HC Deb 05 July 1867 vol 188 cc1127-36

said, that in rising to move a Resolution on this subject, he wished to explain to the House that at the time of the Union it was determined to follow, with respect to the Irish Peerage, the precedent set in the case of the Scotch Peerage at the time of the union of Scotland with England—namely, to have an Irish Representative Peerage; and accordingly the Act of Union provided that the Peers of Ireland should have twenty-eight representatives in the Imperial Parliament. There were, however, several points of difference between the Scotch Peerage and the Irish Peerage. The Scotch Peers were elected at the beginning of every Parliament, and without re-election could only sit for one Parliament. The Irish Representative Peers, on the other hand, were elected for life, and any person who was elected as a Representative Peer of Ireland had no power of resigning. He must serve. It had been said, he knew not on what authority, that a late noble Lord, so long the Leader of that House (Lord Palmerston), had refused to make out his right to vote for the Irish Representative Peerage, because he was afraid that, at some time or other, he might be elected and sent to the House of Lords against his will. The consequence of the system of election for life was that men in decrepit age, and even a lunatic confined in an asylum—as had been the case not long ago—might be found on the roll of the twenty eight Irish Representative Peers. If a Peer of Scotland was made a Peer of the Realm, he ceased to be a Representative Scotch Peer; but if an Irish Representative Peer was promoted to be a Peer of the Realm, he still remained a Representative Peer of Ireland for the whole term of his life; and there was a still more substantial difference between the Irish Peerage and the Scotch, since the Union of Scotland with this country no Scotch Peerage can be created; but under the Irish Act of Union an Irish Peerage may be created whenever three Irish Peerages become extinct, and even that limitation does not exist whenever the number of Irish Peers falls below one hundred. A Scotch Peer cannot be elected a Member of the House of Commons; but an Irish Peer can be elected for any constituency on this side of the Channel. It was perfectly competent to Her Majesty, if she so thought fit, to decline to create a further number of Irish Peers, and the only question was, was there any advantage in keeping up the Irish Peerage? He maintained that there was not. The fact of a man being an Irish Peer deprived him of the power of acting in many capacities which he might act in if he had no Peerage. An Irish Peer could not sit in that House for an Irish constituency; he could take no part in the management of the affairs of his county because he could not sit upon the grand jury; he was in fact a political eunuch. He believed that no English or Scotch gentleman would accept an Irish Peerage. It was not in substance or reality a Peerage; the coronet which it brought with it was a mere pasteboard one. If an Irishman was worthy of a Peerage at all, he ought to be made a British Peer. The Motion of which he had given notice was one for an Address to Her Majesty, praying Her not to exercise Her Royal Prerogative in creating Irish Peers; but the ultimate object he had in view was the amalgamation of the British, Scotch, and Irish Peerage. The present system worked very badly. He did not wish to say anything offensive to anyone; but it was notorious that, unless an Irish Peer professed very strong political opinions, he had no chance of a seat in the House of Lords. It was generally believed the noble Earl at the head of the Government exercised such an influence in the nomination of the Irish Representative Peers that, unless an Irish Peer coincided in the political views of that noble Earl, he had no chance of being elected to a seat in the House of Lords. That compelled the young Irish Peers to become Conservatives at once. