HC Deb 18 November 1918 vol 110 cc3204-39

I beg to move,

"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to congratulate His Majesty on the conclusion of the Armistice and on the prospect of a victorious peace:

That the said Address be presented to His Majesty by the whole House:

That such Members of this House as are of His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council do humbly know His Majesty's pleasure when He will be attended by this House with the said Address."

4.0 P.M.

The Prime Minister is suffering from a slight chill, and is unable to come here to-day. Although I know that he did not intend to make any formal speech in moving this Resolution, which stands in his name, I greatly regret that the few words which must be used in introducing it to the House should not be spoken by the Prime Minister. Words are indeed unnecessary, for I am sure that this Resolution will be carried by the House, not only with unanimity, but with a full heart. The world has been, and is now, passing through a terrible ordeal. The signing of the Armistice, to which reference is made in this Motion, is the mark of a crowning mercy to the British Empire, to our Allies, and to humanity. We have won a great victory, but we have won it at a great price. I am not thinking now of the men and women in every quarter of the Empire upon whose hearts the joy balls fall with mournful clang, because of those who have won the victory but cannot return to rejoice in it. I am thinking of another part of the price. Nature, as a great writer has said, "for as green as she looks rests everywhere on dread foundations. Governments, society and civilisation itself, rest upon a crust which has grown hard by custom and habit." This War has broken through that crust, and as a consequence Europe is seething with revolution to-day. Even in these circumstances we can look forward to the future with hope, with courage, and with confidence. We have that confidence because the institutions which habit has created are with us based on the strongest of all foundations—the consent of the nation which is subject to them.

Of these institutions none is stronger, or rests on a more secure foundation, than the Throne. The Throne is the link, I believe, which has held the British Empire together, which has enabled it to play a glorious part in this terrible struggle, and which will in the days to come make the union closer and closer. But the Throne as an institution would have been much less strong but for the character of its occupant. Everyone connected with any Government—and I feel sure this will be felt by no one more strongly than by my right hon. Friend who is to second this Resolution—everyone in the position knows, and the people know too, that from the first day of the War, until this hour, no man has devoted himself more whole-heartedly or more unselfishly to the great task in which, as a nation, we have been engaged.

And in that work he has been nobly helped by his Royal Consort. They have shared the sacrifices; they have rejoiced in the joys, and they have sympathised with the sorrows of their people. And at this time—when kings, like shadowy phantoms, are disappearing from the stage, are disappearing so quickly that we can hardly remember their names—our Sovereign is passing daily without an escort through the streets of the centre of the Empire, and is everywhere met with tributes of respect, of devotion, and of affection. These phantom kings have fallen because they base their claim on an imaginary Divine Right. Our King rests secure, because the foundation of his Throne is the will of his people.


I am sure that the whole House will desire to associate itself with the admirable words in which my right hon. Friend has moved this Address, and with the terms of the Address itself. When history comes to tell the tale of these four years, it will recount a story the like of which is not to be found in any epic of any literature. It is and will remain by itself as a record of everything Humanity can dare or endure—of the extremes of possible heroism, and, we must add, of possible baseness, and above and beyond all, the slow moving but in the end irresistible power of a great ideal. The old world has been laid waste Principalities and Powers, to all appearance inviolable and invincible, which seemed to dominate a large part of the families of mankind, lie in the dust. All things have become new. In this great cleansing and purging it has been the privilege of our country to play her part—a part worthy of a people who first learned the lesson—in the practice and example of ordered freedom. The time has not come to distribute praise as between those who, in civil life and naval and military action, have won this great victory. But, as my right hon. Friend has well said, we can anticipate that task by rendering at once a heartfelt and an unstinted tribute to the occupant of the Throne.

I had the privilege to be Prime Minister when His Majesty ascended the Throne, and I continued to hold that office until more than two years had passed in the progress of the War. There is no one who can bear testimony—firsthand testimony—more authentic or more heartfelt than I do to the splendid example which His Majesty has set in time of peace, as well as in time of war, in the discharge of every one—day by day—of the responsible duties which fall to the Sovereign of this Empire. In the crash of thrones—built, some of them, on unrighteousness, propped up in other cases by a brittle framework of convention—the Throne of this country stands unshaken, broad-based on the people's will. It has been reinforced to a degree which it is impossible to measure by the living example of our Soveregn and his gracious Consort, who have always felt and shown, by their life and by their conduct, that they are there not to be ministered unto, but to minister. As the right hon. Gentleman said, monarchies in these days are held, if they continue to be held, not by the shadowy claim of any so-called Divine Right; not, as has been the case with the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns, by the power of dividing and dominating popular forces and popular interests; not by pedigree and not by tradition: they are held, and can only be held, by the highest form of public service, by understanding, by sympathy with the common lot, by devotion to the common weal. There are some lines of one of our old poets which are perhaps worth recalling, as they sum up and express the feelings of many of us to-day— The glories of our blood and State Are shadows, not substantial things. There is no armour against fate, Death lays his icy hand on kings. And at the end of these fine lines he adds, what we, in these testing times in Great Britain have seen, and proved to be the secret and the safeguard of our Monarchy— Only the actions of the just Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to congratulate His Majesty on the conclusion of the Armistice and on the prospect of a victorious peace."

Ordered, That the said Address be presented to His Majesty by the whole House:

Ordered, That such Members of this House as are of His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council do humbly know His Majesty's pleasure when He will be attended by this House with the said Address.


It may be perhaps convenient to the House if I say that, on the assumption that His Majesty will fix a quarter to three in the Royal Gallery as the place and time at which he will receive the Address from the House, and the House having decided to meet at a quarter past two, prayers will take place as usual, but at 2.15. As soon as I receive a message that the Lords has proceeded to the Royal Gallery, I shall start from here with the Mace and the usual attendants, and I shall invite the Mover and Seconder of the Address and the Chairman of Ways and Means to accompany me, followed immediately by other Privy Councillors so far as may be in their order of precedence and in fours, and then if the rest of the Members will kindly form up in fours and follow the procession we shall proceed at once to the Royal Gallery. As soon as His Majesty has left the Chamber we shall return to this House and, after a very brief interval, business will be commenced.

On the Adjournment of the House,


I have to report to the House that His Majesty the King, having been waited upon in pursuance of the Order made by the House to-day, has made known his pleasure and has appointed 2.45 to-morrow, in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, to be the time and place at which His Majesty will be attended by this House to receive the Address of Congratulation.