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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter XII. — How they have Governed Ireland

page 71

Chapter XII.

How they have Governed Ireland.

When any attempt is made to estimate the exact influence which the House of Lords has had upon legislation, its advocates uniformly resort to a disingenuous defence to which the tactics of the Upper House lend some colourable pretext. Thus when the Peers are accused of having secured the defeat of this measure or of that, their apologists indignantly protest that this cannot bo true because the House of Lords never rejected the Bill. Hansard is appealed to for proof that their lordships read the Bill a second time, and that no motion directly fatal is to be found in the journals of the House. Nay, they even are able sometimes to point triumphantly to the fact that the coup de grace was given to the Bill by the House of Commons on the motion of the authors of its being.

Upon this specious sophistry the recent action of the Peers in dealing with the Education Bill of 1906 casts a flood of light. The Peers read the Education Bill a second time, they passed it through all its stages, and the final vote which terminated its existence was given in the House of Commons. But every one knows that, despite all that, it was the Lords who wrecked the Bill. They wrecked it by turning it inside out. They "reconstituted" it, as Mr. Asquith wittily said, as a man would reconstitute the Ten Commandments if he transferred all the nots from the negative commandments to the positive. They refused to reconsider the Bill when the Commons restored it to its original shape and sent it back to be decently interred by the Ministry and the House of Commons. Yet an adroit apologist—some future Sir W. T. Charley—will succeed by verbal juggling and apparently conclusive quotations in convincing some future generation that the whole of the responsibility for the failure of a Bill abolishing tests and establishing public control over public schools lay at the door, not of the Lords who wrecked it, but of the Commons who passed it.

Another favourite subterfuge of the advocate of the Lords who has to make the best of a very bad case, is to point to the fact that the foundering of Liberal measures in the House of Lords was not due to the hostility of the Peers, but simply and solely to the fact that there was not enough time for their consideration. It is, of course, obvious that if there had been no House of Lords the measures would have passed into law. The existence of the Second Chamber in this way acts as an automatic brake upon legislation. But the Lords are not content with the delay necessarily entailed by the duplication of machinery. They are experts in all the wiles of plausible obstruction. One of their favourite devices is to refer measures to a Select Committee, whose report is delayed until it is too late to proceed with the Bill in that session. Another is so to transform the Bill by amendments in page 72 Select Committee that the other House has no time to consider them "at this late period of the session." "Therefore," cries the Peers' apologist with delight, "it was the Commons, not the Lords, who threw out the Bill. It is not the Peers who defeat Bills, it is Father Time." It would be as honest to say when you have drowned a man by holding his head under water that you did not kill him—it was done by the sea.

When some particularly obnoxious amendment has been grafted upon a measure by the Peers, who have compelled the Government to accept it on penalty of losing the Bill, the submission of the Ministry is quoted as conclusive evidence that the guilt is chargeable to them, not to the Lords. "You object to this amendment, do you?" they say. "But perhaps you do not know that Mr. Gladstone accepted it; that Lord Granville said civil things to its authors," and so forth. It would be just as reasonable to argue that a man recognised the right of a highwayman to the purse of his victim. "Your purse, do you say? Why, with my own eyes I saw you hand it to the gentleman on horseback, who wore a mask and was holding a pistol to your head. And so far from your denying his right to the purse, you addressed him quite civilly." Every Liberal Government who endeavours to carry a measure of reform through the Peers is in the position of a coachman on Hounslow Heath when Claude Duval or Dick Turpin rode up to the coach. Their passengers may escape with their lives, but at a price, which the highwaymen alone have the power to fix.

The old oft-quoted saying of the Tsar that Russia relied upon her two Generals, January and February, may be applied, with the alteration of the month, to the House of Lords. They rely upon their Generals, July and August. When the month arrives which is sacred to the slaughtering of grouse, the Lords never have time to discharge their legislative duties. The call of the moors is sounding in their ears. How unreasonable to expect them to postpone the rapturous delight of butchering birds to the discharge of the irksome and distasteful task of legislating for the needs of a nation! So year after year measures have been sacrificed in order that the Peers may enjoy themselves after the custom of their kind. If only the choking of a measure by the Thugs of legislation postponed it just for a single year, the evil, although great, might be borne. But every tyro knows that the time of the House of Commons being limited, and the pressure of circumstances varying constantly, the rejection of a Bill one year often effectually prevents its reappearing for many a year. Liberal Ministries, with the best goodwill in the world, are often unable to spare time in subsequent sessions to pass the Bill defeated on the specious plea of lack of time through all its stages in the House of Commons choked with pressing business. If all Bills dropped in one session for lack of time could be taken up at the same stage in the following session, the evil of obstruction in the Lords might not be absolutely intolerable. But as things are, the refusal to pass a Bill entails upon it the ordeal of running the gauntlet through the House of Commons, a process which may lead to its destruction by obstruction, and which will certainly lead to the obstruction of other Bills equally detested by the House of Lords.

