HL Deb 14 December 1936 vol 103 cc780-7

My Lords, I have the honour to convey to your Lordships a Message from His Majesty the King, signed by his own hand:

"I have succeeded to the Throne in circumstances which are without precedent and at a moment of great personal distress. But I am resolved to do My duty, and I am sustained by the knowledge that I am supported by the widespread good will and sympathy of all My subjects here and throughout the world. It will be My constant endeavour, with God's help, supported as I shall be by My dear wife, to uphold the honour of the Realm and to promote the happiness of My peoples."


My Lords, I have the honour to move "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to offer to His Majesty our loyal thanks for His gracious Message; to express to His Majesty our devotion to His Royal Person and to Her Majesty the Queen; and to assure His Majesty of our conviction that His Reign, under the blessing of Divine Providence, will safeguard the liberties of the country and promote the prosperity and contentment of His People." it is the custom, long honoured by time, that one of the first acts of the Sovereign after Accession should be to communicate such a Message as we have just heard read to his Parliament, and that one of the first acts of the Parliament should be to make an appropriate reply, and it is perhaps not uninteresting to remind ourselves that the first occasion, so far as I have been able to trace, on which the Sovereign communicated with Parliament by letter was in the case of King William III, in 1689, and to that communication an Address was moved in reply by a noble Lord whose name I myself bear, being on that occasion Acting Speaker.

This practice, as always with traditional observance, is the outward symbol of a truth of great significance, and that truth, as I see it, is the essential relationship of the Crown and the people, resting on the double foundation of the consecration of the Crown to the service of the highest interest of the people, and on the other side the loyalty of the people to the Crown, which they recognise as being the outward embodiment of all that is best in their own life and thought. We are accustomed to speak of the Crown as the link between all parts of the King's Dominions, but I think it is much more than that. It is also, I think, much more than really representative, for in some sense, quite undefinable but quite real, the Crown is in truth the actual sum and expression of all the manifold diversity of persons and interests in the whole Commonwealth over which the Crown is set.

Now, my Lords, there have not been wanting opportunities of late for the Crown and people to realise the strength of this underlying unity between them. Great and melancholy events and imperious necessities have brought both the Crown and the people together in a desire to share the burden which these events imposed, and I think nothing has more impressed the opinion of foreign nations, as it certainly has our own, than the strength of sobriety, the calm strength, and the capacity for prompt decision, which the whole nation and the whole Empire have shown, and which have surely given to all who love their country such legitimate cause for thankfulness and pride. No attempt has been made during these last days to minimise the gravity of what was passing. Just because the Crown was so securely founded in the affections of its people, the Crown and the people were naturally united together in meeting a situation which placed so great a strain upon each.

To-day we look forward, and we formally welcome, by happy chance on His Majesty's birthday, the new King and Queen, and we assure them of our devotion and unswerving loyalty as they enter upon the discharge of their new and unique responsibilities. We see good augury in the assumption by His Majesty of the name that King George V brought every British home to honour. We see good augury, too, in some common features that seem even now to be reproducing some of the circumstances by which the life of King George V was shaped. Like his father, the King succeeds after having been a second son, and after accustoming himself to meet the calls that were made upon him. Like his father, the King's first service was as a sailor, in which capacity he shared the fortunes of the Grand Fleet at Jutland, and like his father, most especially, he has been privileged to know the happiness of an ideal marriage and the background of a perfect home life.

In the discharge of his public duties as Duke of York, accompanied by the Duchess, he has had occasion to visit and to make warm friends in many parts of the Empire, and he has acquired the first-hand knowledge which the Empire has learnt to expect of the Crown. We here in this country have watched with gratitude and with admiration the way in which he has spared no efforts to encourage the causes which he had made so particularly his own—the promotion of everything that concerns the industrial welfare of the working population, and that which is so prominent in the national thought of to-day, the building up of the physique of the growing generation. These contacts have brought him very close to vast numbers of his subjects.

