HC Deb 20 September 1841 vol 59 cc620-3
Sir Thomas Wilde

remarked, that a very important question had been brought before the House, with respect to his right hon. Friend (Sir E. Sugden), after accepting the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, retaining his seat in that House. The principle involved in this was a very important one, for it was declared, that a Member of the House having accepted office from the Crown should be remitted back to his constituents. This was imperatively required by the 4th and 5th Anne. But in this case it was said, that the act was not violated, because there were some ceremonies to be gone through, that had not yet been accomplished. It was said, that the patent of the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Lord Campbell) had not yet been recalled. He did not think, that face of much importance, but the circumstance itself, as it occurred, appeared to him to be such, that he felt bound to say of it a more dangerous evasion of an Act of Parliament had never been attempted. The right hon. Baronet opposite had, by the authority of the Crown, offered to a Member of that House a high office, so high an office as that of Lord Chancellor of Ireland: He begged then to know whether the influence arising from that office was one that ought not to be remitted back to the constituents? The principle was particularly dangerous when there was a power of delaying the revocation of the patent which could confer office on the Member, who might in the meanwhile be voting the supplies, and on every question affecting the liberty and property of the subject. He wished now to say, that he intended to bring the matter distinctly before the House. At the same time he wished to say, that he desired to make no improper reference to his right hon. Friend, as he was one for whom no one could entertain a higher respect than he did. At the same time, high as was his regard for his right hon. Friend, he had a still higher regard for the privileges of the House, and the liberty of the people. He conceived, that his right hon. Friend continuing to occupy a seat in that House, was, under the circumstances, an evasion of the act of Parliament, and he should bring the matter before the House.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that as he was not present at the early part of the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he could not make any reply to them; but he understood the hon. Member to say, that he (Sir Edward Sugden) was acting unconstitutionally in retaining his seatin that House, having accepted the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He would beg to say he did so, because he conceived that he did not legally fill that office, though he had consented to fill it. He considered it his duty to his constituents not to abandon the trust they reposed in him, until he had lost it in law. He would also say, that he had not voted on any question since he accepted that office, nor had he been even called upon to consider whether he ought to vole. That he mentioned as a fact, and without attaching importance to it. He had no intention to do an unconstitutional act; but he never was more surprised when, without the least notice given to him, he heard the speech of his hon. and learned Friend, and at the close of that speech, that he was spoken of in terms of civility. He wished that the civility was shown by acts, and not by the terms in which it was expressed. He believed he was standing on his right as Member for Ripon, and maintaining his place in that House. He did not wish to carry the principle to any inconvenient extent; and if it were the opinion of the House that he was stretching the constitutional principle, he would at once withdraw; but he did not consider he had lost his rights as a Member of Parliament, until he actually filled the office which he had accepted. At that moment he was not legally Lord Chancellor of Ireland; Lord Campbell still, legally speaking, held that office. It was not an acceptance of office, within the meaning of the act, until the appointment had actually taken place. It was not an acceptance to say he would accept. The minister might withdraw his offer. The office was held by patent, and the delivery of the Great Seal into his hand was certainly necessary before the appointment could take effect. That seal still remained in the custody of those to whom Lord Campbell had delivered it. The patents were not perfected, and therefore until they were so, and until all the necessary ceremonies had been gone through, he could not be considered as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He hoped the House would acquit him of any improper feeling, or of any presumption on the subject; but he considered that his constituents would have a right to accuse him of neglecting their interests, if he abstained from occupying his place as their representative, while he had a right by law to do so.

Sir Thomas Wilde

wished to explain why he had not given notice to his right hon. Friend, and in doing so he would repeat those expressions of courtesy towards him which he had before used, although he knew that his right hon. Friend had a very peculiar method of acknowledging any courtesies. He was not aware when he entered the House, that it was the intention of his hon. Friend to put a question to the right hon. Baronet opposite on the subject; but that question having been put, he felt it his duty, when he heard the answer, to lose no time in giving notice of his intention to bring the subject before the House, and he had consequently no opportunity of giving notice to his right hon. Friend. In that intention he had been confirmed by the very dangerous doctrine laid down by his right hon. Friend, and to-morrow he would draw attention to the subject.

Lord J. Russell

thought his hon. and learned Friend was quite right in having mentioned the subject, as the acceptance of the office by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, was publicly announced on Friday last. It was not a question of whether the right hon. Gentleman wished to retain his seat improperly, or to act against the desire of the House; but a question of considerable importance as to the interpretation which was to be put upon the Act of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that there was not a proper acceptance of office until the office was actually filled. In several offices that could be done at once. The Secretaries of State received the seals of office upon their appointment, and their seats were vacated immediately after. But in many other offices in the state, such was not the practice. In the Board of Admiralty, it required no less than a week to make out the patent, and when he was appointed Paymaster of the Forces, it took three weeks to complete the appointment. It had always, as far as he remembered, been the custom, upon the formal acceptance of office, to move for a new writ in that House, in order that a new election might take place. If that were a right custom, it ought to be continued; but if the right hon. Gentleman were correct in saying that the office must be filled, then he (Lord J. Russell) should be disposed to say, that the practice ought to be uniform, and not to have different rules for different cases. The question had been raised in the case of Mr. Horsman, who had addressed his constituents, stating that he had accepted office, and who subsequently voted in the House. No further motion or discussion, however, had taken place on the subject, but that case having occurred, and the right hon. Gentleman having asserted positively that it was right that he, a Member of that House, accepting office from the hands of the Prime Minister, who spoke as the organ of the Crown, should retain his seat as Member for Ripon, it behoved the House to come to some decision upon the subject, and, without passing any censure on the right hon. Gentleman, or any one else, to adopt some uniform practice, and let the meaning of that law be understood which said, that any Member of that House being chosen to accept office or profit from the Crown, should be thereby declared to be unseated, and that a new writ should be issued for another election.—Subject at an end.