HL Deb 28 October 1952 vol 178 cc1053-5

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, before your Lordships proceed further yith your debate on the noble Lord's Motion, I should like to ask the leave of the House to interrupt business in order to make a statement on behalf of Her Majesty's Government similar to one that is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the subject of television in Westminster Abbey on the occasion of the Coronation.

Your Lordships will, I am sure, understand that there are many points connected with the Coronation of which the Prime Minister or the Cabinet are by no means the sole judges. According to precedent and custom, the arrangements are made by the Coronation Corn-mission, which contains representatives of the Commonwealth countries, of all political Pasties in the United Kingdom, and various high functionaries. including the Earl Marshal, who has special hereditary duties. The Chairman is the Duke of Edinburgh. Her Majesty's Government cannot, therefore, accept direct or undue responsibility for the conclusions which are reached, after much careful thought, and which, while preserving the traditions of our ancient Monarchy, have no aim but the public welfare and happiness in the many realms owing allegiance to the Crown.

In principle, all valid proposals are discussed by the Coronation Joint Committee, presided over by the Earl Marshal. It is not practicable for all the members of the Commission to be members of this Committee, but all are consulted, in the sense that they are informed of what the Committee are proposing, and have full opportunity to make comments, before the conclusions are ratified by the Coronation Commission. In the case of the announcement made last week, no comments or dissent had been received from any of the members of the Commission, who had been asked to make any such observations before, July 21. It is not, therefore, correct to say that the Commission was not consulted on the announcement, which was made in due course by the Earl Marshal.

However, matters of this complex character, with many novel features, may well be reviewed as the event approaches. There is, the Government feel, a broad general opinion, in this country at least—though, as I have said, we accept no personal responsibility for pronouncing—that fuller advantage should be taken of the modern mechanical arrangements now available through television, to enable the many millions of people outside the Abbey to see what is seen by the congregation of notables inside the Abbey. I am speaking of the general congregation and not, of course, of What is seen by the high ecclesiastical dignitaries and State functionaries, whose duties require them to be close to the Sovereign. It is our hope that it will prove possible in practice to carry into effect the principle that the world should see and hear what the congregation in the Abbey see and hear. But the detailed arrangements will involve highly complicated technical problems which may in themselves raise new issues of principle. Certainly it would be unfitting that the whole ceremony, not only in its secular but also in its religious and spiritual aspects, should be presented as if it were a theatrical performance.

The Government feel that it would be for the public advantage if the Coronation Commission were to consider any new report which later knowledge and study permit. the Earl Marshal's Committee to make to them. More than that we are not entitled to say this afternoon. Indeed, it would not be in the public interest that Parliament should become an active debating centre for issues of this character. Above all, it should be made clear that the responsibility rests collectively with the Coronation Commission, one of whose duties it is to ensure that the Queen herself is not brought into any form of controversy on the many points about which it is inevitable that opinions should differ.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble Leader, I should like to express my thanks, and the thanks of my colleagues on this side of the House, to the noble Marquess for making the statement which he has just made to your Lordships. I think we shall be content to leave this matter in the hands of the very representative Coronation Commission and the Earl Marshal's Committee. At the same time, I am sure they will consider the desire of millions of people to participate in some way, by seeing the ceremony or by expressing their loyalty to Her Majesty on an occasion such as this.


My Lords, the noble Marquess will perhaps be aware that there is some dissatisfaction at the slowness in making certain announcements which affect a great many people, and I do not know whether it is possible for him to make representations in this matter. I refer to the question of dress for those taking part, and also the latest idea that has been canvassed, that the announced route should be altered or lengthened. A good deal has appeared in the newspapers about that matter. These are things which, as I am sure the noble Marquess understands, should be made known as soon as possible, and in which delay may lead to a great deal of inconvenience. I do not know how much of these matters are within his prerogative or the responsibility of the Government, but I believe that it would be convenient for a good many people if, above all, we could hasten announcements on important matters.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I am fully aware of the points which he has raised, and I know that the authorities are also aware of them. I am quite certain that there will be no more delay than can be helped, and, indeed, I hope that on many of these points which the noble Lord has raised it will be possible to make an announcement at a fairly early date.