HL Deb 09 April 1869 vol 195 cc473-6

My Lords, during many years the manner of electing Representative Peers for Scotland and Ireland in this House has been a subject of great complaint, on account of its giving to one party a complete monopoly of the representation. And in the case of Scotland the further grievance exists that not only does that one party choose the whole sixteen who shall be returned, but it has power to dismiss any one of these Peers if he should offend them by giving an independent vote. I believe that of late years an understanding has existed among the Scotch Peers that a Peer once placed on the list, he shall not be removed from it except for some special and strong reason; but such was not the ease formerly. A Peer who gave an independent vote, displeasing to the majority, was sure to be rejected at the next election; and as, from various circumstances, the Crown was enabled to command the votes of a large proportion of the Scotch Peers, the Government for the time habitually nominated these Scotch Peers, and thus exercised great influence in this House; indeed, at about the middle of the last century it was notorious that the sixteen Scotch Peers might be counted on to vote with the Government. No doubt it was an advantage in one sense, because it is always desirable that the Government should possess considerable weight in both Houses of Parliament; but even this incidental advantage no longer arises from the objectionable mode of electing the Representative Peers; because during the greater part of the last half-century the Government of the day has generally been found with the Representative Peers entirely opposed to them. This state of things has attracted considerable notice out-of-doors, and we learn from the Votes of the House of Commons that a proposal has been made in that House to remedy some of the defects in the system of electing Scotch and Irish Peers. The first Minister of the Crown is reported to have expressed an opinion that the grievance it was sought to remedy was a real one, but thought this House was a proper place for originating the remedy. That opinion having been expressed, I certainly expected some of the right hon. gentleman's Colleagues in this House would have undertaken to deal with the question; and it was only because I was assured the Government was not likely to undertake the task that I ventured to enter upon it myself and submit a Bill to your Lordships. In the first place, then, my Lords, I propose, by this Bill, to place the Scotch Representative Peers upon the same footing as the Irish Representative Peers with respect to the duration of their legislative existence—that is to say, the Bill provides that they shall be elected for life, and not for a single Parliament. I can hardly doubt that it must have been from experiencing the great evils resulting from the practice of electing for the Parliament alone that Mr. Pitt, in bringing forward his measure for the Union with Ireland, wisely resolved to have the Irish Peers elected for life. I also propose that those Peers elected for life shall have the power, if they think fit, to resign their seats; at present I believe no such power exists in the case of Peers of either Scotland or Ireland. And I think we should go a little further than this, and say that any Peer who habitually absents himself from this House without some sufficient cause should be considered as having resigned his seat.


Is that to be confined to the Scotch Peers?


Your Lordships will perceive that if a British Peer does not attend it makes no difference—that is to say, his absence affects only himself; but in the case of the Scotch Peers habitual absence reduces the number of Scotch Representative Peers, and makes them too few. I would suggest that a Representative Peer who shall absent himself for two consecutive Sessions without leave of the House should be deemed to have resigned his seat. I further propose that the Peers of Scotland, instead of being sixteen, should be not less than sixteen, and not more than eighteen; and, in the same manner, the Irish Peers, instead of being twenty-eight, should be not less than twenty-eight, and not more than thirty. I propose this with a view of introducing the further provision that no election for a representative Peer of either Scotland or Ireland should occur until the number of those Peers shall have fallen by death or resignation below sixteen or twenty-eight respectively. Whenever the number of Peers shall have fallen below the present established number of Peers for the two countries, then a Writ shall issue for the election of three Peers; so that, whenever the Scotch Peers shall fall below sixteen, or the Irish below twenty-eight, the Peers shall be summoned and shall be directed to choose three Peers, thus bringing up the number at the time to eighteen or to thirty; and, in the choice of those three Peers, the Bill provides that every Peer shall have the privilege of giving three votes, which it shall be in his power either to give in favour of a single Peer or to divide between two or three Peers, according to his discretion. The object of that is to insure that every shade of opinion shall have fair representation in this House. It is not precisely the representation of a minority, because there may be two or three shades of opinion to represent. Such are the simple provisions of the Bill I have now to lay on your Lordships' table, and which I trust will receive your Lordships' support at the next stage, which I purpose taking on the same day as is fixed for the second reading of the Bill of the noble Earl (Earl Russell).

Bill to amend the Law relating to the Election of Representative Peers for Scotland and Ireland presented.—(The Earl Grey).


said, he was rejoiced that the subject had been taken in hand, and he would only offer one suggestion, which was that those who sat in that House as English Peers, and who were also Irish Peers, should not vote in the election of Representative Peers. He hoped the noble Earl would consider the propriety of introducing a provision to give effect to that suggestion.

Bill read 1a; to be printed; and to be read 2a on Tuesday, the 27th Instant. (No. 50).

House adjourned at a Quarter past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.