HL Deb 01 May 1876 vol 228 cc1894-906

House in Committee (according to order.)

Clause 1 (Acts relating to creating Peers of Ireland repealed) agreed to, with Amendments.

Clause 2 (Increase of number of Representative Peers to 32).


rose to move an Amendment, in line 20, to leave out "in case of vacancy by death," and insert "for supplying vacancies;" and, after line 21, insert, "At such election no Peer shall vote for more than three Peers." The noble Lord said, it was clear that the mere proposition to add four to the Representative Peers of Ireland, without some qualification, would result simply in adding so many additional votes to the Conservative side; and it was equally clear that if the other side were represented by means of the minority vote, there must be an addition to the number of representatives. Now, as to his proposition for the addition of four Peers, there could be no doubt as to its justice. There was in Ireland a body of men—small, no doubt, in number, but important from position—who were practically, by the present state of the law, debarred from taking any part in the legislation of the country. This was a just grievance, and he thought that any proposition that might remedy it should have the support of the Government. In moving this addition to the number of Representative Peers, he would direct attention to the means by which he proposed that the minority should be represented. In the first place he proposed, by his Amendment, that in the case of the first election of these four Peers, no Peer should vote for more than three Peers. Then, he had given Notice of an Amendment to Clause 3, by which it was provided that thereafter no vacancy arising among the Representative Peers should be filled up until there were three such vacancies, and that at the election for that purpose no Peer should vote for more than two Peers. It seemed that about one vacancy occurred a-year, and the consequence would be that it would be at least six years before the Liberal minority obtained two seats, and some 30 before they obtained a proportionate representation. As to the four additional seats he asked for, he maintained they were not an addition to, but a restoration of, the number to which Ireland was entitled. At the Union 28 Temporal and four Spiritual Peers were given to Ireland. The four Spiritual seats had been taken away by the Disestablishment of the Irish Church; and, therefore, the addition of the four Temporal Representatives would merely restore the representation of the Irish. Peerage in that House to the position to which it was entitled. He might remark that at the Union the number proposed was objected to by the Irish Peers as insufficient, on the ground that if the proportion given to the Scotch Peerage at the Union with Scotland was observed with regard to Ireland, the number of Irish Representative Peers would be 53. The noble Lord concluded by moving his Amendments.

Amendments moved in line 20 to leave out ("in the case of a vacancy by death,") and insert ("for supplying vacancies"); and after line 21 insert as a new paragraph, but as part of Clause 2 ("at such election no Peer shall vote for more than three Peers.")—(The Lord Inchiquin.)


said, he could have wished that the Bill had been kept confined to the two principal points with which it dealt when it was first introduced in their Lordships' House—which were, first, to do away, by a gradual process, with the anomaly of a continued creation of Irish Peers and the keeping up the anomaly of a separate Peerage, towards the extinction of which measures ought to be taken; and next to provide that any Irish Peer becoming entitled to a hereditary seat in the House of Lords should cease to be an Irish Representative Peer. The Bill, no doubt, did also contain a provision for increasing the number of Lords Temporal of Ireland elected to that House for life from 28 to 32;and notwithstanding what was urged against this latter proposition on the second reading of the Bill, his noble Friend still upheld it; and, moreover, he now proposed to add a provision for the election of Representa- tive Peers for Ireland by means of the "minority vote." He was sorry that these two propositions should have been introduced, for they were foreign to the main design of the Bill, to which he should otherwise have given his support. With regard to the addition of four Temporal Peers to the representation, he would remind their Lordships how the matter stood. At the time of the Union, an arrangement—a very solemn though not unchangeable one—was made for a certain representation of the three Estates of the Irish Realm. The Commons were to have a representation of 100;the Lords Temporal a representation of 28, and the Lords Spiritual a representation of 4. It would be seen that each Estate was to have its own numerical representation. He could not see, therefore, what claim the Temporal estate had to the representation given to a State Church which had been disestablished. So far as any connection between the two they might just as reasonably be claimed for the Commons. But there was a more serious objection to the proposed addition. At the time of the Union the number of Irish Peers was, he believed, about 180.