Yet if any Bill obstructed out of existence by the Peers does not reappear for a term of years during which Liberal Ministries have been in power, the fact of its non-appearance is triumphantly adduced as evidence that public opinion was not ripe and that the inaction of the Liberal Governments was a conclusive confirmation of the wisdom of the Peers. The fact that the legislative capacity of the overburdened House of Commons is strained to the uttermost, that legislation is constantly in page 73 arrear, that the grossest abuses are allowed to continue from sheer lack of time in which to terminate their existence, that hosts of grievances remain unredressed, that the recommendations of scores of Royal Commissions and Select Committees are never acted upon—these things are largely due to the obstructive action, partly automatic, partly mischievous, of the House of Lords. To allow that House to plead that it was not to blame for delaying a necessary reform for years because it only rejected it once would be to allow the evil-doer to invoke the consequences of his own crimes to justify their perpetration.

The House of Lords is the great Baby Farming branch of our legislative establishment. It is conducted on much the same principles as those of the notorious institutions which flourish for the "making of angels." The proprietors are experts in the art of doing to death the unlucky infants confided to their care. They do not cut their throats. Neither do they poison them. They love the little dears so much that they go to no expense in dosing them with paregoric. But somehow or other the children die. Of course it is a natural death, due to the reconstitution of the contents of their little Marys, due to spare diet and unnatural food. But infanticide! Oh, fie! The poor babes were rickety to begin with, and it was not the fault of their kind foster-parent if the regular diet of the establishment disagreed with them. Besides, they do not always die in their hands. They are sent home to the authors of their being, and if anything happens then, it is the parent, not the baby-farmer, who is to blame. But now and then some hideous scandal occurs, like the rejection of the Education Bill, within a year of the General Election, and then comes the coroner's inquest. Such an inquest has now been opened, nor is there much doubt as to the verdict of the jury.

These observations lead up to the consideration of the action of the House of Lords in its dealing with all political, social, and religious reforms, but especially with those which concern Ireland. If Ireland has been the despair and the disgrace of the Empire, it is largely due to the fact that in dealing with Irish questions the House of Lords has been, down to 1870, the predominant partner. England, Scotland, and Wales have been governed by the House of Commons, Ireland has been abandoned to the tender mercies of the House of Lords. In the contrast between the prosperity and content of Great Britain and the misery and discontent of Ireland we see the natural and inevitable result of the two systems. The power of the Lords to mar British legislation has constantly been limited by their dread of a turbulent agitation at their own doorsteps. But Ireland was too far away to trouble their aristocratic serenity. In Great Britain intimidation, the only real check upon the power of the House of Lords, can be, and has been, and will be, freely and effectively employed to bring the Peers to heel. But all Ireland might be reeking with incipient revolt, and it would hardly ruffle a rose-leaf under the head of an English peer who had no estates in Ireland. Even then he would not feel it much. The famous remark of the nonchalant absentee who wrote to his tenants, "If you think you can intimidate me by shooting my agent you make a very great mistake," sums up the situation exactly. The Irish cannot intimidate the Peers, or rather they could not until Michael Davitt discovered that Rent was their Achilles heel. Hence Irish reforms are never made until it is too late for redress to remedy wrong or restore content.

The difference between having to deal with a House of Lords in your page 74 own country and a House of Lords in another country was strikingly illustrated by the different way in which the Irish and the British Lords dealt with the question of Catholic emancipation. In 1792 and 1793 the Irish House of Lords passed almost unanimously measures which admitted the Roman Catholic peasantry to the Parliamentary suffrage, and to juries, and relieved them of all property qualifications. But when the Union was carried and the control passed into the hands of the British House of Lords and of a House of Commons practically nominated by the Peers, there was no such readiness to recognise the justice of the Catholic claims.

The Irish question is peculiarly a Catholic question, for eight Irishmen out of ten belong to the Roman Church. Irish discontent was the natural result of Protestant intolerance, but the ascendency of an alien sect was jealously maintained by the Lords. When Lord Cornwallis reported to Mr. Pitt that he could carry the Union, but not the participation of the Roman Catholics in all the privileges of the Protestants of Ireland, Mr. Canning exclaimed, "Then if I were you I would refuse both; I would not have one without the other." Mr. Pitt rebuked Mr. Canning for his intemperance; but Earl Russell, nearly fifty years later, after long experience of the results of taking one without the other, declared from his place in Parliament, "I own that in reflecting upon what then passed I very much doubt whether the youthful judgment of Mr. Canning was not wiser than the mature decision of Mr. Pitt."

