HL Deb 04 April 1876 vol 228 cc1162-75

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, before he proceeded to explain the measure he wished to call to the recollection of their Lordships that the House now occupied a different position in reference to this question from that which it occupied when he first ventured to bring it forward. Two years ago he brought forward a Motion for an Address to the Throne praying Her Majesty to consent to a limitation of the Prerogative of the Crown, so far as related to the creation of Irish Peerages as provided by the Act of Union; and that Motion, although it was not carried, met with the general approval of their Lordships. Subsequently a Select Committee was appointed on the Motion of the Earl of Rosebery to inquire into the position of the Scotch and Irish Peerage, and the laws relating thereto. That Committee was presided over by the noble Earl; and after taking evidence and considering the question laid before them, they agreed upon a Report which was laid upon the Table of the House towards the end of 1874. In that Report the Committee expressed their unanimous opinion that every addition to the Irish Peerage only increased and perpetuated the anomalous condition of that body. The Committee then proceeded to make certain recommendations in reference to Scotch Peerages, with which he would not trouble the House; and with regard to Irish Peerages, they trusted that Her Majesty might be advised to renounce her undoubted prerogative of creating Irish Peers. The Committee also recommended that the original number of Irish Representative Peers should be restored, and that Irish and Scotch Peers who were not summoned to the House of Lords, should not be disabled from sitting in the House of Commons for any constituency in the United Kingdom. Those were the recommendations of the Select Committee. The following year, as Her Majesty's Government had not thought it advisable to take any steps towards legislation, the late Lord Stanhope, whose loss they all deplored, brought forward a Motion in almost similar terms to the one he (Lord Inchiquin) had moved the year before, and that Motion, slightly altered from the terms in which it was originally proposed, was agreed to. The Resolution was— That an Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that the power conferred on Her Majesty under the Act of Union for the creation of Irish Peers may not stand in the way of consideration by Parliament of any measure relating thereto which may be introduced. The Reply of Her Majesty to that Address was— Relying on the wisdom of Parliament, I do not desire that the powers reserved to me by the Act of Union of making creations and promotions in the Peerage of Ireland should stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament of any measure that may be introduced on that subject. That was the position of the question at the end of last Session. He, in common with most of their Lordships, had been somewhat disappointed that after the Address agreed to by their Lordships and the Queen's Reply to it, the Government had not thought it advisable to bring in a Bill this Session dealing with the subject—because he felt strongly that this was a question that would be more appropriately dealt with by the Government than by a private Member. As, however, they had not done so, he, in common with others, thought it would be advisable somewhat early in the Session to place a Bill upon the subject before their Lordships, and, therefore, he had had the present Bill prepared. He would wish to point out that the aspect of the question was considerably altered from what it was when he addressed their Lordships before on the subject. He was then under the impression that the existence of the Prerogative of the Crown was the principal difficulty which stood in the way of dealing with the question. He believed that was the feeling of the House generally. That feeling was certainly shared in by the Select Committee, when they expressed the hope that Her Majesty might be advised to forego her undoubted Prerogative for the creation of Irish Peers. If he had understood the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack rightly, when the Question was debated last year, his argument was that the creation of Peers, being one of the main Prerogatives of the Crown, as long as England and Scotland remained two separate kingdoms, so long did the Prerogative of the Crown for the creation of Peers of Scotland remain; but that when the Union of Scotland with England took place the Prerogative ceased, and that by the Act of Union the existing Peers of Scotland became Peers of Great Britain. Similarly when the Union of Ireland with Great Britain took place the Prerogative of the Crown which pre- viously existed, under which Her Majesty created Peers of Ireland, ceased, as a matter of course, and Peers of Ireland became Peers of the United Kingdom with all the privileges appertaining to them—with the one exception of sitting and voting in the House of Lords. In the case of the Union with Ireland, as the noble and learned Lord knew, there was this difference from the Act of Union with Scotland, that power was given to the Crown, under certain circumstances, to create Peers of Ireland and to make promotions in the Irish Peerage. The circumstances were these—that when three Irish Peerages became extinct the Crown might create one new Peer; and when it should happen that the number of Irish Peerages, exclusive of those Irish Peers who might be also Peers of the United Kingdom, should be reduced to 100, the Crown might create a new Peer for every Peerage that should thereafter become extinct. The main object of this was that the Peerage of Ireland should be maintained as a separate Peerage, and that the numbers should always be kept at 100. The Lord Chancellor adduced in support of his argument that, in the patent of creation of Irish Peers, this special power given to the Crown was invariably recited. But if there had been any question at all with regard to this subject, the difficulty had been entirely removed by the gracious Answer of Her Majesty to the Address which their Lordships presented to her last year. He therefore contended that it was justifiable for Parliament to deal with this subject; and