HC Deb 10 December 1936 vol 318 cc2175-97

After long and anxious consideration, I have determined to renounce the Throne to which I succeeded on the death of My father, and I am now communicating this, My final and irrevocable decision. Realising as I do the gravity of this step, I can only hope that I shall have the understanding of My peoples in the decision I have taken and the reasons which have led Me to take it. I will not enter now into My private feelings, but I would beg that it should be remembered that the burden which constantly rests upon the shoulders of a Sovereign is so heavy that it can only be borne in circumstances different from those in which I now find Myself. I conceive that I am not overlooking the duty that rests on, Me to place in the forefront the public interest, when I declare that I am conscious that I can no longer discharge this heavy task with efficiency or with satisfaction to Myself.

I have accordingly this morning executed an Instrument of Abdication in the terms following: —

"I, Edward VIII, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Emperor of India, do hereby declare My irrevocable determination to renounce the Throne for Myself and for My descendants, and My desire that effect should be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately.

In token whereof I have hereunto set My hand this tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, in the presence of the witnesses whose signatures are subscribed.

(Signed) EDWARD R.I."

My execution of this Instrument has been witnessed by My three brothers, Their Royal Highnesses the Duke of Pork, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.

I deeply appreciate the spirit which has actuated the appeals which have been made to Me to take a different decision, and I have, before reaching My final determination, most fully pondered over them. But My mind is made up. Moreover, further delay cannot but be most injurious to the peoples whom I have tried to serve as Prince of Wales and as King and whose future happiness and prosperity are the constant wish of My heart.

I take My leave of them in the confident hope that the course which I have thought it right to follow is that which is best for the stability of the Throne and Empire and the happiness of My peoples. I am deeply sensible of the consideration which they have always extended to Me both before and after My accession to the Throne and which I know they will extend in full measure to My successor.

I am most anxious that there should be no delay of any kind in giving effect to the Instrument which I have executed and that all necessary steps should be taken immediately to secure that My lawful successor, My brother, His Royal Highness the Duke of York, should ascend the Throne.


3.47 p.m.


I beg to move, That His Majesty's most Gracious Message be now considered. No more grave message has ever been received by Parliament and no more difficult, I may almost say repugnant, task has ever been imposed upon a Prime Minister. I would ask the House, which I know will not be without sympathy for me in my position to-day, to remember that in this last week I have had but little time in which to compose a speech for delivery to-day, so I must tell what I have to tell truthfully, sincerely and plainly, with no attempt to dress up or to adorn. I shall have little or nothing to say in the way of comment or criticism, or of praise or of blame. I think my best course to-day, and the one that the House would desire, is to tell them, so far as I can, what has passed between His Majesty and myself and what led up to the present situation.

I should like to say at the start that His Majesty as Prince of Wales has honoured me for many years with a friendship which I value, and I know that he would agree with me in saying to you that it was not only a friendship, but, between man and man, a friendship of affection. I would like to tell the House that when we said "Good-bye" on Tuesday night at Fort Belvedere we both knew and felt and said to each other that that friendship, so far from being impaired by the discussions of this last week, bound us more closely together than ever and would last for life.

Now, Sir, the House will want to know how it was that I had my first interview with His Majesty. I may say that His Majesty has been most generous in allowing me to tell the House the pertinent parts of the discussions which took place between us. As the House is aware, I had been ordered in August and September a complete rest which, owing to the kindness of my staff and the consideration of all my colleagues, I was able to enjoy to the full, and when October came, although I had been ordered to take a rest in that month, I felt that I could not in fairness to my work take a further holiday, and I came, as it were, on halftime before the middle of October, and, for the first time since the beginning of August, was in a position to look into things.

There were two things that disquieted me at that moment. There was coming to my office a vast volume of correspondence, mainly at that time from British subjects and American citizens of British origin in the United States of America, from some of the Dominions and from this country, all expressing perturbation and uneasiness at what was then appearing in the American Press. I was aware also that there was in the near future a divorce case coming on, as a result of which, I realised that possibly a difficult situation might arise later, and I felt that it was essential that someone should see His Majesty and warn him of the difficult situation that might arise later if occasion was given for a continuation of this kind of gossip and of criticism, and the danger that might come if that gossip and that criticism spread from the other side of the Atlantic to this country. I felt that in the circumstances there was only one man who could speak to him and talk the matter over with him, and that man was the Prime Minister. I felt doubly bound to do it by my duty, as I conceived it, to the country and my duty to him not only as a counsellor, but as a friend. I consulted, I am ashamed to say—and they have forgiven me—none of my colleagues.

