HC Deb 08 May 1935 vol 301 cc977-88

3.14 p.m.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to congratulate His Majesty on the occasion of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of His Accession to the Throne. I feel assured that the Motion on the Order Paper to-day in my name meets the wishes of every Member of this House. It directs that an humble Address of congratulation and loyalty should be presented to His Majesty on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of His accession to the Throne. In order to mark the special significance of the occasion, it is proposed that Mr. Speaker should exercise his ancient right of voicing the sentiments of this House, and he has consented to address His Majesty on behalf of this House in his own words. I should also, perhaps, inform the House formally that His Majesty has intimated his pleasure to come to Westminster Hall to-morrow at twelve o'clock noon to receive the Address.

On Monday we witnessed on the streets of London and in St. Paul's Cathedral a greeting which went far deeper and higher than a mere formal expression of loyalty from a people to their Sovereign. It revealed a regard and appreciation warmed by personal affection. The words which the King spoke to his people on the wireless on Monday night disclosed his secret. A very human Sovereign has taken possession of the hearts of his people. Throughout the twenty-five years of His Majesty's reign his people have come to know that he has discharged with the greatest care and understanding the high duties and the delicate tasks of the august office which he inherited. He has worn the Crown not only with the dignity and distinction of a Monarch, with the rectitude of a Constitutional Sovereign, solicitous to preserve the liberties of the Nation and the rights of his Parliament, but also with the consideration and care of one who has thought of his people not only as subjects but as human beings, who rejoiced and sorrowed, who prospered and suffered.

When he was called to the Throne he was faced with conditions which might well have troubled the heart of the doughtiest of men. He did not shrink. With the noble example of a father withdrawn all too soon from our worldly and political affairs, he held his Sceptre in a firm hand. As it happened, the years continued to come to him full of many anxieties—the anxiety of war and the equally great anxiety of national rebuilding at the end of war. Those who at any time during those anxious days had the good fortune to come into personal contact with him found in him a patience, a courage, a spirit which made paralysing pessimism impossible and neglect of duty unthinkable. He bore his cares in such a way as to be an example and inspiration for the whole of his people to face with manful fortitude and hopeful endeavour all the trials that had come upon them. To-day, at the end of a quarter of a century of his Reign, he embodies the confidence of a Nation that it is not only to survive but is to add noble chapters to its history.

On Monday we saw, as we have not seen before in our time, the spontaneous pageantry of devotion offered to a King and to a man. In the world around us we have beheld thrones totter and thrones fall. We have beheld popular liberty assailed and representative institutions broken. But to-day we here still retain in his realm the blessings of public order, continuity in institutions, and a peaceful broadening of law and of liberty. Thus far have we by our practical sense discovered how to progress without disruption, and to renew our youth without revolution. We are too near to these evolutionary movements to trace the influence which the personality of His Majesty has had in making these happy achievements possible. Those who have known most intimately the elements which have prepared the way for them also know how much was contributed by the very simple fact that the King was moved in all his actions by a single-minded devotion to the well-being of the State, and that he was endowed with a comprehensive and comprehending instinct which gave a ready welcome to changes making at once for stability and progress.

There was a time in our own lives when the Crown seemed little more than a survival of an institution, an inheritance from the past, a part of a tradition whose value was to give some measure of support to continuity in the constitutional, political and spiritual evolution of a nation. To-day those fine but mainly intangible justifications are supported by others of a more tangible character. The great Dominions have passed beyond the colonial stage. Westminster is no longer their capital city. The evolution of their nationality has made them self-governing communities. And what is to keep them together? Must we face the destruction of unity owing to the inevitable strengthening of individuality? Must the nations to which we have given birth depart into the great open world with kinship nothing but a remote memory, and unity nothing but a disembodied sentiment which has to weaken gradually as the years go? That, I believe, not only for our own good but for the good of the whole world, was not the purpose of Providence. The Statute of Westminster which sealed their freedom as States discovered and proclaimed a bond of continuing unity, and that bond is the Crown. To-day the existence of the Crown enables the Dominion nations to be free and yet united. In our own home here, the changes of the quarter of a century have been great. We have broadened the basis of our democracy; we have enormously widened the field of recognised State responsibility—a responsibility recognised by all parties. And the story is not yet ended. The Prime Ministers of the Dominions, whom we welcome in our midst to take part in our celebrations of thankfulness and congratulation, are really but forerunners of coming generations. Our story is not ended. That means that our constitutional evolution is not finished.

