Tuesday, February 19, 2013



HL Deb 25 May 1830 vol 24 cc1062-70
The Order of the Day for taking into consideration his Majesty's Message was then read.
The Message was then read by the clerk, [see the debates of May 24.]
The Lord Chancellor
rose and said, that he presented himself to their Lordships, in consequence of the notice given yesterday by the noble Duke at the head of the Government, in conformity with the recommendation and suggestion contained in his Majesty's most gracious Message, to state the nature and outline of the measure which it was the intention of his Majesty's Ministers to propose to the House for their adoption, in order to give effect to the royal wish. He deeply lamented the occasion which called for that measure, and in the expression of that feeling he was sure he carried with him the sympathies of their Lordships, as he did those of every individual throughout this loyal nation. He was thoroughly and deeply sensible of the delicate and difficult nature of the measure which he had to submit to their Lordships. It was of the utmost importance, as the necessity of the case required that some measure should be adopted for carrying his Majesty's wishes into effect. At the same time the measure must be adopted in such a shape and form as not to occasion any detriment to the public service. He felt deeply the importance of the recommendation offered by the noble Earl (Grey) who took part in the conversation last night, that with respect to a measure of that description, their Lordships should look not merely at present men and present circumstances, but should also take care that they did not establish a precedent which, under men of a different character and in bad times, might possibly lead to public inconvenience and danger. It was perfectly obvious that for the purpose of remedying the inconvenience arising from the impossibility of obtaining the personal signature of his Majesty two modes might be adopted. One was, that some other person or persons should, in the presence of his Majesty and by his command, subscribe his Majesty's name by his express and immediate authority. The other mode was, that some individual or individuals should, by a stamp prepared for the purpose, and bearing the impress of the royal sign affix that stamp for the purpose of expressing his Majesty's signature in his presence and by his immediate and express command. With respect to the latter mode, he was able to inform their Lordships that it had been adopted at different periods in the history of this country. What he stated did not depend on loose testimony, but rested on the evidence of authentic documents, which remained unimpaired in a public institution. The earliest document to which he would refer, because it appeared to be the most material and important, was a patent in the reign of Henry 8th. That patent was at present in a perfect state in the British Museum. It appeared by that document, under the Great Seal, that Henry 8th gave power to certain persons therein named, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Lords and other members of the Privy Seal, or any six of them, to affix, from time to time, a stamp, bearing the impress of the royal signature, to warrants authorizing the payment of money from the Royal Treasury. That authority was given for a limited time. It was not given in consequence of the indisposition or inability of his Majesty to perform his duty, but merely for the purpose of expedition and public convenience. There were many other instances in the reign of Henry 8th in which the Royal signature was affixed, not in the handwriting of the Sovereign, but by means of a stamp. Amongst these instances, were orders for the mustering and levying of troops, proclamations, letters which required the Royal signature, and other instruments of a similar description. These, to the amount of eight or ten, were now found in a perfect state amongst the different collections in the British Museum. Edward 6th issued two proclamations; one authorizing the levying of troops in the northern part of the island, for the purpose of providing against the incursions of the Scots, and the other was issued in consequence of an insurrection which occurred in some of the eastern counties. To both these proclamations the name of the King was affixed by a stamp, and they were countersigned by the Protector Somerset. In the reign of Queen Mary, also, a proclamation was issued at the period of the insurrection of Sir Thomas Wyatt, calling upon the persons who had taken part in that insurrection to return to their homes, and promising them pardon if they complied with her Majesty's wish within a limited period. An instance of a similar nature occurred at a subsequent period. This instance could not be vouched by the authority of an official document, but it was related by a contemporary writer of great authority and accuracy. This instance occurred in the reign of King William, in the last hour of his life, when he was no longer able to subscribe his name. It was stated that he gave his assent to the appointment of a commission for the purpose of passing into a law two bills which had recently passed both Houses of Parliament,—namely, the bill for securing the Protestant Succession, and the Malt-duty bill. It was said, that the assent of the King was given to the commission by the authority of which the bills were passed into a law, by means of a stamp prepared for the purpose. The author, upon whose authority he stated this fact, was Burnet, a contemporary of William. The fact was stated, not only by Burnet, but by other writers. He had directed his researches most diligently in the Parliament Office. He ascertained that a record of the commission does not exist. He must rely, therefore, upon the contemporary historian—and upon the authority of other writers, also contemporary. In the last year of the reign of Henry 8th, and shortly before his death, the royal signature was affixed to a commission authorizing the Royal assent to be given for the attainder of the Duke of Norfolk. The assent was given by the commission, and the King's signature to the commission was affixed by means of a stamp. That document was still in exis- tence. In the first year of the reign of Mary, a bill was brought into Parliament to declare the attainder of the Duke of Norfolk null and void. The recital of the bill, and one of the grounds on which it was passed, was, that the Royal signature