I happened to be staying in the neighbourhood of Fort Belvedere about the middle of October, and I ascertained that His Majesty was leaving his house on Sunday, 18th October, to entertain a small shooting party at Sandringham, and that he was leaving on the Sunday afternoon. I telephoned from my friend's house on the Sunday morning and found that he had left earlier than was expected. In those circumstances, I communicated with him through his Secretary and stated that I desired to see him—this is the first and only occasion on which I was the one who asked for an interview—that I desired to see him, that the matter was urgent. I told him what it was. I expressed my willingness to come to Sandringham on Tuesday, the 20th, but I said that I thought it wiser, if His Majesty thought fit, to see me at Fort Belvedere, for I was anxious that no one at that time should know of my visit, and that at any rate our first talk should be in complete privacy. The reply came from His Majesty that he would motor back on the Monday, 19th October, to Fort Belvedere, and he would see me on the Tuesday morning. And on the Tuesday morning I saw him.

Sir, I may say, before I proceed to the details of the conversation, that an adviser to the Crown can be of no possible service to his master unless he tells him at all times the truth as he sees it, whether that truth be welcome or not. And let me say here, as I may say several times before I finish, that during those talks, when I look back, there is nothing I have not told His Majesty of which I felt he ought to be aware—nothing. His Majesty's attitude all through has been—let me put it in this way: Never has he shown any sign of offence, of being hurt at anything I have said to him. The whole of our discussions have been carried out, as I have said, with an increase, if possible, of that mutual respect and regard in which we stood. I told His Majesty that I had two great anxieties—one the effect of a continuance of the kind of criticism that at that time was proceeding in the American Press, the effect it would have in the Dominions and particularly in Canada, where it was widespread, the effect it, would have in this country.

That was the first anxiety. And then I reminded him of what I had often told him and his brothers in years past. The British Monarchy is a unique institution. The Crown in this country through the centuries has been deprived of many of its prerogatives, but to-day, while that is true, it stands for far more than it ever has done in its history. The importance of its integrity is, beyond all question, far greater than it has ever been, being as it is not only the last link of Empire that is left, but the guarantee in this country so long as it exists in that integrity, against many evils that have affected and afflicted other countries. There is no man in this country, to whatever party he may belong, who would not subscribe to that. But while this feeling largely depends on the respect that has grown up in the last three generations for the Monarchy, it might not take so long, in face of the kind of criticisms to which it was being exposed, to lose that power far more rapidly than it was built up, and once lost I doubt if anything could restore it.

That was the basis of my talk on that aspect, and I expressed my anxiety and desire, that such criticism should not have cause to go on. I said that in my view no popularity in the long run would weigh against the effect of such criticism. I told His Majesty that I for one had looked forward to his reign being a, great reign in a new age—he has so many of the qualities necessary—and that I hoped we should be able to see our hopes realised. I told him I had come—naturally, I was his Prime Minister—but I wanted to talk it over with him as a friend to see if I could help him in this matter. Perhaps I am saying what I should not say here; I have not asked him whether I might say this, but I will say it because I do not think he would mind, and I think it illustrates the basis on which our talks proceeded. He said to me, not once, but many times during those many, many hours we have had together and especially towards the end, "You and I must settle this matter together; I will not have anyone interfering." I then pointed out the danger of the divorce proceedings, that if a verdict was given in that case that left the matter in suspense for some time, that period of suspense might be dangerous, because then everyone would be talking, and when once the Press began, as it must begin some time in this country, a most difficult situation would arise for me, for him, and there might well be a danger which both he and I had seen all through this—I shall come to that later—and it was one of the reasons why he wanted to take this action quickly—that is, that there might be sides taken and factions grow up in this country in a matter where no faction ought ever to exist.

It was on that aspect of the question that we talked for an hour, and I went away glad that the ice had been broken, because I knew that it had to be broken. For some little time we had no further meetings. I begged His Majesty to consider all that I had said. I said that I pressed him for no kind of answer, but would he consider everything I had said? The next time I saw him was on Monday, 16th November. That was at Bucking-barn Palace. By that date the decree nisi had been pronounced in the divorce case. His Majesty had sent for me on that occasion. I had meant to see him later in the week, but he had sent for me first. I felt it my duty to begin the conversation, and I spoke to him for a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes on the question of marriage.