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland would inherit an Irish Peerage; but if he sat for an Irish borough, the moment he became an Irish Peer he would have to quit the House, unless he could get in for a place in England or Scotland. It might be asked how he would provide room in the House of Lords for all the Irish and Scotch Peers? It was not for him to do that; he would leave it to the wisdom of Parliament and the bounty of Her Majesty. The thing, however, was not so very difficult. The Irish Peerage ought to be put on the same footing as the Scotch, and no more Irish Peers ought to be created. He would thus allow the Irish Peerage to become gradually extinct from non-creation of fresh Peerages, until the number was reduced so low that those remaining might become absorbed into the House of Lords as British Peers. To show how such a system would work he would mention that at the time of the Scotch Union there were 154 Scotch Peers, there were now only 78, the rest having become extinct. Of those 78, 41 had been created, since the Scotch Union, British Peers. That only left 37 Scotch Peers, of whom 16 were Representative Peers, so that there only remained 21 Scotch Peers who had not seats in that House. No doubt that number would be reduced by the process of extinction adopted until there would be no difficulty in adding them to the House of Lords. At the time of the Union with Ireland there were 238 Irish Peers, 60 had become extinct; but, unfortunately, that extinction had not the same effect as in Scotland, for some new Irish Peerages had been since created. There were, however, 189 Irish Peers at present, of whom 80 held English Peerages. Of those, 80 were English and 28 Representative Peerages, making the total number of Irish Peers without seats in Parliament, 81. At the time of the Union there were 228, which showed the rapidity of the process of extinction, the Union having taken place only 67 years ago. Last year, no less than six Peers of Ireland got English Peerages. It might be objected that such an addition as was proposed would render the House of Lords unmanageable, and interfere with the proper despatch of business. But if all the Scotch and Irish Peers at present existing were added, that would not be the case. At the present moment there were 463 Peers on the Roll of Parliament, but the House of Commons consisted of 658 Members, and might, if the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was accepted, be raised to the magical number of 666. But if they excluded the Irish and Scotch Peers and the Bishops, the number of Peers having seats in the House of Lords was 385, of whom 97 only claimed their Peerage anterior to the accession of George III. There were only two Dukes whose creation dated so early as the reign of Charles II., and only one Marquess whose creation dated before the reign of George III. He stated these facts to show how rapidly hereditary dignities became extinct; and that would be rendered still more plain to the House when he informed them that whereas at the accession of George III. there were 388 Peers, and that monarch created 215, there only now remained 385. There was no reason, then, to fear that the House of Lords would be rendered unmanageable by the addition of the Scotch and Irish Peers. Meantime he thought they should have a reform of the Irish Peerage, with, among other things, the cumulative vote. He would have them also elected each Parliament, the same as the Scotch Peers, and in other respects assimilated to them. His main object now in bringing this subject under the consideration of the House was to put an end to anomalies unsuited to the present age, and he trusted the present discussion would not be useless.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to consider the expediency of withholding the exercise of Her Royal Prerogative of creating Peers of Ireland, or filling up vacancies that may occur in the Peerage of that part of the United Kingdom, with a view to the ultimate union of the Peerage of Ireland with the Peerage of the United Kingdom,"—(Sir Colman O'Loghlen,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand port of the Question."