And no more than the King does Her Majesty the Queen stand in need of any introduction to the people's love. Her name evokes great memories of the British people's history, and by her own gifts of charm and simple goodness of heart she has already won for herself a distinctive and secure place in their affections. I think I can say with great assurance that the welcome of her own folk north of Tweed is no whit warmer or spontaneous than that which goes out to her from the furthest parts of the British Empire.

Therefore, with all our hearts we wish them well and shall have them always in our thoughts and in our prayers. With great gratitude we acknowledge the readiness with which they have been willing to subordinate all lesser claims to the sovereign claim of service to the State, and we rejoice to think that, as they give their service, they will have the privilege of the constant counsel and encouragement of Her Majesty Queen Mary. We humbly therefore assure them, in the words of the Motion that I would ask leave to move, of our conviction that the new reign now begun will in very deed, by its example and with God's help, be the instrument for the safeguarding of the liberties of the country and for the promotion of the prosperity and the contentment of the King's people. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to offer to His Majesty our loyal thanks for His gracious Message; to express to His Majesty our devotion to His Royal Person and to Her Majesty the Queen; and to assure His Majesty of our conviction that His Reign, under the blessing of Divine Providence, will safeguard the liberties of the country and promote the prosperity and contentment of His People.—(Viscount Halifax.)


My Lords, your Lordships cannot fully understand how very difficult a speech of the kind that I have now to make is to one who, like myself, represents a great democratic Party which is not firmly committed to the monarchical as against all other systems of government, and who personally believes, as a fundamental and unalterable political principle, that although a king may reign in our country the people, through their freely elected Parliaments, must rule. The foundations of my own political education were laid at a time when, without being suspected of treason or even of disloyalty, it was possible both to believe and confess that forms of government other than the monarchical form were both possible and commendable. I hasten to assure your Lordships that, although a child of my period, I do not intend to discuss that hypothetical question on this occasion. I have mentioned it only because I wish your Lordships to understand the philosophical background to the few remarks that I shall venture to make to-day.

The Labour Party has frequently illustrated its willingness to place the public good before its own apparent political advantage, and in accordance with that habit we do not intend to raise difficult and dividing issues to-day. Social and economic questions of more immediate urgency confront the nation, and we desire to give what assistance we can to complete the transition to the new reign in order that those questions may as speedily as possible again receive the undivided attention of Parliament. A word of justification for this attitude must, however, be said. The greatest issues in the world are in our opinion peace, the defence of representative institutions, and the preservation of individual freedom. If, therefore, our British system assists those ends, if at the present time it serves to protect and perpetuate our democratic traditions, and acts as a defensive shield against the invasion of foreign-born systems of dictatorship, that alone is a sufficient reason why disturbing constitutional questions should not be raised at the present time. In that sense we are all of us "the King's friends."

Accordingly, in association with other sections of his people both at home and overseas, we desire to assure His Majesty of such co-operation as we can give in the sudden, unexpected and weighty burden which fate has imposed upon him. We can imagine, and I hope partly understand in view of recent events, the reluctance with which he assumed his high dignities and duties, and we wish to encourage him with the assurance of such support as it is in our power to give him.


Hear, hear.


From what we already know of His Majesty we are entitled to hope, to believe and to expect that he will respect, promote, and if need be defend, the democratic institutions under which we live. The British people Have proved themselves worthy of his trust. Where else in the world could the disturbing events of the past week have been overcome with more convenient speed or with a surer and finer dignity? Without recrimination, without panic, without noisy manifestations of surprise and disappointment, and without any political Party seeking to profit from a situation which had all the possibilities of disorder, the nation, self-disciplined and with composure, faced and overcame the sudden and not negligible danger to the Constitution and to democracy. Let His Majesty be strengthened by the knowledge that behind him stands this strong, imperturbable, solid and united people. From him as their King they will not expect more than a man can give. If he places his trust in them they will not fail him, and he will enjoy and be strengthened by their united affection.