Again, we must remember that the Cabinet had not been in this at all—I had reported to about four of my senior colleagues the conversation at Fort Belvedere. I saw the King on Monday, 16th November, and I began by giving him my view of a possible marriage. I told him that I did not think that a particular marriage was one that would receive the approbation of the country. That marriage would have involved the lady becoming Queen. I did tell His Majesty once that I might be a remnant of the old Victorians, but that my worst enemy would not say of me that I did not know what the reaction of the English people would be to any particular course of action, and I told him that so far as they went I was certain that that would be impracticable. I cannot go further into the details, but that was the substance. I pointed out to him that the position of the King's wife was different from the position of the wife of any other citizen in the country; it was part of the price which the King has to pay. His wife becomes Queen the Queen becomes the Queen of the country; and, therefore, in the choice of a Queen the voice of the people must be heard. It is the truth expressed in those lines that may come to your minds: His will is not his own; For he himself is subject to his birth, He may not, as unvalued persons do, Carve for himself; for on his choice depends The safety and the health of the whole State. Then His Majesty said to me—I have his permission to state this—that he wanted to tell me something that he had long wanted to tell me. He said, "I am going to marry Mrs. Simpson, and I am prepared to go. I said, "Sir, that is most grievous news and it is impossible for me to make any comment on it to-day." He told the Queen that night; he told the Duke of York and the Duke of Gloucester the next day, and the Duke of Kent, who was out of London, either on the Wednesday or the Thursday; and for the rest of the week, so far as I know, he was considering that point.

He sent for me again on Wednesday, 25th November. In the meantime a, suggestion had been made to me that a possible compromise might be arranged to avoid those two possibilities that had been seen, first in the distance and then approaching nearer and nearer. The compromise was that the King should marry, that Parliament should pass an Act enabling the lady to be the King's wife without the position of Queen; and when I saw His Majesty on 25th November he asked me whether that proposition had been put to me, and I said yes. He asked me what I thought of it. I told him that I had not considered it. I said, "I can give you no considered opinion." If he asked me my first reaction informally, my first reaction was that Parliament would never pass such a Bill. But I said that if he desired it I would examine it formally. He said he did so desire. Then I said, "It will mean my putting that formally before the whole Cabinet and communicating with the Prime Ministers of all the Dominions, and was that his wish?" He told me that it was. I said that I would do it.

On 2nd December the King asked me to go and see him. Again I had intended asking for an audience later that week, because such inquiries as I thought proper to make I had not completed. The inquiries had gone far enough to show that neither in the Dominions nor here would there be any prospect of such legislation being accepted. His Majesty asked me if I could answer his question. I gave him the reply that I was afraid it was impracticable for those reasons. I do want the House to realise this: His Majesty said he was not surprised at that answer. He took my answer with no question and he never recurred to it again. I want the House to realise—because if you can put yourself in His Majesty's place and you know what His Majesty's feelings are, and you know how glad you would have been had this been possible—that he behaved there as a great gentleman; he said no more about it. The matter was closed. I never heard another word about it from him. That decision was, of course, a formal decision, and that was the only formal decision of any kind taken by the Cabinet until I come to the history of yesterday. When we had finished that conversation, I pointed out that the possible alternatives had been narrowed, and that it really had brought him into the position that he would be placed in a grievous situation between two conflicting loyalties in his own heart—either complete abandonment of the project on which his heart was set, and remaining as King, or doing as he intimated to me that he was prepared to do, in the talk which I have reported, going, and later on contracting that marriage, if it were possible. During the last days, from that day until now, that has been the struggle in which His Majesty has been engaged. We had many talks, and always on the various aspects of this limited problem. The House must remember—it is difficult to realise—that His Majesty is not a boy, although he looks so young. We have all thought of him as our Prince, but he is a mature man, with wide and great experience of life and the world, and he always had before him three, nay, four, things, which in these conversations at all hours, he repeated again and again—That if he went he would go with dignity. He would not allow a situation to arise in which he could not do that. He wanted to go with as little disturbance of his Ministers and his people as possible. He wished to go in circumstances that would make the succession of his brother as little difficult for his brother as possible; and I may say that any idea to him of what might be called a King's party, was abhorrent. He stayed down at Fort Belvedere because he said that he was not coming to London while these things were in dispute, because of the cheering crowds. I honour and respect him for the way in which he behaved at that time.