from the Answer which he had read it was competent for a private Peer to come forward and present a Bill dealing with the subject. There was one other difference which he should like to point out in the position of matters now from what they were when he brought this subject under the notice of the House before. Since then three if not four Peerages had become extinct, and one Peer of Ireland had been created a Peer of the United Kingdom. Consequently, the number of Irish Peers at this time could not be much more than 100; and, therefore, if it was desirable that an end should be put to the creation of Peers of Ireland, it appeared to him that this was the proper time for Parliament to legislate for that end. As to the desirability, it appeared to him almost unnecessary, when this question had been for two Sessions before the House, that he should go at any very great length into that proposition; but he might, perhaps, be allowed to shortly state what were the arguments in favour of it. The 4th clause of the Act of Union was much opposed at the time it was passed—so much so that Lord Cornwallis, writing on the subject, said, that if the clause was persisted in it would very much endanger the passing of the Act of Union. Lord Cornwallis called attention to the violent opposition which existed among the Peers of Ireland to the clause, and pressed upon the Government the necessity of withdrawing it. But a greater pressure was brought to bear upon the Peers of Ireland at that time than could possibly be brought in these days. But even after being coerced into giving an assent to the Act they made a strong Protest against this special power. Twenty of the Peers of Ireland signed a Protest against this power, which was to be found upon the Journals of the Irish House of Lords. The Protest set out that by the provisions of the 4th clause— The Irish Peerage was to be kept up for ever—thereby perpetuating the degrading distinction by which the Irish Peerage was to continue stripped of all Parliamentary functions. And they suggest that the perpetuating— of such distinction would have been avoided by providing that no Irish Peer should thereafter be created (as was the case with Scotch Peers), and that when their numbers should be reduced to 28 they should be declared Peers of the United Empire. That was the Protest entered upon the Journals of the House, and, it was signed by the Duke of Leinster and 19 other Peers of Ireland. He need scarcely say that the Peers of Ireland were now as strongly opposed to these additions to the Peerage as the Peers of Ireland who signed that Protest were. These were the principal provisions of the Bill he now ventured to propose. The 1st clause proposed to deal with that provision of the Act of Union which related to the creation of Irish Peerages; but it did not propose to repeal the whole of the clause. The power of promoting in the Irish Peerage would be left to the Crown as at present. The 2nd clause, provided an addition of 4 Representative Peers—or, he should rather say, a restoration, because it was distinctly agreed at the time of the Union that the number of Peers who represented Ireland in the House of Lords should be 32—and at the present time there were only 28—so that the original number of 32 would be restored. The 3rd clause provided that the Lord Chancellor, being satisfied that a Representative Peer had become entitled by creation or descent to an hereditary seat in the House of Lords, the seat of such Peer should be deemed vacant, and the Lord Chancellor should direct the issue of a writ for the election of a Representative Peer in his stead. He wished to point out the existence of a great anomaly with regard to this matter. One of the Representative Peers of Ireland had been lately created a Peer of the United Kingdom, and if this Bill passed the noble Lord, who had sat for 30 years in that House as an Earl, would be compelled to sit at the end of the list of Barons. What disadvantage that might be he did not know, but at any rate it appeared to be somewhat of an anomaly. The 4th clause provided for the mode of election for the Representative Peers of Ireland, and for those additional Peers proposed to be added by the Bill. The election was to take place in the same manner as at present—he confessed he was individually in favour of the minority vote being introduced. He was opposed to it on the Select Committee; but upon re-consideration he thought this was a fitting time for inserting the minority clause, to remedy what at present was considered by many Peers to be an injustice. With reference to the 5th clause—that providing that the oath of allegiance might be taken before any Justice of the Peace—the reason for putting that in the Bill was, that under the Act of Parliament it was required to be taken compulsorily before either an Irish Justice of the Peace or in the Court of Chancery in Ireland. The clause as it stood in the Bill provided that in future the oath might be taken before any justice of the peace; but since the Bill had been printed it had been pointed out to him by two gentlemen who had been engaged in revising the statutes that the necessity for taking the oath had been done away with. This might be the case; and before they went into Committee upon the Bill he had no doubt that he would be able to ascertain whether the clause was necessary or not. The last clause of the Bill provided that Peers of Ireland, other than Representative Peers, should not be disqualified from sitting or serving in the House of Commons for any constituency in Ireland. He might point out that at the present time the Peers of Ireland had a right to be elected to serve in the House of Commons for any constituency in England, but had not the power of being elected for seats in Ireland. He could not help thinking that it was desirable to give this power, because it was unreasonable that while Irish Peers were not admitted to the House of Lords they should also be excluded from taking any part whatever in the legislation of the country unless they could obtain a seat for an English constituency. Those were the whole of the provisions in this Bill. He need only add that his sole object in bringing the measure before their Lordships was to remove what he looked upon as a