The number was 211.


said, he was obliged to his noble Friend for the correction. Well, he always understood that in settling a representation the principle adopted was to give representation in proportion to the number of the constituency. No doubt that was done at the time of the Union, and it was arranged that 28 Peers should be elected to represent the 211 Irish Peers. His noble Friend (Lord Inchiquin) said that a complaint was made at the time that if the Scotch ratio had been applied the number ought to have been more than 28. But that was the number fixed to represent 211. What was the state of things now? Since the Union 74 Irish peerages had become extinct; but as, under the Act of Union, there had been one new creation for every three extinctions there had not been a complete extinction to the number of 74, but there had been to the number of something like 50. That was not all. Five Irish peerages had come by succession to English Peers, and 61Irish Peers had been created Peers of the United Kingdom, and, therefore, no longer required to be represented. When these and the 55 to whom he had just alluded were taken from the 211, the number was reduced to about 105. Seeing, then, that 28 were the number of representatives given to 211 Peers, nothing could be more untenable than a proposition to make the number 34 for a constituency of 105. As to his noble Friend's proposition to give the Irish Peers a minority vote, there could be no reason for opposing it on political grounds, because it would not affect the representation. But while his noble Friend, on the one hand, proposed to increase the representation of the Irish Peerage in that House, on the other, he proposed to keep two vacancies in the representation open, and not allow them to be filled up till a third arose, and then to allow only two votes to each elector. That seemed an altogether novel application of the principle. What would be said if such a proposal was made in the case of one of the large English towns which was now represented in the House of Commons by three Members? These large constituencies having three representatives, and the electors voting for two only, could only exercise the minority vote at general elections when three Members were to be returned; and no one proposed that first one then two seats should be kept unrepresented until the third vacancy should occur in order that the minority vote might come into play. But that was the principle his noble Friend proposed to apply to the Irish Peerage. Even if the plan of his noble Friend were not open to objection on that ground it would not effect its object. Even in so large a borough as Birmingham, with its many thousands of voters, arrangements had been skilfully made by which the majority had been able to return all three Members. In the case of a small constituency like that of the Irish Peers, nothing would be easier than for the majority to keep all the seats in their own hands under the plan of his noble Friend. For these reasons the Government could not give their assent to this part of the Bill.


said, the object was to make the Irish Peerage a representative of the Irish nation in that House. At present the representation lay with one particular party, and the consequence was that the Irish Representative Peers in that House were not representative of the Irish Peerage as a body, nor of the Irish nation as a body. Therefore, he quite concurred with the noble Lord who had charge of the Bill (Lord Inchiquin) that some steps ought to be taken to give the minority of the Irish Peers a fair share in the representation. The system which excluded them had frequently been complained of in that House and out of it. If the minority vote proposed by the Bill should be found objectionable the desired object could be secured if the voting was conducted on the principle adopted in regard to school boards. That would confer on the minority a cumulative vote which might be given for one candidate or divided among all the candidates. He thought, however, that the additional seats should be three instead of four—that would prevent the number of representatives from ever being under 28, even while there were two vacancies.


thought that the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, showing that the Irish Temporal Peerage had no claim to the four seats formerly possessed by the representatives of a Church which had been disestablished was conclusive; but there was another way of viewing the proposal for the increase—namely, that it was necessary for the representation of the minority, and in that view the arguments of the noble and learned Lord were not so conclusive. He thought that the representation of the minority was so desirable that it ought to be obtained even by some addition to their number; but that addition ought not to be larger than necessary, and he thought an addition of two seats would suffice.