So while celebrating this Silver Jubilee, our faces are firmly turned to the future, while in our hearts and in our memories we roam along the inspiring pathways of the past. As I have said, we have had a monarch who has not only ruled with constitutional equity, but a man who has felt keenly for and with his people—in these later days, for instance, when, in spite of the splendid recovery in our industrial position, there have been areas from which the tide of prosperity seems to have ebbed, and month by month, while we have been able to report recovery in trade and improvement in employment, we have still to confess with bowed heads and with sad hearts the fact that thousands of our most worthy citizens have remained in distress through no fault of their own. The expanding life of a nation is beset by many individual tragedies, but I know that when distress and sorrow have stricken the people, no heart among us of any class or condition felt more keenly than that of him whose Jubilee we are celebrating. He is the King of his people, and his people's triumphs and sorrows sit, as I know full well, by his fireside as by their own and make him happy or sad. And that feeling was reciprocated when he himself, not so very long ago, went far within the shadows of death, and the whole nation held its breath for the news which came from day to day of his progress.

Our predominant feeling to-day is one of heartfelt thankfulness that his life has been preserved to us, and also that throughout his reign he has been blessed by the companionship, the comfort and the counsel of Her Majesty the Queen, to whom we respectfully offer our homage and admiration, together with our thankfulness and congratulations on this occasion. Both their Majesties have shown in all their work and interest a simple uprightness and a care for what is for human good. That is what has touched and opened those deep springs of affection and joy which outpoured in the happy and spontaneous welcome which they received on Monday from their people. It is the earnest hope of all His Majesty's subjects—and this House can very properly claim to voice it—that for many years to come health and strength and happiness, and the unity and blessing of home life, may be given to him to continue as our Sovereign head. I am sure it will be the desire of this House to present to His Majesty an humble address of homage, loyalty, congratulation and thankfulness, and I now move.

3.30 p.m.


I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman, and I do so on behalf of myself and my friends. I suppose that if a Motion of this kind had been moved when I was very much younger, I might have felt slightly different from what I am feeling to-day. One thing is certain, though. The experience of the years has taught me that whatever people may say or think about the British Constitution it is a fact that, contradictory as it sounds, it does work, and the masses of the people are continually winning more and more recognition and the right to take part in the Government of this country. Their Majesties the King and the Queen are not known to me as they are to other hon. and right hon. Members, but—with the very slight acquaintance, I was going to say—on the very few occasions on which I have had the privilege of meeting them, nobody could have received more kindness and consideration than myself. In the days of one's joy and in the days of one's sorrow both the King and the Queen were kindness itself to me, and when the Prime Minister spoke to-day of the King as a man, I think he expressed in a very fine manner what all of us who have ever had any meetings with him must always have felt. We who sit here, and certainly myself, believe ultimately that human society will be based on classlessness. I think that the mixture of classes in this House and in the country, and the manner in which the Royal Family during these troublous years have mixed and taken part in everything concerning our lives, have done something to break down the feeling which prevailed when I was young that the Monarchy would preserve for ever the domination of class. We are getting away from that, and I believe that the King and Queen and their family have done a very great deal to bring that about.

During this reign revolutions, really, have taken place in the social and political conditions of the people. To me, rapidly reaching the end of life, it is a big thing to look back and to realise the political advance in power on the part of the people to whom I belong. In other countries these advances would probably have been accomplished by great bloodshed, but, whatever may be said, within this reign we have conquered political power. The House will forgive me, I am sure, for saying that the coming of women into political life, the coming of young people into political life, and the coming of the great mass of the people into the suffrage, is, to me, one of the outstanding events of these 25 years. The broadcast speech or message which the King delivered on Monday night was one which, I think, is unsurpassed in the history of monarchs of any time. The appeal that he made to the young, the appeal that he made to children, was, I think, splendid and magnificent. But, in common with the Archbishop's sermon on Sunday night, the King called our attention to the fact that in the midst of all the splendour and all the pageantry of Monday there were in our country masses of people who are still denied the fullness of life which we ourselves enjoy. I think that also stamped the King as a very human person indeed—that on that night, when he was full of gratitude for all the loyalty that had been expressed to him, he remembered that far away in London's streets there were these people without the means of a proper enjoyment of life.