was not annexed to the commission by the Sign Manual, but by a stamp, and that the stamp was not impressed by the hand of the King, but by that of a clerk. The proof of this fact rested on the evidence of a second clerk who was present. On that account chiefly, though there were other minor grounds, the attainder was, after a severe struggle in the House of Commons, declared null and void. He mentioned these historical facts, not because he relied upon them for the purpose of showing that Government could by any possibility without the authority of Parliament substitute a stamp or any other mode of signature for the Royal Sign Manual; but when they were considering the mode in which a substitute could be found for the Royal Signature, he thought it right and proper to state what in this respect had been done on former occasions, when a substitute was adopted for the Sign Manual. On the present occasion he was sure no Minister would recommend for a moment, or suppose in point of law it could be maintained, that any thing could be adopted for the Sign Manual without the authority of Parliament. Ministers, therefore, had thought it their duty on the present occasion to come down to Parliament to ask advice and counsel on the subject, to state the measures which had occurred to their own minds, and which they would recommend to Parliament to adopt. At the same time they would readily receive, and, if they could concur in them adopt, any suggestions which any noble Lords might offer for the improvement of the measure they meant to propose. It now only remained for him to state the form of the measure, and the securities with which it was intended to be guarded. Ministers were desirous that every possible security should be thrown round the trust to be given for the purpose of guarding against the chance of abuse. At the same time it was desirable that the measure should not be clogged or encumbered so as to render the progress of public business difficult. Ministers proposed by the Bill which he held in his hand, that a commission under the Royal Sign Manual should issue, authorizing any one or more of the persons therein named to affix his Majesty's signature by means of a stamp prepared for the purpose to such instruments as required the Royal signature. By way of security, and to guard against abuse, it was proposed that the persons named in the warrant as commissioners should make oath that they would not on any occasion, except in the presence and by the immediate command of his Majesty, affix the stamp to any instrument whatever. That was not the whole of the guards and securities. It was proposed that the persons named in the commission should not have authority to affix the stamp to which he had referred, until upon the instrument to which it was to be affixed had been endorsed the nature and object of the instrument, signed by three Ministers to be named especially in the Bill. This could not fail to be considered a guard against abuse, inasmuch as it increased the responsibility under which Ministers acted. It appeared to him that if he were to stop there, the security provided was so great and extensive that no practical mischief could result from the measure proposed. But it was his duty to go further. He had already stated that a stamp was to be prepared. That stamp would be kept in the custody of certain officers—certain high officers named in the Bill. It was not to be annexed to any instrument except in the presence of one of those officers, who must attest that it was affixed in his presence—that was another security. If any noble Lord could add to those securities, he would repeat what he had before stated, that Ministers would be most ready and willing to adopt the addition. Their Lordships would perceive that the securities proposed by the Bill were, in the first instance, that the persons named in the commission should have authority only in the presence and by the immediate command of his Majesty to affix the stamp. To violate that provision would be a high misdemeanour, for which the parties would be deeply responsible, and subject to the severest punishment. Next there was the additional obligation of the oath. There was the further security, that if the back of the instrument should not be endorsed and signed as he had stated, it would be null and void. Further, the stamp must be affixed in the presence of one of the Ministers of the Crown, who must attest it. Guarded by those securities, all forgery or attempts at forgery were impossible. It was necessary to state, that it was not intended to supersede the Royal authority. To guard against the possibility of that, a clause was contained in the Bill, by which, notwithstanding the provisions of the Bill, it was enacted, that his Majesty might as usual, and according to the accustomed form, affix his Sign Manual to instruments, and that the signature so affixed should have the same force and effect as if the Bill had not passed. He had now stated shortly the objects of the Bill expressly, not for the purpose of provoking discussion at the present stage, for he thought the Bill should first be printed to enable their Lordships to come to a proper consideration of the subject, which was one of delicacy and importance, but one which required to be pressed forward with all speed compatible with the forms of the House. Giving, therefore, the best council and advice of which the Ministers were capable,—they proposed that the Bill should be read a second time to-morrow; and they also suggested the suspending of the Standing Orders, so that it might be passed through its remaining stages as speedily as possible. Indeed he saw no reason why the Bill should not be passed through all its remaining stages to-morrow. It had been suggested by a noble Earl that their Lordships should search for precedents, and appoint a committee for that purpose. On two occasions relative to the question of the Regency, there were committees; and for his part he saw no reason why a committee might not sit tomorrow, and its labours might be made concurrent with the progress of the Bill. These labours might throw some additional light upon the subject; but certainly after all his own researches, and the results of the researches of others,—he did not expect that any material information could be appended to that which had been already procured. But, at the same time, if any noble Lord chose to move for a committee he should not object.
