Clause 6. — (Provision for Widow of the Duke of Cornwall.)

Orders of the Day — Civil List Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd July 1952.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Mr James Carmichael Mr James Carmichael , Glasgow Bridgeton

I cannot understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer pressing a Clause of this kind. It reads: In the event of the death during the present reign of the Duke of Cornwall for the time being leaving a widow, there shall be paid to her during her life the yearly sum of thirty thousand pounds, to commence from the date of his death. As I said in an earlier debate on this issue, the Duke of Cornwall is three years of age; we are living in the year 1952, and with the ordinary span of life of three score years and ten I hope that the Duke will live at least for 67 years. This Government regard themselves as the most intelligent Government we have ever had; but they are the only people who believe that, although they are not prepared to put it to the test.

The fact is that they are preparing a pension for the widow of a boy of three years of age, yet the Government regards themselves as an intelligent Government. It is putting down in plain English the sum of £30,000 because of the serious worry there might be, and the difficulties, for a person who may not be born yet. I am not arguing about the sum of money the widow ought to get; but I think it is treating future Governments with contempt that the present Government should be deciding the pension for the widow of a boy of three years old. Surely there is justification for leaving out a Clause of this kind. Surely we have some faith in the people who will govern in the future. Why be so early in dealing with this subject? This may take us to the year 2,000. There is not an hon. Member sitting on either side of this Committee who will be known then.

I do not want to go into the question of immortality. All I am saying is that by the year 2,000, not even the hon. Member for Croydon, East, who regards himself as one of the great pillars of Parliamentary Government, will be known. Therefore, I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us some reason why the Select Committee was so anxious to insert this Clause into the Bill. We have a right to legislate for a reasonable period; but it is wrong to bring in Measures and, in a few years, to have to amend them. We are entitled to look ahead for 10 years, perhaps, in this case, for 20 years; but to be preparing a pension for the widow of a boy of three years old is, I think, carrying legislation to extremes.

Is the Chancellor afraid that future Governments will neglect a situation of this kind, should it arise? If that be the case, it is a terrible condemnation of the future. I am satisfied that the Chancellor does not believe that. I am satisfied the Chancellor believes, as all intelligent men believe, that in the general process of Government the children of the future will be able to govern much better than the people of the past because of the great experience and knowledge they gain. I therefore ask him, quite sincerely, why it was necessary to introduce this Clause at this stage for a boy of three.

12 midnight.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The general decision of the Select Committee upon which the legislation was based was that the Civil List should last for the period of the reign, and that we should therefore look far ahead. This is the most extreme example in the Bill which carries into legislative effect this looking far ahead, and to that extent, as I said before, the hon. Gentleman has a point which is worthy of being answered. It is possible that if the Duke of Cornwall marries comparatively young and his widow predeceases him owing to some unfortunate accident—

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

How can his widow predecease him?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

If the Duke of Cornwall marries young and he predeceases his wife, a contingency would arise which would mean that a very considerable financial provision might be necessary, which would upset the calculations the Committee have endeavoured to make. It is with a view to looking ahead to meet that sort of contingency that this provision has been put in, and I sincerely recommend the Committee to retain it. As the hon. Gentleman has said, this may never arise, in which case we need not, to use the Scottish word which fell from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), fash ourselves too much tonight. But if the contingency were to arise, then we should have been wise to have inserted it. It is for that reason, not for merely one side of the Committee but, I think, to meet the view taken by at any rate a large number of the Select Committee, that we have included this provision.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the view of the majority of the Select Committee, would he also take into account that this proposal would have been governed by a proposal made by a minority of the Select Committee that there should be a review of this matter every 10 years, and that if that proposal of the minority of the Select Committee had been approved at an earlier part of the proceedings it would have governed this proposal?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I appeal to the Chancellor to look at this Clause again with a view to redrafting it before the Report stage, because in the Select Committee there was a very considerable minority against this proposal. I believe that there is a body of opinion in this Committee which, while it has not supported us on other matters, is inclined to agree with us on this. Are we not thinking too far ahead in considering the possible wife of this young boy of three? Suppose he decides to marry a widow with six children? What will be the position then? Are we not piling up burdens upon posterity?

In the year 2000 a Chancellor might come along and say, "Well, I justify this by something that a Chancellor said five minutes after midnight when the Committee was too tired, and when the Chancellor was obviously getting a little mixed up himself." Who knows what might happen in the future. Suppose this young royal personage decides to do an inverted Seretse Khama and marries a black woman? It would not upset me, but it might upset a future Archbishop of Canterbury.

I suggest that all these are exigencies which might be taken into consideration, and it is really fantastic for us to be planning so far ahead when we are so short-sighted about other things. I appeal to the Chancellor to give us some small concession, because he has given us nothing yet.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West

I had not intended to intervene. I take the view that the Select Committee had studied the matter and reported, and I was prepared to accept their proposals. But some of the unctuous observations made from the other side in the last half hour have disturbed me not a little, and so have one or two of those made from this side.