I have something here which, I think, will touch the House. It is a pencilled note, sent to me by His Majesty this morning, and I have his authority for reading it. It is just scribbled in pencil: Duke of York. He and the King have always been on the best of terms as brothers, and the King is confident that the Duke deserves and will receive the support of the whole Empire. I would say a word or two on the King's position. The King cannot speak for himself. The King has told us that he cannot carry, and does not see his way to carry, these almost intolerable burdens of Kingship without a woman at his side, and we know that. This crisis, if I may use the word, has arisen now rather than later from that very frankness of His Majesty's character which is one of his many attractions. It would have been perfectly possible for His Majesty not to have told me of this at the date when he did, and not to have told me for some months to come. But he realised the damage that might be done in the interval by gossip, rumours and talk, and he made that declaration to me when he did, on purpose to avoid what he felt might be dangerous, not only here but throughout the Empire, to the moral force of the Crown which we are all determined to sustain.

He told me his intentions, and he has never wavered from them. I want the House to understand that. He felt it his duty to take into his anxious consideration all the representations that his advisers might give him and not until he had fully considered them did he make public his decision. There has been no kind of conflict in this matter. My efforts during these last days have been directed, as have the efforts of those most closely round him, in trying to help him to make the choice which he has not made; and we have failed. The King has made his decision to take this moment to send this Gracious Message because of his confident hope that by that he will preserve the unity of this country and of the whole Empire, and avoid those factious differences which might so easily have arisen.

It is impossible, unfortunately, to avoid talking to some extent to-day about one's-self. These last days have been days of great strain, but it was a great comfort to me, and I hope it will be to the House, when I was assured before I left him on Tuesday night, by that intimate circle that was with him at the Fort that evening, that I had left nothing undone that I could have done to move him from the decision at which he had arrived, and which he has communicated to us. While there is not a soul among us who will not regret this from the bottom of his heart, there is not a soul here to-day that wants to judge. We are not judges. He has announced his decision. He has told us what he wants us to do, and I think we must close our ranks, and do it.

At a later stage this evening I shall ask leave to bring in the necessary Bill so that it may be read the First time, printed, and made available to Members. It will be available in the Vote Office as soon as the House has ordered the Bill to be printed. The House will meet tomorrow at the usual time, 11 o'clock, when we shall take the Second Reading and the remaining stages of the Bill. It is very important that it should be passed into law to-morrow, and I shall put on the Order Paper to-morrow a Motion to take Private Members' time and to suspend the Four o'Clock Rule.

I have only two other things to say. The House will forgive me for saying now something which I should have said a. few minutes ago. I have told them of the circumstances under which I am speaking, and they have been very generous and sympathetic. Yesterday morning when the Cabinet received the King's final and definite answer officially they passed a Minute, and in accordance with it I sent a message to His Majesty, which he has been good enough to permit me to read to the House, with his reply.

"Mr. Baldwin, with his humble duty to the King. This morning Mr. Baldwin reported to the Cabinet his interview with Your Majesty yesterday and informed his colleagues that Your Majesty then communicated to him informally Your firm and definite intention to renounce the Throne. The Cabinet received this statement of Your Majesty's intention with profound regret, and wished Mr. Baldwin to convey to Your Majesty immediately the unanimous feeling of Your Majesty's servants. Ministers are reluctant to believe that your Majesty's resolve is irrevocable, and still venture to hope that before Your Majesty pronounces any formal decision Your Majesty may be pleased to reconsider an intention which must so deeply distress and so vitally affect all your Majesty's subjects. Mr. Baldwin is at once communicating with the Dominion Prime Ministers for the purpose of letting them know that Your Majesty has now made to him the informal intimation of Your Majesty's intention. His Majesty's reply was received last night. The King has received the Prime Minister's letter of the 9th December, 1936, informing him of the views of the Cabinet. His Majesty has given the matter his further consideration, but regrets that he is unable to alter his decision. My last words on that subject are that I am convinced that where I have failed no one could have succeeded. His mind was made up, and those who know His Majesty best will know what that means.

This House to-day is a theatre which is being watched by the whole world. Let us conduct ourselves with that dignity which His Majesty is showing in this hour of his trial. Whatever our regret at the contents of the Message, let us fulfil his wish, do what he asks, and do it with speed. Let no word be spoken to-day that the utterer of That word may regret in days to come, let no word be spoken that causes pain to anti soul, and let us not forget to-day the revered and beloved figure of Queen Mary, what all this time has meant to her, and think of her, when we have to speak, if speak we must, during this Debate. We have, after all, as welcome the guardians of democracy in this little island to see that we do our work to maintain the integrity of that democracy and of the monarchy, which, as I said at the beginning of my speech is now the sole link of our whole Empire and the guardian of our freedom. Let us look forward and remember our country and the trust reposed by our country in this, the House of Commons, and let us rally behind the new King—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—stand behind him, and help him; and let us hope that, whatever the country may have suffered by what we are passing through, it may soon be repaired and that we may take what steps we can in trying to make this country a better country for all the people in it.

