HC Deb 21 May 1867 vol 187 cc876-8

said, he would beg to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, If it is true that Lord Devon has been appointed President of the Poor Law Board; and, having regard to the 8th Clause of the Act 10 & 11 Vict. c. 109, by which the existing Poor Law Board was created, which declares that the appointment of President shall not be deemed such an office as shall render the person holding it incapable of sitting in the House of Commons, and considering since the creation of the office up to the present time it has been uniformly held by representatives of the people, Mr. Charles Buller, Mr. Baines, Sir John Trollope, Mr. Bouverie, Mr. Sotheron Estcourt, Lord March, Mr. Villiers, and Mr. Gathorne Hardy, have not all former Governments acted on the principle that the office should be filled only by persons directly and immediately responsible to the House of Commons?


Sir, it is very true, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has stated, that since the first institution of the office of President of the Poor Law Board it has uniformly been held by a Member of the House of Commons, till the last appointment. But I think there is no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is in error if he supposes that in this clause—the 9th, not the 8th clause—of the Act 10 & 11 Vict., there is any intention to curtail the powers of the Prime Minister to distribute the appointments of his Cabinet to those serving under him in any particular House of Parliament. The language to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was of a permissive character merely, showing that this new place might be held by a Member of the House of Commons. It is perfectly true that Lord Derby has thought it expedient to recommend to Her Majesty that Lord Devon should be appointed President of the Poor Law Board, and in doing so I can state most sincerely that Lord Derby was only influenced by one desire—namely, that the new President should be the person best fitted to hold that office. Considering the general capacity of Lord Devon, his wide experience of public affairs, particularly the affairs of this Department, in which for many years he served with distinguished ability as Secretary, I think his is an appointment that Parliament will approve and that the country will have confidence in. The House of Commons, in my opinion, cannot complain that Lord Derby, in the formation of his Administration, either now or at other times, has shown any disposition to underrate the importance of his Cabinet being strongly represented in the House of Commons. Notwithstanding some vicissitudes which we did not anticipate, there are, at this moment, in addition to the office which I have the honour to hold, and which necessarily is in the House of Commons, four Secretaries of State, and the First Lord of the Admiralty still seated in the House of Commons. I may, perhaps, be permitted to say, for my own part, that although, as a general rule, I think it very advantageous that a Department should be represented by its chief, I am not in favour of pertinacious adherence to the hard and harsh rule that a subordinate Member of the Government, if he has shown himself capable of the performance of the duties, should be entirely precluded under all circumstances from representing his Department in this House. I think it is for the advantage of the public service that such representation should occasionally take place. And of this we have an instance in the arrangements consequent on the fact that two Departments are no longer represented in this House, as they formerly were, by the responsible Ministers of the Crown. With regard to my right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade, I may say that the manner in which he has performed his duties has been such as is not only creditable to himself, but commands, I think, the confidence of the House of Commons. So, also, of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Poor Law Board, who now has an opportunity of showing the abilities which we believe him to possess, I may assert that his general acquaintance with business, his business-like habits, and the propriety with which he can communicate to the House his views upon any subject on which the House has a right to expect that those views will be laid before them, render the appointment one that will, I think, be received with approval.


Having had an opportunity of serving with the present Lord Devon in the same Department of which he is now at the head, I must say, from my knowledge of that nobleman, that a more unimpeachable appointment could not be made. Lord Devon has a perfect familiarity with the business of that Department, but his acquaintance with its detailed working does not constitute a recommendation stronger than the business capacity and courtesy which he invariably displays. I am satisfied that if Lord Derby had hunted round both sides of either House of Parliament for a proper man to fill the office he could not have hit upon anybody more likely to fill it with satisfaction to the public than the Earl of Devon.