HC Deb 18 April 1864 vol 174 cc1194-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Burgess to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Merthyr Tydvil, in the room of Henry Austin Bruce, esquire, who, since his election for the said Borough, hath accepted the Office of Vice President of the Committee of Privy Council on Education."—(Mr. Brand.)


said, he did not wish to throw any unnecessary difficulty in the way of issuing the new writ, but the House should observe that the Motion now made was connected with a question of some importance, which had already been brought before them. As the question might arise, which of the five Under Secretaries had infringed the provisions of the Act regulating the number who could hold seats at one time, he would suggest whether it might not be expedient to adjourn the present debate for a day in order to give time for the consideration of the other and more important point. The Motion for a new writ assumed that Mr. Bruce was at present, or, at all events, had been till very recently, a Member of the House; but that was a question which stood for discussion to-night. He moved the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir William Heathcote.)


said, he could not see any possible reason against issuing the writ. Assuming that Mr. Bruce could not sit as Under Secretary for the Home Department, at any rate he was Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and had now accepted office under the Crown. It was undoubtedly correct, under the circumstances, to move the issue of a writ for Merthyr Tydvil. Even if Mr. Bruce was not a Member of the House, it would be equally necessary to move a writ for Merthyr Tydvil, which could not be left without a representative.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Headlam) had misunderstood the question under discussion. He had assumed that Mr. Bruce was a Member of the House, that he had accepted office under the Crown, and that consequently a writ ought to be issued. But the question raised by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford was, Whether Mr. Bruce had or had not been a Member of the House?


believed that the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire hit a blot when he directed attention to the fact that five Under Secretaries were occupying seats in the House. As far as he could see, the case was this. By the Act, only four Under Secretaries could sit in the House, therefore, as long as there were only four Under Secretaries sitting in the House everything was right; but if a fifth Under Secretary were appointed and sat in the House, he could not lawfully do so. Hence the person in default was the Under Secretary last appointed. That person was not Mr. Bruce, but Lord Hartington.


said, "No" to the observation of the hon. and learned Baronet opposite, that the last Under Secretary appointed was the Marquess of Hartington. As a new Under Secretary for the Colonies had been made within the last few days in consequence of the resignation of the chief of that Department, he (Mr. Hunt) would suggest that the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) was the last Under Secretary appointed.


thought it was inconvenient that a discussion upon the more general Question of which notice had been given should be raised incidentally upon this Motion for a new writ. He was prepared to meet the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite when the proper time came; but it was not necessary to do so now. One thing was perfectly clear, that if Mr. Bruce had been down to the present time a Member of the House—a fact of which there could be little doubt —his seat had became vacant by his acceptance of an office of profit under the Crown. Even if, as some hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to think, he was not a Member of the House, it was equally clear that a writ should he issued for Merthyr Tydvil. If the House postponed the issue of the writ until a full discussion should take place upon a controverted state of facts and of law, it would do a very unpractical thing. There was not the slightest ground for asserting that since the recent appointment of a Colonial Secretary any new appointment had been made to the office of Under Secretary. The division of Secretaries of State was not a thing recognized by law, which knew no Secretary for the Colonies, no Secretary for Foreign Affairs, no Secretary for the Home Department, and no Secretary for War, unless, indeed, in some exceptional cases the names of those Departments had crept into recent Acts of Parliament. When Mr. Bruce was appointed as Under Secretary, although he was appointed by the Principal Secretary of State, and not by the Crown, he became incumbent of the office, and had never since ceased to hold it, not having been since displaced by any act of the Secretary of State or of any other competent authority. Upon the whole, trusting that the House would not be led into a premature discussion, he thought they would not be placing themselves in the wrong if they agreed to the Motion for a new writ. He had only one thing more to say, though, perhaps, it was rather applicable to the more general question. In 1808, when some doubt was supposed to exist as to whether or not a third Under Secretary ought to sit in the House, Mr. Bagot, who had been appointed to the office, accepted the Chiltern Hundreds, and a new writ was issued on account of his having done so. That was a precedent applicable to a case of doubt; so that if any uncertainty hung about the effect of the acceptance of the office of Under Secretary, it was proper to reduce it to a certainty by the acceptance of another and a different office, which had the effect, at all events, of making the seat vacant.


I rise, Sir, to submit a Question of order. As far as I am concerned I am perfectly ready at this moment to argue the general Question of privilege, of which Question I have gives notice. But still, I really think, in the absence of the First Minister, it would be inconvenient to discuss it now. I understand that the office which this gentleman has accepted is that of Vice President of the Committee of Privy Council on Education. We have no information that Mr. Bruce has been sworn in a. Member of the Privy Council, and I believe that he cannot be considered as appointed until he has been so sworn. I trust that some explanation on this matter may be offered. I think it will be much better for the House not to move any of the writs until they have an opportunity of coming to a decision upon the general Question of privilege. It is a serious matter, and the Question must be brought within a brief space before the attention of the House. I hope, therefore, the Government will feel that the best course for them to pursue is not to enter into a desultory discussion, in which the merits of the case must be unsatisfactorily treated, and that it will be better for them to agree to the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University, and allow the Motion of the Secretary to the Treasury to be postponed.


said, he understood the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman to be, not that the debate should be postponed owing to any doubt that Mr. Bruce had vacated his seat, but merely that the issue of writ should be deferred till after he had had an opportunity that evening of bringing forward the Question of privilege to which he had referred the other night. He did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to ask for an adjournment till another day. There could be no objection to a postponement till the noble Lord at the head of the Government was in his place. With respect to the doubt as to the seat being vacant because Mr. Bruce has not been sworn a Member of the Privy Council, he believed there had been several instances in which a Gentleman had not been sworn as a Member of the Privy Council until the writ had been moved and the election determined. That was the case in regard to other offices, which were always held by Members of the Privy Council, such as those of the Judge Advocate and even of the Secretaries of State. In all those cases the writs were moved on the acceptance of office; and it was not till the writ had been moved, and generally not till after the Member was returned, that he was sworn as a Member of the Privy Council.

Motion, and Original Question, by leave, withdrawn.