4.32 p.m.


Mr. Speaker, in view of the grave and important Message which has been received from His Majesty, I would ask you whether it would not be desirable to suspend the Sitting of this House till, say, 6 o'clock in order that Members may give it due consideration?


If it is the wish of the House, I am prepared to suspend the Sitting until 6 o'clock, and to resume the Chair at that hour.



Sitting suspended accordingly at twenty-seven minutes before five o'clock.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair at Six o'clock.

6.0 p.m.


This occasion does not, in my view, call for long and eloquent speeches. My words will be few and simple. We have all heard with profound concern the message from His Majesty the King. The Prime Minister has related to us the course of events that have led up to this momentous act. The King has decided that he can no longer continue on the Throne. The whole country will receive the news with deep sorrow, and his subjects in these Islands and throughout the British Dominions beyond the seas will feel a sense of personal loss. I am certain that, throughout these anxious days, he has had the sympathy of all, in the tragic dilemma with which he has been faced. That sympathy is due not only to the nature of the issue, involving as it does the strongest human emotions, but to the personal affection which he has inspired in his people. No British Monarch has been so well known by his subjects. The people not only in this country but throughout the Commonwealth and the Empire, have seen in him, not a remote Ruler, but a man who was personally acquainted with many of them and had visited the places where they live.

For many years, as the Prince of Wales, he served his country. He shared its joys and sorrows in the dark days of the War and in time of peace. It seems but the other day that he was called upon to take the greater responsibilities of Sovereign over a quarter of the peoples of the world. We all know his personal charm, his courage, and his ready sympathy with suffering. We, on these benches, can never forget how he felt for the miners in their time of trial, and how he showed his deep interest in the unemployed and the people of the distressed areas. Now he has had to make a difficult choice. Powerful personal and human considerations have conflicted with the obligations and responsibilities of his high calling. I am sure that all of us have been trying to think of some way by which this conflict could be resolved. We realised the grave objections to every course, and we hoped it would not come to abdication; but the King has made his decision. He has resolved to abide by it, and we can do no other than accept it.

The wish of all his people will be that he may have a long and happy life. We can all appreciate the strain which these events have placed on the Prime Minister, and he is entitled to our sympathy. The country has received a severe shock. It will take time to recover. The position of anyone who, in these days of pressing problems at home and abroad, is called upon to accept the Throne in these unprecedented circumstances, is obviously one of very great strain. It will be the endeavour of all of us to do what we may to lighten that burden. I would like to express on behalf of myself and my colleagues our deepest sympathy with Queen Mary and the other Members of the Royal Family.


Hear, hear!

6.5 p.m.


The whole country and the Empire have been passing through days of stress and tension, and the climax to which events have now marched has aroused in all of us the deepest feelings of grief and frustration. We are bound to our King not only by formal and solemn ties, by our oaths of allegiance and by our recognition of the Crown as the link which unites all the peoples of the Empire, but also by those closer and more personal links which the Leader of the Opposition has so simply and so eloquently described, and which the King has forged between himself and his people—people of all classes, of all creeds and of all races in every part of his Dominions—during nearly a quarter of a century of Royal service. The rupture of those ties is profoundly painful to us all. It must be most painful to those right hon. Gentlemen who, during these brief months of his Reign have been his Ministers and confidential advisers; above all, to the Prime Minister, his closest and most intimate adviser, who deserves our sympathy, and to-day also our gratitude for the grave but clear and moving statement which it was his melancholy duty to make to us this afternoon.

Let us also gratefully and respectfully acclaim the political wisdom which His Majesty has shown in discountenancing any attempt to divide the country on the issues to which his proposed marriage gave rise. It is in large measure due to His Majesty's wise and strong restraint, and to his recognition of the supremacy of Parliament and the constitutional responsibility of Ministers, that the Crown has not become involved in our political controversies, but remains above and aloof from them.

