Orders of the Day — Princess Elizabeth's and Duke of Edinburgh's Annuities Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th January 1948.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 20th January 1948

I differ entirely from the views expressed by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). There is no more remarkable phenomenon that that of an extreme revolutionary or ex-revolutionary turned into one who makes conventional and respectable speeches. That description applies not only to the hon. Member for Rugby but also to right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench who are now advocating in this Bill exactly the opposite opinion to that which they expressed in 1937. I listened with very great respect to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the previous Debate, and I have had time to reflect upon the arguments he brought forward on that occasion. He was, I believe, in a somewhat romantic and sentimental mood. I should have thought that he would have got over that during the Christmas Recess. There were no new arguments brought forward to support the flimsy case which resulted in the Select Committee's recommendations being carried by this House—and carried not with th2 votes of the Labour Party, but by the Tory Members of this House. I say that the Chancellor and those who support him would not dare go to a Labour Party conference, or to the rank and file of their constituents, and talk in the manner in which they talked in supporting these proposals in this House.

The Chancellor talked to us today about the full information which was given to the Select Committee. Those of us who are private Members of this House have had no access to the information which was placed before the Committee. It is the most condensed and abbreviated document, which gives us none of the information relevant to enable us to make up our minds upon this issue. There were no indiscretions committed by the Members of the Select Committee. When I asked some of them as to the facts and figures they were as reticent as oysters. We still do not know, those of us who are ordinary Members of this House, the relevant facts and figures which we must know before we can decide whether we can vote for this Bill or not. I put a Question to the Minister of Labour recently, and asked him if he could tell us how many insurable workers are employed at the Palace of Westminster, and his reply was: This information is not separately recorded, and I do not propose to make special inquiries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT: 4th December, 1947; Vol. 33, c. 577.] Then he looked reproachfully at me over his spectacles as though I had asked an indecent question.

We have heard a lot about iron curtains during the last few years. I fail to see why there should be an iron curtain surrounding Buckingham Palace, or why we should not have the fullest possible information on the items of expenditure we are called upon to consider before we can make up our minds on this question. We have to have recourse to the papers. I see a report in one very well circulated paper to the effect that there is a Comptroller of the Household, that there is a private secretary, that there are butlers and footmen and chefs, and that there is a very large retinue to be supported from public funds. I say—and I have taken the trouble to get the opinion of my constituents on this matter—that this is not a Bill which should be brought forward in a time of austerity; that the £15,000 which is allowed to Her Royal Highness is sufficient for the time being, as long as we have an economic crisis, and that when we come out of the economic crisis it will be time to consider any increases. After all, plain and simple people assess these things in a very simple way. The old age pensioners in my constituency have said that there is no reason why this should have priority over their claims. I have discussed this matter in Scotland and in South Wales with men who are living on a low standard of income and suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis.

I want to know why it is impossible in these days for dignity to be upheld in a decent, respectable way on £15,000 a year. I maintain that we are not entitled to give an extra brass farthing on this occasion, and that it is possible for a party representative of democracy in this country to take up this view on this particular occasion. Of course, we do not wish any ill will to the Princess. We wish her joy. We wish to both the Princess and the Duke of Edinburgh the utmost happiness. But is it necessary to have a huge income in order to maintain dignity? Is it not possible to live quite happily on £15,000 a year? We have been reading recently, those of us who read the Sunday papers, of a previous monarch; and I must confess that I have read the articles with a great deal of sympathy and sadness—about the routine, and the education of the Duke of Windsor. If the Duke of Windsor had been compelled to live on £15,000 a year I believe he would have been happier. I do suggest that the education of the Princess would be richer, for she would understand the lives of the common people and the women of this country better, if she were to take her place along with the women queueing up—for their potato rations, for instance. There is nothing undignified in that. I maintain that if the Monarchy in this country is to exist, it should know the minds and the lives of the people of this country.

Those of us who see it in this way are more in touch with what ordinary people are thinking—the miners, fishermen and farmers—than the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). After all, it is his Motion we are being called upon to support by our votes to-day. It is not a Motion which came from the Labour Party's Members. It is the Motion of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities that he sponsored in the Committee. I am not going to take my leadership on any of these social questions from the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities, who came to this House recently and suggested that we should delay our consideration of the claims of the old age pensioners. As for his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, he is already occupying a position under the Crown. According to the "Scotsman" newspaper, he is in receipt of £15 2s. 2d. per week. That is a quite substantial sum from the point of view of the average wage earner—the miner, the farmworker, and the fishermen.

I feel that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have made a mistake in attaching the Duke of Edinburgh to one of the military Ministries. The Duke of Wellington, a former Prime Minister, and an authority on military affairs—[Laughter.] I am rather sur- prised that Conservative Members should laugh about the Duke of Wellington. He expressed the point of view that the military profession was a "damnable profession"—and he ought to have known. I wish the Duke of Edinburgh had been attached to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. [Laughter.] Why laugh? Field Marshal Montgomery has described coal-mining as an honourable profession, and I know nothing that would increase the popularity of the Duke of Edinburgh more than if he went to Scotland or to South Wales and attempted to dig up coal.

These are the views of men in the mines and on the land and in the workshops, and they should be expressed in this House by voice and by Division. I hope we shall divide against this Bill. I ask even at this late moment that the Government should consider again that we have our traditions, and that they are the democratic traditions of Keir Hardie, who stood in this House and protested against the extravagant sums granted to Royalty in his time. I hope we shall go into the Division Lobby and force the Government to withdraw this Bill even at this late moment, in order to express the views of the common people of this country.