His Lordship then put the question from the Woolsack, that the Bill be read a first time.
The Earl of Eldon
suggested it was not necessary to read the Bill at length at present, as it was to be read a second time to-morrow.
Earl Grey
said, he willingly bore testimony to the fairness and candour of the statement which the noble Lord on the Woolsack had just made. He was not prepared to make any objection to the mode which his Majesty's Ministers proposed; but he felt, as he expressed himself yesterday, and as the noble and learned Lord expressed himself that day, that this was a subject of great delicacy and importance. Their Lordships should therefore consider well before they enacted the law. He was not competent to say if they would meet with precedents to guide them. It had been usual, however, to institute such a committee; and he regretted, as there was no opposition, that he had not moved for a committee last night. They might have then sat that day; and there could have been no reason for delaying the progress of the measure beyond the period proposed by the noble and learned Lord. But now, although willing to afford every facility to the measure, he would beg to submit, that as the bill could not be committed into the hands of the Members until to-morrow, whether it would not be more decent to put off the second reading until Thursday. This would give room for full consideration, and when that consideration should have been given, there could be no objection to carrying the Bill through its other stages as soon as possible. He thought that the delay of one day was a reasonable request, and confidently pressed it upon the noble and learned Lord, to whom he gave perfect credit for coming to the consideration of the measure with all anxiety to guard against the abuse of the delegated authority. There was only one thing to which he was anxious to refer; that was the question of duration. He thought the commission should be limited to as short a time as possible, and whatever might be the result of the lamentable cause which created the present exigency, he trusted that this measure would be brought again under the consideration of Parliament before the termination of this Session. He did not know the term to which it was proposed the commission should extend, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had not specified it. He was anxious, however, that it should not be such as would place the measure beyond their immediate grasp, if they saw reason to revise or amend it. In conclusion, he submitted that the time he himself would require, and that the noble Lords around him would require, being very short, ought to be conceded; and he was confident that on the second reading everything would be in such a slate that they might proceed through the further stages without delay. He would accordingly propose that the second reading should be deferred to Thursday.
The Duke of Wellington
stated, that the circumstances of the case rendered it advisable for them to press forward the measure with as much celerity as was consistent with the forms of the House. He had no objection to defer the second reading till Thursday, but on this express condition—that this Bill was to be passed through all its remaining stages on that one day.
The Earl of Eldon
made an observation which was not audible below the Bar.
The Lord Chancellor, in answer to the noble Earl (Grey,) observed that it was in the power of Parliament to bring any bill before them a second time, by moving for its repeal; at the same time he acknowledged that the object the noble Earl had in view might be best effected by an original clause, which he had no objection to introduce. He had no wish to oppose the suggestion to limit the term of the commission's duration, so that the measure might again be brought under consideration before the close of the Session.
Earl Grey
remarked, that he was urged to press this upon the noble and learned Lord, from his strong feeling that it was a matter of much importance that it should be within their immediate power to amend or alter the Bill, if it were deemed necessary, before the close of the present Session.