great anomaly, and he might also say a great degradation. There was a story told of His Majesty King George III. when Mr. Pitt asked him to grant to a political supporter the privilege of driving down Constitution Hill, His Majesty replied that he could not grant him that privilege, but that he should be happy to make the person an Irish Peer. He must say that when the fountain of honour considered it a greater privilege to drive down Constitution Hill than to possess an Irish Peerage their Lordships would agree with him that it must be looked upon as a somewhat doubtful privilege, and he was afraid that down to the present time the distinction had been looked upon in a somewhat doubtful light. His object was to remove those distinctions. He had been told that it was not improbable that objection would be taken in the other House of Parliament to the provisions of the Bill by the Members of the Home Rule party; but if that were the case he could imagine nothing more unpatriotic on their part. For these reasons he asked their Lordships to remove what had been looked upon for so long a time as an invidious distinction, and he hoped his proposal would meet with the approval of their Lordships.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Inchiquin.)


congratulated his noble Friend on his clear and comprehensive statement of the position of this question: but at the same time he thought his noble Friend was not quite correct in stating that the question was in a different position now from what it was before—because the title of the Queen to create Irish Peerages was always a Parliamentary title. The Bill of his noble Friend embraced four different points. First, it would put a stop to the creation of any fresh Irish Peerages; next, it would prevent an Irish Peer from continuing to be a Representative Peer of Ireland after he became a Peer of the Realm; thirdly, it would increase the number of Representative Peers for Ireland from 28 to 32; and, lastly, it would permit Irish Peers to sit for Irish counties or boroughs in the House of Commons. In regard to the creation of Irish Peers, there was a great difference between them and Scotch Peers. At the time of the Union between England and Scotland no power to create Scottish Peers as distinct from Peers of the Realm was given to the Crown. But at the Union with Ireland, with the view of keeping up the constituent body from which the Irish Representative Peers were to be chosen, a different course was taken. The result had been, the Scotch Peerage, as a distinct one, had almost come to an end. He could not give the numbers, but at this moment the number of Scotch Peers was very much smaller than at the time of the Union. But in Ireland the Crown was compelled to keep up the number to a certain point. Everyone, he believed, would admit it would have been a great advantage, if at the time some arrangement had been made for merging the separate Peerages of Scotland and Ireland in one Peerage of the United Kingdom. In the case of the Scotch Peerage such a merger had become more practicable; and no doubt it was that consideration which induced the Committee to recommend that there should be no fresh creation of Irish Peers. He thought it would be impossible to answer the arguments which had been advanced in favour of that pro- posal, and Her Majesty's Government had no desire or opinion contrary to it. As to the next point, that no Irish Peer should continue to be a Representative Peer on succeeding to an hereditary seat in this House he thought there would be no difference of opinion whatever, because it never could have been intended that any one should enjoy a Representative Peerage and an hereditary Peerage at the same time. It was clearly an oversight in the Act of Union that it did not contain a provision to that effect. When the other parts of the Bill came to be discussed in Committee they might possibly give rise to a diversity of opinion. He found that the proposal to increase the number of Representative Peers from 28 to 32 was carried in the Committee upstairs by a majority of only 11 to 7. He did not know what arguments had been adduced before the Committee in favour of that proposal, but it appeared to him to be open to considerable objection. The arrangement at the time of the Union was, not that there should be 32 representative Temporal Peers, but that the two Estates—the Temporal and the Spiritual—there should be a representation to the extent of 28 in the former case and of four in the latter. Parliament having, in its wisdom, thought fit to put an end to the Irish Church as a State Church, and to the seats of the Irish Lords Spiritual, it did not at all follow that the seats of the latter should be added to those already held by the Irish Lords Temporal. He was bound to say that, if by legislation, they put an end to one constituent body it was an illogical consequence that they should transfer its representatives to another and different body. As to the proposal to increase the number of Representative Temporal Peers, he thought the logic lay the other way, and that if they took means for the gradual extinction of the constituent body, they ought to diminish, not increase, the number of the representative body. As to the proposal to give power to Irish Peers other than Representative Peers to sit in the House of Commons for Irish Constituencies, he thought their Lordships would hardly do well to enter upon that question, for it seemed to touch the Privileges of the House of Commons. He might be asked why, after what he had said, the Government did not propose legislation on this sub- ject? If a Bill of this character went to the other House it would be difficult to prevent suggestions for further alterations as to which there might be great differences of opinion; and having regard to the exigencies of Public Business and to the differences of opinion that might arise he thought that the Government could scarcely have been expected to assume the responsibility of legislation in this matter, but the Government would be sorry to put any impediment in the way of his noble Friend; and perhaps a measure of this kind would be attended by a more fortunate result when proposed by a private Member than if it were supposed to be a Government measure.


