HL Deb 30 March 1927 vol 66 cc885-92

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Birkenhcad.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to alter style and titles of Crown.

1. It shall be lawful for His Most Gracious Majesty, by His Royal Proclamation under the Great Seal of the Realm, issued within six months after the passing of this Act, to make such alteration in the style and titles at present appertaining to the Crown as to His Majesty may seem fit.

LORD DANESFORT moved to leave out "of the Realm." The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is that the Great Seal should be described simpliciter as the Great Seal, and not as the Great Seal of the Realm, a name which it has never yet held. There is only one Great Seal that can properly be called the Great Seal without any further words of description, and I venture to suggest that the words "of the Realm" are not properly descriptive either of the Great Seal itself or of the purpose to which it is applied and are very inappropriate. This was a question that was the subject of very considerable debate in the House of Commons, and it is not, I think, without importance. In considering it, the fundamental fact to remember is that the Great Seal is the Great Seal of the King and is not the Great Seal of any geographical area, whether that, area be the whole Empire or any portion of it.

In the old days, before the Union with either Scotland or Ireland, the Great Seal was known simply as the Great Seal, but it was sometimes described as the Great Seal of England. That was indicative of the fact that England was the area over which documents, which passed under the Great Seal, operated. When the Union with Scotland came in 1707, the Great Seal was still known as the Great Seal, but it was referred to, in the Act of Union and in many other Acts of Parliament, as "the Great Seal for the United Kingdom of Great Britain." Those additional words merely indicated that that Great Seal was, with certain exceptions, to be used in public documents operating in England and Scotland or one of those countries. The exceptions were documents of a domestic nature relating solely to Scotland, on which the then existing Great Seal of Scotland was used. When the Union with Ireland took effect in 1801, and from that time onwards, the Great Seal was frequently described in Acts of Parliament as the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, but the old Great Seal of Ireland continued to be used for many documents relating solely to Ireland.

Since, those days conditions have very widely changed. Great changes have taken place in the Constitutions of various parts of our Empire and perhaps in none more than in the Constitutions of our Dominions and in their relations to the Mother Country. At the present moment, as for some time past, the Great Seal is used not only for documents confined to England, Scotland and Ireland or some portion of those countries, but it is used for documents wholly outside Great Britain and Ireland. As an illustration, may I mention that the Great Seal is attached to Commissions for opening Dominion and Colonial Parliaments, to Commissions for appointment to the office of Governor of a Dominion or a Colony, to Letters Patent for constituting High Courts of Judicature in India or appointing Indian Judges and Bishops. I should add that, besides the Great Seal, there are separate seals for the Dominions and Colonies for use on documents operating solely in those countries. For instance, there is the Great Seal of the Dominion of Canada, the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Great Seal of the Union of South Africa. Recently there has been added the Great Seal of the Irish Free State, and that of Northern Ireland. As regards the Dominions of New Zealand and Newfoundland, for some reason the seal attached to public documents there is called the Public Seal. In various Colonies, the seal used is called the Public Seal, except in the case of Jamaica where, for some curious reason, it is called the Broad Seal. The point I emphasise is that there are these Great Seals and the documents to which they are affixed have certain geographical operation, but there is, notwithstanding, one, and only one, Great Seal of the King, which is used throughout the Empire on certain documents.

The position, then, is this, Circumstances have greatly changed since the term "Great Seal of the United Kingdom" was commonly used and that phrase has become wholly inappropriate. Indeed, the Home Secretary, speaking in debate in the other place on March 15, said: To call it the Great Seal of the United Kingdom is incorrect to-day in nomenclature. I submit to your Lordships that we must now look for language of a more appropriate nature. My suggestion is that the proper term is "the Great Seal," without any limiting description. The Bill, however, adopts a new description, hitherto unknown, and calls it "the Great Seal of the Realm." It is a fine, high-sounding title, but I do submit that it is not justified either from the point of view of etymology or of geography.

I have looked at the various meanings attributed to the word "realm" in the great Oxford Dictionary. I find that the first and natural meaning is "kingdom" and for that it gives many quotations such as "the Realm of England," a phrase used since about the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Then it is pointed out that it has a figurative sense, "a region," and a passage from Shelley's "Queen Mab," in which the Kingdom of Heaven is called "Heaven's realm," is quoted. Then comes the quotation, curiously enough almost immediately afterwards, of a passage from a less-known author, in Which he refers to "the realms of hell." That means a region, a geographical or imaginary area. There are other senses given to the word "realm" in the dictionary, but none of them in any way justifies the use of the word in connection with the Great Seal which is used all over the Empire.

