HL Deb 03 July 1837 vol 38 cc1757-61

The Lord Chancellor moved the second reading of the Succession Bill. It was the duty of Parliament to provide for every event, however remote, which might affect the administration of the Government of the country. The object of this Bill was, to provide in case of the demise of the Crown, and in case the heir presumptive to the Crown should at that time be out of the country, for the carrying on the business of the Executive Government, as without such provision it would be difficult, indeed impossible, to carry on the Executive Government, until the next heir to the Throne arrived in this country. The precedent followed, on this occasion, was that of the Act of Queen Anne. There was, at that time, a disputed succession, which was not the case at present, but nevertheless, the possible and very remote contingency of having the machinery of Government stopped, if the demise of the Crown should take place while the heir presumptive was in a foreign kingdom, should be provided for, and in this provision, the Act of the 6th of Queen Anne was followed. The Bill provided that certain great officers of state—namely, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord High Chancellor, or Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, the Lord High Treasurer, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord High Admiral, and the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, at the time being respectively, should act as Lords Justices to exercise all the powers and authorities of the successor to the Crown as he or she would exercise them if present, until his or her arrival in this kingdom, or until he or she should otherwise order. The Bill also provided, that the heir or heiress presumptive to the Throne might at any time deposit a list (which list was revocable at pleasure) of such persons as he or she might appoint to act with such justices, and to be considered as part of them, with the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord High Chancellor or Keeper of the Great Seal, or the representative of such heir or heiress presumptive at the Court of Great Britain, and the persons named in that list were to exercise in common with the Lords already named the functions of royalty, until the successor of the Throne should otherwise determine. There was, however, a provision in the Bill which restricted the powers of the Lords Justices to the exercise of all the functions of royalty, save only those which were necessary to carry on the Government of the country. For example, they were not to have the power of dissolving Parliament, nor giving the Royal Assent to any Bill for altering the succession to the Throne, nor to any Bill for changing the established religion of England, Scotland, or Ireland. They were also restricted in their power so as not to be able to grant peerages, or in any way to interfere with the privileges of the Sovereign, save and except such Acts as were necessary for carrying on the Government. In the second section of the Act, he should propose, when the Bill was in Committee, so to alter it as that the heir presumptive should have the power of nominating, not seven persons, to which by the Bill, as it now stood, he was restricted, but any such numbers, to act with the Lords Justices already named, as he might think proper.

Lord Brougham

admitted, that the pre- cedent of the Act of Anne was followed in this instance; but in the Act of Anne, it was stated that any appointment of such additional Lords Justices which had been already made would be valid, which was not the case in the present Bill. But there was another circumstance connected with the Bill to which he was anxious to call the attention of their Lordships, and though he was aware that the present was not the proper time for bringing it forward, he felt it necessary to mention it as a sort of caveat against one of the principles of the Bill. When the Act of Anne was passed, the royal family of England were very differently circumstanced from what they were at present. At that time, the succession was confined to the Electress Sophia, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants. But there were other members of the royal family, to assert or recognise whose title would then have been high treason. He had no wish to follow the precedent established by the Act of Anne out of respect to those great and eminent men by whom the Act had been framed—he more particularly alluded to Lord Godolphin and Lord Somers; yet he was greatly disposed to think that those eminent statesmen would not in the present day, and under the present circumstances, take the course of which they at that time established the precedent. Whether they wished to establish Lords Justices or a custos regni, or a regent, he was sure they would not pass over the members of the royal family who were of full age and resident within the realm at the time. He thought, therefore, that some portion of the royal family, he meant, of course, those who were of full age and resident in the kingdom, should be named as amongst the Lords Justices. He felt it necessary to call the attention of his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack to this, which he wished to be taken as a sort of caveat against the Bill, for unless he saw very good reason for altering his opinion on the subject, he would, at a future stage of the Bill, embody his objection as a substantive motion.

Lord Wynford

thought, that if any portion of the royal family were to be included in the Bill, all of them ought to be. He, however, thought it would be the much better and more simple course to follow the precedent of the Act of Anne, which appointed certain great officers of state for the time being, to whom were to be added certain other individuals appointed by the heir presumptive. The precedent of Anne had been since that period twice followed in the appointment of Lords Justices, but in neither case had members of the royal family been included. He, therefore, thought it would be much better to leave the Bill as it now stood, following as it did the precedents already established.

Lord Brougham

thought, that the Bill should recognise the right of the heir presumptive, or heir apparent, as much as the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Lord Chancellor, or any other of the Lords Justices. There was a great difference between Lords Justices appointed by an Act of Parliament, as in this case, and Lords Justices appointed by the Crown. In the latter case, the power of the Lords Justices was limited by such rules and regulations as the King might please to fix until his return to the country. In the reign of Geo. 1st he appointed the Prince, who was afterwards George 2nd, as custos regni; George 2nd, during his absence, appointed Queen Caroline Regent, and after the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, he appointed Lords Justices. As to Queen Anne not being named in the Commission of Lords Justices in the absence of King William, the reason was obvious; she was then Princess of Denmark, a married woman, and being under the influence of her husband, who was a foreigner, it would not have been proper or constitutional to have named her in it.

The Duke of Wellington

said, it appeared to him that the object of the Bill was to secure the succession in the absence of the Sovereign, and to carry on the Government between the demise of one Sovereign and the arrival here of the other, that other being then in a foreign country. It appeared to him that the Sovereign, before his arrival in this country, might appoint members of the royal family or others to carry on the Government until his return. They should not be imposed upon him, for it was clear that on his accession to the Throne, he might appoint whom he pleased to carry on the Government of the country in his absence. It should, therefore, be left to him to give instructions to the Lords Justices to exercise such functions in his absence, and with such limitations as he should direct.

Lord Brougham

contended, that there was no instance in which Parliament had left out members of the royal family in a case of this kind, where they were of full age, and resident within the realm. The great officers of state were not more known in the country than the members of the royal family of full age. The Bill, however, only provided for a bare possibility, for the exercise of the royal authority in case of a demise of the Crown, and should that event take place in the lifetime of the King of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland in England, and before her Majesty had an heir apparent to the Throne. It was, in fact, for the exercise of the royal authority for some ten or twelve days before the arrival of the new Sovereign, but even in providing for this barely possible contingency it behoved Parliament not to depart from principle. In all such cases, Parliament should take into consideration and include in the commission members of the royal family of full age, resident within the realm.

Bill read a second time.