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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 14

The House of Lords

page 43

The House of Lords.

"The Peerage is indebted for its origin to circumstances which it has long survived. "When Force was the arbiter of every question of right and wrong, Peers were the depositories of Force. Land was granted them on condition that they should club their force with that of the chief of all when his will required. Authority over possessors of land held on this condition could not be so firmly fixed as to reduce them to entire submission to a suzerain, so they were also persuaded and consulted. Hence a House of Peers. Various causes split the possessions of the great feudal holders of land, and made a division of ranks among themselves. They became distinguished as Greater or Lesser Barons. With smaller possessions came smaller consequence; and while the king continued to gammon the Greater Barons himself to his council, he deputed to the sheriffs of counties the duty of summoning the Lesser Barons. These Lesser Barons, continuing to grow more numerous and smaller, it ultimately came that two were chosen to represent the Lesser Barons under the name of Knights of the Shire. Contemporaneously with this change another took place. Feudalism had permitted men to assemble in towns on payment of certain tributes. On such towns were conferred charters and privileges, both for better regulation and for taxation. The possession of wealth for the payment of money always ends in conferring upon the possessor an advantage. These towns sent their delegates to agree as to the sums to be paid. If a greater amount than usual were demanded, they naturally were told of the object and consulted as to its necessity. The Greater and the Lesser Barons and the delegates of the towns having become a numerous body, and their offices and ranks being different, a natural separation took place. The Greater Barons formed the House of Lords. The Lesser Barons (or Knights of the Shire) sent up by the sheriffs, together with the delegates of the towns, formed the House of Commons. At the time the division took place it might be an equal* one; there is no proportion now between a Chamber of Lords and the People."—Spectator, 50 years ago.

The Constitutional History of the Peerage, so pithily rendered in the above extract, may be continued in a brief summary of what our Hereditary Legislators have done (or mostly what they have undone) since the present century set in.

  • 1807—Rejected Bill appointing a Committee of Council for Education.
  • 1810—Rejected Bill abolishing Punishment of Death for stealing goods value 5s. (William III.'s value; in 1810 the value was only 2s. 6d.) More than 200 crimes—many of them trivial—were then punishable with death—75 in respect to Revenue.
  • 1825—Resisted Catholic Relief Bill until civil war Imminent, and Bank of England a few hours only from stoppage.
  • 1829—Disfranchised 40s. Freeholders in Ireland before granting Catholic Emancipation.
  • 1830—Opposed Land Drainage in Ireland, delaying it 16 years.
  • 1831Oct. 7.—Rejected Great Reform Bill by a majority of 41. Popular indignation; Bristol set on fire, and over 100 persons killed and wounded by the military; Birmingham preparing to march on London; burning of Nottingham Castle. Newcastle, Derby, Bath, Newark, and Worcester all in open riot.
  • 1831—Refused to disfranchise one borough spending £36,500 (in five elections) on 1,200 voters.
  • 1832—Mutilated the Reform Bill in committee. People now broke all bounds, threw mud at the King in the streets—City Council and most of the middle class stopped payment of taxes. Run on the Bank, and £1,800.000 drawn out in three days. The country on the brink of open Revolution.
  • 1832—Refused to open Universities to Dissenters.
  • 1833—By fierce opposition compelled withdrawal of Bill for Irish National Education.
  • 1833-1857—Denied civil and political rights to Jews for quarter of a century. The Commons' Bill seven times rejected by Lords.
  • 1834—Refused to allow more than 20 persons to meet for worship in private house.
  • 1834—Three times rejected the Tithe Abatement Bill. Also rejected Bill for legalizing marriages in Dissenting chapels.
  • 1834—Forbade Nonconformist Ministers to officiate in Workhouses, and again threw out Bill for abolishing University Tests.
  • 1835—Population of Ireland eight millions—voters 60,000! Lords refused Reform, and prevented it for 40 years afterwards.
  • 1836—Ordered Banns of Dissenters' Marriages to be read before Board of Guardians.
  • 1836—Tried to defeat Municipal Reform Act. Choice of Magistrates denied to Town Councils. Institution of Aldermen imposed. Control of Licensing knocked out of Bill. Disallowed Municipal Reform for Ireland, and again in 1837.
  • 1838—Refused mothers custody of infants during separation caused by fault of the father.
  • 1839—Continued death penalty for sheep stealing.
  • 1839—Rejected by 229 to 118 the Bill to provide National Education.
  • 1842—Mines' Regulation. Refused to give women and children working in mines the full relief of Commons' Bill. Protection of miners against preventable accidents not obtained for 30 years through Lords.
  • 1844—Opposed Repeal of the Penal Laws (Ireland). These laws made it a crime for a Roman Catholic to teach a child to read, to be absent from Protestant services, and to own a horse above £5 value.
  • 1845-Refused Compensation for Tenants' Improvement (Ireland), and so for 25 years.
  • 1858—Refused Church Rates Abolition. Same for 11 years.
  • 1860—Mr. Gladstone took Taxes (£660,000) off Paper. This meant a Cheap Press. Lords threw out the Bill.
  • 1860—Refused Education to Miners' Children. Twelve years of darkness followed to these unfortunates.
  • 1864—Voted censure on the Government that would not go to War with Germany for the behalf of Denmark.
  • 1867—Robbed electors of London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, &c., of the third vote, by imposition of the Three-corner trick.
  • 1868—Threw out Irish Church Disestablishment Resolutions.
  • 1868—Emasculated Artisans' Dwellings Bill
  • 1867-70—Thrice refused University Tests Abolition.
  • 1869—Mutilated the Irish Church Bill, causing frequent conflicts between the two Houses. Same year rejected Lord Russell's Bill, legalizing Life Peerages.
  • 1870—Irish Land Act. Lords refused compensation, and insisted on their right to evict distressed tenants.
  • 1871—Rejected Army Purchase Bill.
  • 1871—Threw out Ballot Bill, and next year ruined it by an amendment making the method of voting optional.
  • 1873-6-7-9—Refused to amend Burial Laws.
  • 1879, and onwards.—Persistently refused to pass Bill legalizing marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister, even though strong Royal influence was brought to bear in favour of the measure.
  • 1880—Rejected Compensation for Disturbance Bill (Ireland) by 232 majority. Country given up to anarchy and crime in consequence. Civil war at "a measurable distance." Same year threw out the Irish Registration of Voters Bill.
  • 1883—Disturbed Land Act by meddlesome inquiry.
  • 1883—Threw out Cornwall Sunday Closing Bill, by one vote.
  • 1883—Maintained Trap Pigeon Shooting.
  • 1883—Spoiled English Agricultural Holdings Bill-but thought better of it afterwards.
  • 1884—Refused the Franchise to 2,000,000 County Householders.

For the particular share "Spiritual" Peers hare taken in all this mad folly, we refer our readers to the section on "The State Church." Other remarks on the composition of the House of Lords will be found elsewhere; but we append a table showing the composition of the Upper Chamber at stated periods.