§ 7.53 p.m.
VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND PERRARD
My Lords, at this late hour I am sure your Lordships would not wish me to embark on a long dissertation on the rights of the Irish peerage, especially since to do so would prejudge the issue if, as I hope, the House will allow my Motion to go through unopposed. Therefore I beg to move that the Petition of the Earl of Antrim and eleven other Irish Peers, presented on the 15th of December last, be referred to the Committee for Privileges.
§ Moved, That the Petition of the Earl of Antrim and eleven other Irish Peers, presented on the 15th of December last, be referred to the Committee for Privileges.—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, the position with regard to the Motion before the House would seem to be as follows. The Union with Ireland Act, 1800, provided that 28 of the Irish Peers were to be elected for life by all the Irish Peers to sit and vote 573 on the part of Ireland in the House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. No new Irish Peers have been created since 1898, when for some reason an Irish barony was conferred on George Nathaniel Curzon.
The Act provided that the election was to take place on a writ issued to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to cause the Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper in Ireland to hold the election. Since the constitution of the Irish Free State in the early 1920s, Ireland no longer exists, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland no longer exists and the Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper in Ireland no longer exists. It follows that there has been no further election, and the last elected Irish Peer died in 1961.
In these circumstances, it is said, on the one side, that the Irish Peers still have a right to sit, or for some of them to sit, in your Lordships' House, and that all that is required is that your Lordships' House should provide machinery of election to replace the machinery of election which was, it is said, inadvertently removed by the Acts constituting the Irish Free State. On the other side, it is said that Irish Peers cannot now sit in this House "on the part of Ireland" because there is no longer any such place; and, further, that to replace the machinery of election provided by the Act of Union cannot be done by this House alone, but only by Parliament, and that no Government has been prepared to take that course.
The matter was fully considered by the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform in 1962. That Committee had before it memoranda by the Official Group, by the noble Lord, Lord Dunboyne, and by other noble Lords interested. The Committee expressed themselves asnot in favor of the revival of ant form of representation for the peerage of Ireland in the House of Lords".On that footing, they considered that they should be fully eligible to sit in the House of Commons. Accordingly, in the debate in your Lordships' House on the Peerage Bill in 1963, an Amendment was moved in the sense contended for in the Petition, but the Amendment was lost by 90 to 8. It was on the footing that the Trish Peers were not eligible to sit in your Lordships' House that the Peerage Act made the 574 Irish Peers fully eligible to sit in the House of Commons. Now the matter is raised again.
The view of the Government on this Motion is as follows. This is a Petition to recognise the right of certain persons to sit as Peers in your Lordships' House, and the Motion now before the House is a Motion to refer such a Petition to the Committee for Privileges. There is no known precedent for such a Petition not to be referred to the Committee for Privileges. The Petitioners say that, while they have put their claim before, it has never been argued by counsel, as it would be before the Committee for Privileges; nor have their legal rights ever been fully enquired into.
The Government feel that the claim of the Petitioners is one which will probably continue to be raised from time to time unless a full inquiry into the claim is made, and that the Committee for Privileges is the proper body to make that inquiry. They also have in mind the fact that such Petitions appear never to have been rejected out of hand, but always to be referred to that Committee. The Government therefore advise the House to accept the Motion. In doing so, the Government must make it plain that the fact that they do not propose to divide the House against the Motion must not be taken to mean that the Government agree that the Petitioners have a good case, or, indeed, any arguable case. But, so long as that is made clear, if the matter is going to the Committee for Privileges your Lordships will no doubt agree that it would be undesirable that the merits or demerits of the Petitioners' case should be further debated.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I should like to remind your Lordships that in the event of the House deciding to refer this Petition to the Committee for Privileges Standing Order 55 places on myself, as Chairman of Committees, the responsibility of taking the Chair, not only of a Committee of the Whole House but of all other Committees of the House unless the House otherwise directs. As the holder of an Irish Peerage, it does not seem to me altogether appropriate that I should take the Chair at meetings of the Committee for Privileges while it is considering the Petition of the Irish Peers. I would therefore ask the leave 575 of the House to be excused from taking the Chair during the proceedings of the Committee while it is considering this Petition.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.