MR. GLADSTONE'S SEAT.
SO much has been written at random, and evidently from partisan motives of no amiable kind, about Mr. Glad- stone's acceptance of a new office in relation to his Green- wich seat, and a letter which we publish to-day—from a sincere Liberal as we believe—presents the matter in so false a light, that it may be just as well to lay before our readers the exact state of the case. The Act which raises the question is an Act of 1858, 21 and 22 Viet., c. 110, and its drift is this :—It directs any member of the House of Commons who has accepted "any office whereby he has, either by the express provision of any Act of Parliament or by any previous determination of the House of Commons, vacated his seat in the House of Commons," to notify his acceptance of such office to the Speaker,—the Speaker having no power to issue a writ for the new election till after he has received such a notification. And then we have this express provision,—" pro- vided always that in any case in which it shall appear to the Speaker to be doubtful whether the acceptance of any office which has been certified to him as aforesaid has the effect of vacating the seat of the person so appointed, it shall be lawful for the said Speaker, instead of issuing his warrant in pur- suance of this Act, to reserve such question for the decision of the House." We believe that the accepted interpretation of such a "shall be lawful" as the last sentence con- tains is that it enjoins, and not merely permits, the act directed. We take it that under it the Speaker would feel it his duty to reserve a case which seemed to him doubtful for the consideration of the House of Com- mons. It is quite a mistake therefore to say, as our corre- spondent "Lex " says, that "it rests entirely with Mr. Gladstone to decide whether there shall be a new elec- tion for Greenwich or not." On the contrary, it does not rest with him at all. It is clear that the Act intends the Speaker to decide whether or not there is a doubt, and if there be a doubt, directs him to reserve the question for the House of Commons. Mr. Gladstone was, no doubt, bound under the Act to notify his change of position to the Speaker, for we agree that it is quite clear that the question whether there be any doubt is not to be settled by the individual Member, but by the Speaker ; and we assume, what of course we do not know, but what is in the highest degree probable, that Mr. Gladstone has notified to the Speaker his acceptance of the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and left the further decision to him.
That such a course would necessarily have issued in the Speaker's reserving the case for the decision of the House seems to us perfectly certain, for any one who looks at the point at issue with unprejudiced eyes. The question whether or not Mr. Gladstone's change of position in the Ministry vacates his seat at Greenwich depends on the interpretation of a clause in the Reform Act of 1867,—a clause which, as it seems to us, it would have been simply impossible for the Speaker to have regarded as unquestionably vacating the seat. We feel indeed very little doubt that the legal inter- pretation of the clause must go the other way. The clause is this :—" Whereas it is expedient to amend the law relating to offices of profit the acceptance of which from the Crown vacates the seats of Members accepting the same, but does not render them incapable of being re-elected : be it enacted that where a person has been returned as a Member to serve in Parliament since the acceptance by him from the Crown of any office described in Schedule (H) to this Act annexed, the subsequent acceptance by him from the Crown of any other office or offices described in such Schedule in lieu of and in immediate succession the one to the other, shall not vacate his seat." Both the offices now held by Mr. Gladstone are enumerated in the Schedule H here referred to, and there can be no question, we think, that had Mr. Glad- stone exchanged the office of First Lord of the Treasury for any pair of other offices here enumerated, this clause would expressly direct that such an exchange would not vacate his seat. It seems quite clear that the exchange of one office for "any other office or offices" (one or more) described in such schedule does not vacate his seat, since it can hardly be contended that the words "in lieu of and in im- mediate succession the one to the other" limit the exchange to one at a time, after the express use of the plural, "offices," in the previous line. It is indeed obvious that the words "in lieu of or in immediate succession, the one to the other," are meant to imply solely that there must be no interval between the resignation of the one office and the acceptance of the other "office or offices." Nor can it for a moment
be alleged that the question of profit," i.e., of higher salary, bears in any way on the law of the case. In the Schedule referred to, offices of very different scales of salary indeed are made interchangeable, without any vacation of the seat. Thus, if Mr. Ayrton had vacated the office of First Commissioner of Works, with £2,000 a year, and had accepted the office of First Lord of the Treasury, with £5,000 a year,—a terrible suggestion, but all the more instructive as to the law of the case on that account,—he would not have vacated his very unsafe seat for the Tower Hamlets. The question of greater salary, then, is abso- lutely no element in the matter. And the only possible contention is, that the words "in lieu of" do not quite indisputably provide for the case of a mere annexation of one office to one already held. But if Mr. Ayrton had accepted in place of his First Commissionership of Works, not only the First Lordship of the Treasury, but with it the Chancellorship of the Exchequer,—both of them different offices from that which he had previously held, and both of them much higher paid,—there cannot be a question that under the Act of 1867 he would not have vacated his seat by so doing. Would there, then, be any sense in a law which obliged Mr. Gladstone to vacate his seat for adding the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to that of First Lord of the Treasury, but which did not,— as it certainly would not,—oblige Mr. Ayrton to vacate his seat for exchanging the office he held of First Commissioner of Works for both those which Mr. Gladstone now holds ? But our correspondent "Lex" remarks that in 1834 Sir Robert Peel vacated his seat when he accepted the two offices of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course he did. He must have done so for the acceptance of either of them. He was not a Minister at all before he accepted them, and if he had been, the Act of 1867 had not been passed in 1834.
As it is, it seems to us pretty clear that hardly any lawyer would interpret the Act so as to compel Mr. Glad- stone to vacate his seat. And whether that be so or not, it is perfectly certain that a Speaker who had decided that the seat was vacated without reserving the question for the House of Commons, would have committed a most absurd and monstrous breach of his duty. We know nothing, of course, of what Mr. Gladstone has done, but we feel little doubt that he has notified his change of position to the Speaker,—that the Speaker has decided that if there be any doubt about the law at all, it is one which he is bound to reserve for the decision of the House of Commons, and that when referred to the House, the House will promptly decide that the seat is not vacated. There must be a great and very petty animosity against the Prime Minister, for the Press to have invented so silly an accusation against him as that which they have been now discussing with some acrimony for many weeks.