The Leader of the Opposition spoke of the earnestness and the anxiety with which all of us have been exploring the possibility of finding some means by which this conflict could be resolved. The Prime Minister referred to the possibility of a Morganatic Marriage Bill; I think it is only right to tell the House that I could not have supported it. It is not only the law of our country but it is also, I believe, a sound, healthy and essential element in the monarchial principle itself, that the lady whom the King marries must become Queen and share with him, before the whole people, the glorious burden of sovereignty. Such a Bill would, moreover, under the Statute of Westminster, have had to pass through all the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions, before it could have become valid in this country or in any of the Dominions, and the attempt to do so would have involved the Throne in prolonged controversy which would have gravely impaired its prestige and dignity. In my judgment the Government had no option but to reject the proposal.

No man deserves more the generous sympathy and support of the British people at this time than the devoted brother and loyal subject of the present King, whose duty it will be to succeed him on the Throne. He has enjoyed some, but not all, of the opportunities which long tenure of the dignity of Prince of Wales usually affords the Heir to the Throne, of becoming well known to the people of this country; but he has worked hard for many good causes. Thousands of young people who have shared with him the unconventional delights of camp life can testify to his good comradeship and democratic instincts. None will doubt his sincerity and high sense of public duty, and all will welcome to the Throne that gracious lady his wife, who was born a commoner but has won the hearts of the British people by showing a clear and just conception of Royal duty and opportunity in a democratic country.

Grief-stricken as we are to-day, it is our duty to face the future with clear eyes and firm resolve. Any prolongation of the crisis would be fraught with peril. For my own part, I doubt whether under any system of Government a crisis of this gravity could be solved with as little disturbance to the body politic as under our system of constitutional monarchy. This, at any rate, is certain, that the prompt action which the King himself has enjoined upon us will best serve the dignity of the Throne, the reputation of our Parliamentary institutions and the happiness, prosperity and peace of the British people.

6.11 p.m.


Nothing is more certain or more obvious than that recrimination or controversy at this time would be not only useless but harmful and wrong. What is done is done. What has been done or left undone belongs to history, and to history, so far as I am concerned, it shall be left. I will, therefore, make two observations only. The first is this: It is clear from what we have been told this afternoon that there was at no time any constitutional issue between the King and his Ministers or between the King and Parliament. The supremacy of Parliament over the Crown: the duty of the Sovereign to act in accordance with the advice of his Ministers: neither of those was ever at any moment in question. Supporting my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party, I venture to say that no Sovereign has ever conformed more strictly or more faithfully to the letter and spirit of the Constitution than his present Majesty. In fact, he has voluntarily made a sacrifice for the peace and strength of his Realm which goes far beyond the bounds required by the law and the Constitution. That is my first observation.

My second is this: I have, throughout, pleaded for time; anyone can see how grave would have been the evils of protracted controversy. On the other hand, it was, in my view, our duty to endure these evils even at serious inconvenience, if there was any hope that time would bring a solution. Whether there was any hope or not is a mystery which, at the present time, it is impossible to resolve. Time was also important from another point of view. It was essential that there should be no room for aspersions, after the event, that the King had been hurried in his decision. I believe that, if this decision had been taken last week, it could not have been declared that it was an unhurried decision, so far as the King himself was concerned, but now I accept wholeheartedly what the Prime Minister has proved, namely, that the decision taken this week has been taken by His Majesty freely, voluntarily and spontaneously, in his own time and in his own way. As I have been looking at this matter, as is well known, from an angle different from that of most hon. Members, I thought it my duty to place this fact also upon record.

That is all I have to say upon the disputable part of this matter, but I hope the House will bear with me for a minute or two, because it was my duty as Home Secretary, more than a quarter of a century ago, to stand beside his present Majesty and proclaim his style and titles at his investiture as Prince of Wales amid the sunlit battlements of Carnarvon Castle, and ever since then he has honoured me here, and also in war-time, with his personal kindness and, I may even say, friendship. I should have been ashamed if, in my independent and unofficial position, I had not cast about for every lawful means, even the most forlorn, to keep him on the Throne of his fathers, to which he only recently succeeded amid the hopes and prayers of all. In this Prince there were discerned qualities of courage, of simplicity, of sympathy, and, above all, of sincerity, qualities rare and precious which might have made his reign glorious in the annals of this ancient monarchy. It is the acme of tragedy that these very virtues should, in the private sphere, have led only to this melancholy and bitter conclusion. But, although our hopes to-day are withered, still I will assert that his personality will not go down uncherished to future ages, that it will be particularly remembered in the homes of his poorer subjects, and that they will ever wish from the bottom of their hearts for his private peace and happiness and for the happiness of those who are dear to him.

