HL Deb 30 July 1885 vol 300 cc494-8

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(The Earl of Selborne.)


said, he was surprised that the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Selborne) should ask their Lordships to go into Committee on this Bill, which was a wholly unprece- dented measure, and was not really a restitution Bill at all. What was at stake with regard to this Peerage? The Bill said— And whereas doubts may exist whether the said ancient honour, dignity, and title of peerage of Earl of Mar, which so descended to the said Isabella, Countess of Mar, was or was not previously to 1565 by any lawful means surrendered or merged in the Crown. This Peerage had never been represented in Parliament since it became extinguished. The way in which this matter stood was rather peculiar. The gentleman who was to be benefited by this Bill had never applied to the Crown claiming to be entitled to the dignity; but in opposing another person who got the Peerage he refused to have the Peerage described as in this Bill. The Standing Orders of the House were againt this mode of procedure, for they laid clown that neither the House nor a Committee should proceed upon any claim to the Peerage until the necessary Petition should have been lodged, along with a statement containing a history of the pedigree and an abstract of the proof and authority upon which the claim was to be founded. In this instance no printed case had been lodged, and the only evidence upon which it stood was what was taken in their Lordships' House, some of it many years ago, so that no one could have gone through it without very great labour. It was upon the evidence on which this gentleman refused to make a claim that the title was now to be given to him by Act of Parliament. This was a proceeding of so strange a character that if their Lordships were not particularly careful a precedent might be established which would have a dangerous effect with regard to the future. If this precedent were to be followed, a man might be raised to the Peerage by Act of Parliament without any satisfactory proof entitling him to such Peerage. He confessed it was with reluctance that he had come forward in this way; but he felt it his duty not to allow this matter to be treated in so summary a manner without raising an objection and bringing it clearly and distinctly before the House. He entertained the highest opinion of the late Lord Chancellor, who had been the chief promoter of this Bill; but he could not help remembering that the noble and learned Earl acted as counsel for the gentleman who claimed the Earldom. This was unfortunate, although he did not mean to say I that it influenced him to the slightest extent. No one had yet stated the grounds on which the Bill was based, and in these circumstances he thought it would be most injudicious for their Lord-ships to proceed further with the measure. The matter required more inquiry and more time for consideration than the few days given to it. If the present case was to be pursued, and a man was to have a Peerage conferred by Act of Parliament, they would give up every-thing in the practice of the House in regard to the establishment of Peerage claims.


said, he had heard the speech of the noble Earl with much surprise. There was a bound to all things, and he thought the noble Earl would have been satisfied with what had already taken place. When the late Lord Privy Seal (the Earl of Rosebery) introduced this Bill at the command of the Crown he stated very clearly the reasons for its introduction. In the course of that debate he had I himself an opportunity of stating his reasons for thinking that the introduction of the Bill was right. The measure was received with general assent on both sides of the House, as it promised to put an end to a long and a by no means convenient controversy. The noble Earl stated at that time his objections to the Bill, but neither he nor any other noble Lord moved to reject it on the second reading. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lothian) took, as he thought, a very generous and right course, saying that he would be very glad if the Preamble could be proved, and that in that case the Bill might pass and the controversy be brought to a close. But the noble Marquess added; that he thought it right that the Preamble should be proved. The noble Earl had treated this measure as if it were a Bill to relieve a person who claimed a Peerage from the necessity of making his claim in the usual manner. It was not so. It was really a Bill to remove the impediments which the noble Earl and the two noble Lords who were associated with him in the former case found to exist in the way of the re-establishment of this ancient Peerage. The Committee of Privileges found that the Charter of Restitution of Mary, Queen of Scots, did not restore to John, then Lord Erskine, the ancient title Earl of Mar, but only to restore and reinvest in him the lauds belonging to the ancient territorial Earldom. One of the reasons urged against the gentleman to whom this Bill applied was that the action of the Crown had raised an impediment to the dignity being taken out by the person who would have been otherwise entitled to it. It was to remove that impediment, on proof of the Preamble, that the Bill by Her Majesty's command was introduced. Prom year to year, in Scotland and in England, there had been an increasing number of Peers who felt that justice in some way or another had not been done in this matter, but did not know whether that failure of justice was due to the tribunal of that House or not. They promoted what he would not venture to call an agitation, but a movement in that House and in Scotland which many other persons in Scotland participated in, and it was a fact that twice over 106 Peers, with the Duke of Sutherland at their head, had petitioned Her Majesty to use every means in her power to get the injustice which they conceived had been done redressed. So far was it from being the fact that he —because of any impression he might have formed as the former counsel for this gentleman—had taken any active steps towards having this matter brought forward, he had been one of the very last persons to be moved in it, because he had felt from first to last that it was his duty to maintain the authority of the Committee of Privileges of that House, and he had done so again and again; and he thought that he was maintaining that authority in the best way now, when—instead of leaving their decision to be still canvassed and a sense of rank-ling discontent by allowing things to go on as they were—ho sought to have the difficulty removed in the only way by which, consistently with what had been, done by their Lordships' House, it could be done—namely, by removing the impediments which had arisen. He was amazed to hear the noble Earl say that when the Bill was before the Select Committee the matter had been examined in an unsatisfactory way. The Earl of Kellie was present himself, and it was open to him to oppose the Preamble; but he preferred — and with great good taste—simply to assist the Committee by pointing out the objections which he thought were to be taken to the Preamble. No other evidence could have been laid before the Select Committee than than which had been taken previously by the Committee of Privileges, which filled some 800 printed pages. The Select Committee were engaged for four days in investigating the subject, and all their Lordships who had sat upon it had the fullest opportunity of examining into the evidence which had bees n taken on the previous occasions. In his opinion no case had ever been more clearly proved than this had been. Their Lordships upon that Committee had had the assistance of almost all the noble and learned Lords who ever assisted the House in judicial matters. There was the Lord Chancellor, Lord Blackburn, Lord Watson, Lord Fitzgerald, and himself, and they were all perfectly unanimous with regard to it, while the noble Earl alone dissented from their opinion. He begged to move that the House resolve itself into Committee upon the Bill.


said, he thought that their Lordships were about to set a new and most dangerous precedent.

Motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly.

Amendments (proposed by the Select Committee) made: The Report thereof to be received To-morrow; and Standing Order No. XXXV. to be considered in order to its being dispensed with.