said, that, in seconding the Motion, he begged to be allowed to express a hope that the Government would not turn a deaf ear to the suggestion of his hon. and learned Friend, and relieve the Irish Peerage from the undeserved sneer that was often levelled against them. Since 1832 the Irish Peers stood at a much greater disadvantage than before. Until the great measure which extinguished the rotten boroughs was passed it was easy for Irish Peers to obtain seats in that House; and Lord Wellesley, Lord Londonderry, and other Irish Peers had been among the leading men of the House of Commons. But since 1832 all that was changed, and to make any one an Irish Peer now was to put an extinguisher upon him as a public man. It might be said that this was a sentimental grievance; but half the grievances in the world were sentimental, and created as much irritation as material grievances.


characterized the Motion as most extraordinary. The hon. and learned Member asked the House to endorse a proposal to violate the Articles of Union, and strike at the Prerogative of the Crown. Did he desire to secure the extinction of the Irish Peerage? Seventy-four Irish Peerages had become extinct since the Union, and that, one would think, should be sufficient to satisfy the craving of the hon. and learned Member. He surely could not expect any Minister to advise Her Majesty to add 110 Members to the House of Lords. The proposition was not original; the Duke of Somerset in 1716 proposed to limit the Prerogative of the Crown in the matter of creating Peerages to the extent of eight beyond the number then existing. Sir Robert Walpole told him that it would be perfectly impossible to get such a measure passed by the House of Commons, as many of its Members were living in expectation of having the honour of a Peerage conferred upon them, and the measure was afterwards, on the Motion of Lord Stanhope, abandoned; and well it was so, or the Peerage, as an oligarchy, would long since have ceased to exist. At the death of Queen Elizabeth there were in England but 59 Peers; James I. made 62; Charles I., 59; Charles II., 64; James II., 8; William III., 30; Anne, 30; George I., 20; making, altogether, 273; but 119 of those had become extinct, so that the Duke of Somerset's limit would have been 223. Peerages of the United Kingdom did not appear to last a very long time. In Ireland it was different. No country in Europe can boast a higher or more ancient aristocracy than Ireland—the De Burgos, from whom the Royal family derived their Earldom of Ulster; the De Berminghams, Lords Athenry, the Premier Peer of Ireland, the Geraldines, Kildare and Desmonde; the De Courcys, whose chief representative enjoyed the peculiar privilege of standing covered in the presence of his Sovereign, granted to one of his ancestors by King John; the D'Anjulos, Lords Nangle, the De la Poers, Du Barrys, De Excestres, De Barry, FitzWalters, called from their hereditary offices; Butlers, the Talbots, the Danish Plunketts, the Barnwells, and Prestons of the Pale. The newest of these Peerages has been 400 years in existence; the majority six or seven centuries. The great Celtic Peerages, Tyrowen, Tirconnell, M'Carthy More, O'Dempsy or Clanmalina, O'Brien of Thomond, have, with the exception of the last (Inchiquin) disappeared, as well as the soldier Peers of William III., the Schombergs and De Ginkles. At the commencement of the last century the creation of the Peers of Ireland may be said to have been vested in the hands of the undertakers—a number of families who undertook to carry all the Government measures on the patronage of the Crown being left in their hands. The chief of these families were the Gores, Beresfords, Speaker Boyle, and Primates Stone and Boulter. Government took the matter into their own bands, openly sold the Peerages for £5,000 each, and purchased boroughs with the money, creating what George Nugent Reynolds, in a letter to Lord Clare, denominated the Pinchbeck aristocracy, and called by others "the titled mushrooms." Curran, in his description of the Government of the day, says— They begun with the sale of the honour of the Peerage; the open and avowed sale to whomsoever was rich and shameless enough to become the purchaser. It depraved the Commons; it profaned the sanctity of the Lords; it poisoned the sources of legislation and fountains of justice; it annihilated the very idea of public honour or public integrity. According to rumour, £100,000 was obtained in this way. Mr. Ponsonby offered proof of six of these sales to the House of Commons; and, to this day, forty-two names are on the roll of Irish Peers who have not a residence or an acre of land in that country amongst them. In twenty years previous to the Union, thirty Peerages were made; and at the Union, in promotion and creation forty-two were made. They do not stand in high favour in Ireland, as to this day there is no more unpopular an epithet than that of a Union Peer. Since 1800 thirty-four have been created or promoted, So that Ireland had no cause to think herself neglected; and in one respect she had an advantage over Scotland, as her Peers could get themselves returned to the House of Commons. Since the Union many Irish Peers have sat in the House of Commons; the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Palmerston, Lord Hotham, Lord Annesley, Lord Henniker, Lord Rendlesham, Lord Galway, Lord Fermoy, Lord Henley, and others. He could not see any reason why the descendants of the purchaser of an Irish Peerage should have a claim to an English one, or why those who come after any of the Union Peers should have an opportunity afforded them of doing in their new country what their fathers did in the old. The 4th Article of the Union provided for keeping up the Irish Peerage; that for every three becoming extinct, and one year elapsing afterwards, Her Majesty should have the power to create one, and when the number was reduced to 100, she could create one for every vacancy that might occur. His hon. Friend the Member for Clare does not approve of this arrangement, and seeks to deprive Ireland of the trifling gilding that is left to her. He complains that the Irish Representative Peers differ from him in politics; but he does not propose to put a stop to English Peers voting at their election, which would do away with Ministerial dictation, and give its due weight to residence and devotion to Irish interests. There had been no claim made by any of the Irish Peers to have this supposed grievance redressed, nor had any desire been evinced on the part of the Irish people to see their representatives in the House of Lords. Why, then, was this Motion brought forward? Men — Irishmen — of ancient lineage may yet like to rank themselves amongst the nobles of the country where their properties are situated; or those persons who hereafter may raise themselves to distinction by their advocacy of Ireland's interests, may wish to identify their names with that of their country by being enrolled amongst its Peers. It appeared to him, therefore, that, under these circumstances, the Motion made by his hon. and learned Friend was not only uncalled for, but absolutely mischievous, and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would give no encouragement to hon. Members who might desire to take up the time of the House with Motions of this kind.


