HL Deb 11 February 1952 vol 174 cc1074-85

2.8 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to thank Her Majesty for the gracious Message which the Lord Chancellor has read to you and to move an humble Address to the Sovereign, the terms of which I shall now read:

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty:

"To thank Her Majesty for Her Majesty's gracious Message: To convey to Her Majesty the deep sympathy felt by this House in the grievous affliction which Her Majesty has sustained by the death of our late beloved King, Her Majesty's Father, of blessed and glorious memory:

"To assure Her Majesty that the example of selfless public service which our late Sovereign displayed, His untiring endeavours for the welfare of His peoples and His fortitude in adversity will ever be held in reverent, affectionate, and grateful remembrance: and

"To express to Her Majesty our loyal devotion to Her Majesty's Royal Person, and our firm conviction that, under the blessing of Divine Providence, Her Majesty will, throughout Her Reign, further the happiness and protect the liberties of all Her peoples."

My Lords, I suggest that it may be convenient for the House to consider at the same time two further Motions, to send Messages of Condolence to Her Majesty the Queen Mother and to Her Majesty Queen Mary, which I propose subsequently to move in the following terms:

"That a Message of Condolence be conveyed to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother:

"Tendering to Her Majesty the deep sympathy of this House in Her bereavement;

"Assuring Her Majesty that this House shares Her sorrow in the irreparable loss which Her Majesty and the nation have sustained by the death of our beloved King, Her Husband; and

"Expressing to Her Majesty the reverence and affection in which Her Majesty will ever be held by this House."

"That a Message of Condolence be conveyed to Her Majesty Queen Mary:

"Assuring Her Majesty of the deep and loyal affection of this House: and

"Expressing to Her Majesty the heartfelt sympathy of its members in the grievous loss which Her Majesty and the nation have suffered by the death of our late beloved King, Her son."

My Lords, with the passage of centuries, the position of the Sovereign in this country has greatly changed. He has ceased to be an absolute Monarch. He has surrendered, one after another, his main executive duties, which are nowadays performed for him by his Ministers, under whose advice he acts. By doing so he has become what is known as a Constitutional Monarch. But though by this evolution the actual powers of the Monarchy have been diminished, the influence which it can and does exert has, I believe, been maintained and, indeed, sensibly enhanced. The recognition that the Crown is above the storms and stresses of politics gives it a monumental strength which it did not possess before. It has become, in very fact, what its name implies—the Crown not only of our own national edifice but of the whole Commonwealth and Empire. That vast family of States and territories extends to every quarter of the globe. It includes peoples of every race, religion and colour, at every stage of development. Those peoples, so widely different in all other respects, are at one in this, their loyalty and respect for the Crown. It is that—and it may be truly said that alone—that holds them together. But such a position can, of course, be maintained only if the Monarch himself, by his personal life and the example which he sets, is worthy to occupy it; otherwise the whole structure will crumble away.

The responsibility that rests upon the Sovereign is indeed an immeasurable one. We in this country, during the last century, have been singularly fortunate in this respect. For over a hundred years we have been blessed with a succession of Monarchs who, by their personality and sense of public duty, have won the affection and the profound respect of their peoples. And in this long succession of noble Kings and Queens, King George VI, whom we mourn to-day, stands very high. In his own person, quiet, unassuming and humble, he yet showed more and more as the years went by, the pre-eminent qualities of a great Constitutional King. He was utterly devoted to the happiness and the welfare of his people. To these he dedicated his whole life. He rejoiced with them in their joys; he mourned with them in their sorrows. When the great test of the war came, so soon after his sudden and unexpected accession to the Throne, he showed himself entirely equal to it. With the advent of each new tribulation his stature grew and grew. Quietly, unostentatiously, he won his way into the hearts of his people.

He did not do this by any display of pomp or power. I imagine that no man ever valued less the outward trappings of royalty. He did it by bringing into his subjects' lives the serenity and brightness which irradiated his own. He and his Queen were the embodiment of happiness. Wherever they went, to the great functions of State, to the humble homes, to the hospitals, they brought a warm glow of happiness with them. It surrounded them like an aura. Even in the last years and months of his life, when his health was failing and pain and weariness came upon him, no word of complaint passed his lips. He faced whatever the future might bring, unconcerned and even gay to the last. That, my Lords, is courage of no mean order; it is, indeed, the highest courage. It is the spirit conquering the infirmities of the body. It was that simple faith and that high courage that, above all, won the love of his people and made him not only their ruler, but their own dear friend. The grief that we feel to-day has nothing formal about it; it is actual and real. Whether we knew him personally or not, we all feel that something kind and good has gone out of our lives. There can be few Kings of which that could be so truly said. My Lords, he has gone; but he leaves behind him a sorrowing nation.