What does all that mean for us? I do not know, and hardly anyone in the world can forecast, the future of the world, and very few of us here can forecast the future of our country, but I may be allowed to say here, as I say many times outside, that I am a Socialist through and through, but I have always believed, whatever else I have not believed, in the destiny of the British people. I do not think, and never have thought, that it is of no account that the Prime Minister should be able to-day to speak of the Dominions and the other parts of the British Empire in the manner he did. Our people have done great things in the past, but I believe they have the greatest thing to do in the future. It is said that Pitt observed in this House that England by her exertions had saved herself and by her example would save Europe. I want our country to respond to the appeal of His Majesty. I want us to say that we are going to put the coping-stone on the advance that our people have made in political and social freedom, and that we are going, by one means or other, to win economic freedom. I hope that the young men and young women inside and outside the House will lead the world in upholding the banner of individual freedom and individual liberty, and also international freedom and international liberty. I want the British Commonwealth of Nations to remain, but I want it to lead mankind away from war and away from trust in war, and to build a new world based on co-operation, brotherhood and love. Let me say this finally: I believe the world is hungering and thirsting after a new way of life. I hope the British people are going to show that new way, and hold up the banner, not of domination, but of comradeship and co-operation.

3.42 p.m.


I rise to support the Motion which is now before the House. Both right hon. Gentlemen who preceded me have stressed the personal, I might almost say the domestic, note, which has been so remarkably predominant in these celebrations. At the wedding of the Duke of Kent and Princess Marina, the ancient form of service prescribed that they should come into the church with their friends and neighbours. I believe it is exactly that relationship of friends and neighbours that the nation feels for its royal family, and it is assured that that feeling is reciprocated. The people think of the King and Queen not only as personages but as persons; not only as sovereigns, crowned, sceptred and enthroned, figures in the history now in the making, but as very human man and woman sharing in the joys and the sorrows, the efforts, failures and successes that are the common lot. They see the King fully maintaining the dignity and majesty of the State, and also they see him a friend within the State. And the country, I believe, feels itself most fortunate in its Queen. Her Majesty, it is well known, possesses in high degree the qualities of kindliness and sagacity, and those qualities, valuable always and everywhere, are most valuable upon a throne.

After this long period of 25 years, there still remain five Members of this House, of whom I have the honour to be one, who held Cabinet office under King Edward, and we know close at hand how grave and how frequent have been the anxieties which have attended the King throughout his reign, from its very first moment. He has a nature sympathetic and sensitive, and many and many a time his heart must have been wrung by the afflictions and sufferings of multitudes of his subjects, and by the perils that have surrounded the country and the Empire; and that is one reason why there has been such sincerity and depth of feeling in the capital, and throughout the country and the Empire, during this Jubilee. People say, "He has gone through so much," and they wish to show by their affectionate greetings that they understand the long years of anxiety through which the King has passed, and that they honour his quiet courage and steadfast endurance. They know, too, that his prudence and calm judgment have been invaluable in the stormy times through which we have passed, and that they are invaluable still, for with grave problems of unemployment at home and unrest abroad, we have not yet passed out of the stormy weather.

To-morrow will be one of the rare occasions on which you, Mr. Speaker, perform the functions which have given to your office its name; you will speak on behalf of the House of Commons to the King. And when, in Westminster Hall, so fit a place for such a ceremony, you present the Address which is being authorised by the House to-day, you will be able to assure the King that you are speaking on behalf of a House of Parliament which realises to the full the inestimable value of the Crown in preserving the constitutional liberties of the people and the fundamental unity of this country and of its world-wide commonwealth, and which is profoundly grateful also, to the King and Queen, for 25 years of devoted and unstinted service.

3.47 p.m.


There are three Members of this House who were present when a similar Address of congratulation to Queen Victoria was carried—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) and myself. As the senior of these three survivors and as the Father of the House, I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will allow me to add a few words to the very eloquent speeches which have already been made and to which I have listened. I was a Minister of the King for 12 years. To use an old, honoured, Cabinet phrase, I was one of the King's servants. During six of those years, I held the position of his principal adviser. They were fateful times for this country, for the Empire and the world. My experience in those years is that of every Minister and ex-Minister to whom I have ever spoken on the subject: no one would wish for a kinder, more considerate or a more loyal master. We were all impressed by his instinctive understanding of the limitations of the Crown's authority. There has been no better example of a constitutional monarch who knew what the sovereign could do and ought to do, and also what he ought to refrain from attempting to do.

