affirmed that there was no resemblance between the Duchy of Lancaster and the private estates which were the subject of the Bill; and it was a mere quibble of words to argue whether the Duchy of Lancaster was in the same sense, a private estate of the Crown. In many vital respects it differed most essentially from the private estates of the Crown. It had been subject to management under the statutes of the realm. It could only be managed by a responsible Minister, whom the hon. Gentleman might remove, if he had influence enough; and it was a large estate and likely to grow. The Duchy of Lancaster had long been brought within the scope of Parliamentary interposition, and it was accordingly most proper that its accounts should be matters of public cognizance. These private estates of the Crown, on the other hand, were purely private property. They were partly the result of thrift and providence, and arose partly from a bequest. Yes; one such bequest had happened in the whole history of this country. These matters could not call upon Parliament for its cognizance, unless they should swell to some considerable amount, and should form some considerable item or element in the power and influence of the Crown, when they might be taken into consideration about once in 20 years, or when a new Civil List had to be granted. The statutes of the land recognized the principle of private property by the Crown, and this Act introduced no new principle in that respect. A doubt, however, had arisen as to whether that property could pass directly and by bequest to the succeeding Sovereign, and in connection with it, a more unhandsome, a more ungenerous use of an occasion given by accidental circumstances he could not conceive; and if it were attempted to make such a use against a railway company or a private individual who had occasion to come to Parliament, and to put upon him some stringent conditions utterly new to the law, the House, he was sure, would immediately reject the proposal.


said, the hon. Baronet below the gangway (Sir Charles Dilke) did not draw any analogy between Osborne and the Duchy of Lancaster—the right hon. Gentleman drew it himself. The right hon. Gentleman put it as applying to Osborne. If the Crown were to accumulate £9,000,000 or £10,000,000, and were to purchase landed estates, would not the clause apply to that. If the hon. Member had intended to apply the clause to Osborne, the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman would have been fair enough, but not otherwise. The hon. Member proposed to do nothing but what Parliament ought to have done in the first Civil List. The fact was, the right hon. Gentleman had made a grievous mistake in bringing the Bill into the House at all, for there was nothing to be said in favour of the Act of 1862, of which the Bill was an Amendment. All the Bill intended to do was to amend a bad Act which passed through' that House and the House of Lords without debate, in that extremely degenerate Palmerstonian era of Parliamentary existence. It was only in such an era that the Bill could have been passed without debate. The right hon. Gentleman in speaking of the conduct of hon. Member for Chelsea as unhandsome and ungenerous, was importing a personal character into the debate. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I said the proceeding was so on the part of the House of Commons.] That means the House of Commons could attach a personal character. No one has the slightest idea of importing a personal character into this discussion, as against the Queen, whom they all reverenced and honoured. It was simply as against the Crown, not against the individual who occupied it. If Parliament were to take the estates of the Sovereign on a new accession, it would be necessary for them to have the accounts before them, which the hon. Baronet proposed should be submitted to Parliament every year.


in reply, said, he would be willing to accept words which would exempt from the operation of the clause lands at present held by Her Majesty at Balmoral and Osborne.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 15; Noes 104: Majority 89.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read the third time upon Monday next."—(Mr. Gladstone.)

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Monday," in order to insert the word "Friday,"—(Mr. Dickinson,)—instead thereof.

Question, "That the word 'Monday' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill to be read the third time upon Monday next.