It was urged in another place that the word "realm" does aptly apply to all the Dominions of the Crown. I should like to point out that there was a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, a Kingdom of Scotland, a Kingdom of Ireland, but there never was, and is not now, a Kingdom of Canada, or of Newfoundland, or of New Zealand or any other kingdom outside the British Isles to which the word "realm" could be properly applied. The passage quoted in the other place about the word "realm" as meaning Empire is taken from the Statute 24 Henry VIII, c. 12, in which it says: "This realme of England is an Empire." That turns out to be a complete misapprehension, because that famous Statute was a Statute designed to assert, and it did assert, the historic independence of the realm of England against Papacy on the one hand and against the Holy Empire on the other hand. Therefore, when it said that the realm of England was an Empire, it meant to say that it was a self-contained country, of which the Sovereign owed no allegiance to any foreign superior. I was rather interested to look up the word "empire" in the Oxford Dictionary and to find that that is precisely the view they took of the use of the word "empire" in that Act of Henry VIII. Blackstone took the same view, for he said:— The Legislature uses the word 'Empire' to assert that our King is Sovereign and independent within these his Dominions. That precedent appears to me to fall to the ground.

It may be said that "the Great Seal" has not been in common use in Acts of Parliament. It has certainly been in common use to describe what we are now speaking of, the Great Seal now in the custody of the Lord Chancellor. It has certainly been used to describe it in almost every document of a legal and authoritative character from Blackstone downwards, and indeed from Blackstone upwards. It has also been used in Acts of Parliament. Take the Act of 2 and 3 William IV, c. 40, which deals with the Civil Departments of the Admiralty. There the words "Great Seal" are used without any further description, and in the Great Seal Offices Act of 1874 it is referred to simply as "the Great Seal." I therefore ask your Lordships to say, and I hope the Lord Chancellor will give it favourable consideration, that the proper description of it is "the Great Seal." There is no other. There are great seals belonging to, or operative in, parts of the Empire, but there is no other Great Seal, and I submit that the description of "Great Seal of the Realm" is a novelty, which is inaccurate and inappropriate, whereas the words "the Great Seal" are simple, accurate and appropriate. I therefore beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, lines 7 and 8, leave out ("of the Realm.")—(Lord Danesfort.)


My Lords, my noble and learned friend has made an interesting speech, and as the custodian at this moment of the Seal to which he has referred, I suppose I ought to take not less interest than he does in the subject matter of his Amendment; but try as I may I cannot become excited over the question whether, in this clause of the Bill, the Seal shall be referred to under one description or the other. The Bill only refers to it in this way. The clause provides that:— It shall be lawful for His Most Gracious Majesty, by His Royal Proclamation under the Great Seal of the Realm …. to make such alteration in the style and titles at present appertaining to the Crown.…. There is, and can be, no doubt as to what Seal is referred to. It has been mentioned in different Statutes under many names. Sometimes, as my noble friend has said, it is called "the Great Seal" without qualification. In other Statutes it has been called "the Great Seal of England," in others "the Great Seal of Great Britain," at times "the Great Seal of the United Kingdom," and at other times "the Great Seal of the Realm."

My noble friend is mistaken in saying that the expression or title "the Great Seal of the Realm" has been hitherto unknown. The expression was used in the Statute of Henry VIII to which he referred. It is used in Letters Patent of George II relating to the Order of the Bath. It was used again in the Acts 11 and 12 Victoria c. 94 and 12 and 13 Victoria c. 109. So the expression "Great Seal of the Realm" is known to the Statute Book and to the law, and there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the expression in this Bill. It is desirable to settle upon a name and expression to be used for the purpose of describing this great instrument of Government, and as there are other Great Seals in use in the British Empire, as my noble friend has said, it is desirable to use some sort of descriptive words, and we suggest to the House, that the expression "the Great Seal of the Realm," which is not new, is a good, historic and dignified expression to use in referring to the Great Seal.

It is true, as my noble friend says, that this Seal is used for documents relating to other parts of His Majesty's Dominions than Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The very fact of that usage makes the title "Great Seal of the United Kingdom" less appropriate than in former days. Further, it is the Seal of the Crown, and it is called by an old writer. Matthew Paris, clavis regni—key of the realm—and the word "Realm," closely associated as it is with the Title of King, is, I suggest, perhaps the most appropriate word that we could choose. I will only add that my right hon. friend the Home Secretary undertook, in another place, to ask the Law Officers their opinion as to whether there was any objection to this term. They have advised that there is no such objection, and for myself I see none, and I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.


I am very much obliged to the Lord Chancellor for his speech, though indeed one part of it very much surprised me, when he said that the words "Great Seal of the Realm" had been used in a variety of Statutes. I should be very glad to see those Statutes, because I looked for them for some time, and in vain.


I will give my noble friend the references.


I am obliged to the noble Viscount. I could only find them in one Statute. I recognise, however, that the custodian of the Great Seal is much more interested in seeing that it is appropriately named than I, or any other private member of the House, and I will therefore ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

House adjourned at seven o'clock.

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