I must say one word more, and I say it specially to those here and out of doors—and do not underrate their numbers—who are most poignantly afflicted by what has occurred. Danger gathers upon our path. We cannot afford—we have no right—to look back. We must look forward; we must obey the exhortation of the Prime Minister to look forward. The stronger the advocate of monarchical principle a man may be, the more zealously must he now endeavour to fortify the Throne and to give to His Majesty's successor that strength which can only come from the love of a united nation and Empire.

6.19 p.m.


I rise to say a few words on this unprecedented situation in which the House of Commons finds itself to-day, and I realise that I am speaking in a House in which an overwhelming proportion of the membership is under feelings of very strong emotion. I respect these emotions, although I do not entirely share them. The monarchical in- stitutions of this land date back to very early times, and by many are regarded as sacrosanct and everlasting. I share with others in this House the human sympathies that go out to His Majesty as a man confronted with the difficulties with which he as a man has been confronted in these recent weeks. I share the same human sympathies with the Prime Minister, who has had to shoulder a task which few if any of the occupants of his office have ever had to shoulder before, and, in the nature of the case, has had to shoulder it alone. The decisions that he has made are, I believe, in strict accordance with his Conservative principles, on which he has been chosen as the leader of this country in the House of Commons, and, therefore, I make no criticism of them whatever. But I do say that, in the very nature of the monarchical institutions on an hereditary basis, circumstances of this kind were bound to arise, and they have arisen now in conditions which have created very grave difficulties for this country and for the Empire over the seas.

It is a question whether now this House will not be prepared to look at this particular political problem that has been forced upon our attention to-day as a practical political problem, one among many that intelligent men in the twentieth century must confront, recognising that the problems of our age cannot be met and solved with the ideas and the institutions which have come down to us from earlier times. We are living in a new kind of world, with new kinds of problems, and the institutions that date back centuries, however much reverence they may inspire because of their ancient origin and the traditions and associations that have become attached to them over the centuries, are not necessarily the institutions which can cope with the problems of modern times. We therefore intend, however it may be against the general run of opinion in this House, to take strongly the view that the lesson of the past few days, and of this day in particular, is that the monarchical institution has now outlived its usefulness. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The happenings of the past few days have only indicated the grave perils that confront a country that has as its centralising, unifying figure an hereditary personality who at any time may break under the force of the circumstances that gather round about him. We hope to take the opportunity given us, when steps are being taken to make good the evil and injury that have already been done to try to persuade this House now to face the situation with the idea in their minds that for the future Great Britain and its allied countries across the seas shall become, among other advanced countries in the world, one of the republican nations.

6.24 p.m.


I put a Motion on the Paper, and I do not regret it; but, after the sincere and admirable speech of the Prime Minister, that Motion is dead. I could have wished that the King had been allowed to live here married, happy, and King, but he has wished otherwise. A thousand years hence, perhaps, we shall be liberal enough to allow such a thing; it is too early now. He has been very kind to me and to a great many people throughout this Empire personally known to him, and I think we may all wish him a happy life there, if not here. The right hon. Gentleman has made it perfectly clear that, in spite of what I wished, and many others wished, there were really only two alternatives—to continue lonely, disappointed, bitter, ruling the Empire, or else to do what he has done, to throw up royalty and remain a man. We shall all commend him for that choice of the two, for nothing could have been worse than a Kingdom ruled by a man with a grievance, partly hostile to every Minister who had put him in the dilemma—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—collecting round him false friends—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—collecting round him those who would use the King's feelings against the Ministry and against the Constitution. That would be an alternative which everyone must have seen ahead of us, the most dreadful alternative. Tomorrow we shall take a new Oath of Allegiance. There will be no non-jurors this time, because it is by the King's wish that we take it. There will be no non-jurors below the Gangway, no non-jurors throughout the country. There will be, I would say, millions of people with aching hearts. They will carry on for England. They will take that oath because he wished it, and, if they sometimes raise their glass to the King across the water, who shall blame them?

6.29 p.m.


I would like just to remark that the concluding sentence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) happened to be the first note that I have in my hand. Danger lies before us, and it is going to be very bad if we close our eyes to that fact. It is very nice to hear right hon. Members talking about the necessity for all standing together, but how was it possible that such a crisis as has arisen should come upon us? The King and Mrs. Simpson do not live in a vacuum. Sinister processes are continually at work.