said, the Bill which had been submitted to the House by his noble Friend (Lord Inchiquin) was one approved by the Select Committee which sat upon Irish and Scotch Peerages. He ventured to think that the demand for an addition to the number of the Representatives of the Irish Peerage was no more than just, having regard to the increase which had been made to the numbers of their Lordships' House generally since the time of the Union. The late Government added on the average one Member to their Lordships' House for every six weeks during its continuance in office. In consequence the arrangement made at the Union had been very considerably disarranged. He should be very thankful to see the introduction by Her Majesty's Government of a comprehensive measure for a reform of the Irish representation—some plan which should do away with the small boroughs, which were simply nests of corruption, and which returned Representatives entirely of one class, to the exclusion of the general opinion of the country. He thought, if they gave a minority vote to the Irish Peerage, they should at the same time give a minority vote to the county constituencies. The opinions of the minority, who were the best educated and most influential class of voters, were now entirely unheard. But surely they had the same right to representation as the minorities of Liverpool, Manchester, and the other large towns of England.


said, he did not quite understand the arguments of the noble Lord who had just spoken (Viscount Midleton). In the first place, it seemed rather hard to postpone a measure of justice to the Irish Peerage simply because Irish landed proprietors were not so fully represented in the other House as they ought to be. Neither could he understand the noble Viscount's observations as to the number of Peers created by the late Government. He thought either the calculation of the noble Viscount must be erroneous, or the 40 odd Peers to whom he referred must give a very bad attendance. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had devoted a very elaborate and powerful argument to prove that the proposition of the noble Lord (Lord Inchiquin) could not be carried into effect, and he argued with great force that the vacancies of the four ecclesiastical seats through the Disestablishment could not properly be filled up by the appointment of four Secular Peers. But there was another way of looking at it—namely, that they proposed to change the method of election in Irish Peerages, and he thought it was not too much that under the new circumstances the constituency should be represented by four more Peers. It was quite true that the four ecclesiastical Peers belonged to a Church which had ceased to exist; but besides representing that Church, they represented also largely the interest of Ireland in other matters not ecclesiastical; and he did not think it was a very large demand on the part of Ireland that these four seats should be given back to them. He did not understand the second argument of the noble and learned Lord, founded on the diminished numbers of the Irish Peers—namely, that because the constituency had largely diminished, it would be improper to give additional representation. If that argument were carried out to its logical conclusion, instead of their having 32, or even 28 Irish Peers in the House, the number, according to the showing of the noble and learned Lord, ought to be reduced to 14. The noble and learned Lord also objected to the proposition that the minority principle should not come into operation until there were three vacancies; because, he said, that during the term of suspension there might be a large deficiency in the representation. But if the Irish Peerage was already over-represented, that would be a very equitable measure; whereas, if it was under represented, it was clearly entitled to the additional number of Peers. If the noble Lord who had moved the Amendment (Lord Inchiquin), or the noble and learned Lord who was about to propose one, should press their Motion to a division, he would cordially follow them into the Lobby.


said, it was only right that the few Liberal Irish Peers should have occasionally a chance; and he believed it would be acceptable to the majority—but looking at the question as affecting Party interests, he did not believe it would make the difference of a single vote. For what happened now? A Liberal Peer came forward for election, knowing well that he would be rejected; he did so two or three times, and in the end he obtained an English Peerage. Of course, if the proper number of Representative Peers had been given at the time of the Union, as the constituency diminished so ought the Representatives. But his noble Friend's contention was that at that time the rule laid down in the case of the Scotch Peerage was not followed; if it had been the number returned would have been 53, not 28.


suggested that all questions of representation should be withdrawn from the Bill. Those questions arose, not only in connection with this clause, but others which followed. They affected the Peerage of Scotland as well as that of Ireland, and it was not a practical way to discuss a matter which affected two parties when it came before the House only as it regarded one.