That King George possesses the qualities that the people expect from their Ruler has already been proved. His interests as a Prince were a fitting prelude to his responsibility as a King. As the friend and generous host of schoolboys, as the economic student, as the social and industrial observer, he has an acquaintance with problems which are our very special concern. If, without impertinence, I may express a personal wish, it is that His Majesty will find it possible to pursue his old interests and that he will allow nothing to sever the contacts that he has had with the workers in mill and mine and workshop. With the whole of your Lordships, and with the whole of his people everywhere, we wish for him a long, a peaceful, a happy, and a very prosperous reign.


My Lords, we who sit on these Benches desire to give our wholehearted support to the Motion set before the House in such happy terms by the noble Viscount opposite. We can support it without any of the reservations of background which the noble Lord who leads the Opposition was very naturally compelled to make. I should like to add, however, that the general purport of the noble Lord's speech, I am sure, commended itself entirely to all parts of your Lordships' House. In a very few months from now the hundredth anniversary will be observed of what may be called the re-birth of the British Monarchy—the Accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria in June, 1837. Since then, the successive Sovereigns who have occupied the Throne have shown greater diversities of character and temperament, perhaps, than would have been expected in any ordinary family who have undergone no such experience as that of an unusually long minority. The Sovereigns differed in many respects in their political instincts and prepossessions, in the interest which they personally took in our relations with foreign Powers, in their attitude towards social changes, and in their ordinary everyday occupations and enjoyments. But in one respect they were all alike: they all recognised without question the commanding call of duty and service to the country and to the Empire. That was with them an article of faith, and it has become an established tradition. That tradition, you may be sure, will continue—it may even be strengthened—in the reign of which we are now seeing the dawn.

I agree altogether with what fell from the noble Viscount opposite that it can be no disadvantage to His Majesty that he attained his present age as a younger son of the Royal House. It was certainly no disadvantage to his illustrious father, though his experience of it was somewhat shorter. We must all feel, I think, that it will stand the King in good stead that he has been able, in a simple and informal way, to see much of the condition of some of those of his subjects who do not belong to the prosperous classes; and we feel, with the noble Viscount opposite, that he will be assisted in his work by the presence of his Queen, who has already earned such esteem and regard, even outside her own native land of Scotland. Also we know that both Sovereigns will find the example and the help of Her Majesty Queen Mary of perpetual assistance in the arduous task to which they have been called. I join with the noble Viscount opposite in hoping—and I am sure Parliament and the whole nation hope—that his Majesty King George will have before him many birthdays, in health and happiness and in a peaceful world.


My Lords, I have had other opportunities of expressing the high hopes with which we hail the advent of our new King and Queen, but it might seem strange if no voice were to speak this afternoon on behalf of the Lords Spiritual in your Lordships' House and of the Christian Churches throughout the realm which I trust we may, in some measure, represent. I should like, on their behalf, to assure Their Majesties of our most wholehearted loyalty. I think we already look back on last week as a painful dream. We awake to the light and hope of a new day. I know that Their Majesties are facing the immense responsibility which has been so suddenly thrust upon them with quiet courage and that they are assisted and strengthened, as His Majesty has been pleased to assure us, by the sympathy, heartfelt good will and confident hopes of all their people.

The sterling qualities of His Majesty's character are known to us all—his straightforwardness, his simplicity, his assiduous devotion to public duty—and no words are needed to dwell on the grace and goodness of his Consort, who has already won, as noble Lords who have spoken have pointed out, the affection of the whole people. As His Majesty girds himself for the fulfilment of the high task we know his … armour is his honest thought, And simple truth his utmost skill. We all look forward with thankfulness and hope to the great event of the Coronation. May I say, as one to whom a very special responsibility for that great ceremony is entrusted, that it is to me an immense satisfaction to realise that I can address to His Majesty those noble words with the full sense of their reality and that they will find a response in the King's heart? And I know that my words will find an echo in all of your Lordships' hearts when I say that I pray that God's richest blessing may rest upon Their Majesties now and in the days to come.

On Question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente, and ordered accordingly: the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

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