HC Deb 21 September 1841 vol 59 cc674-8
Sir T. Wilde

begged to repeat to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the question which had been put the night before, why it was that a new writ had not been issued for the borough of Ripon, in the place of the right hon. Gentleman, who had been appointed to the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Sir R. Peel

did not perceive, that, according to his interpretation of the act, it was necessary for any Gentleman to whom office had been offered to vacate his seat in Parliament until the completion of the formal proceedings which might be considered to constitute the formal appointment. If hon. Gentlemen were to be compelled to vacate their seats before there was a bonâ fide acceptance of the office which they had been offered, and before the appointment was completed, the greatest inconvenience might be sustained by Gentlemen who, after having an offer made them, and having thereupon vacated their seats, had the offer, from some cause or other, revoked. As, however, in the present case, the formal instruments had advanced to such a stage as practically to preclude a revocation of the offer, if the hon. Member opposite thought proper to move a new writ for Ripon, he should make no sort of objection to the motion.

Sir Thomas Wilde

said: Nothing that ever fell from the right hon. Baronet gave me more regret than the statement which he has just made, sanctioning principles which will, in my judgment, go far to destroy the independence of this House, As the issuing of the writ is no longer opposed, I should have been content to have made the motion without adding a single word, because, in bringing the matter under the attention of the House, I had no desire to make anything like an attack upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but merely to vindicate the authority, consistency, and independence of this House. But the weight and authority which attaches to the speeches of the right hon. Baronet in this House, makes principles if erroneous, and supposed to be deliberately asserted by him, very dangerous to the country; and the circumstances under which he has now spoken, will induce an impression, that he has uttered sentiments which have the sanction of his deliberate judgment. But I am persuaded, that neither the language nor object of the statute of Anne can have been considered by him, and that the Parliamentary course and usage ever since the statute passed must have been entirely overlooked by him, and that he is utterly unacquainted with the clear and strong opinions expressed by several of the hon. Gentlemen now sitting around him when they occupied seats on this side of the House, utterly at variance with those which the right hon. Baronet now professes to entertain. I am satisfied, that a very short investigation would convince the House and the right hon. Baronet, that those opinions he has pronounced are inconsistent alike with the statute, with the Parliamentary usage, and the integrity of the House. There is not the slightest foundation for the proposition that any more formal act of acceptance of an office under the Crown is necessary to vacate the seat, than the announcement of the fact to this House by the first Minister of the Crown, confirmed by the statement of the Member himself; and I am prepared to satisfy the House, that it is quite immaterial whether the place is conferred by patent or in any other mode; and when the right hon. Gentleman, the late Member for Ripon, contended that it was necessary to the vacating of the seat, that the patent granting the office should be issued and accepted, he entirely overlooked the convenience and safety of several of the hon. Gentlemen around him, all of whom, acting contrary to his view, have treated their intimation of acquiescence to the first Lord of the Treasury in the offer made to them of their respective appointments as an acceptance by them of such appointments within the meaning of the act of Parliament, and as having vacated their seats, and acting upon such conviction, have procured themselves to be re-elected by their several constituencies; but if the opinions of the right hon. Baronet and the late Member for Ripon be correct, those hon. Gentlemen will have to go back to their constituents again, for many of their patents are not sealed at the present moment; and the right hon. Member for Dorchester will have the happy opportunity for another oratorical display in his ingenious misapprehension of some of the dinner speeches which may be delivered in the mean time. The conduct of these hon. Gentlemen, acting with the concurrence of the right hon. Baronet, manifests the real opinion entertained by that side of the House. The case put by the right hon. Baronet justly leads to the very opposite conclusion to that which he professes to have drawn. He says some act of formal acceptance in writing ought to be the foundation for the vacating the seat of the Member, and that some solemn act should be done by the Crown lo secure to the Member the certainty of the office the acceptance of which is to deprive the Member of his seat. But surely it is obvious, that a more direct evasion of the statute cannot be imagined, nor a more successful attack upon the independence of Parliament, than that the Crown by its first Minister should make a distinct offer of a place which the Crown has the power of bestowing, and that the Member should declare his acceptance of that office, and yet should retain his seat for any indefinite period, during which it might suit the purposes of the Minister to delay the formal act of appointment, in order that in the interval he might possess the vote of the Member; and should, during that time, effectually control the voter by his fears, that a vote displeasing to the Minister would deprive him of the reward of his corruption. The state of dependence thus produced is utterly inconsistent with the unbiassed discharge of his duty to his constituents, and is the very evil contemplated by the statute, and for which the remedy of sending him back to his constituents was devised. As the motion I am about to make is unopposed, I cannot with propriety trespass at greater length on the attention of the House, for the purpose of calling its notice to the language and object of the statute, and of the Parliamentary construction which that language has received; and I must content myself with solemnly protesting against the doctrines advanced by the right hon. Baronet, and with asserting that it has been the constant course of Parliament, as well in regard of the office of steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, as of every other office of profit under the Crown, to act upon the admission of the Member himself, or any one authorised by him, of his having accepted the office, as a sufficient ground for issuing a new writ, without any inquiry whether the office had been formally bestowed or not. I have, therefore only to move, that a writ be issued for the election of a burgess to serve in this House for the city of Ripon, in the place of the right hon. Sir E. Sugden, Knt., who has accepted the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had not vacated his seat till the patent was in his hands.

Sir J. Graham

also stated that he had not vacated his seat until he had kissed her Majesty's hands on his appointment.

Mr. C. Wood

said, that in the very last report on this subject, a committee of the House—a committee on which the right hon. Baronet next the right hon. Member for Tamworth had sat, if not the right hon. Member himself—was at direct variance with the principle laid down by the right hon. Baronet, in that case, the case of Mr. Wynn, no difficulty had been made in issuing a new writ; yet it was perfectly well known and admitted, that the right hon. Gentleman did not receive his patent of appointment until two months after his re-election. It was most desirable, as Mr. Wynn himself had suggested, that some course should be taken by the House to define what did constitute the acceptance of office. In the case of Mr. Wynn there was no act done before he vacated his seat; all that he had received was an intimation that directions would be given for making out his patent, and he thereupon vacated his seat, the patent itself not being made out for two months after.

Sir R. Peel

I did not concur altogether in the opinion of my right hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Ripon, as expressed yesterday, that the completion of the patent was necessary before a new writ could issue. I should have no objection whatever that it should be understood that the tender of an office under the Crown in writing, and the acceptance of it, also in writing, by the person to whom it was offered, should constitute a vacation of the seat. I think there ought to be some record of the transaction, and that it should not be left to rest upon mere conversation. In Mr. Horsman's case, there could be no doubt, that he had written to his constituents, that office had been offered to him, and that he had accepted it. Yet he voted in the Rouse after the date of that letter, and the House did not interfere. In the present instance, I have no hesitation in acceding to the motion for a new writ, as I know the necessary instruments are so far advanced as to constitute an acceptance of office.

Lord J. Russell

certainly thought that the principle stated by the right hon. Baronet might be productive of serious inconveniences to the public, especially in the case of the subordinate Members of the Government.

The new writ was ordered.

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