said, there were difficulties in the matter, but he was quite ready to agree to the second reading of the Bill. He had heard the declarations from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack with great satisfaction, for they had now the prospect of getting rid of the gross and mischievous constitutional anomaly that within these Realms there should be an inferior order of Peerage. It seemed inconsistent in the noble Lord (Lord Inchiquin) to say that the fresh creation of Irish Peers was an evil and ought to be stopped, and then to provide for the addition of four more to the present number. His noble Friend, however, was not responsible for this inconsistency. It got into the Report in Committee on the Motion of a noble Friend sitting on his own side of the House (the Earl of Rosebery). As to any difficulties which might be met with in the other House, he thought the Government could, if they would take the subject in hand, remove them and pass the measure safely through Parliament; but, whether the Government did so this year or the next, he hoped they would see their way to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion. It could not be called a restitution of the four Peerages lost by the Act of 1870, because they were strictly ecclesiastical Peerages, and the four proposed to be added could not be said in any way to represent a Church that had ceased to exist. He must express his thanks to the Government for their declaration in favour of the measure, and he wished they were prepared to take it up themselves.


protested against the proposed change; but when Her Majesty's Government gave its consent to the principle of a Bill there was very little use in attempting to oppose it. He could not understand why there should be so much anxiety exhibited to get rid of this only small privilege which the Irish gentleman possessed apart from the Englishman. There had been 25 Irish Peers created since the Union. Eight of these were extinct, and out of the 17 remaining five were English Peers and two Representatives; so to be created an Irish Peer was not a barren honour, but gave Irishmen a chance they would not otherwise have of becoming Members of that House. He conceived that it was a fallacious idea to suppose that if no more Irish Peers were created, that the same persons who now received that honour would be made English Peers; for the two principal causes that conduced to the elevation of country gentlemen to that House were political influence and great fortune. The Land Bill had deprived Irish gentlemen of the former, and owing to the absence of minerals and manufactures in Ireland, Irish fortunes did not increase in proportion to English. Thus, without this Bill, the chances of Irishmen to become Members of this House daily decreased. He had become a Member of the House through this system, and he would not lend a hand to throw down the ladder by which he had mounted. Though the Peerage of his noble Friend who brought forward this Bill dated long previous to the Union, yet he had undertaken a somewhat invidious task in proposing a measure which would diminish the chances of his countrymen of obtaining a seat in that House. He regretted that Her Majesty's Government had changed their mind on this question since last Session, but he should certainly oppose it.


said, that, as Chairman of the Committee whose Report had been referred to by his noble Friend (Lord Carlingford), he would take that opportunity of stating that he was not responsible for the Report as it stood. The draft Report was a good deal knocked about in Committee. The 4th clause was not meant to be considered purely on its own footing, but in connection with another clause; and in its present form in the Bill he could not support it. He considered that the four ecclesiastical Peers who had been removed in consequence of the disestablishment of the Irish Church represented Irish interests in that House with as much vitality as the other Irish Representative Peers, while from their abilities and learning they were an addition to their Lordships' House, and equal to any four secular Peers that could be selected to represent Ireland. And as the confessed object of their Lordships was to do away with the anomaly of Peerages unconnected with legislative responsibility, he begged to point out that the cessation of new creations on the one hand, and the increase of the number of Representatives on the other, were calculated to further that object.