To-day, our thoughts go out to the members of his Royal Family, so suddenly and so cruelly bereaved. We think above all of his widow, the Queen Mother, who trod with him so radiantly the way of life and who will for ever be linked with him in our hearts. We think, too, of his mother, Her Majesty Queen Mary, who, with his Royal father, handed down to him the great tradition of public service which he so splendidly upheld; of his younger daughter, our beloved Princess Margaret, and, finally, of the young Queen, who, so early in the springtime of her life, is called upon to assume the heavy responsibilities of government. To all of these I tender, my Lords, on your behalf, with our humble duty, our loyal and devoted sympathy. Her Majesty has already, at this solemn moment, shown that the destiny of the Monarchy is safe in her hands. She has, by the gracious Message that has been read to you by the Lord Chancellor, dedicated herself to the service of her country. To-day, with full hearts, we dedicate ourselves to hers. May God bless her and keep her! My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty:

To thank Her Majesty for Her Majesty's Gracious Message: To convey to Her Majesty the deep sympathy felt by this House in the grievous affliction which Her Majesty has sustained by the death of our late beloved King, Her Majesty's Father, of blessed and glorious memory:

To assure Her Majesty that the example of selfless public service which our late Sovereign displayed, His untiring endeavours for the welfare of His peoples and His fortitude in adversity will ever be held in reverent, affectionate, and grateful remembrance: and

To express to Her Majesty our loyal devotion to Her Majesty's Royal Person, and our firm conviction that, under the blessing of Divine Providence, Her Majesty will, throughout Her Reign, further the happiness and protect the liberties of all Her peoples.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, it is difficult for me to add anything to the fine tribute which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has paid. Yet it is fitting that I should identify those who sit on this side of the House with that which has been so well and truly said. But, in truth, on an occasion such as this, there are no sides to this House. The Monarchy is an institution which belongs to no Party. It is our common heritage. It rests far above the strains and stresses of domestic controversy. It emphasises the underlying unity of all the peoples of this country. My Lords, for that very reason, how much depends on the example which the Sovereign sets to all his people! We can, indeed, all join in thanking Almighty God for the life and example given to us all by the dearly loved Sovereign whose death we mourn to-day.

Never in our long history has a Sovereign, throughout his reign, been faced with greater or more continuous difficulties, or greater and more continuous anxieties. He succeeded to the Throne in unprecedented circumstances. After but a short time, he and his people were engaged in a most grievous war which threatened the very existence of our country and our Commonwealth. My Lords, we remember with grateful pride the example of fortitude and resolution which he set before us during the darkest days of that war, when he shared the experiences of his subjects in London. When, at long last, the war was over, this country found itself faced with immense problems and immense difficulties which, in their turn, called for a like fortitude and resolution. His late Majesty never failed us. He inherited a great tradition from his father, and those of us who are old enough to have served as Ministers of King George V can pay him no higher tribute than to say that his son, King George VI, notwithstanding all the difficulties confronting him, fully and amply preserved the traditions which he had received.

Our thoughts and our sympathies to-day go out to his mother, whose place is for ever enshrined in the happy memories of our countrymen. They go out in full measure to that gracious lady, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who shared with him the anxieties of the age, sustained him in his trials, and supported him in all his endeavours. Their highest happiness, and the reward which they would most value, is to be found in the affectionate loyalty and love which all their peoples feel towards them. Just as we share with them in the sorrow and sadness of this time, so also we can share in their just pride in the fulfilment of a life of service so unsparingly given.

To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II we would tender our respectful and our affectionate homage. We are confident that under her our ancient traditions will continue, for she has already shown that her life is dedicated to the wellbeing of her peoples. It is, I fear, inevitable that the life of the Sovereign must be in some sense a lonely life. We must be thankful that she has by her side her Consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, who has so completely identified himself with the people of this country and with their way of life, and who has won for himself such respect and affection from all those many people who have been privileged to meet him.

My Lords, we can assure Her Majesty that whatever differences may divide us, we shall ever remain united in tendering to her our loyal, our dutiful and our devoted service. We pray that she may long be spared to reign over us.

2.28 p.m.


My Lords, I rise in accordance with long precedent to express on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, our support of the Motion that is now before the House. In all the many tributes that have been paid from all quarters to His late Majesty King George VI, tributes sincere, simple and moving, due emphasis has been laid upon the character of the King as a man, as the head of a family happily united, as a man with personal virtues that are an example for the emulation of all. Here to-day, in this House of Parliament, it is right that we should think also of him as a Sovereign, as the central figure in the State, his character and influence an important factor in shaping the course of public affairs.

