HL Deb 05 August 1869 vol 198 cc1285-91


(The Lord Lurgan.)

Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord Lurgan).


said, he had received so many representations with regard to the policy of the measure and the manner in which it had been brought before Parliament that he felt bound to take the opinion of their Lordships upon it, having given notice to the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) that he should do so. As he remarked on the former occasion, the Bill had the appearance of being the persecution of a political interest, and he saw no reason, at the present moment, for altering that opinion. This, indeed, was the third attack on the Dublin freemen. The first, founded on a Report which the Judge who tried the petition had not made, was abandoned. The second was a bold proposal to disfranchise a large portion of the constituency of Dublin without investigation; and this also fell to the ground. The third was this proposal for a special inquiry. The Government disclaimed any party motive in promoting the scheme, seeing in it purity of election, exactly as they saw justice, generosity, and peace in a measure which had now unhappily become law; but those who were not its members or supporters could not fail to perceive a disposition to disfranchise or throw discredit on a supposed Conservative element in the constituency of Dublin, with a view to a more favourable Liberal result at future elections. At this period of the Session, when the attendance of Peers was declining, days were of importance in the arrangement of the Business of the House, and he could not but remark that while on the 22nd of July this and two other Bills — the Savings Banks Bill and the Married Women's Property Bill—were brought up from the Commons and printed on the following day, the second reading of those two Bills was proceeded with on the 29th and 30th; whereas it was not till the 30th that notice was given of the second reading of this measure on the 2nd of August. He had little doubt that had that stage been fixed for the 29th or 30th of July the House would not have been troubled with any discussion upon the third reading. The delay might possibly have been accidental; if so, it was an unfortunate accident; while if it arose from management, the aspect of the matter was still more unfavourable. He repudiated the imputation of shielding electoral corruption; but he saw no reason for going beyond the limits of the Corrupt Practices Act of last Session. Regarding the measure as an act of oppression and as overbearing conduct on the part of the strong towards the weak, he moved to defer the third reading for three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("'now'') and insert (" this day three months.")— (The Earl of Longford.)


said, he did not rise to discuss the merits of the Bill, which had been found in "another place" to be the only way of dealing with a question which originated with the Report of the Judge, but to remind their Lordships of what passed on Tuesday night in this House. The noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) having moved that the House should go into Committee that day three months, he appealed to him to withdraw the Amendment on the ground that there had been two divisions on the previous night, and that no notice had been given of the Amendment. An intimation had been given by a noble Earl on the opposite side, who had some authority to give such an intimation (the Earl of Malmesbury), that there would be no further opposition to the Bill. He (Earl Granville) was backed up in that appeal by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns), the Leader of the party opposite, whose words, as reported in The Times, which he thought stated exactly what fell from him, were these— Lord Cairns thought the merits of the Bill were fairly challenged last night. The majority was not a very large one; but at this period of the Session it would hardly be right to divide again on the same question, and he hoped his noble Friend would not persevere with his Amendment, particularly as no notice had been given of it. The noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) thereupon withdrew his opposition, without giving the slightest intimation of his intention to renew it at a further stage. His noble Friend Lord Bessborough, on the strength of what had occurred, was not now present, and he believed several other noble Lords were also absent. Lord Lyveden, indeed, put the question to himself whether it was necessary for him to wait in town over to-night and support the Government in regard to this Bill, and his reply was that it was not at all necessary. Now, he did not deny that the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) had a right to make this Motion; but he thought noble Lords opposite would feel that it would very much embarrass the future conduct of the House if it were pressed and carried. He ventured to appeal to the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Malmesbury), who was not present on Tuesday, and he was sure that, had the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns) been in his place, he would confirm all that he had stated.


said, that, although he formerly occupied such a position as to have a certain degree of influence over noble Lords on his own side of the House, he must decline at this moment to assume any responsibility of that nature. He could only act for himself; and, moreover, he knew nothing of this matter, not having been in town on a former evening. He cursorily read the report of what occurred, and it struck him that the main point on which the question then turned was the statement that his noble Friend (the Earl of Longford) had given no notice. If that was the fact, and if his opinion had been asked, he should certainly have said that it would have been sharp practice to divide without giving notice. Since entering the House, however, he had been informed that his noble Friend had given notice of his present Motion.


A private Notice, which I received late last night, when there was no time to take any action upon it.