said, that he agreed very much with his noble Friend who had spoken last (the Earl of Courtown), and would have been glad if his noble Friend (Lord Inchiquin) had limited the Bill to the 1st clause. But as other matters had been introduced into it, he wished to say a few words. First, with regard to the proposal to add four additional Representative Peers. If the Bill had had for its object the adjustment of the representation to the number of Irish Peers, he should have quite agreed with his noble and learned Friend who usually sat on the Woolsack; but as its object was to reduce the number of Irish Peers not having seats in the House, he was rather of the opinion which the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Roseberry) had expressed. Then, as regarded the minority vote. He had in the Committee two years ago voted against it; but he had since, as to the theory of the thing, changed his mind, and would be willing to give the minority a fair share of representation. But he had lately looked into the relative numbers of Peers belonging to the two Parties, and he found that the proposal to give the Liberal Peers one seat out of three would be giving them more than their share. There were about 101 or 102 Peers who had no hereditary seats. This, of course, included the Representative Peers, 27 of whom were Conservatives, and one Liberal. But of the remainder, there were, as far as he could make out, only 19 or 20 Liberals, or one in five. The noble and learned Lord had put the total number of Liberal Peers rather too low; for he had yesterday taken the trouble to see how many had been created Peers of the United Kingdom since Lord Grey's Administration in 1831, and he found there had been 12. That would make the total number to exceed 30. There might be some Liberal Irish Peers who had not taken the trouble to prove their Peerages, knowing that their votes would be thrown away. To keep the vacancies open for five terms would, he thought, be a great deal too long. His noble Friend (Lord Inchiquin) had stated that there had been about 78 vacancies in 76 years, or about one a-year, and since he (the Earl of Belmore) had been a Member of the House there had been 21 vacancies in 19 years, or rather more than 1 a-year. But that was only an average, and he remembered a time when there was no vacancy for upwards of four years. In his own case, if he had been first in a batch of three, he would have been kept out of House for six years, for instead of taking his seat in 1857, he would have had to wait till 1863, as the third vacancy did not occur till late in 1862. He hoped that his noble Friend would not press his Amendment to a division, as he would be, though unwillingly, for the reasons he had given, obliged to vote against him.


said, that having an Amendment on the Paper in favour of the adoption of the cumulative system of representation, he craved permission to say a few words. He thought the necessity for adopting that system in Ireland had become very clear, and he was glad to see it supported by so many Peers of experience in the House. He conceived that there ought to be a reconsideration of the form in which the Irish Peers were elected. They were not discussing the representation of the Irish Peerage, on the question whether it was too large or too small; but the way he looked at it was that owing to accidental circumstances—the vacancies now existing—the House was afforded an opportunity of doing an act of simple grace and justice, and of remedying what many persons of position in Ireland considered a very great grievance. He admitted that, considered in reference to the proportional representation of a constituency, the argument of his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack was impregnable; and if they were discussing the question of reform of the Peerage of Ireland, he should say that it was sufficiently represented in that House. But, on the other hand, when it was urged that the number of 32 was assigned at the Union, four of them being given to represent the Spiritual Peers, he doubted whether that view was historically maintainable. It was then thought necessary to make the number of the Irish Representative Peers not more than double the number of the Scotch, and the number 32 caused great dissatisfaction to the Irish at that time. He denied the fact that the number fixed upon had any reference to the ecclesiastical Peerage. He hoped the House would do an act of justice to individual Peers who had been permanently wronged by exclusion from the House on political grounds. As to the modus operandi, he confessed he was more in favour of the cumulative vote than of that proposed by the noble Lord (Lord Inchiquin); and with reference to the increase of the numbers of the Peers he saw no great harm in waiting until the three vacancies occurred. They must remember that by the Union a large number of Peers, who in all other respects except the relative smallness of the country, held just the same position in Ireland as the Peers of England, were deprived of the advantages they possessed through no fault of their own, but entirely on grounds of supposed necessity and expediency. When, in the negotiations for the Union, the question as to the Irish Peers had to be considered, the King and the Duke of Portland were averse to the transfer of a large number to this House, and therefore the system of representation was adopted. The Irish Representative Peers were not Representatives of any particular section or party, but of the whole Irish Peerage. It was perfectly notorious that a large number of Irish Peers had never at any period been represented. No Peer unless he held certain opinions had the slightest chance of being elected, and all that remained to these noble persons was the barren honour of their titles. They could have no political activity—they could not sit in the other House for any Irish constituency—they were, in fact, deprived of the ordinary rights of citizens. He could not conceive why their Lordships should hesitate to redress this grievance. The time was come to give a full and fair representation to the Irish Peers, and he hoped that the House, disembarrassing the question of any consideration of the increase in the number of the Irish Peerage would, as an act of grace and justice, consent to adopt the cumulative system of representation. The return of all the Liberal Peers who were capable of taking their seats under such an arragement would not affect the balance of parties in this House.