The Bill was then read the first time, and read at length.
The Lord Chancellor moved the suspending of the Standing Order of the House, No. 26,175, on Thursday next.
Earl Grey moved for a committee to report upon precedents for furnishing the Royal Signature in cases requiring the Sign Manual. The Committee to sit tomorrow.
The Motion was agreed to, and the following Peers appointed to compose the Committee:—The Lord President (Earl Bathurst); The Lord Privy Seal (the Earl of Rosslyn); The Marquis of Lansdown; Earl Grey; The Duke of Wellington; The Duke of Montrose; Lord Holland; The Marquis of Camden; The Archbishop of York; The Archbishop of Canterbury; The Bishop of London; the Duke of Devonshire; Lord Tenterden; The Earl of Eldon; Lord Wharnclifle; The Duke of Richmond; Lord Sidmouth, and the Earl of Carnarvon. 


HC Deb 27 May 1830 vol 24 cc1148-55
A Message was brought down from the Lords, stating that their Lordships had passed a Bill, intitled "An Act to enable his Majesty to appoint certain persons to affix the Royal Signature to instruments requiring such signature," in which they desired the concurrence of the House of Commons.
Sir R. Peel
said—"Sir, in moving the first reading of a Bill intended to make a temporary provision for enabling his Majesty to affix his Royal Signature to those public instruments which require that formality, I must repeat, in concurrence, I am sure, with the unanimous feeling of the House, and of this nation, my deep regret at the circumstances which have rendered this application to Parliament necessary. It is, as his Majesty has informed the House by his gracious Message, on account of the indisposition under which he is labouring, painful and inconvenient to the King to attach his sign manual to the multitude of official instruments which require the Royal Signature to give them validity. I must at the same time state that, under all circumstances, when application has been made to his Majesty for his signature to any instrument, the completion of which was necessary to the public service, particularly instruments connected with the administration of justice and pardons, when it was thought fit to extend mercy to those who had received a penal sentence; on all such occasions, whatever pain or in- convenience affixing the Signature might have subjected the King to, his Majesty never suffered those considerations to stand in the way of his desire to facilitate the administration of justice, or to exercise his Royal prerogative of mercy, and to forward the due execution of the public service. I am sure that this House is animated by a unanimous desire to spare his Majesty the pain and inconvenience, if measures can be devised to effect that object consistently with the due discharge of the public service. I hope, consistently with that object, and with the prevention of all detriment or fear of injury to the public service, that the measure which is now introduced, is likely to be satisfactory. The present Bill provides that his Majesty may, by his Royal warrant or commission, to be signed with the sign manual, appoint one or more persons to attach a stamp to those instruments which require the Royal Signature. That stamp will be provided under the direction of the Lord President of the Council. There will be two stamps; one of which will bear the words 'George R.,' and the other, 'G. R.,' the initials only, for such instruments as are usually signed in that way. The Bill provides that the persons so empowered to affix this stamp, shall not be authorised to affix it to any instrument without a memorandum, specifying the nature of the instrument, and bearing the signature of at least three out of seven officers of State, who are named to be responsible for its application. Of those seven signatures, three, at least, must be attached to every instrument, as a certificate of its authenticity. The seven persons so appointed are the-Lord Chancellor, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, the First Lord of the Treasury, and the three principal Secretaries of State. There is a provision in the Bill that no one of these seven officers so appointed shall act alone; and, in order to guard against the possibility or the supposition of any possible fraud, an oath is provided by the Bill, to be taken by the parties by whom the stamp is to be affixed. The stamp can only be affixed by the King's express command, and in the presence of his Majesty, and the party affixing it must attest by his own signature, that the stamp has been affixed by his Majesty's express