HC Deb 05 April 1867 vol 186 cc1199-201

said, he rose to call attention to the practice of not issuing a Writ for a vacancy in this House if the Seat which has been vacated be claimed on behalf of another Candidate; and to move— That whenever a Member of this House shall accept an Office of Profit under the Crown a Writ for a new Election may issue, notwithstanding that the time limited for presenting a Petition may not have expired, or that a Petition praying for the Seat may have been presented. This was a matter of considerable importance as affecting the general interests of the public. According to the practice of the House, when a petition praying for the seat was presented against any person who had been appointed to an office of profit under the Crown no writ could issue until the petition had been decided. According to the old practice no writ could issue if a petition was merely presented against the return. But in 1852 it was decided by the House, in the cases of Southampton and Carlow, that the writ should issue in those cases where the seat was not prayed for. He could see no difference between the cases where seats were prayed for and where they were not. By the present practice no writ for a reelection could be issued at the commencement of a new Parliament until after fourteen days of the meeting of the House. If on the death of Lord Palmerston Earl Russell had not been able to form a Ministry, and Earl Derby had been called upon to form a Government, the consequence would have been that the Members of the Government could not have taken their seats in the House until three weeks after the meeting of Parliament, fourteen days being required to elapse before the writ could be moved to see whether petitions against their return would be presented. Last year, at the commencement of the first Session of the new Parliament, matters of great public interest came before the House—namely, the Cattle Plague and the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. What would then have been the result if the Members of Her Majesty's Government having seats in the House had been petitioned against and the seats prayed for? If therefore they balanced any supposed personal advantage under the present system against public convenience, private feeling should give way to the latter. That a seat was prayed for was no ground for preventing a dissolution of Parliament by Her Majesty's command; why, then, should it be a reason for preventing the issue of a new writ when it might be for the public advantage that a writ should be issued? The present practice was also liable to abuse. On that ground also it required to be altered. Any person wishing to keep a Minister out of his seat for the purpose of gratifying a malicious feeling, might, at the last moment, present a petition praying for the seat, and thereby keep a Minister out of his place in the House for some months. On the last day for presenting petitions at the beginning of the last Session, a Mr. Wellington Shegog presented a petition against the return of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chichester Fortescue), then Chief Secretary for Ireland, on the ground of intimidation, and praying for the seat. Now, it appeared, according to a Return which he moved for, that from 1832 to 1866 not one person had been seated on petition on the ground of intimidation solely. The petition against the right hon. Gentleman was presented on the 20th February, and he was actually kept out of the House until the 12th of March, and might have been for a much longer period had not he (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) made a similar Motion to the one then before the House, when the petition was withdrawn. The petition against the return of Mr. Morris was presented on the same day, and was not disposed of until May, and if the petition against the right hon. Gentleman had been tried he would have been kept out of the House a similar lengthened period. That, too, during the discussion with reference to the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act and other questions of importance relative to Ireland, at a time when his presence was most required. The only ground upon which the present practice could be defended was some supposed interest the person might have in the seat he prayed for. But that was not to be considered for a moment in opposition to the public inconvenience it occasioned. He moved—


said, that by the rules of the House the hon. and learned Member could not then make a Motion, inasmuch as an Amendment had already been moved and negatived on the Question that the Speaker leave the Chair.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had made out no sufficient case for altering the rules of the House on the subject to which he had called attention. That which might turn out to be the property of one person ought not to be given to another. In the very rare event of Cabinet Ministers not being able to take their seats for a fortnight or three weeks as had been described, the Secretary to the Treasury or some of the subordinate officers of the Government who did not vacate their seats might very well discharge the necessary business in their absence.