in reply, said, he thought some additional seats should be given, and he should be content with three, as suggested by the noble Earl (Earl Grey). But after the discussion that had taken place he would withdraw the clause, and bring it up with alterations on the Report.

Amendment, by leave of the Committee, withdrawn.

Clause negatived.

Clause 3 (Representative Peer's seat to be vacated on his becoming entitled to an hereditary seat).


objected to this clause which provided that a Representative Peer should, in the event of his becoming a Peer of the United Kingdom, cease to sit as a Representative Peer; but as he did not find that his view was likely to meet with much support, he would only move Amendments to prevent its effect being retrospective. He put the matter on the ground of personal right. A Representative Peer was elected for life, and had a right to sit for life in the precedence of his Irish Peerage; and if precedence was worth anything, he thought it hard that if Her Majesty were pleased to create him an English Baron he should lose that precedence. It had been said that he would occupy, in such an event, two seats, but that was not the case, because, unless he were to be promoted to a higher degree in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, although it was true that his name would appear twice on the Roll, he would still sit as an Irish Representative Peer, and his successor would have to be introduced as if he had been himself created. If an Irish Peer in the future chose to become a candidate for the Representative Peerage, having due notice that if Her Majesty were hereafter to create him an hereditary Peer he would lose his seat as an Irish Peer, there was no grievance, and he would merely move an Amendment to prevent the clause being retrospective.


said, he was unable to support the clause as it stood, because it was inconsistent with the object which his noble Friend had in view.


expressed his willingness to insert the word "hereafter," which would prevent the clause from being retrospective in its operation.


explained that the difference was this, that the word "hereafter" would save the noble Earl (the Earl of Erne) who had been lately created an hereditary Baron. He, on the other hand, wanted to save the rights of all existing Representative Peers. There had been only one case in 37 years or so, of one of them being created an hereditary Peer, and it might be 37 years before another case occurred. He was prepared, however, to limit his Amendment in the sense his noble Friend desired by providing that in case of a promotion to a higher degree in the Peerage of the United Kingdom than that in the Irish Peerage, the Peer should vacate his seat and so not prevent some one else from being elected. There had been no case as yet of a Representative Peer being so promoted, although two noble Lords belonging to the other side, (the Earls of Dartrey and Dufferin), having begun as Irish Barons had become English Earls. He thought it very hard that one who like his noble Friend below him (the Earl of Erne)—he had sat for nearly 40 years, or at any rate for 35 years, as Earl—should now have to go to the bottom of the Roll, having received a barony which was only an advantage to his successor and of no benefit to himself.


suggested that the clause should be postponed, with a view to its being brought forward in a revised form on the Report.


said, he was quite ready to go to a division. He wished to guard himself from being supposed to come to any understanding on the subject.


said, he would bring up the clause in an amended form on the Report.

Clause negatived.

Clause 4 (Provisions applied to writs under this Act);

Clause 5 (Oath may be taken before any justice of the peace) severally struck out.

Clause 6 (A Peer of Ireland not a Representative Peer may be elected to serve in the House of Commons for any county, &c., in Ireland, subject to the same disabilities as now attach on being elected a Member).


hoped it would be struck out, and not with any idea of its being brought up again on the Report.


said, he did not object to have Irish Peers enabled to represent Irish constituencies, but thought the proposal, if carried at all, ought to be introduced in the other House of Parliament.

Clause struck out.

Clause 7 (Interpretation), struck out.

Clause 8 (Short title), agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Monday next; and Bill to be printed, as amended. (No. 65.)

House adjourned at Seven o'clock till To-morrow, a quarter before Five.