HL Deb 12 October 1943 vol 129 cc163-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of the Regency Bill. It will be within the recollection of this House that last month—it was on the 22nd of September—we received a Message from the King, which asked Parliament to review the provisions of the existing Regency Act of 1937 in two particulars. The Leader of the House moved an Address assuring His Majesty that we would undertake the consideration of this matter and do what was expedient, and this present Bill is the fulfilment of that intention. There are two changes which it is proposed to make by this Bill. The first has to do with the inclusion among the Counsellors of State, if His Majesty has occasion to go outside the United Kingdom to visit the Dominions or elsewhere, the person who is the Heir Apparent or Heir Presumptive at the age of eighteen years. As the Regency Act of 1937 now stands, the Counsellors of State who are appointed by Letters Patent by His Majesty, before he leaves the United Kingdom for such a purpose, are all of them over twenty-one years of age.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships in a sentence or two—the topic is, I think, an interesting one—of the difference between the Regency Act of 1937 and various Regency Acts which have been passed during our history. Before the Act of 1937 any Regency Act was passed solely to meet a particular emergency that existed, or was thought likely to arise. For example, in the later years of the reign of Henry VIII there was an Act passed to provide what was to be done in the way of a Regency if little Edward VI ascended the throne as a child. He was nine when he became King, and of course only lived for a few years. In the same way, in the reign of George II Parliament passed a Regency Act to provide for what would happen if the next in succession reached the throne before he was of sufficient years. In fact, George III, I think, ascended the Throne at the age of 22, so that nothing was required on that occasion as it turned out. Another very well-known instance is the Regency Act at the time of the incapacity of George III, which created so much discussion and difficulty. There have been two more recent instances which are almost forgotten now. As soon as William IV came to the throne and Princess Victoria was the Heir Presumptive and was a child, the Regency Act of 1830 was passed, providing that the Duchess of Kent, her mother, would be the Regent if she ascended the throne before the age of eighteen. In fact, Queen Victoria became Queen just after her eighteenth birthday. Later still there was a provision in regard to the former Prince of Wales.

The Regency Act of 1937 proceeds on a different principle. It is a general Act. It provides for all the cases which it is thought are likely to arise in the future without any special reference to a particular emergency. It provides for three cases. There is the case of the accession of a Sovereign under the age of eighteen years; there is the case of the incapacity of the Sovereign occurring during his or her reign at any time; and there is the case of the absence of the Sovereign from the United Kingdom when Counsellors of State, as I have described, are appointed. The present Bill deals with the third of these cases. As we know from His Majesty's Message, and as I think many of us will feel, there is much to be said for the Heir Apparent or, in this case, the Heiress Presumptive—Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth—being qualified to be a Counsellor of State when she attains, in about six months' time, the age of eighteen. The duties of Counsellors of State are almost entirely formal. They are expressly debarred from dissolving Parliament save by the express authority, communicated to them, of the King, and they are not authorized to grant any rank, title, or dignity of the Peerage. But there is a great deal of necessary work to be done, which is most dutifully and laboriously done, largely in the nature of signing documents. The amendment which is proposed on this head will provide for the Heir Apparent or Presumptive some experience of that sort of work, which is the daily work of the Sovereign, when she attains the age of eighteen. So far your Lordships will warmly sympathize with the proposal.

The other amendment is of this kind. As the Act of 1937 is drawn, one of the Counsellors of State is the wife or husband of the Sovereign, as the case may be. The wife or husband of the Sovereign, together with four other Counsellors, constitute the body of Counsellors of State. That works very well if, for example, the King goes abroad and the Queen stays at home, but if it happens (as it has happened) that the King and Queen go together from the United Kingdom for the purpose of visiting some country outside, then it is obviously inappropriate that at the same time the Queen should be required to act as a Counsellor of State. We therefore propose to amend the law so that the Queen (or the Queen's Consort, as the case may be) shall not be a Counsellor of State except in the case where the individual is staying in the country. These are the two objects of the Bill. I believe they are quite uncontroversial, and that they will commend themselves without any difficulty to all your Lordships. I would only remind you of the terms of the Message we received last month from His Majesty in which he said: The earnest desire of The Queen and myself that our beloved daughter, The Princess Elizabeth, should have every opportunity of gaining experience in the duties which would fall upon her in the event of her accession to the Throne, leads me to recommend that you should take into consideration the amendment of the Act mentioned in such manner as I have described. These are the purposes of the Bill. They will form part of the permanent law in connexion with these matters, in the same way as the Regency Act of 1937 does. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—. (The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I am sure that I am representing the unanimous view of this House when I say that we give our cordial support to the Bill which has been introduced by the noble and learned Viscount, and I am sure that those of your Lordships who, like myself, have had an opportunity of reading this Bill would express sincere appreciation of the clarity of the Lord Chancellor's exposition. I read the Bill three or four time, and I confess I should not have suspected from reading it that it meant what it does.


You have to read the Regency Act of 1937.


It is true I have not read the Regency Act of 1937. For example, if I may make this comment upon the character of the drafting, I read subsection (2A) of Clause 1, on page 2 of the Bill several times. My noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood was expressing his ability to understand what it meant when, I am afraid, we were properly called to order for sotto voce conversation. I am sure the House will feel exceedingly grateful to the Lord Chancellor for his explanation of the Bill. We are all very glad to find that the Bill does what he has told us it will do and, as such, it is a matter that appeals to us as a right and statesmanlike alteration in the law.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Crewe, through temporary indisposition, I desire to say on behalf of these who sit in this quarter of the House that we entirely support the measure so lucidly explained by the Lord Chancellor. Having read the Bill I, in common with Lord Addison, was a little bit puzzled by one or two aspects until the noble and learned Viscount made his explanation. We should all wish to support the amendment made in the case of the Consort of the Sovereign when both are abroad at the same time. We also rejoice in a measure which will give experience to the gracious young lady who is now the Heiress Presumptive to the Throne, and I am sure we should all wish to support the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.