The proposal in this Clause is that the lady whom the Duke of Cornwall marries shall be entitled to £30,000 a year after his death, for life, wherever she lives, whatever her health may be, and whatever she is doing. It really is quite nonsense for the Government to utter protests to observations made, and courageously made, by some of my hon. Friends, when we all know, in fact, that the previous Duke of Cornwall's wife is not allowed in the country at all and she does not get any money. So far as I know he is very happily married.

It is nonsense to say we cannot postulate the remote possibility, which we all deplore, of some other form of trouble coming. All of us admire very much the very decent home life of the Royal Family over the last 30 or 40 years. All of us value that, and all believe it is one of the great assets they have in the hearts of the people.

But when we get a sort of comment that it is lese-majesty for my hon. Friends to suggest that the Royal Family have matrimonial difficulties one must remember the example, immediately preceding, of the Duke of Cornwall's wife—he married, at any rate, as Prince of Wales—not even being allowed at his Coronation. [Interruption.] Yes, George IV. I believe he did enter into bonds of matrimony at a time when it was necessary to provide an heir to the Crown, and he had 20 illegitimate children to the lady to whom he was devoted with a devotion that never failed. I am told I am a little in error, and I am quite prepared to say I have complimented him too much on his physical powers.

What is the reason given for this proposition? The reason is that members of the Royal Family have to maintain a large staff. I suggest that that large staff is engaged in duties that the Royal Family themselves would be very glad to be relieved of. When I hear it said that some of them are working at low salaries and are due for a rise, I say it is a well-known fact that half the trouble between the Royal Family and the House of Commons, or rather the people, has been caused by the fact that many of their staff are die-hard Conservatives of the most bone-headed and Colonel Blimp type. Some of the decisions made recently show that, and it is time somebody said it. Meanwhile, some of those who work in this House of Commons, the secretaries of members, are still trying to get a minimum wage of £7 a week. My colleague, the former Member for Oldham, East, who broke his health in this House, is living in poverty on practically no income at all.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon East

What has that to do with it?

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West

The hon. Member for Croydon, East wants to know what this has to do with it. May I tell him?

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon East

I do not see why the matter should be brought into this discussion if the hon. Member underpays his secretary, which is apparently his allegation.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West

I am obliged for that intervention. I always welcome the hon. Gentleman's interventions, because they are exceedingly helpful to the argument being put from the other side. The intervention was made in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), when it was said that that Members of Parliament get some expenses without paying tax upon them.

It is rather interesting that at the moment when the Government are trying to pass a Clause to pay £30,000 a year to an hypothetical lady, wherever she may be living and whatever the state of her health, in the event of an event happening which may never happen, the announcement is made today that it is impossible for the Government to consider making any increase in the salaries of Members of this Committee who have to provide their staff out of their salaries and to provide all their postages and their living expenses in London, when some of them never take a meal in the Dining Room but live on cheap snacks in the tea room.

I should not have intervened but for some of the cheap gibes addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), who spoke with such courage. I represent a constituency with widespread unemployment, to which I should be very glad if Ministers on the Front Bench opposite would pay some attention. When the Civil List was last discussed some years ago I did not get one letter about it. On this occasion I have had many letters.

I have discussed the matter in my constituency with two widely representative discussion groups. I have had nothing but protest in the letters. I do not say that there were many or that I attribute too much importance to them, but there is ample evidence that there is real disquiet about these proposals being made at a time when everybody else is being asked to tighten their belts and to suffer.

I would say to the Chancellor that this is the one Clause in the Bill which could be withdrawn at once without doing the slightest harm to anybody. An hon. Gentleman opposite says that nothing would be saved. That is the incredible Tory mind. Nothing would be saved in terms of money—do not let us worry about principle.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon East

What about the hon. Member's secretary's salary.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West

The hon. Member has now reached the stage when he is so discourteous that he addresses me across the Floor without rising to his feet. That is not discourtesy to me, Sir Charles, but discourtesy to you.

The Chancellor put his case temperately, moderately and persuasively, and he emphasised time after time the largeness of the establishment which royal personages have to keep, the necessity for staff and so on. I perform a great many public duties, I partake in the debates in the House from time to time and I have to try to prepare myself for them., I represent a large urban constituency and I sit on a number of committees, and all I can afford is one secretary, at the minimum trade union rates, to try to carry out the whole of these vast duties.

It seems to me nonsense to say that this lady who may be living abroad, and very probably may return to the country from which she came, will necessarily need a staff which will cost her something like £25,000 a year or £500 a week. I suggest that there is every reason for reconsidering this Clause. I hope that the Chancellor will look at the matter again.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 7 and 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.