said, he was certainly puzzled to find a Motion of this nature brought forward as an Irish grievance. He, however, supposed that, seeing there was to be no Irish Reform Bill during the present Session, and thinking they had time to spare, his hon. Friend had thought he might occupy the time of the House with an attempt to reform the House of Peers. He certainly thought it would be well if we had only one Peerage for the two countries. Still, however, the existence of a separate Peerage was provided for by one of the Articles of the Union, and if any improvement was to be effected in that Treaty the whole subject ought to be brought under consideration, and not to be dealt with piecemeal. He, therefore, suggested that the House should proceed to the other business on the Paper, and lay aside a Motion which could produce no beneficial result.


said, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down had mistaken the nature of the Motion made by his hon. Friend. That Motion did not contemplate the elevation of the whole of the Irish Peerage to the House of Lords, but was simply to ask the Queen not to increase the number of Irish Peers—trusting to time to reduce them to such a number that they might be absorbed in the English Peerage. He could not imagine that the existing Peers would be dissatisfied because their number was not increased, while it could not, he thought, be agreeable to the Irish people generally that the Peerage of their country should remain one of an inferior rank.


said, he was not disposed to take up the time of the House in discussing a Motion which could in his opinion lead to no practical result. He was sorry to hear that there was any grievance affecting the Irish Peers; but he could not think that the grievance to which the hon. Gentleman had referred was one that sat very heavily on that body. He must confess that he could not regard as a grievance the complaint made by an hon. Gentleman opposite, that since the rotten boroughs had been abolished, Irish Peers had no longer an opportunity of becoming Members of that House. It was certainly not complimentary to that body; but he begged to remind the House that there had been lately an illustrious example to the contrary in the person of the late Prime Minister. There was not a constituency in England which would not, during the last twenty-five years, have been proud to have had him as their representative. Irish Peers with a capacity for public business such as the noble Lord possessed would find no difficulty in obtaining a seat in that House, and in getting important constituencies to recognize their business qualities. With regard to the Motion itself, he wished to point out that it would be impossible for the House to agree to it. Not only was it levelled directly against an important Prerogative of the Crown, but that Prerogative was confirmed in a solemn compact through the medium of an Act of Parliament. If, therefore, any interference was at all contemplated in this direction, that interference ought not to take the form of a Resolution, but should be solemnly embodied by the House in an Act of Parliament—an Act that would have the effect of repealing one of the Articles of the Union. He did not think that this would be a desirable course. He admitted that in some respects an Irish Peer was placed in an anomalous position; but his position in his own country was more anomalous than it was with regard to his Parliamentary privileges. It was felt as an inconvenience that an Irish Peer could not take that part in the business of the country that was taken by an ordinary gentleman. He, however, certainly thought that the House ought to be very slow to adopt a Resolution of this kind, and to interfere in the manner proposed with one of the most solemn acts ever entered into by the Parliament of this country.


said, the object of the Motion was not so much to get rid of the Act of Parliament as to elicit the opinion of the Government upon the question; and he believed that object had been fully attained in the discussion that had taken place that evening. It was most desirable that the English and Irish Peerages should be fused into one, the same as was done with the Scotch and English Peerages. If that plan had been adopted at the time of the Union there would only now be twenty-three Irish peers without seats in the House of Lords, and the fusion of the two would have been on the point of taking place. Everybody must admit that it was rather an unfortunate circumstance that, by the present system of election, Irish peers belonging to one party only could by possibility find a seat in the House of Lords. It was a somewhat remarkable circumstance that the other night, when Lord Russell brought forward a Motion on the question of the Irish Established Church—a matter which must really be settled if they were to give satisfaction to the Irish people—not a single Representative Irish Peer voted with that noble Lord.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.