His reign fell in a seething time, crowded from beginning to end with momentous events. History cannot fail, I think, to lay stress, in particular, upon three of those events. First, necessarily, the war, deadly and destructive, facing us in this Island with even greater peril than existed at the time when the Spanish Armada was approaching these shores, or when the Army of Napoleon was standing at Boulogne. Secondly, we have seen the British Empire of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries changing before our eyes in the 20th Century, into a Commonwealth of fully self-governing States, surely one of the major events in the history of the modern world. The third event—I state a fact with no touch of controversy, but a fact of the first significance in our domestic affairs—was the advent to effective power, for the first time, of a Labour Government, carrying a stage further that re-shaping of the framework of our society which has been so marked a feature of the present century. Any one of these events, or all three of them, might have led to situations in which the nation would have been cleft from top to bottom, perhaps with political upheavals and lasting antagonisms.

That has not happened; the main current of British history flows on, almost unperturbed. It has not happened, because of the sturdy strength of our Constitution, with the Monarchy at its centre. It has not happened, also, because of the character of the King who has been upon the Throne. Two men—the present Prime Minister and his predecessor—who can speak with greater knowledge than any others upon that subject, have borne witness to the painstaking care with which King George arrived at his decisions and the soundness of his judgment. And it is that which matters most of all. What is needed in a constitutional Monarch is not brilliance, or mere cleverness, or eloquence, but sincere good will and sound common sense. What is needed is that most valuable of all gifts—that when a choice of conduct and action has to be made, the choice shall be the one that proves to be right and not the choice that proves to be wrong. King George had that great quality, and it was that, more than all else, which brought success to his tenure of the Throne.

Never were that good will and that sound judgment more beneficially shown than at the critical and dangerous moment when the future relations of this country and India were in the balance. Among the messages received from overseas, perhaps the most significant was that from the Indian Prime Minister. Before bringing my observations to a close, I would venture to remind your Lordships of its salient sentences: During the last few years, Mr. Nehru has written, when the relationship between England and India took a new turn and was based on friendship and free association, I know that His Majesty played a considerable part in these developments which have done so much credit to both England and India and to the cause of peace. I was impressed by his thoughtfulness and understanding of us and our position, and we welcomed him most willingly as Head of the Commonwealth. There, indeed, His late Majesty rendered great service.

King George was fortunate in having at his side wise and loving counsellors—the Queen, now widowed, who gave him that support and companionship that only a wife can give; the Queen Mary, distinguished all through her life for clear vision and prudent judgment. So, also, we feel sure that Queen Elizabeth, coming so young to responsibilities so arduous, will find through her happy marriage, most welcome to the nation, the support of a Consort who has already won in marked degree the respect and confidence of all who know him. Setting out on the great undertaking to which her destiny commits her, the Queen, upheld by the loyalty and affection of all her subjects, will find nowhere, at home or overseas, among the people or in the Councils of the State, a more heartfelt loyalty or a more sincere affection than here in your Lordships' House of Parliament.

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Rosebery, I rise to add to the tributes already paid so ably by other members of your Lordships' House to our beloved King. Looking back on his splendid life, one cannot fail to be profoundly impressed by the undoubted fact that both in peace and in war there was no aspect of British life which did not enlist his personal interest and his sympathetic understanding. Much has been said about his devotion to duty. This was so; indeed, his deep and true affection for his people enabled him to carry out his stupendous task. There was depicted in him all the greatest qualities of our race—superb courage, endurance and a determination to overcome any difficulties that came his way, as was so clearly shown during the many weary months of suffering in his illness. His death means to us not only the loss of our beloved King, but the loss of a true friend, which perhaps may help us to understand in some measure how great a sorrow has come to his family, especially to the Queen Mother and to his mother, Queen Mary. He strove for unity within the Commonwealth and Empire, and for peace in the world. May God rest his noble soul and bless his devoted daughter, our beloved Queen!

Your Lordships will remember that inspiring broadcast of Her Majesty the Queen on her twenty-first birthday. I will read a concluding passage: I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do. My Lords, now is the great opportunity for us all to respond to that gracious appeal, thereby setting up a living memorial to her great father, and to do all in our power to lighten the tremendous burden that has been set upon her shoulders so early in life. I most sincerely and deeply support the Motion so ably moved by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House.