command, and in the presence of his Majesty. These are the conditions which accompany the passing of this Bill. However temporary it may be in its duration—for it is proposed to limit the Bill to the end of this Session—and God grant that it may not be necessary to extend it longer—but in case it should become necessary to continue it for a longer time, then there will be a necessity of bringing the measure again under the consideration of the House; so that every caution possible has been used in this case. It is right that it should be so, because we must bear in mind that we are establishing a precedent which may be appealed to on future occasions. There is one other provision which I omitted to notice—namely, an express enactment that his Majesty may, at any time, attach his sign manual in the ordinary way to any instrument when he sees fit and convenient, and that such signature shall have the ordinary operation, notwithstanding the concurrent power given to attach the Signature in the other manner. His Majesty will, therefore, if he sees fit, exercise his Royal prerogative with his own hand. There have been various instances in the former history of this country, of the Royal Signature being attached in the manner proposed by this Bill. In the reign of Henry 8th more than one commission was issued, empowering persons to apply a stamp, instead of the Royal Signature or initials, and giving it equal validity with the Royal sign manual. In the reign of Queen Mary, also, the same power was given by Royal commission; and it is also recorded, on the authority of Bishop Burnett, that, in the reign of King William, a stamp was applied in a similar manner. But although there exist all these various precedents for devolving to individuals the power of affixing a stamp, by the authority of the sign manual, we have thought it the safer course to apply to Parliament in this way for its sanction. I could enter into a more detailed explanation if it were necessary, but from the circumstances under which this measure is proposed, from its temporary duration, and the caution with which it is surrounded, I should hope that the House will be unanimous in the desire to afford his Majesty this accommodation. It will be felt that it is extremely desirable that the measure should be passed with as little delay as possible, particularly on account of those public instruments which would now be pressing for signature, if it were not for the pain and inconvenience which the operation causes to his Majesty. At the same time I propose, that we should see the provisions of the Bill in print before it is finally carried. I shall move that it should be read a first and second time to-day; it can then be carried through its remaining stages to-morrow, and receive the Royal assent on Saturday."
Lord Althorp
said, that it must be the wish of every hon. Member present to do whatever was in his power to alleviate the sufferings of his Majesty, under the unfortunate circumstances in which he was placed. The only difficulty in the case was, the necessity of using great caution in establishing a precedent, which might be so important in its consequences. To the statement of the right hon. Baronet, so far as his own opinion went, he saw no objection. He only wished to suggest, whether it would not be proper, before the Bill was finally passed, to have some evidence that his Majesty was in such a state, as to render a measure of this nature necessary. It was to the possible abuse of the precedent hereafter that his hesitation applied. They ought to be particularly cautious to prevent any application of it without a sufficient necessity. He did not mean to object to the reading of the Bill at present, but before it was finally passed he hoped the House would have some proof of its necessity.
Sir Robert Peel
said, he was sure that when the noble Lord thought of the circumstances under which the Bill was proposed, he would not press his proposition. The House had his Majesty's distinct assurance, in his gracious Message, that he was labouring under indisposition which rendered it painful and inconvenient to sign the various official documents presented for that purpose. He entirely concurred in the opinion that it was necessary to be cautious in a step of this nature; but when the House had the Royal Message, saying that it was painful and inconvenient to his Majesty, he thought it would not be respectful to imply a doubt of the fact.
Lord Althorp
did not mean to press for any specific information. He merely threw out the suggestion.
