HC Deb 29 April 1868 vol 191 cc1559-64

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that in rising to move that the Bill be now read the second time, he wished to state its provisions and to explain the principles on which it was based. Many persons had asked, "What has the House of Commons to do with the Irish Peerage?" forgetting that it was constituted and regulated by an Act of which they had heard much during the last few weeks—namely, the Act of Union; and no alteration of the existing arrangements could be made without an Act of Parliament. There was nothing in the objection that this Bill ought to have been introduced into the House of Lords in the first instance. The Act of Union was brought forward first in the Houses of Commons of England and Ireland, and passed through them before it went to the Upper Houses. The first object of the Bill was to prevent the creation of any more Irish Peers. At the time of the Union the Irish Peerage was placed in the same position as the Scotch Peerage at the time of the Union in this respect, that instead of all Irish Peers having seats in the other House, it was arranged that the Irish Peerage should be represented by the election of a number of Peers. There was, however, this differonce—that at the time of the Union with Scotland, the creation of any more Scotch Peers was prevented, while at the time of the Union with Ireland the right to create Irish Peers was preserved to a certain limited extent. The power of the Crown to create Irish Peers was forced upon the Irish House of Lords by the Duke of Portland. The objections urged against this power by the then Irish Peers were so strong that Lord Cornwallis wrote to the Duke of Portland expressing fears lest the Act of Union should be imperilled, and suggesting the compromise which was ultimately adopted. That was that the Crown should be at liberty to create one Peer for every three Peerages that might become extinct, and that when the number of Peers was reduced to 100, the Crown might create as many as it pleased to keep the number up at 100. It was popularly believed that the number must be kept up at 100; but the maintenance of that number was discretionary, and not compulsory. He hoped the Peerages of Scotland and Ireland would ultimately be united with the Peerage of England. At the time of the Union with Scotland there were 154 Peers of Scotland. Since then 76 Peerages had expired, and, deducting those that had been made British Peerages, there remained 36 Scotch Peers, of whom 16 were representative Peers, leaving only a small residue without seats in the Upper House. At the time of the Union with Ireland there were 228 Irish Peerages, of which 60 had become extinct, leaving a remainder of 168, of which about 80 had been made British Peerages. He believed there were now 111 pure Peers of Ireland, and only 28 being representative Peers, 83 had no seats. Since the Act of Union 18 Peers had been created. To prevent any further creations was the first object of the Bill. If any Irishman was worthy of being created a Peer, he was worthy of the full rights of the Peerage and of a seat in the House of Lords. The Irish Peer occupied an extraordinary position. He had only the right of voting for one of the 23 representative Peers, and he was deprived of the ordinary privileges of citizenship, because he could not take part in the financial business of his country, and he could not be a Member of the House of Commons for any place in Ireland, though he might represent an English constituency. Therefore, unless he could secure election in England it was impossible for him to discharge any of the ordinary duties of his position. For these reasons the Irish Peerage ought not to be maintained, and to limit its continuance he proposed to prevent any new creations. He did not propose to interfere with promotion in the Irish Peerage, but he did propose to make some alterations in the present system of representative Peers. The representative Irish Peers were at present elected for life; but in Scotland the representative Peers were elected for one Parliament. Although an Irish representative Peer might succeed to a British Peerage, he still remained a representative Peer; and a case had occurred in which a representative Peer was for nearly two years in a lunatic asylum, there being no power to elect another until his death. No Scotch Peer who succeeded to a British Peerage could remain a representative Peer. If a representative Peerage of Ireland were to remain, as it must until the whole Irish Peerage became extinct or was absorbed in the British Peerage, it ought to be made truly representative as it was in Scotland; and he, therefore, proposed, without interfering with the existing rights of life Peers, that all elections after the passing of the Bill should be for a Parliament only; that any representative Peer becoming a British Peer by creation or succession, should, ipso facto, cease to be a representative Peer; and that if any representative Peer become mentally incapacitated, his seat should be declared vacant. He also proposed that a representative Peer might resign his position if he chose to do so. At present an elected Peer could not resign, but must hold office for life, even although he might be elected against his will. He further proposed that in the election of representative Peers cumulative voting should be introduced, so as to secure the representation of the minority. He would enable any Peer to give to one candidate as many votes as there were vacancies. At present the minority was wholly unrepresented, and it was impossible that that injustice could be remedied, as it was said to be in the House of Commons, by the Member for one constituency representing the minority in another. At present, he believed the election to the Irish Peerage was a mere matter of nomination, and the late Prime Minister appointed all the Irish Peers. [The Earl of MAYO: No.] Whether that were so or not, no one could be elected unless he professed those extreme Radical opinions which found favour on the Treasury Bench, and a moderate Conservative like those that sat at this side of the House had not the slightest chance of being elected. If this proposal of cumulative voting were adopted with respect to the Irish Peerage, he hoped it would be applied to the Scotch Peerage. A Scotch Peer could not sit for any place in England, Scotland, or Ireland; and if he did not belong to the dominant party he had no chance of being elected a representative Peer. The noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland (the Earl of Mayo) could hardly favour the continued creation of Irish Peers, which was only forced upon the Irish Peers at the time of the Union, that the Crown might have an additional means of conferring favour upon English supporters; for if the noble Earl could not find a seat in England or Scotland he would be excluded from public life, could take no part in the public business of his country, and would be compelled to vegetate upon his property. Prevent the further creation of Peers and in time the Irish Peerage would become extinct, naturally, as well as by the creation of British Peers, and in this way the Peerages of the three kingdoms would become amalgamated. Even if the House of Lords were increased by the number of the Scotch and Irish Peers (which he did not propose by this Bill) it would not be a large body compared with others. There were 466 Peers, including the recent creations; deducting Irish and Scotch representative Peers, Peers of the blood Royal, and Bishops, the whole British Peerage consisted of 385 persons; and the House of Commons consisted of 658 Members, whom it was proposed to increase to 666. It was a curious fact that there remained only 97 Peerages that were created before the accession of George III. Even if a large addition were made to the House of Lords, it was unlikely that it would be cumbersome or too large for the transaction of public business. The number of representative Peers ought to be increased, and if the Bill reached the House of Lords, it would be competent for their Lordships to introduce a clause increasing their number, and he hoped they would.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Colman O'Loghlen.)