There is no Notice on the Paper.


said, his noble Friend must explain why he did not give notice earlier, and whether he regarded it as a sufficient one. A private letter to the Leader of the Government was formerly deemed a fair Notice. He must remind the Government that this kind of difficulty arose from postponing business to the last moment. In the middle of the Session, or at any period when Peers resided in London, a few hours sooner or later made little difference: but he must say Her Majesty's Government had undertaken more than they should have done, and had thus thrown the business of the country upon this House in a very unfair manner at this period of the Session. He was told that on Monday a Bill of great importance, and which was a different Measure from that sent down to the House of Commons — the Scotch Education Bill would come before them. Almost the whole Peerage had left London; yet, within less than a week of the prorogation, a number of Bills were brought before the House. Now, when the Government had postponed important measures up to the last moment, it was impossible to expect that Peers would be so extremely scrupulous as under other circumstances they would be. For his own part, he should, not vote either way on this question.


said, he thought some explanation ought to be given why the Bill, which was brought up on the 22nd of July, had been left without notice till the 30th. In the absence of such an explanation, the country would sustain the House in rejecting the Bill.


said, that the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) had spoken of this Bill as a measure of persecution, directed against a certain political class. He did not agree with the noble Earl on that point; but he certainly thought that persecution had been applied to this Bill ever since it entered the House. He asked their Lordships to consider the effect which its rejection would have on the country. There had been a distinct Report by the Judge that corruption had extensively prevailed among the freemen, who were therefore placed in a false position, and surely ought to have an opportunity of clearing themselves. This was not, as it had been described, a Bill of Pains and Penalties, but simply one for inquiry.


thought inquiry was necessary after the Report of the Judge, and hoped the House would pass the Bill.


thought it right, after the inquiry as to the delay in the second reading, and the suggestion that it was a lucky accident or management, to state exactly what had occurred. He was sorry to say that nobody had been to blame but himself; for, being very much engaged in business connected with the Government; and, having heard that the Bill had originally been introduced by a private Member, he did not at once pay that attention to it which he should have done had he known it to be a Government Bill. He hoped, how over, that the House would not visit the Bill with a punishment for a fault which was solely his own.


said, that while sure that the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) had been unavoidably pre-vented from giving earlier notice, he regretted that it did not reach the noble Earl opposite in sufficient time to enable him to take any measures which it might seem to require. He attached much importance to this question of notice, and could not under the circumstances, with satisfaction to himself, vote against the Bill. He would suggest that the Bill should be postponed till Monday, in order that the objection to the Amendment, on the ground of inadequate notice, might be removed.


said, he came down to the House yesterday, "Wednesday, with a view to giving notice, but there being no Sitting for Public Business, and no clerk being in attendance, he sent a private Notice last night to Lord Bessborough, so that everything was done which could be done. In the interval between the first and second reading, many noble Lords returned to Ireland under the impression that it was not to be proceeded with, and he should, therefore, support the Amendment.


disclaimed any intention of taking the House by surprise. He had not heard of any private intimation having been given to the Government that there would be no further opposition.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? Resolved in the Affirmative. Bill read 3a accordingly.


said, he was glad the noble Earl(the Earl of Longford) had not pressed his Motion to a division, the usual notice not having been given; but he must strongly condemn the way in which the Bill had been conducted through their Lordships' House. It was all very well for the noble Lord (Lord Dufferin) to say that it was originally introduced by a private Member, but this was not the case.


said, that was his first impression. He believed it was Sir George Grey who first raised the question.


Sir George Grey, it was true, introduced a most improper measure for disfranchising the Dublin freemen; but that Bill was withdrawn, and this Bill introduced by the Attorney General for Ireland. Yet, though it was brought up to their Lordships' House on the 22nd of July, more than a week was allowed to pass before notice was given that the second reading would be moved on the 2nd of August. Under these circumstances, it was naturally considered that the Bill was not to be proceeded with. A large portion of their Lordships always left town at the close of the Session— unless it was known that business of importance was to be transacted; and, considering the command the Government had of obtaining the attendance of their supporters, and the number of noble Lords connected with the Government who were always present—as was shown by the division on Tuesday night, it was evident that if this mode of conducting public business was continued, the independence of the House would be gone, and it would become the mere slave of the Government, to pass whatever the Government might choose.


said, that after his noble Friend had explained the mistake which had been made, he was rather surprised at the language just addressed to their Lordships. It was perfectly true that this was not the Bill which Sir George Grey brought in; but it was thought to be a right and proper compromise on the subject, proposing to issue merely a Commission of Inquiry. With regard to the attendance in that House, he admitted that it was his duty, and those of his noble Colleagues behind him, to be there up to the very last day of the Session. But, even as an independent Member of the House, he had always felt it his duty to remain in town as long as Public Business of importance remained to be transacted, and he was quite sure that nothing would be more fatal to the character of the House than for their Lordships to allow it to be understood that their private affairs prevented their attendance until the prorogation. He was glad their Lordships had given a striking example of the duty which they ought to fulfil in this matter, for he believed that very nearly 70 Peers had voted in the division on this question. He protested against the language of the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury), who complained that Her Majesty's Government had attempted so much more legislation this year than they could expect to carry; for their Lordships would remember that some half-dozen times noble Lords on both sides of the House had complained that the Government did not undertake very important legislation in addition to that which they had already in hand.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.