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, in the unavoidable absence, through illness, of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, I am rising to give expression to the profound sorrow which we on these Benches feel at the death of the King, and of our deep sympathy for the three Queens, daughter, wife and mother, and the other members of the Royal Family in their most grievous loss. For over a thousand years the Church of England has had the closest association with the Kings of England. Though in that long period there have been inevitable changes in the form of that relationship, successive Kings have continued to take both an official and a personal interest in the affairs of the Church, while the Church, day by day, has uttered its prayers for the welfare of both King and State. George VI showed repeatedly that he had a real interest in the concerns of the Church, and every Sunday, unless unavoidably prevented, he took part in its public worship. He had a simple but strong faith. This, I think, was shown by the way in which he not only authorised but often took the initiative in calling for days of National Prayer when there was special cause for national anxiety.

I should like for a moment to stress the active interest which the King always took in the industrial and social conditions under which so many of his subjects lived and worked. When Duke of York he made himself familiar, both by study and by actual visits, with the conditions of work in many shipyards and factories. Some twenty-five years ago, a man who was a recognised authority on these matters told me that the Duke of York had gained a most remarkable knowledge of questions concerning work in the industries of the country. This knowledge was deepened by his most successful Boys' Camps, in which he always took a most active and personal interest. These camps gave many a holiday which otherwise would have been impossible, and at the same time enabled boys from different schools and social surroundings to meet, to discuss and to play together. When the King ascended the Throne he was not widely known, but as he became known better he not only won the respect and admiration of his subjects for his great sense of duty and personal courage but, through his kindness and sympathy, his zest of life and his simple directness, he won, also, their abiding affection.

In the new Queen he has bequeathed us a rich possession. I have been present at various moving occasions in public life, but I have never felt more moved than I was last Friday when the Queen, for the first time, met her Privy Council, consisting of Elder Statesmen, all much older than herself. Youthful and alone, she stood at the table to address them. It must have been to her a trying ordeal, so soon after her Accession. But she spoke so clearly and directly, and showed such great possession, such modesty and simple dignity, that I am certain all who were present went away with the knowledge that the Queen had not only charm but the other and greater qualities necessary for her high position. We went away with the determination to do everything in our power to serve and to help her. We render her our homage, and with all our hearts we pray that she may have a long reign, happy and glorious.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, manifold and eloquent and heartfelt have been the tributes paid to-day to our Sovereign Lord King George VI, who has been taken from us. Yet, with your Lordships' permission, I would, as Lord Chancellor and head of the Judiciary of this Realm, add a few words, dwelling on a single aspect of that life of Royal duty which has not yet been mentioned.

I suppose that to all of us it happens from time to time that old and familiar things, so old that their meaning, perhaps, is forgotten and they are taken for granted—it may be a line of poetry a verse from the Psalms, a familiar scene or figure—such things as these will, in an hour of deep emotion, suddenly be illumined with a new light, and an inner sense or beauty stands revealed. So it is for me, as I dwell upon certain words and phrases familiar to me in the law from my youth up. We speak of "The King's Peace"—what a noble conception is there! To be within the King's Peace, to lie within the protection of the King's strong arm, and to be sure of his justice. We speak, too, of "The King's Justice," and of "The Royal Courts of Justice." In grave words we address a jury: You shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our Sovereign Lord the King and the prisoner at the bar … So, too, the Judge, when he takes his solemn Judicial Oath, swears that he will well and truly serve his Sovereign Lord the King. It is by these familiar words, unthinkingly, unconsciously, used in the common order of life, that we bear testimony to the truth that the King, under God, is the source, the fountain, of justice. It is he who, under the law, embodies the Rule of Law by which we live.

So, my Lords, I thought it right, in virtue of that office of which I have spoken, to add my voice to that of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and the most reverend Primate, who have spoken of the part the King has played as King and as Defender of the Faith. For in the due administration of justice he took a close and abiding interest. It was part of his nature to be zealous that to all men, and in all things, justice should be done. As he was the fountain of justice, so he was just; and as the prerogative of mercy was his, so was he merciful. What man, be he King or peasant, shall want any other epitaph than this: He was a just man and a merciful one, and those who served him loved him well."? But, my Lords, that is not all; that is not the end. The King is dead, and the nation's head is bowed in grief, and in humble thanksgiving, too, for the life of service that he gave; and our hearts go out in sympathy to our gracious Queen, to the Queen Mother, to Queen Mary, and to all the members of the Royal Family. But that is not the end. The King is dead; the Queen reigns: and we, the judges of this Realm, who swore an oath to her Royal father, renew that oath to-day: that, each in his office, we will well and truly serve our most gracious Sovereign Lady the Queen. So help us God!

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