opposed the Motion. The Bill was an attempt to interfere with Her Majesty's Prerogative, and a violation of the agreement made between the two countries at the time of the Union. The same proposal was made by his hon. and learned Friend last Session, though then in the form of a Resolution instead of a Bill. He had not heard from his hon. and learned Friend—either on that occasion or on this—any sufficient reason for the change. His hon. and learned Friend proposed to amalgamate the English and Irish Peerages, but the two Peerages were totally distinct. Many of the Irish Peers owned no land in this country, and had no ties connecting them with England; and he did not see why they should become English Peers. On the other hand, there were many distinguished Irishmen who had a claim to the Peerage of their own country, but none whatever to the Peerage of this country. Though some of the objections urged by the hon. and learned Baronet to the present state of things with regard to the Irish Peerage were sound and ought to be considered by the Government, he (Colonel French) did not think that this endeavour to abolish the Irish Peerage would meet with approval in Ireland, and he was surprised to find an Irishman proposing such a measure. He hoped the Government would give no support or encouragement to the Bill, and he moved that it be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Colonel French.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, the House ought to hear from the Speaker whether a Bill of this sort, which directly limited the Prerogative of the Crown, could be entertained without the assent of the Crown.


said, he was about to ask the same question. He believed that the practice was settled, and that, though this Bill might go up to the last stage without receiving the Royal assent, it could not go beyond that stage. He did not think it was a measure that was at all pressing in its character; and could not undertake to advise Her Majesty's assent to its progress. Considering, therefore, the great pressure of other and more important business, he appealed to the hon. and learned Baronet not to proceed with it.


rose to order—


The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in stating that, according to the practice of Parliament, a measure to limit the Prerogative of the Crown could not pass a third reading, unless the consent of the Crown had first been obtained.


said, that if the Government had determined not to advise Her Majesty to assent to this measure, it was useless to proceed to a division. He had been more anxious to bring the matter forward than to press the second reading; and, hoping that in the new Parliament it would meet with more success, he would for the present withdraw it.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.