HC Deb 15 March 1894 vol 22 cc347-9
MR. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)

I beg to ask whether it is true that the Prime Minister, being a Peer and Lord Lieutenant for the County of Edinburgh, is to address a public meeting on political topics in Edinburgh during the present week; whether, a new Writ having been issued for the Leith District, situated within the county, and in close proximity to the City of Edinburgh, the conduct of the Prime Minister is not calculated to influence the election; and whether such conduct does not fall within the spirit and letter of the Sessional Order touching the interference of Peers and Lord Lieutenants in Parliamentary elections?


Although questions of this kind are put from time to time, with the view apparently of preventing Peers from taking part in Parliamentary elections, they have, I think, only a partial success. Matters of this kind are settled rather by precedent than by argument. I am certainly not prepared to state that the speech of a Prime Minister, wherever delivered, is not calculated to influence elections whenever and wherever they take place. It depends a good deal upon what the election is and who the Prime Minister is, and I am not prepared to state the exact mileage of the sphere of influence that he may possibly have. But if the hon. Member desires to know what is the proper course for a Prime Minister to take who happens to live in proximity to the place where a contested election is occurring, I recommend him to consider the occasion when Mr. Disraeli was Prime Minister and was made a Peer, and when he vacated his seat in this House in consequence of his being created a Peer. I think the first public act of his as Prime Minister and a Peer was to make a very important political speech during the election for the very seat which he bad vacated in his own county and in immediate proximity to his own residence. It was a very important and very remarkable speech, and if the hon. Member wishes to understand exactly how a speech of that kind ought to be made he will find it a very judicious model for all Prime Ministers in those circumstances. The hon. Member is mistaken in saying that Lord Rosebery occupies the position of Lord Lieutenant in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a city and county, and he is not Lord Lieutenant in Edinburgh.


Was not Edinburgh included in the scope of the Scotch Sea Fisheries Bill because it was supposed to be in the County of Midlothian?


We are on the subject of the Lord Lieutenancy. There was a time when Lord Lieutenants thought they ought not to interfere in political matters in their own counties, but the abstention is not always observed now. I know that the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire came to Derby to make a speech against its Representative. Therefore, there are exceptions to the rule that Lord Lieutenants should not interfere in political affairs in their own counties.

SIR. J. GORST (Cambridge University)

Is the House to understand that the Government admit that the Standing Order of the House of Commons respecting the interference of Peers at elections is about to be broken, and that the only excuse for breaking it that the Government make is that it has been broken before?


The right hon. Member must not assume that I admit anything.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

Was not next, Saturday's meeting at Edinburgh arranged some weeks ago, before there was any prospect of an election for the Leith District?


J believe that is so.