Sir C. Wetherell
said, that there certainly were precedents of kings of this realm having, instead of their own hand-writing, used a stamp, impressed with their own hands; but no cases had occurred, he believed in which the King had issued a commission to authorise persons to sign for him by a stamp. It was necessary to advert to this distinction; if his Majesty used a stamp with his own hands the only difference was between the impression being made with the stamp and with the pen. The physical act was done in either case by the King himself. There was no difference, except that of the physical act being done by means of a stamp or of the King's hand-writing. He had turned his attention a good deal to this subject, and he found that one of the most learned writers and most sagacious antiquaries, (Lord Coke, in his "Institutes,") although he did not quote any one of these cases, in one passage evidently supposed that the Royal Signature could only be done by writing. Lord Coke, in defining the duty of the Clerk to the Signet, said, that it was his office to write out such grants as were passed, super scribed with the Royal Signature or sign manual. The case of Henry the 8th was prior to that time, yet this eminent writer evidently supposed that the Royal Signature must be made by the sign manual in the hand-writing of the King himself. Speaking of the abstract question it was difficult to say that the King's will might not be expressed by George Rex or G. R. yet undoubtedly the more efficient mode was the signature in hand-writing. He must, therefore, deprecate the proposed perversion of the constitutional mode of designating the Royal will by the King's hand-writing, because, if a change were made, unless a person were appointed to keep the stamp, there was no security that it might not be used surreptitiously, which could not be done in the case of hand-writing; surreptitious hand-writing could not be obtained, except by forgery. Undoubtedly a case of necessity would furnish a reason for substituting a stamp for the Royal hand-writing; but he must say that it did not appear to him that the securities proposed in the Bill were securities which would prevent the surreptitious obtaining of the designation of the Royal will by a stamp, as effectually as that object was precluded while the Royal will was designated by hand-writing. There was not in this Bill, as it now stood, any protection against forgery. He thought it would be proper that some provision of this kind should be introduced, because the sign manual was the original authority which put in motion all the subsequent formal acts, which were necessary to give authenticity to public instruments. He thought it would be useful to add a clause to make it forgery to counterfeit the stamp. As far as he could judge of the Bill, all the securities and guards necessary in the substitution of a stamp for the physical hand-writing of the King, were adequate in other respects; yet he thought it would not be improper to have an additional clause, to make it treason to counterfeit the stamp; and when the House should go into a committee on the Bill, he would propose a clause to this effect, "That, it any person or persons shall counterfeit the said stamps, or either of them, or the impression of them upon any warrant, commission, or other instrument, they shall be deemed guilty of high treason, and be punished accordingly." He had abstracted this clause from a Statute of Mary for a similar purpose; and he thought that the substitution of a stamp ought to be accompanied by such a security. But if it were not generally approved of by the House, he had no wish to press it.
Mr. Bernal
said, that there could be no danger arising from the precedent established in this case. It was admitted that no other measure could have been adopted in the present emergency. With respect to the danger of forgery, he thought that none could arise. As so many safeguards were provided, he could not conceive a scintilla of danger to exist. If he understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, there must be the indorsements of three out of seven of the Cabinet Ministers, so that it would be necessary to forge not only the impression, but also all these different hand-writings. It could not be denied that the Government had, in this instance, discreetly fulfilled its duty. If the addition of the clause suggested by the hon. and learned Member would not delay the measure, he saw no objection to it; but he hoped that it would not be made the means of any delay of the Bill.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that he had not thought it necessary to trouble the House with any further details before, but there was a precedent for a commission to authorise a party to attach a stamp, instead of the Royal hand. It was in the reign of Mary, and it was really curious and remarkable how closely the precautions adopted on that occasion coincided with those provided by the present Bill. The precedent had only been discovered yesterday, after this Bill was prepared, and if the House had any curiosity, he would read it. The right hon. Baronet then read an extract from the 5th and 6th of Philip and Mary, which stated, that the Queen, in consequence of the great labour which she sustained in the government and defence of the kingdom, was unable, without much danger and inconvenience, to sign the commissions, warrants, letters, missions, and other papers, and she therefore appointed certain persons therein named, and gave them authority to seal the necessary instruments, instead of the Queen, at her command, and in her presence, and in the presence of the Archbishop of York, the Lord Chancellor, the Master of the Horse, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, and others named therein, or any two of them, and declared that all instruments so signed should be as valid and effectual in law as if they were signed by the hand of the Queen. This precedent had been discovered subsequently to the preparation of the present Bill; but it would be seen, that the precautions taken were the same. Indeed, the Bill went further than the precedent, because (a point which he omitted to mention before) it would be necessary that the instruments should be signed also in the presence of a confidential servant. The question of forgery had been considered; but, as the duration of the Bill was to be so short, and as it was environed with so many cautions, it was thought that forgery would not be possible, because the forgery of the stamp alone would not be sufficient. It would be necessary also to affix the names of all those who attested it. In almost every instrument there would be five signatures. Referring to the Regency Act, he did not find in it any provision making it treason to counterfeit the sign-manual—[Sir C. Wetherell said, he did not desire to persevere in his suggestion]. If it were necessary to continue the present measure after this Session, it would then be right to consider whether it would be desirable to make any additional provision to meet this point. But at present he did not think it was necessary, for the reasons which he had stated, and also as forgery was at all times subject to a high penalty at common law.
