Keir Hardie Reflects on a Royal Birth …

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Keir Hardie boldly opposed, in a speech on the floor of the House of Commons, a motion moved by Sir William Harcourt (Hansard, June 28th 1894).

Sir William Harcourt’s motion read as follows, “That a humble address be presented to congratulate Her Majesty on the birth of a son to His Royal Highness the Duke and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York”.

 “Mr KEIR HARDIE – “Mr Speaker, on my behalf and those who I represent I am unable to join in this public address.  I owe no allegiance to any hereditary ruler (interruptions) and I will expect those who do to allow me the ordinary courtesies of debate.  The resolution, Sir, proposes to congratulate Her Majesty on the birth of a son to the Duke and Duchess of York.  It seeks to elevate to an importance which it does not deserve an event of daily occurrence.  I have been delighted to learn that the child is a fairly healthy one, and had I had the opportunity of meeting its parents I should have been pleased indeed to join in the ordinary congratulations of the occasion.  But when we are asked as a House of Commons representing the nation to join in the congratulations, then in the interests of the House I take leave to protest.

There is one aspect of this question which concerns the House of Commons.  A Minister of the Crown is required to be present on this interesting occasion.  I submit, Sir, that such a proceeding is not calculated to enhance the dignity of this House in the eyes of the nation.  (Interruption and a voice, “Rot.”)

The hon. gentleman may say “Rot.”  If this hon. gentleman mixed freely with the common people as I do, he would have known their opinions on this question.  Sir, that point of view demands that a protest of some kind should be made in this House.  It is a matter of small concern to me whether the future ruler of the nation be the genuine article or a spurious imitation.  Now, Sir, this proposal has been made because a child has been born into the royal family.  We have the right to ask what particular blessing the royal family has conferred upon the nation that we should be asked to take part in the proceedings today.  We have just heard it said that Her Majesty had ruled for over half a century.  I would correct that, Sir, by saying that Her Majesty has reigned but has not ruled.  I remember, in reading about the proceedings in connection with the Jubilee, that one point made was that during the fifty years of Her Majesty’s reign the Queen had not interfered in the affairs of the nation.  That may be reigning, but it is certainly not ruling.

Then, there is the Prince of Wales.  What high dignity has his Royal Highness conferred upon the nation?

Colonel SANDERSON (Armagh) – I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving that the hon. member be no longer heard.

Sir WM. HARCOURT – I hope that the hon. and gallant member will not press his motion.  I do not think it would tend to produce the result he desires and which I think we all desire – namely, the prevention of disorder.

Mr KEIR HARDIE – I was about to observe that I know nothing in the career of the Prince of Wales which commends him especially to me.  The “fierce white light” which we are told “beats around the throne” sometimes reveals things in his career it would be better to keep covered.  Sometimes we get glimpses of the Prince at the gaming tables, sometimes on the racecourse.  His Royal Highness is Duke of Cornwall, and as such he draws £60,000 a year from the Duchy property in London, which is made up of some of the vilest slums.  (Cries of “Question.”)

Mr SPEAKER – The hon. member must keep to the terms of the resolution.

Mr KEIR HARDIE – I will bow to your ruling, Sir, and proceed to the subject of the resolution.  We are asked to rejoice because this child has been born, and that one day he will be called upon to rule over this great Empire.  Up to the present time we have no means of knowing what his qualifications or fitness for that task may be.  It certainly strikes me – I do not know how it strikes others – as rather strange that those who have so much to say about the hereditary element in another place should be so willing to endorse it in this particular instance.  It seems to me that if it is a good argument to say that the hereditary element is bad in one case, it is an equally good argument to say that it is bad in the other.  FROM HIS CHILDHOOD ONWARD THIS BOY WILL BE SURROUNDED BY SYCOPHANTS AND FLATTERERS BY THE SCORE (Cries of “Oh! oh!”) and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation.  (“Oh!” oh!”)  A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over.  In due course, following the precedent which has already been set, he will be sent on a tour round the world, and probably rumours of a morganatic alliance will follow (Loud cries of “Oh!” “Order!” and “Question!”), and the end of it all will be that the country will be called upon to pay the bill.  (Cries of “Divide!”)

As a matter of principle, I protest against this motion being passed, and if there is another member of the House who shares the principles I hold I will carry my protest the length of a division.  THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT FIND AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A VOTE OF CONDOLENCE WITH THE RELATIVES OF THOSE WHO ARE LYING STIFF AND STARK IN A WELSH VALLEY, and, if that cannot be done, the motion before the House ought never to have been proposed either.  If it be for rank and title only that time and occasion can be found in this House, then the sooner that truth is known outside the better for the House itself.  I will challenge a division on the motion, and if the forms of the House will permit, I will go to a division in the hope that some members at least will enter their protest against the mummery implied in a resolution of this kind.

Mr SPEAKER – The question is that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to congratulate Her Majesty on the birth of a son to his royal Highness the Duke and her royal Highness the Duchess of York.

The putting of the question was followed by loud cries of “Aye!” from all parts of the House.  Mr Keir Hardie alone replying in the negative.  Mr Speaker declared that “I think the Ayes have it,” but Mr Keir Hardie challenged the statement.  The House was cleared for a division.  On Mr Speaker again putting the question Mr Keir Hardie repeated his negative, but did not again challenge Mr Speaker’s words.  “The Ayes have it.”

The Address was accordingly agreed to.”

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