Saturday 15 August 2020

The day the Commons went to Church - V-J Day in Parliament


This was briefly covered at the end of my third article about the process of declaring war. Here it is in some more detail.

The Thirty-Eighth Parliament of the United Kingdom

The thirty-seventh Parliament, which had sat for ten years [1] was prorogued on 15th June 1945, and then dissolved by proclamation later the same day, the proclamation being in the usual words. The thirty-eighth Parliament was summoned to meet on the 1st August.

As we know, the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee won a landslide victory. However, the war in the East was still underway - indeed, Churchill had shared details of this with Attlee [3]. It was in this atmosphere, of a distant, inexorable, war that Parliament assembled on 1st August.

The Hansard for that day seems to be missing. But we see in the journals the usual procedures [4], which I will somewhat abbreviate since a voluminous other blog covers them well. As usual the Commons were summoned to the House of Lords to be directed by the Lords Commissioners to choose a Speaker and present him the next day. Without the Hansard I don't know what speeches were given on Sir Douglas Clifton-Brown's election as Speaker.

Mr. Speaker-Elect was given the Royal Approbation the next day, as usual, and the House proceeded to the business of taking the Oath of Allegiance.

In the Lords, an unusual occurrence that will now (with the creation of the post of Lord Speaker) never been repeated occurred. In the Lords Hansard for the 1st August we see the slightly curious line
The Right Honourable Sir William Allen Jowitt, K.C., having been appointed Lord Chancellor, sat Speaker.
Sir William was the new Lord Chancellor but was not, yet, a Peer. So the constitutional curiosity that the Woolsack is not actually part of the Lords chamber was resorted to and he sat as Speaker without being a member of the House.

The next day, the special procedure by which a Lord Chancellor is introduced as a Peer, occurred. Viscount Addison [5] was the new Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and Leader of the House of Lords.
Viscount Addison:

My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that His Majesty has been pleased to create the Right Honourable Sir William Allen Jowitt, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, a Peer of this Realm by the title of Baron Jowitt of Stevenage in the County of Hertford.

The Lord Chancellor, having retired to robe, was (in the usual manner) introduced.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.
But where was each House sitting?

Places of Sitting

The Commons chamber was bombed out on 10th May 1941. Since then, the Commons had been sitting in the chamber of the House of Lords, and their Lordships in a makeshift Chamber in the Robing Room [7]. It was desired, however, to return this year to a State Opening with the full (or full-ish) ceremonial. Therefore a temporary re-arrangement was necessary.

To that end, on 3rd August, quite exceptionally, the Lords Commissioners summoned the Commons for a third time, whereupon the Lord Chancellor told them [8]
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, we have it further in command from His Majesty to acquaint you that the causes of His Majesty's calling this Parliament will be declared to you on Wednesday, the 15th day of this instant August, in the chamber assigned to the House of Commons as their temporary place of sitting and not in the present Parliament Chamber, and that for this purpose His Majesty has directed that the chamber assigned to the House of Commons as their temporary place of sitting be made ready for the House of Peers, and St. Stephen's Hall for the House of Commons.

And we have it further in command from His Majesty to declare that it is His Majesty's pleasure that as soon as may be after the causes of the calling of this Parliament have been declared, the chamber assigned to the House of Commons as their temporary place of sitting be again made ready for the House of Commons, for the better and more convenient transacting of their business, and that His Majesty has been pleased to give directions accordingly.
So the Commons would temporarily sit on the site of its historic meeting place, St. Stephen's, and the Lords would temporarily have their Chamber back (and thus His Majesty could deliver the speech from beneath the Cloth of Estate [9])

Both Houses then adjourned until the 15th. And as we know, following the first use, and indeed only, use of nuclear weapons in wartime, Japan surrendered that day.

The State Opening

On the 15th the Commons assembled in St. Stephen's Hall, and were commanded to attend the King by Black Rod as usual. A hint of the momentous import of the day can be found in the first line of His Majesty's Speech [10]
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

The surrender of Japan has brought to an end six years of warfare which have caused untold loss and misery to the world. In this hour of deliverance, it is fitting that we should give humble and solemn thanks to God by whose grace we have been brought to final victory.
The rest of the speech set out the new government's legislative programme. Which was about the only normal thing to happen this day.

The Commons returned to St. Stephen's Hall, and the House was (pursuant to resolutions made on the 3rd) suspended until 4 o'clock, and then the House adjourned back into what was the chamber of the House of Lords (their Lordships having likewise moved back into the Robing Room). 