I would direct your attention to the fact that the Prime Minister told us that he was approached about a morganatic marriage, but he did not tell us who approached him. He told us that, when he went to the King later, the King asked him if he had been approached on this matter. It is obvious that forces were operating, advising and encouraging what was going on. It is a year since I heard about Mrs. Simpson. Perhaps it is the same with other Members. No one paid very much attention to Mrs. Simpson or to what she was doing until more and more difficulties arose in Europe, and then there was a move for a decree nisi. This is not something decided on by the King and Mrs. Simpson on her own. I want to make it understood, if I possibly can, that we have here not an issue between the King and Parliament, for Parliament has never been consulted from beginning to end—interviews, secret and otherwise, but Parliament not consulted and the forces operating, two forces fighting with one another on this issue, as they have been fighting continually on every important issue that has come on foreign policy. I am concerned with the working class. I see terrible dangers arising. There is not an hon. Member here who, if he asks himself the question, believes that this finishes the crisis and that the forces which have been operating behind this will now stop. There is victory for one group at the moment, but they will not stop. The forces will go on.

I want to draw attention to the fact that Mrs. Simpson has a social set, and every Member of the Cabinet knows that the social set of Mrs. Simpson is closely identified with a certain foreign Government and the Ambassador of that foreign Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] It is common knowledge, and round about this issue is the issue that is continually arising when other Debates come on. I say it is not an issue between the King and Parliament. It is an issue between two groups which are fighting continually for domination, and it is a thousand pities that the Labour movement should show any signs of falling into the trap. The only hope for the working class is that the Labour Movement should adopt an independent policy and pursue it against these groups, accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and finish with it all. No one can go out before the people of the country and give any justification for clinging to the Monarchy. You all know it. You will not be able, no matter what you do, to repair the damage that has been done to the Monarchical institution. If you allow things to go on as they are going, you will encourage factions to grow, and factions will grow, of a dangerous and desperate character, so far as the mass of the people are concerned. I appeal to the Labour movement to take strong, determined action to arouse the people of the country to the urgent need of uniting all their forces for peace and progress in face of the dangers that lie in their path—the very terrible dangers that are bound to confront us in the very near future.

6.35 p.m.


I feel that I ought to express my own view and go a step farther than my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I should not be honest if I did not do so. I have listened to more cant and humbug than I have ever listened to in my life. I have heard praise of the King which was not felt sincerely in any quarter of the House. I go further. Who has not heard the tittle-tattle and gossip that is going about? If he had not voluntarily stepped from the Throne, everyone knows that the same people in the House who pay lip service to him would have poured out scorn, abuse and filth. Some months ago we opposed the Civil List. To-morrow we shall take the same line. I have no doubt that you will go on praising the next King as you have praised this one. You will go on telling about his wonderful qualities. If he is a tenth as good as you say, why are you not keeping him? Why is everyone wanting to unload him? Because you know he is a weak creature. You want to get rid of him and you are taking the step to-day.

The great tragedy of it is this: If an ordinary workman had been in this mess, everyone in the House of Commons would have been ashamed of him. You would have refused him benefit. You would have ill-treated him. Look. at the Minister of Labour sneering at collusive action. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Everyone knows it. The whole Law Courts were set at defiance for this man. A divorce case was taken when everyone of you knows it was a breaking of the law. What are you talking nonsense about? The law is desecrated. The law courts are thrust aside. There is an association which everyone of you knows is collusive action. If a little boy in Wales leaves his mother to get 7s. extra, he has to stand the jeers and taunts of a miserable Minister of Labour. Talk to me about fairness, about decency, about equality! You are setting aside your laws for a rich, pampered Royalty. The next set will be pampered too. You will lie and praise them and try to laud them above ordinary men. Instead of having the ordinary frailties that all of us have, they will have this additional one, of being surrounded with a set of flunkeys who refuse to let them know the truth as others do. To-morrow I will willingly take the step of going out and saying it is time the people ceased to trust those folk, but only trusted their own power and their own elected authority.

6.39 p.m.

Captain Sir IAN FRASER

I feel sure that the House and the country will feel that any degree to which we can contribute towards avoiding controversy will be for the good of the Realm. I only want to say two things, not in any representative capacity but as an old soldier. No group in the community enjoys to a greater degree the understanding, the sympathy and the good will of His Majesty than ex-Service men. I am certain that they will feel not merely that they have lost one who has worked for them for a quarter of a century, but a personal friend. But no group has a deeper sense of the importance of stability and strength at difficult times. I feel certain that their loyalty to the Crown and their help to the new King will be unbounded and will be given in the greatest possible measure that lies in their power.

Question, "That His Majesty's most Gracious Message be now considered," put, and agreed to.