§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Moved "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir George Grey.)
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
asked if I all the Under Secretaries of State would be incapable of sitting and voting in that House, if there were one more elected at a General Election than the number generally allowed?
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
asked why the first clause of the Bill referred exclusively to the Principal Secretaries of State, while the second clause referred both to the Principal Secretaries and the Under Secretaries?
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that the object of the Bill was to make effective the Act of 1858. If there happened to be four Members holding the office of Under Secretary in that House and a fifth was nominated, his seat would become vacant, and he would not be capable of being elected so long as those four Gentlemen continued to hold office; but it was impossible to say which of the number ought to be excluded from voting. It was not really necessary that the Bill should be made to apply to a Principal Secretary of State, because his seat became vacant on his acceptance of office. If, however, it was thought there was any ambiguity it could be remedied in Committee.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
thought there was some irregularity connected with the acceptance of office by the Vice President of the Council for Education, inasmuch as a new writ for Merthyr Tydvil was issued, when in reality there was no vacancy created. The appointment was confined to a Privy Councillor, and as the hon. Gentleman who was selected was not at the time a Privy Councillor, there was no proper appointment, and consequently the House had no power to issue a writ. He hoped that such an irregularity would not occur again.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that as this Bill overcame the difficulty which it was intended to meet, and did not alter the law, he would not offer any opposition to the second reading; but, at the same time, he wished to guard the House against a conclusion which might be drawn from what had taken place upon this occasion. In the Committee upstairs there was a great division of opinion as to whether the fifth Under Secretary was or was not disqualified from sitting by the Statute of Anne, as well as by the recent Acts. His own conviction was that a new Under Secretary of State was within the Statute of Anne. But what he was now anxious about was that no general conclusion should be drawn from what had taken place this year with reference to seats which might be vacated, or be held to be vacated, in some future year under similar circumstances. If the Statute of Anne had been rigidly observed—that is to say, if it had been held that whatever the number of new Under Secretaries who were in the House, they must all go to their constituents for re-election upon accepting office —no harm could have been done, because each one must have undergone that trial which every Minister of the Crown upon accepting office was bound to submit to. But if the number of Members of that House who were entitled to hold office without going back to their constituents was not restricted, two dangers would arise, and those dangers would materially affect the independence of the House. In the first place, the number of persons who could hold office without going back to their constituents at all would be increased, which was contrary to the whole spirit and intention of the Statute of Anne; and in the second place, as had been pointed out already by his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, an inducement would be offered to the Ministry to put the Principal Secretaries of State into the other House 596 of Parliament, and leave the Under Secretaries in the House of Commons, instead of complying with what he conceived the constitution required—namely, that those great Officers, particularly when they were connected with the principal Estimates, should be in that House, so as to be responsible for all the questions and all the discussions which arose in that House with reference to their Departments particularly, and when those questions and discussions related to matters connected with the revenue. As the Bill did not alter the law he should not oppose it, but he took that opportunity of protesting against any general conclusions being drawn from the circumstances which had taken place this year, or from the Bill itself; and he could not agree that the holders of any of these offices were to be considered as privileged to sit in that House without going back to their constituents, if the offices they held did not exist before the Statute of Anne. If such a conclusion were ever drawn the independence of the House would be more struck at than it had hitherto been within his recollection. He hoped the House would be careful not to consent to anything derogatory to its dignity and independence.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that his right hon. Friend might safely assume that nothing which had occurred this year, and nothing contained in this Bill, could be productive of any such precedent as that of which he had justly expressed his apprehension. If he understood the view of the Select Committee correctly, it was that the office of Under Secretary was not a new office within the meaning of the Statute of Anne. Whatever might be the law with regard to any similar office created de novo, this Bill simply dealt with the particular case of the office of Under Secretary. It adhered to the limitation which recent Acts of Parliament had placed upon the number of persons holding that office who might sit in the House of Commons. It made that limitation more stringent and effective than it was, and it did not countenance the notion that any new or different offices could be created which should be exempt from the wholesome operation of the statute.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for Thursday.