HC Deb 05 July 1910 vol 18 cc1516-8

(1) If on the demise of His present Majesty (whom God long preserve) any child of His Majesty succeeds to the Crown whilst under the age of eighteen years, Her Majesty Queen Mary shall be the guardian, and have the care and tuition of such child until the child attain the age of eighteen years, and until that time shall have the disposition, ordering, and management of all matters and things relating thereto.

(2) Her Majesty Queen Mary shall, until such child attain the age of eighteen years and no longer, have full power and authority in the name of such child and in the stead of such child, and under the style and title of "the Regent" to exercise and administer, according to the laws and constitution thereof, the Royal power and government of this realm, and all the dominions, countries, and territories belonging to the Crown thereof, and use, exercise, and perform all prerogatives, authorities, and acts of government and administration of government that belong to the Sovereign of this realm to use, execute, and perform according to the laws thereof, but in such manner and subject to such conditions, restrictions, limitations, and regulations as are contained in this Act.

(3) All acts of Royal power, prerogative, government, and administration of government of any kind which shall be done of executed during the Regency established by this Act otherwise than by and with the consent, and authority of the Regent, in the manner and according to the directions prescribed by this Act, shall be absolutely null and void to all intents and purposes.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the word "eighteen" ["Whilst under the age of eighteen years"] and to insert instead thereof "twenty-one."

The Amendment which I propose will relieve the Sovereign from taking up the duties of his position until he is twenty-one years of age. The question, of course, can be argued at great length as to when a boy is old enough to assume responsibility. Practically, eighteen years is too young. At eighteen years of age a boy cannot come to this House, and if he is born to be a legislator his judgment is not considered to me matured until he is twenty-one years of age. Lawyers have a great contempt for anyone under twenty-one years of age. He is called an "infant." If you lend an "infant" money you are very likely to land yourself in gaol.

There is another point in view: that is, that the King, when he comes of age, will have the handling of several hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. This sum is not so much as it looks on paper, perhaps, because a great deal of the Civil List has to be paid to certain useful and ornamental people about the Court, so that the King does not get it all. I have known boys who would get into mischief if a great amount of money is placed at their disposal. At eighteen years of age the ordinary individual begins his university life. If the Sovereign has to have a university training at all, that is the age at which he will begin, it. Eighteen years of age is too soon for a boy to begin reading dry documents and to sign his name all the morning, and to lay foundation-stones all the afternoon. I am not a Court physician, but I maintain that those of Royal blood do not mature any earlier than ordinary human beings. I can conceive that there is only one argument against my Amendment. That is the constitutional argument— that it has always been so. The Sovereign under every Regency Bill has to come of age at eighteen. Well, Sir, I hope the Prime Minister is not afraid of the Constitution. None of us think much of the Constitution to-day. It may be precedent, but I think the Crown will never, again commit follies in the name of precedent. I beg to move.


I assume, Mr. Emmott, when you allowed my hon. Friend to make the speech he has made that you did not regard this Amendment as out of order. The title of the Bill is: "To provide for the administration of the Government in case the Crown should descend to any issue of His Majesty while such issue shall be under the age of eighteen years, and for the care and guardianship of such issue." Primâ facie, the Amendment is going beyond the scope of the title.


I have to consider the scope of the Bill as well as the title, and I do not think the Amendment is out of order.


I assumed that from the fact that my hon. Friend has made his speech. I hope he will not press this Amendment. We are following in this matter what I venture with all deference to him to regard as not unimportant, namely, the unbroken line of constitutional precedent. In every Regency Bill ever submitted to, or passed by the House of Commons, the majority of the Sovereign was to be attained at the age of eighteen years. It was so in the case of Edward VI., and it was so in the case of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, and it was so in 1840 in the Bill regulating the Succession to the Throne. It would be an entirely new departure in our constitutional history and precedents to make the age at which the Sovereign should attain his majority twenty-one instead of eighteen. The age of eighteen has been that applied both in the case of men and women, and I really do not think it can be said that in these days persons are less fit to discharge duties at the age of eighteen than they were in the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth centuries. It is to be hoped my hon. Friend will allow us to preserve the Bill in the form sanctioned by the unbroken usage of the past.


I do not understand why the hon. Member opposite brought forward this Amendment. We have had in the last hundred years a very excellent example of how well the Bill as it is presented by the Government worked. The late Queen Victoria succeeded to the Throne at the age of eighteen. She was quite a young girl, presumably unacquainted with great matters of State. Will any hon. Member opposite get up and say that the late Queen Victoria during the first three years of her reign did not carry on the Government as a constitutional Sovereign as well as any man or woman could have done? And with that precedent before us, I cannot understand why the hon. Member should have brought forward his Amendment. We have, as the Prime Minister has said, precedent in favour of this Bill, and we have before us a great example of how well a Sovereign of eighteen can carry on the Government.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

CLAUSE 1 added to the Bill.

CLAUSE 2 agreed to.