I remember the speech delivered by Lord Balfour when he moved a similar Motion to that which the Prime Minister has so eloquently presented to the House to-day. After dwelling upon the respect of the late Queen for the Constitution, and how she held it inviolate, he added these words: No negative ever excited the passionate devotion and affectionate loyalty which the Queen had inspired in the minds of her subjects. Times have changed since then. At that time liberty was gaining ground and gathering strength, even in the most autocratic countries in Europe. But when, to-day, most of the European Continent is subject to dictatorships which ruthlessly suppress the forms and the essentials of liberty, the maintenance of a free Constitution in all its integrity of spirit and letter in any land cannot be deemed merely a negative. In itself it is a notable stand for human freedom that we are celebrating, and, by its success, that stand may yet divert currents of despotism that are sweeping away free institutions in many lands. We owe a great deal to the unswerving fidelity of the King to a free democratic Constitution for this result.

I feel under a special obligation to refer to one great service rendered by the King to the country and to the Empire. That was the way in which he exerted the enormous influence and prestige of the Crown during the War in order to promote the spirit of co-operation among all classes of the people that led to ultimate victory. In the greatest crisis that ever befell this Empire, His Majesty used that influence to the advantage of our native land. In those terrible times monarchs had a special contribution of their own to make—something which was apart from what either warriors or statesmen could tender in the way of service; and that something was essential and vital to national leadership in any country. It needed great wisdom, great instinct. Where it failed, doom fell on the mightiest empires of this world. During the whole of that time the part played by the King was one where judgment, tact, wisdom and unostentatious courage helped the nation through all its difficulties. Only those who knew the difficulties of ensuring co-operation at certain moments can realise what that meant. Nerves were frayed by the protracted agony of a great conflict; there were periods of unrest and irritation that retarded, and even thwarted, effort. At those moments, the timely intervention and presence of the King saved the situation in many an area, and restored good will and active co-operation throughout the land. That is a service which the Empire is recognising to-day.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that there have been no more remarkable demonstrations within living memory than those which we have witnessed during the last two or three days, and which have so deeply moved us all. Many of us, if not most of us, will remember the Coronation scenes of 1911. There was a warm and cordial welcome by his people of the King to the Throne. But there was a note of fervent enthusiasm after 25 years of experience—a note of fervent enthusiasm which came from a feeling of gratitude and of deep and abiding affection. The homage of the crowds was one of the most impressive things that anyone has ever seen; and it was the celebration of the triumph of democratic government under the leadership of a King.

During His Majesty's reign the liberties of the people have been preserved, but there is no country where good order is more sacredly assured. The power of the people, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, has been considerably enhanced, but there is no land where justice and authority are more respected. In spite of the economic depression, the conditions of the people have improved during this reign. The wealth of the nation is still the envy of the world. There are few States, and no Empires, of which this can be said. No wonder that this week there has come from the hearts of the people of every class and every condition one universal prayer that such a beneficent reign should continue for many a year to come, to bring plenty and contentment to every home, and peace to every nation throughout the world.

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.

Resolved, That the said Address be presented to His Majesty by the Whole House."—[The Prime Minister.]


With reference to the Motion which the House has just passed, I should like to inform the House of what will be the procedure to-morrow. As soon as Prayers have been read, I shall start from here with the Mace and the usual Officers in attendance. The House will follow in procession in fours, and I suggest that the first four should consist of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and the Chairman of Ways and Means; the second four the Lord President of the Council, the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, and the right hon. Members for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) as the two senior Privy Councillors; after them the members of the Cabinet, followed by other Privy Councillors, and then the two front benches and the rest of the House.

Members on leaving the House will be marshalled in fours by the Whips. I hope that all will contribute to the order of the proceedings by taking up the places in the procession and the seats in the Hall that are indicated to them. There may be a few Members who are unable, from physical infirmity, to take part in the procession, and I would suggest that they should proceed independently to the Hall not later than 10.50, when they will be shown into their places before the House arrives. At the conclusion of the ceremony, after the Lord Chancellor has left, I will proceed to the North door with the Clerks and other attendants. The House will not form into a procession but will make their own way out. I shall pass through the Chamber and resume my place at 2.45 p.m., and the ordinary sitting will begin.

4.3 p.m.


Some Members of the House are not quite clear with regard to the actual wording of the Address. Is the wording entirely a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, or is it a matter which the House is to decide beforehand? I can see the difficulty in a case of this sort in passing the actual wording of the Address, but some Members would like to know what is the position about it.


I understood from the Prime Minister's opening remarks, when he introduced this Motion, that it was suggested that I, as the spokesman of the House, should make the Address, and that the House would be good enough to allow me to do so in my own words. I gathered that it was on that understanding that the Motion was carried.