HC Deb 11 June 1855 vol 138 cc1775-8

addressed the House as follows: I have to offer my sincere thanks to the House for the very kind and indulgent consideration it has extended to me whilst disabled from attending its service by my late accident. I have the satisfaction of knowing, that, owing to the very zealous and able manner in which the duties of the Chair have been discharged by the Chairman of Ways and Means, public business has not been impeded or interrupted in consequence of my absence. There is one circumstance, however, to which I ought to call the attention of the House. During my absence two Members, the Member for Aberdeenshire (Lord Haddo) and the Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) have been called to the table, and have taken the oaths and their seats. Now, the Acts which regulate the taking of oaths and the delivering in of the qualifications of Members of this House provide that it shall be done within certain hours of the day, whilst the House is sitting "with their Speaker in the Chair;" and I understand that doubts have been suggested whether these words do not make it absolutely necessary that the Speaker himself, and not any person appointed to act as Speaker in his absence, should be in the Chair at the time. No doubt the intention of the Legislature was, that the oaths should be taken in the most solemn and public manner possible, when the House was not in Committee; but I thin it very desirable that the House should consider the point. These two Members, before they took their seats, did everything, as far as they were aware, which they were required to do by law; but they may be placed in a very inconvenient position unless some legislative enactment be passed which would protect them from any penalties they may have incurred for having sat in this House without having been sworn in strict conformity with the provisions of the Acts. I do not venture to give any opinion as to whether or not these doubts are well founded. I only throw out the suggestion in the hope that an early step may be taken for the purpose of giving such relief to these Gentlemen as the House may think expedient under the circumstances of the case.


said, he was sure he was only expressing the universal feelings of the House, when he said that they deeply regretted the cause of the short temporary absence of the Speaker, and that it afforded them sincere gratification to find that the right hon. Gentleman was able to resume that Chair which he had so long filled, to the great advantage of the House and the public interest. With reference to the question to which the right hon. Gentleman had called attention, having previously received a private communication from him as to whether the two hon. Members referred to had taken their seats conformably with the strict letter of the statute, he (Sir G. Grey) had conferred with several hon. Members on both sides of the House, learned in the law, and others who were competent from their experience to give an opinion entitled to weight with the House, and they were unanimous in their concurrence with the view taken by Mr. Speaker, that a question might be raised whether the oaths had been taken strictly in accordance with the terms of the statute. They were of opinion further that the matter ought not to be left in doubt, and that some step should at once be taken to prevent that inconvenience to the two hon. Gentlemen who had taken the oath during the absence of Mr. Speaker, to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. It was no fault of those hon. Gentlemen themselves that the informality had occurred; they were called upon by the right hon. Gentleman, who was at the time acting as Deputy Speaker, to come up to the table and take the oaths in the usual manner, and they did so. But to remove all doubts, and to relieve the two hon. Members from all liability, he proposed to introduce a Bill immediately to render all proceedings which had been taken during the absence of Mr. Speaker as valid and effectual as they would have been if the right hon. Gentleman had himself been present, and he hoped that Bill would meet with the support of the House.


said, he cordially joined in the expression of regret at the cause of Mr. Speaker's temporary absence, and begged to offer his sincere congratulation at his return. With respect to the important question raised by the right hon. Gentleman as to the strict legality of swearing Members in the absence of the Speaker, it was necessary, at all events, to confirm the acts which had been done; and he should, therefore, be perfectly willing to support the right hon. Baronet's Bill. As this was the first occasion on which they had had practical experience of the working of the suggestion of the late Sir Robert Inglis, of appointing a Deputy Speaker, he would suggest that if the Committee which sat some time ago on the subject was reappointed the hon. Gentleman who had filled that office during Mr. Speaker's late absence might be able to give many valuable suggestions as to any inconveniences that might occur in carrying out that suggestion, and the best mode of remedying them. He would submit that when the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) brought in his Bill, he should move for the appointment of a Committee to consider in what mode the appointment of Deputy Speaker might best be made, so as to avoid any doubts or inconveniences that might arise from acts done by the House during the absence of the Speaker in future.


said, he begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, which he thought it might be very desirable to adopt.


said, he thought there would be no necessity for appointing a new Committee, as the evidence taken before the former Committee would be found to contain all the information requisite. The best mode would be for the right hon. Baronet to act on his own authority, and to introduce a clause in the Bill which he was about to bring in providing against such difficulties as this for the future.


said, he did not think it would be convenient, on a Bill relating to the relief of certain Members from penalties to which they might have subjected themselves, to raise a discussion as to the future mode of proceeding to be adopted by the House. The best mode in his opinion would be to appoint a Committee to consider the subject separately.


said, he would suggest that every arrangement necessary might be made by a Standing Order without an Act of Parliament. It was a matter of grave consideration whether they should alter those regulations in dealing with the office of Speaker which had been in use for centuries. The difficulties which had arisen proved, as he ventured to state the other day, when the Resolution for appointing the Deputy Speaker was proposed, that much caution was necessary on this subject. Whatever was done should be done with great gravity, after mature consideration, and with the authority of the Crown; which, in point of fact, was the source of the authority of the Speaker of the House of Commons.


said, he wished to inquire whether it would be necessary that the two hon. Members who had taken the oaths and their seats during Mr. Speaker's absence should be re-sworn?


said, that if the House should agree to the Bill he proposed to bring in it would not be necessary for those hon. Members to be re-sworn. With regard to what had been said by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Sir W. Heathcote), he had to observe that the authority of the Crown had been given to the appointment of his hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means, as Deputy Speaker, during the temporary absence of the Speaker.

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