HC Deb 04 February 1937 vol 319 cc1825-30

5.14 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

I beg to move, in page 3, line 3, to leave out "resident in," and to insert "domiciled in some part of."

It has been pointed out to me by an hon. Member that a case might arise in which the difference would be material. Suppose, for instance, that the next heir was acting as Governor-General in a Dominion and was therefore temporarily absent from the United Kingdom. He would not be resident in the United Kingdom but he would still be domiciled here, and it was never intended that he should be excluded in circumstances like that. The change is a very slight one—I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman who pointed it out—and I suggest that it cannot be a matter of controversy. I think this Amendment will appeal to all hon. Members.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Emmott

I should like to call attention to a point arising on this Clause which is of some interest, but which I am free to confess has been brought to my notice by a letter in the "Times" newspaper. The advantage of such a confession is that if the point be proved to be a false one, one can disclaim all responsibility for it. Clause 3, Sub-section (1), says that the Regent shall be that person who, excluding any persons disqualified under this section, is next in the line of succession to the Crown. Then Sub-section (2) describes the disqualifications, the first disqualification being: If he is not a British subject of full age and domiciled in some part of the United Kingdom. Now I am really seeking information, and it may not be uninteresting to observe that, if this point is sound, a person who is qualified to exercise the functions of Regency is of necessity a British subject. I believe that is the position which results from certain Statutes. Let me bring to the notice of the Committee the relevant parts of the Statutes, and in doing so I must ask leave to abbreviate the text of them, since they are rather long. In the Act of Settlement, it is laid down that The most excellent Princess Sophia Electress and Duchess dowager of Hanover…is hereby declared to be the next in succession…to the crown and regall Government which shall be remain and continue to the said most excellent Princess Sophia and the heirs of her body being Protestants. Then in the Act 4 and 5 Anne, Chapter 16, it is enacted that the said Princess Sophia Electress and Duchess dowager of Hanover and the issue of her body and all persons lineally descending from her born or hereafter to be born be and shall be to all intents and purposes whatsoever deemed taken and esteemed natural born subjects of this Kingdom. Therefore, does it not appear that a person cannot be, in the words of Clause 3 (1), Next in the line of succession to the Crown without being also a British subject? It would seem that the person next in the line of succession—and not only that person, but others as well, although it is sufficient for my purpose to refer to the person next in the line of succession—is a British subject. I have, of course, ascertained that there has been no repeal of those portions of the Acts which I have just read to the Committee. I do not think there is in Sub-section (2) any implied repeal of the Act of Anne. But I think the Committee would be glad to have some information and to be assured on that point. I imagine the view that the Government have taken of this matter is that the importance of the disqualification is not that part of the sentence which refers to nationality, but the subsequent part, by which the person is disqualified if he is not of full age and domiciled in some part of the United Kingdom. I imagine the purpose of the Government is to ensure, not so much that the Regent shall be a British subject —for in my submission that necessarily follows from the Statutes—but that he shall be of full age and domiciled in some part of the United Kingdom. If I am right in that understanding, will the right hon. Gentleman be so good as to tell us so? From the depths of his historical knowledge, from which he has already instructed the Committee, he may perhaps be willing to illuminate this point also.

5.21 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Emmott) has raised an interesting, intricate and perhaps amusing point. Like him, I read the letter which appeared in the "Times" newspaper over the signature of Theobald Mathew, who is respected by everybody. I would only observe that the author of the letter is, among other things, famous in the circles in which he moves as a champion humorist, and he is the author of several admirable volumes, which I recommend everybody to read, called "Forensic Fables." I think it would follow from my hon. Friend's proposition that the former German Emperor and Crown Prince are British subjects. So far as I know, they are descendants of Princess Sophia Electress and Duchess dowager of Hanover. I do not think that proposition is one about which we can be too sure.

Mr. Emmott

I suggest the acceptance of the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, except in so far as the position was altered or determined by Statute. I think there was such an alteration.

Sir J. Simon

I did not know that. However, I certainly think the answer can be given quite briefly. It is a good principle of our Statute law that full effect must be given to the operation of the later Statutes even when that may have the result of nullifying the effect of earlier Statutes. I will take as an example the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914, Section 13, which provides that: A British subject who, when in any foreign State and not under disability, by obtaining a certificate of naturalisation, or by any other voluntary and formal act, becomes naturalised therein"— that is, in a foreign country— shall thenceforth he deemed to have ceased to be a British subject. I know of no reason why it should not have been possible for one of the many descendants of Sophia to have gone through that process, and it follows from the language of the 1914 Act that such a descendant would not be a British subject. It is quite easy to see that one should not assume necessarily that the whole of the law on this subject is as enacted in the reign of Queen Anne. Queen Anne is dead. As I have said, the author of the letter in the "Times" newspaper is a champion humorist, and be that as it may, one cannot do any harm and may do a little good by insisting on the very sensible proposition that any possible Regent shall be a British subject.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Maxton

There is one question I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman. In drafting this Measure, what were the reasons for deciding that in Subsection (2) of this Clause the Regent should be of full age, that is to say, 21 years of age, whereas in an earlier Clause it is laid down that the effective age for exercising the functions of Monarchy shall be 18? Is there any reason why a Queen who is 18 years of age should be able to exercise her functions properly, but that, in certain circumstances, it would be conceivable that her uncle, who might be the next heir to the Throne and aged 20 years and six months, should be regarded as incapable of exercising the functions of Regency? For the sake of symmetry in the Measure, it seems to me that if the Monarch is capable of exercising his functions at 18 years of age, the Regent also is capable of doing so temporarily at 18 years of age. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there are any special reasons for the difference in the two ages.

5.27 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I congratulate the hon. Member on his capacity for finding in the Clauses points which merit discussion. This is a very small point. I think the Committee will appreciate that the reason is that otherwise there might well arise a case where the heir to the Throne was under 18 years of age and where it would be necessary to have a Regent, but that such Regent would only be a few months older. It would then be rather absurd to appoint as Regent someone only six months older than the King. Consequently, it was thought not inappropriate to make certain that in any event there should be a minimum difference of three years in the ages of the person who has to assume responsibility as Regent and the person who is heir to the Throne. I think that is a human reason which will appeal to the hon. Gentleman as being a sufficient one.

Mr. Maxton

The hon. and learned Gentleman made a flattering reference in the opening part of his remarks about my ingenuity in discovering points. May I congratulate him on his ingenuity in finding plausible answers?

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Mabane

A point has been put to me on which I would like to ask for information. What would happen if the heir were a female and subsequent to the death of the father, a son was posthumously borne? What would then be the position in regard to the Regency?

The Chairman

I do not think that question arises on this Clause.