said, that as far as the principle of the Bill was concerned he was glad to find that the Government had assented to it. This method of extinguishing the present anomaly appeared to be the only practicable one, and the only one that would have a chance of passing through Parliament. Since the Act of Union 78 Irish Peerages had become extinct, and in about another similar period of time the other Peerages whose present owners had not seats in that House might possibly likewise become extinct. There were various objections made to the admission of all the Irish Peers to seats in the House of Lords—some of them fanciful objections—but the most practical one was that it would give an increased Conservative majority in that House, and there was no chance that the Opposition would allow such a Bill to pass both Houses of the Legislature. He believed that there were about 13 Liberal Irish Peers not in the House, but the large majority of the Irish Peers who had not hereditary seats in the House were Conservatives. There was, indeed, a method suggested in a pamphlet, attributed to a noble Lord connected with Scotland, and who proposed that all Scotch Peers should be admitted, and all Representative Irish Peers should be turned out, and that a certain number of the longest-created Irish Peers of different politics should be brought into the House, so as to balance parties; but the result would have been that whilst all the Liberal Irish Peers would be admitted, most of the present Representa- tive Peers, some of whom were well acquainted with Public Business, would be shut out from public life. He thought that the only way to deal with the question properly was by the gradual extinction of Irish Peers. Though not inclined to oppose the second reading of the Bill, he should move in Committee an Amendment to the effect that Representative Peers elected after the passing of this Act, who should succeed to hereditary Peerages, should be exempted from the operation of the clause. He supported the proposition for the representation by Irish Peers of Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. He understood that that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had in a former Session brought in a Bill with this object, and he therefore thought there would be no difficulty in passing a measure enabling Irish Peers to sit in the other House of Parliament for Irish constituencies.


congratulated the noble Lord who had brought forward this Bill on the very able manner in which he had stated his case. Sir William Temple had said that there were too many Peers in his time, but the great evil in the Irish system was the election of Peers; but if it were necessary to reduce the number of Peers of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, he (Lord Denman) rather than allow Irish and Scotch Peers to have ground of complaint, would himself submit to the chance of being elected or rejected by Peers of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He regretted that the Library of the House of Lords only contained the debates down to the year 1797, so that the Protest alluded to by the noble Lord could not be found in it. He thought that the noble Lord on the Woolsack, in wishing that Irish Peers were on the same footing as Scotch Peers, had offered an insult to every Irish Peer who had been created since the Union. He believed that the Prerogative of the Crown was abridged by the Union, and it might be remembered that the Peerage of the great Lord Clive was an Irish Peerage for 30 years—and probably no seat was taken in Dublin—before the Union. Such Peerages—one after every third vacancy—might be preferred by gentlemen unwilling to quit Ireland, who might wish to join in electing Representative Peers. Her Majesty had left the decision to the wisdom of Parliament, but the noble Lord on the Woolsack had called it wisdom which excluded the four Spiritual Peers from the House of Lords, while every one here still regretted their exclusion from amongst them, creating the vacancy of four, which it was required now to fill up. The noble Lord on the Woolsack, who was by no means infallible, had carried the Minority Clause when only a Law Lord against the Government; but in fact, as in the case of Birmingham, the dominant party must always have a majority. Her Majesty might, if she chose to act on her Prerogative, make every Irish Peer an hereditary Peer of Great Britain and Ireland; but he hoped that if the Bill went into Committee care would be taken that no change was made which would impair the right of the Sovereign to chose her hereditary Councillors, with or without seats in this House.


pointed out that one very useful function discharged by Irish Peers who had not seats in that House was the maintenance of an independence of thought and action which was not too common in Ireland, and which he was afraid might not continue if the temptation of sitting in the House of Commons for Irish boroughs were held out to them. He thought, however, that his noble Friend deserved thanks for having introduced this measure, which would remove a gross anomaly. There were several proposals he had hoped to see included in any Bill of this kind which were not to be found in this. He thought, for instance, that there should be a provision that no Irish Peer who succeeded to an hereditary Peerage should be permitted to vote at the election of a Representative Peer for Ireland. He had hoped also to see a provision for cumulative voting, by which that portion of the Irish Peerage which held Liberal opinions might have some chance of being represented. As the Government appeared to favour the Bill he should not offer any opposition to the second reading; but he should in Committee move clauses embodying the principles he had just suggested.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday, the 28th instant.