HC Deb 19 April 1864 vol 174 cc1287-9

said, he wished to submit a Question to Mr. Speaker relating to Parliamentary usage and law. On the previous night a writ was moved for the borough of Merthyr Tydvil; and the ground alleged for that place being vacant was, that the hon. Member who represented it had accepted the office of Vice President of the Board of Education. Now, by the 19 & 20 Vict, c, 116, the choice of Her Majesty in appointing a Vice-President of the Board of Education was limited to members of the Privy Council; and the hon. Gentleman whose seat was declared to be vacant last night was not a member of the Privy Council. Under these circumstances he could not have accepted an office under the Crown, the House had no power to declare the seat vacant, and the course taken last night was therefore, he believed, totally irregular. The seat was not really vacant at the time, and he wished to call the attention of Mr. Speaker and the House to what had occurred.


said, that the subject to which the hon. and gallant Member had referred was one on which there could be no doubt whatever among those who were conversant with the law and practice of Parliament. The hon. and gallant Member who had just addressed the House had fallen into the mistake of confounding two things which were essentially distinct—the acceptance of an offer of an office, and the completion of the appointment. By the law the thing which caused a seat to be vacated was the acceptance of an offer of office; and what constituted such an acceptance had been repeatedly brought before the House. It had been determined over and over again that a vacancy, under the Act of Queen Anne, c. 7, attached on the earliest proof of the acceptance, whether by letter, word of mouth, the kissing of hands, or in any other manner, however informal; and that it was not necessary to wait for the complete appointment, but that then the writ might be issued and the election take place; and if afterwards the appointment were completed by warrant, letters patent, or in any other form, no new vacancy was thereby created, because such appointment was merely the sequel to the acceptance of the offer of office which had occasioned the original vacancy. The hon. and gallant Member referred to the Act of Parliament which told them under what circumstances and upon what qualifications a person might receive from the Crown the appointment of Vice President of the Privy Council for Education. That Act authorized Her Majesty under her Royal sign manual to appoint any person who was of her Privy Council to be during her pleasure Vice President of the Privy Council on Education. When, therefore, the investiture took place and the warrant passed under the sign manual, the person appointed must be of the Privy Council; but it was as much in Her Majesty's power to make any person a member of her Privy Council as to make him Vice President, and before his investiture in that office she could make him one of her Privy Councillors. Therefore, when Her Majesty authorized and offered that office to be made to a person, although not at the time a member of the Privy Council, she made an offer which it was in her power to carry into effect by completing everything that was necessary for the appointment. If the offer were accepted, it was an acceptance within the meaning of the general law, and it was most important that what the House had decided to be the general law should be strictly adhered to. What was the principle of the jealousy which Parliament had showed of placemen who were required to go down for re-election to their constituents, when the Act of Queen Anne was passed? Why, that from the moment when a man signified his acceptance of an office of profit in the gift of the Crown, he became of course subject to the influence which the Crown exercised over all persons so bound to it; and, therefore, it had been enacted that his mere acceptance, however informal, should cause his seat to be vacant. The House was aware that the Vice President of the Board of Trade was Vice President of the Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council on Trade and Plantations, But when on the 9th of August, 1855, his right hon. Friend the present Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) was appointed Vice President of the Board of Trade, a writ was issued for Kidderminster in the room of his right hon. Friend, who had accepted that office, although not then a Privy Councillor. A similar course was taken when a new writ was moved for Gateshead in the room of Mr. William Hutt, on his acceptance of the office of Vice President of die Board of Trade and Plantations, he not being then a member of the Privy Council. He believed it would be a departure from the law and the spirit of the Constitution well deserving the censure of the House, if in the case of any Member not a Privy Councillor accepting the office in question, a new writ were not at once issued. Therefore, the doubt suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not well founded, and the House need be under no alarm for having issued the writ,—on the contrary, it would have been a departure from law not to have issued it.