HC Deb 15 April 1864 vol 174 cc1081-3

Sir, I wish to make an inquiry of Her Majesty's Government respecting the distribution of offices as at present arranged. The point is one of some gravity, and I trust I may be permitted to preface my Question with one or two remarks, which shall be confined strictly within the limits of an explanation of its purport. The matter to which I wish to call attention is the tenure of office by those Gentlemen who at present fill the post of Under Secretaries of State. The House is aware that the distribution of offices is, generally speaking, arranged by statute—by the Act familiarly known to every hon. Gentleman as the Act of Queen Anne, the 15th of Geo. II., and an Act of Geo. III., the celebrated Act of Mr. Burke when he introduced his economical reform. Then it was definitely arranged that two Secretaries of State might sit in the House of Commons, and two Under Secretaries. In very modern times, in the experience of all Gentlemen here—I think in 1855 or 1856—when a new Secretary of State was appointed, the Secretary of State for War, an Act was introduced which, referring to the previous state of the law on the subject, enacted that in future it should be legal for a third Secretary of State to sit in the House of Commons, and also a third Under Secretary. Still more recently, when the President of the Board of Control became also a Secretary of State, in an India Act it was provided that it should be legal for a fourth Secretary of State to sit in the House of Commons, and also a fourth Under Secretary. Although it may not have occurred to them, the House upon reflection will become aware that, at the present moment, there are five Under Secretaries of State sitting in the House of Commons. The House will feel that this is a subject which unless it is capable of satisfactory explanation by the Government, is of a very grave character. It is grave in a constitutional point of view, but it may become still more grave in the consequences which may be entailed on the individual who, if my present view of the case be right, fills the office of that fifth Under Secretary of State. I have no wish at present to enter into any details. I wish to confine myself merely to making the question which I desire to put to the Government perfectly clear to the House. We shall have opportunities, if it be necessary, of entering into the discussion of the subject in a more convenient manner. But I cannot suppose that this point has not occurred to the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers; and, therefore, I wish now to invite some explanation from the Government why their distribution of offices at present, as far as regards the Under Secretaries of State, should apparently be so opposed to the provisions of the statutes which exist on this subject.


No change has recently taken place in regard to the distribution of Government Offices. It is the same now as it has been for a long time past. The question of the right hon. Gentleman is one which requires examination, and I am not prepared to discuss it off hand, no notice having been given of it.


My explanation of the reason why I did not give any notice of my intention to bring this question before the House is the same, I think, as that which has influenced the noble Lord in declining to consider it now. The fact is I was not before aware of the state of affairs in respect to this matter. But because I was not aware of that state of affairs that does not make the matter the less important. The noble Lord, I am sure, will agree with me that this is a question of great importance. And you, Sir (addressing Mr. Speaker), will say whether it may not be considered a question of privilege, and, being such, whether it may not be brought before you on the first opportunity.