Normally, at this point, the Speaker would report that the House had "been in the House of Peers, where His Majesty was pleased to make a Most Gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament" (or words to like effect). 

Instead, the Prime Minister rose, and said [11]
Mr. Speaker, at midnight last night the terms of the Japanese surrender were announced to the world. The House will, I trust, bear with me while I repeat them, for I feel that it is fit and proper that they should be for ever on record in the annals of this ancient and honourable House. 

there then followed the exact terms, which I will omit. The Prime Minister then proposed that the normal ceremonial order of things be replaced [12]

But this departure from our time-honoured procedure involves certain alterations of Business. Instead of taking into consideration the Gracious Speech from the Throne to-day, I suggest that we should, on returning, after Mr. Speaker has read the Gracious Speech, consider an Address of Congratulation to His Majesty which I will propose.

And the Prime Minister then moved that, [13]

That this House do now attend at the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster, to give humble and reverent thanks to Almighty God on the victorious conclusion of the war.

(A consequence of which was that the Sessional Orders were not moved until the next day either).

And so the Commons as a House went to St. Margaret's.

Meanwhile, in the upper house, Viscount Addison moved 

That this House do attend this day at Westminster Abbey to give thanks to Almighty God on the occasion of the cessation of hostilities by the surrender of Japan to the Allied Nations

In the Commons, it is recorded that

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.

and in the Lords as (the two Latin terms being essentially equivalent here)
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.

An exceptional form of words, normally reserved for the motions for Humble Addresses to the King. 

St. Margaret's, Westminster

Mr. Speaker explained the procedure, and then offered an historical fact of his own, [14]
I propose to proceed at once to St. Margaret's and I invite the House to follow. I will go first with the Mace; then I invite Privy Councillors to ​ follow in fours, as far as may be, in order of precedence, and then the rest of the House will fall in behind. After the Service, the House will return to the Chamber in the same order of procession, and by the same route. 
I should like to mention to the House a strange coincidence. We met to-day, 15th August, in St. Stephen's Hall. Curiously enough, the last time the House of Commons sat in St. Stephen's Hall, was on 15th August, 111 [15] years ago exactly.
The entire Service of Thanksgiving is then recorded in Hansard as a proceeding of the House, including the Psalms and Hymns sung and the prayers led by the Chaplain. After which, as the House returned to the Palace of Westminster [16]
At the conclusion of the Service, The Speaker, preceded by the Serjeant at Arms bearing the Mace, left the Church by the West door.

Whereupon the bells of St. Margaret's Church were rung, in celebration of Victory.

Mr. Speaker then reported His Majesty's Speech.

The Lords' service in the Abbey itself is not so recorded, which is a great shame.

The Address to His Majesty

As indicated earlier, the Prime Minister then moved for a Humble Address to be presented to the King, viz.

That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, would humbly convey to Your Majesty our congratulations on the achievement of final victory over Your enemies.

The enemy in Asia has followed the enemy in Europe into complete defeat and submission to the will of the victorious nations which have pledged themselves to free the world from aggression. We would rejoice with Your Majesty in the liberation of our fellow subjects in those lands which for more than three years have been subject to the ruthless oppression of the Japanese and in the removal of the peril of invasion from Your Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, Your Indian Empire and the eastern territories of Your Colonial Empire.

We would humbly acknowledge the great debt which Your peoples owe to Your Majesty and to Your most Gracious Consort for the courage with which You have sustained them. ​ and the sympathy which You have shown them, reaffirming their love and their loyalty during the dark years in which You shared their afflictions.

On this occasion of national rejoicing, we would pay especial tribute to Your Majesty's Forces from all parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire who, fighting side by side with the Forces of Your Majesty's Allies, have bought with their blood and toil the return of peace to the world.

Nor at this time would we forget our gratitude to the Merchant Marine, the Civil Services, the Civil Defence Services and Police, and to all those who in home, office, industry or agriculture have contributed to victory. 

It is now our most earnest prayer that the clouds of war which have overshadowed Your Majesty's reign will lift for ever and that the splendour of the victory which, by God's providence we celebrate to-day, may be matched by the glory of Your peoples' achievements in the constructive work of peace.

Which was also agreed nemine contradicente, but more exceptionally
Address to be presented by the whole House. 
Privy Councillors humbly to know His Majesty's pleasure when He will be attended.
Humble Addresses are normally ordered to be presented by Privy Counsellors or members of His Majesty's Household.