Mr. Lennard
begged merely to observe on the subject of the punishment of the forgery of this stamp as an act of treason, that he hoped the number of treasonable offences would not be extended.
The Bill read a first time.
Sir R. Vyvyan
expressed a wish that the Bill should be in the hands of Members as soon as possible, as some alterations might suggest themselves.
Sir R. Peel
said, that it would be printed by a very early hour in the morning.
Bill read a second time, and Committee appointed for the following day.
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HC Deb 28 May 1830 vol 24 cc1193-5
Sir R. Peel moved the order of the day for the Committal of the Sign Manual Bill. On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair,
Lord Althorp
said, that when the subject was before the House yesterday, he had expressed a wish that the physicians should be examined; and though they were informed of the King's health upon the responsibility of those who, from their situations, were bound to be scrupulous, yet he still confessed he should rather have had the testimony of the physicians. Upon reconsideration, however, he thought that as the intended duration of the Bill was very short, he would not press for the hearing of evidence by the House; but should it become necessary to renew the Bill between this and the close of the Session, he should feel it proper to call upon the House to hear the testimony of the physicians: at present he should not give the Bill any opposition.
Lord John Russell
said, the only question that called for any remark was the effect of the Bill as a matter of precedent. As the indisposition under which his Majesty at the present moment unhappily laboured did not affect the Royal mind, he considered that the safeguards establish-ed offered sufficient security. As forming a precedent, care should be taken to guard against its being used as a pretext under which, in the event of the Royal mind suffering in any future reign, the Ministers for the time being might keep the King away from the members of his family, or otherwise abuse so great and important a power. He should have thought, therefore, that the examination of the physicians would have been advisable, and in all future cases that course, in his opinion, ought to be pursued. He was perfectly satisfied with the securities provided by this Bill; and if at any future time valid objections should be raised against it, the means of obtaining further securities would be still accessible. The Bill was now understood to pass under the full conviction of Parliament, that it had been informed, upon the responsibility of Ministers, that the Royal mind was not affected by the malady under which his Majesty was suffering, so as to incapacitate him from signifying his pleasure in any case where the Royal signature was necessary.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
entirely concurred with the noble Lord who had just sat down, in thinking that the present Bill was chiefly important in the light of a precedent. It was important to mark the distinction between a new method of signifying the Royal pleasure and a delegation of the Royal authority. It was important, too, that the Bill should not be made to extend beyond a mere case of bodily incapacity for affixing the Sign Manual, and by no means to reach a case wherein the Royal mind might be affected, nor even a case where it might be necessary to delegate the Royal authority in consequence of its being thought material to the recovery of the Sovereign that he should altogether withdraw his mind from business. In such a case it would, of course, be quite right that the Ministers should call for the aid of Parliament in such delegation; but that was a remedy perfectly distinct from the present. As to the existing state of the Royal mind, they had abundant evidence in the form of the Bill, that it was not affected, while that form prevented abuse in case of mental incapacity; for the language of the Bill is, that the Royal assent must be given by word of mouth, which distinctly implied that it was to be given by a person completely cognizant of the nature of the instrument to which he was giving his assent. Hereafter it might be found that other precautions were necessary—and if so, they might be added—whether they were found necessary for the better prevention of abuse, or to guard against the present measure being drawn into any evil precedent.
The House resolved itself into a Committee. The Bill was ordered to be reported, without amendments; the House resumed; the Report was brought up, and the question put, that it be read a third time.
Sir Robert Peel
wished to say in reply to an observation made last night, respecting the crime of forging the Royal Signature stamp, that in the Regency Act there was a clause, enabling his present Majesty, then Prince of Wales, to sign "George, Prince Regent," and the Act did not make the forging that signature treason, but forgery. On the present occasion, the precedent afforded by that Act, was strictly followed; and most hon. Members, he had no doubt, would consider the punishment of forgery abundantly sufficient for such a possible offence. The other precautions contained in the Bill better provided against forgery than would any extraordinary severity which they might introduce in the nature of a penal enactment.
The Bill was passed, and immediately carried up to the Lords by Sir R. Peel. 

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