HL Deb 19 March 1877 vol 233 cc92-6

Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.

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


said, before the Bill passed, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to its position. This was the fourth year they had attempted in one way or another to deal with the question, and therefore they had not proceeded without very considerable deliberation. Four years ago a Select Committee of that House was appointed on the Motion of his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Rose-beryl to inquire into the whole question; and that Committee was unanimous on the single question of closing—if he might so call it—the Irish Peerage, though there was a difference of opinion upon other points. The next year, 1875, an Address was moved to the Crown by a distinguished Member of the House, Earl Stanhope — which, after being altered to the form suggested by the Government, was unanimously agreed to. To that Address an Answer was brought from the Crown to the effect that Her Majesty desired that Her rights under the Act of Union—the right of creating Irish Peers—should not stand in the way of any consideration of the subject by Parliament. Last year his noble Friend (Lord Inchiquin) brought in a Bill dealing with the subject; and their Lordships would no doubt remember the fate of that measure. That Bill contained other matters easily separable from the single question of closing the Irish Peerage, which were not included in the Bill now before them—for it proposed to deal with the question of representation, on which point a considerable discussion arose. He remembered that the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, whilst severely criticizing the other portions of the measure of last year, expressed the opinion that the arguments in favour of closing the Irish Peerage were unanswerable and that Her Majesty's Government had no desire or opinion contrary to it. The essential part of the measure—that which was contained in the present Bill—received the unqualified approval and commendation of the noble and learned Lord. The Bill left their Lordship's House in May; but its fate in the other House was very different. It was introduced by a distinguished Member of the Irish Bar, who had since become a Member of the Government as Attorney General for Ireland; but, in spite of the good hands which it was in, Mr. Gibson was unable to obtain time for a full discussion; and on the 12th of August, when the Bill was in Committee, the House was counted out, and the measure came to an end. His anxiety was that the present Bill should not share the same fate. He believed there was a better prospect for the measure this year, not only because it left that House earlier in the Session, but much more on account of its simplicity, and because it did not deal with the much-disputed question of the reform of the Irish Peerage. He could not, however, help feeling that the Bill still ran considerable risk, and all the more if it left their Lordships' House without a single word said by the Government—as they said in Ireland, "good, bad, or indifferent." He thought the House would admit that a constitutional question of this kind ought not to be left in this way, and he thought the Government ought to do one thing or the other. The Government were perfectly entitled to oppose it; but not only had they not done so, but, on the contrary, had assented to it. Under these circumstances, it seemed to him that the Government had a duty to perform with respect to the measure; and if they did not take it into their own hands—which he very much desired to see them do—he thought the House might expect them to assume a certain amount of responsibility for it in the other House of Parliament.


said, he had listened with some attention to the noble Lord's speech, because he was not quite certain that he had caught the purport of it. The noble Lord, as he proceeded, seemed rather to find fault with the Government for not having opposed the Bill on the second reading. That was a course which the Government would, no doubt, have adopted had they thought the Bill was one which ought not to pass; but that was not their opinion, and on the noble Lord's own showing, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack spoke in favour of the principle of the Bill last year. The remarks made by his noble and learned Friend on that occasion showed what were the views of Her Majesty's Government; but as to the duty of the Government with regard to the position which they should assume in the other House as to taking charge of the Bill, the, noble Lord would forgive him for saying that the Government must be the best judges of that. He could give no assurance as to the Government undertaking any responsibility in, the matter.


said, he did not think that the explanation of the noble Duke was satisfactory, because it left the House in ignorance of what course the Government proposed to take.


said, that the House had heard when the Bill was on for second reading what was the opinion of the Government with respect to it; but, having regard to the state of Business in the other House he could not, on the part of the Government, enter into any undertaking with respect to this Bill.


said, that what the Government had given the Bill was what a noble Earl opposite, the late Privy Seal, had described as "negative support" — a sort of support that must be very discouraging to the noble Lord who had charge of the Bill in that House. The Bill was overhung by the shadow of the cumulative vote 'proposed in the former measure; but he hoped the Government would disregard that shadow and assist to carry the Bill through the other House.


said, that up to this the Government nights in the other House had been fully taken up with Government measures, and there were other Government measures which Ministers were awaiting an opportunity to introduce. In these circumstances, to ask Her Majesty's Government to take upon themselves the conduct of a Bill which they had not introduced would be to ask them to give up to it Government nights which were already appropriated to other measures. He did not see how they could give the Bill any peculiar facilities without doing that; and at this period of the Session and in the present state of Business they were not prepared to promise to do it.


considered that when a practically unanimous assent had been expressed on the principle of the Bill for four years running the measure ought to receive an amount of support from the Government in "another place." Although the Bill itself was a small one, it involved a matter of considerable constitutional importance, and it did not seem right to him that a question of this importance should be kept pending year after year.


also thought it of great importance that the Bill should pass, but the chances of its passage must depend on its Friends. Let them refrain from mixing up with the question in the Bill other questions which would be sure to lead to difference of opinion and lengthened debates.


hoped that the view taken by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees would be followed in "another place"; but there was no certainty, and it was more than probable that other alterations would be proposed. All who had interested themselves in the Bill in their Lordships' House were very anxious that it should pass, but they could not control their Friends in the other House. He had hoped to get an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that they would give the Bill all the assistance in their power.


agreed with his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, that the Government must first consider the measures which they themselves had in hand; but when the Government permitted a measure of such constitutional importance as one affecting the Irish Peerage to pass in one House unanimously, they ought scarcely to allow that measure to take its chance in the category of Bills promoted by private Members.


could conceive some advantages in not making the Bill a Government measure, but saw no reason why the Government should not wish" God speed" to the Bill before it left their Lordships' House.


said, he was opposed to the principle of the Bill alto- gether, and thought that a measure of so much importance to the Empire ought not to pass until the Irish Peers and the country had pronounced some opinion on it.


believed that the Irish Peers in their Lordships' House were unanimous, with, perhaps, one exception, in favour of the Bill, and were most anxious that it should pass.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed, and sent to the Commons.