A similar motion was approved by the Lords, where the equivalent order about presenting it is slightly more florid
The said Address was ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Whole House, and the Lords with White Staves [17] were ordered to wait on His Majesty to know when His Majesty would be pleased to appoint to be attended with the Address.
On 17th August [18], the Lord President of the Council, Sir Herbert Morrison, then reported His Majesty's answer about the arrangements
I have to report to the House that His Majesty the King has appointed 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday next, 21st August, in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, to be the time and place at which His Majesty will be attended by this House to receive the Address of Congratulation.
And the Speaker explained the practicalities
It may be for the convenience of the House if I state the arrangements for next Tuesday. The House will meet at 11 a.m., and as many Members as possible are asked to be in their seats in the Royal Gallery by 11 o'clock. After Prayers, as soon as I have been formally notified that Members of the House of Lords are in their seats, I shall proceed in procession to the Royal Gallery. After the departure of Their Majesties, I shall return in procession but shall not resume the Chair until 2.15, when Questions will be taken.
In the Lords, the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Clarendon [19] made a similar report on the 16th [20]
My Lords, I have the honour to report to your Lordships that His Majesty has appointed Tuesday next, August 21, at half-past eleven in the morning, to receive the Address of this House in the Royal Gallery.
Both Houses being assembled in the Royal Gallery [21], His Majesty received their Humble Addresses and made reply, the final paragraph of which bears repeating
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons:

The time of destruction is ended; the era of reconstruction begins. To this great and difficult task we are resolved to contribute all that is in our power. The new and terrible force which was unleashed against Japan makes it more than ever necessary that the Grand Alliance of Nations should endure and prosper, so that the nations of the world may, with God's Grace, live in that peace and fellowship through which alone they can ensure their salvation. It is My most fervent hope that we are entering upon an age of peaceful progress, wherein the natural talent and enterprise of My peoples can be devoted to the advancement of the happiness and prosperity of mankind.
And that was how Parliament marked V-J day. With a series of exceptional deviations from historical practice.


[C1] Very embarrassing typo fixed. No I'm not telling you where it was.


Hansard is available under the Open Government License as usual.

[1] Successive annual Acts had been used during the war to prolong the lifetime of it beyond the five year limit imposed by the Septennial Act 1716 [2]
[2] This is not a typo or error, 1 Geo. I Stat. 2 cap. 38 was amended by the Parliament Act 1911 (1 & 2 Geo. 5 cap. 13) (yes, that one) to reduce it from seven to five years. It was repealed by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (2011 cap. 14)
[3] Though I believe there was some issue with this after the new administration was formed, but this is not a blog about Churchill-Attlee relations, partly because I find it boring and partly due to reasons of space.
[4] The first entry in every volume of the Journals of the House of Commons is a phrase to the effect (historically in Latin, too):
The Parliament begun and held at the City of Westminster, on Wednesday, the first day of August, in the ninth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord GEORGE, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith ; and in the year of our Lord 1945.
[5] Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison and 1st Baron Addison, K.G., P.C., F.R.C.S.
[6] Split off from the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1925, renamed to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs in 1947, and then merged with the ancient Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1966 to form the modern set up (soon to be joined by the Secretary of State for International Development) of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
[7] The only part of State Opening which is not now televised is the short period while Her Majesty puts on the Imperial State Crown and the Robes of State. The Chair of Estate in which Her Majesty received the homage at Her coronation also sits on the dais in the Robing Room, with previous monarch's ones around the edges of the room.
[9] The huge, multi-story (it really is) wooden throne canopy in the Lords, covered in gold leaf. In the pre-fire Palace of Westminster it actually was a cloth, apparently. Standing Orders require all Peers to "make obescience to the Cloth of Estate" on entering and leaving the Chamber.
[12] ibid. column 49
[13] ibid. column 50
[14] ibid.
[15] The online Hansard has it as "in", but I am persuaded by Rich Greenhill that this is an OCR error for "111"
[16] ibid. column 52-ish
[17] I.e. the Lord Steward and the Lord Chamberlain, who both have white wands of office.
[18] Commons Hansard, volume 412, column 182
[19] George Herbert Hyde Villiers, the 6th Earl of Clarendon, K.G. G.C.M.G. G.C.V.O. P.C. D.L.
[20] Lords Hansard, volume  137, column 21
[21] The long room linking the Robing Room with the Prince's Chamber, an antechamber behind the Cloth of Estate. It is down this gallery that Her Majesty proceeds in State during the State Opening.

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