§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it was a formal measure, having for its object the simplification of the passing of instruments under the Great Real of the United Kingdom. It proposed to enact that a warrant under Her Majesty's Royal Sign Manual, countersigned by the Lord Chancellor, or by one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, or by the Lord High Treasurer, or two of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, should be a necessary and sufficient authority for passing any instrument under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom according to the tenour of such warrant; but it contained a Proviso that any instrument which might now be passed under the Great Seal by the fiat, or under the authority or directions, of the Lord Chancellor or otherwise without passing through any other Office, might continue to be passed as heretofore. It also proposed to give the Lord Chancellor power, from time to time, to make, revoke, or vary regulations respecting the passing of instruments under the Great Seal, and respecting the warrants for that purpose, which should be prepared by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. The making of any warrant for passing any instrument under the Great Seal, or the procuring any instrument to be passed under the Great Seal otherwise than in 813 the manner provided by this Bill or by the Crown Office Act, 1877, was proposed to be made a misdemeanour. It further provided, amongst other things, that after the passing of the Act it should not be necessary that any instrument should be passed under the Privy Seal. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, that he felt some difficulty in dealing with the Bill in the absence of noble and learned Lords who were qualified to discuss it; and that the more especially as it appeared to him—and he could not help having received the impression—to be of rather an insidious nature, as it seemed to be intended to effect a somewhat important Constitutional change in regard to an Office which had existed from an ancient date. The noble and learned Earl upon the Woolsack had said that the measure was simply a formal measure; but he (the Marquess of Salisbury), however much he might be inclined to regard it as one of form, did not think that it was a pure matter of accident that this Bill should immediately follow the Secretary for Scotland Bill; and it appeared to him not improbable that the real object of the Bill was to create a vacancy which the Secretary for Scotland was to fill. The £2,000 which was to be given to the Secretary for Scotland was to be taken from the Lord Privy Seal, and in order to do so the noble and learned Earl practically proposed to eviscerate the Office of the Lord Privy Seal. In that case, he thought that the measure should bear upon its front the title of a Bill to abolish the Office of the Lord Privy Seal. It was, perhaps, not very easy to justify the existence of sinecures; but no one had held a Cabinet Office without being conscious that sinecures were often of very great value to the Public Service at particular conjunctures. They were not confined to the Privy Seal; their value was recognized in the other House, where there was a sinecure called the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, which no one thought of abolishing, because it was often of very great value by enabling the Ministry to fill the Office by the appointment of a man who could render great service to the country. He had 814 heard nothing to convince him that the Office of the Lord Privy Seal should not be preserved, or that a similar value did not attach to it. The only reason given for the abolition of the Office was that his noble Friend the Duke of Northumberland, when Lord Privy Seal, could not be found by a person who was sent after him. He thought great precautions were required in regard to the issuing of warrants and the countersigning of the Sign Manual. He hoped, therefore, that, at all events, the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack would consent to put the Bill off until his noble and learned Friend (Earl Cairns) could be present, so that the House could have his opinion upon it.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that with respect to the objection of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury), the signature of the Lord Privy Seal was given as a mere matter of form, and the counter signatures of those who knew what the warrants were, and on whose advice and responsibility they had received the Royal Sign Manual, would still be required. There would be ample opportunity for discussing the measure on its subsequent stages.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on the first sitting dag after the recess at Whitsuntide.