The House of Lords did its best or its worst to defeat the recognition of the rights of the Roman Catholics. One memorable instance was typical of all that followed. Catholic Emancipation, regarded by Mr. Pitt as one of the essential conditions of the Union, was postponed until concession lost all its virtue. The responsibility for this, no doubt, must be shared with the House of Commons, which in those days was but little better than the creature of the aristocracy. But in 1825 even the unreformed House of Commons could no longer resist the claim of the Catholics to be admitted within the pale of citizenship, and the Catholic Relief Bill was carried by a majority of twenty-one. "Even in 1825," said Lord Macaulay, speaking nineteen years after, "it was not too late. The machinery of agitation was not yet fully organised; the Government was under no strong pressure, and therefore concession might still have been received with thankfulness. That opportunity was suffered to escape; and it never returned."

How was it suffered to escape? By the action of the House of Lords. They rejected the Relief Bill by a majority of forty-eight. Three years later the House of Commons again sent up the Bill, which admitted eight-tenths of the population of Ireland within the pale of the Constitution. Once more the House of Lords rejected the Bill. In 1829 the concession refused to justice was made "reluctantly, ungraciously, under duress, from the mere dread of civil war." "The Irishman," said Macaulay, "was taught that from England nothing is to be got by reason, by entreaty, by patient endurance, but everything by intimidation. That tardy repentance deserved no gratitude and obtained none." The House of Lords, by its repeated rejection of the Relief Bill, and not less by its sudden capitulation, had led the Irish to believe that "by agitation alone could any grievance be removed." The lesson has not been forgotten, even yet.

The attitude of the House of Lords in relation to the administration of Ireland has been in strict keeping with the opposition which it has uniformly offered to all recognition of the claims of the Catholics. It is significant that the first popular movement for the abolition or reform of page 75 the House of Lords since the Reform Act was headed by O'Connell and was based chiefly upon the impossibility of securing from the Second Chamber any measure of justice for Ireland. O'Connell declared in 1835 in his place in Parliament, that in dealing with Ireland the Lords "treated everything of conciliation or justice with contumely and contempt" and his language, although strong was borne out by the facts. A retrospect of the contribution which the Peers have made to the government of Ireland brings out the fact that the function of the Second Chamber for half a century has been to emphasise every demand for repression, and to mutilate postpone, or reject every measure extending to the Irish the rights and privileges enjoyed by their fellow-subjects in England and Scotland. No small portion of the difficulties of Irish government has arisen from the inability of the English people to secure the acceptance of just laws for Ireland by the House of Lords until long after, the opportunity had passed when concession might have been efficacious in removing discontent.

"Why are the Irish discontented?" once asked O'Connell in the House of Commons. "Because," he replied, "for seven hundred years England has governed them by a faction and for a faction." To secure the perpetuity of that mode of government has been a constant preoccupation of the Peers. They have at least secured a perpetuity of discontent.

After the Emancipation Act was passed it was some time before its spirit was recognised in the Administration. Por years after it received the Royal Assent the Roman Catholics were virtually excluded from the government of Ireland. To this day the justices of the peace in Ireland are selected chiefly from the minority of the population, but in 1833 there was not in all Ireland a single Catholic judge, grand juror, inspector, or subinspector of police. There was only one Catholic sheriff. The overwhelming majority of the unpaid magistrates were Protestants. The towns were ruled by Protestant cliques, corrupt and bigoted. "The favourable or the hostile mind of the ruling power," said Burke, "is of far more importance to mankind for good or evil than the black letter of any statute." The mind of the ruling power was hostile to the Irish Catholics, and every attempt to give effect to the spirit of the Emancipation Act was opposed by the House of Lords. In 1839 this opposition assumed the shape of an informal vote of censure, which led to the counter-motion in the Commons, in support of which Earl Russell made a speech on the government of Ireland which might be read with advantage by many of our statesmen to-day, so plainly did the old Whig lay down the principle that "nothing firm or stable was possible in Ireland unless the Government secured the good-will and confidence of the Irish people." But the Lords did not confine themselves to censuring the Executive for attempting to govern Ireland "according to the wishes of the people of Ireland." "Every Bill, said Macaulay in 1841, "framed by the advisers of the Crown for the benefit of Ireland was either rejected or mutilated." That Macaulay did not exaggerate may be seen by a reference to Hansard.

The conduct of the Lords may be illustrated by their dealings with the Church Establishment. In 1833 the Government of the day passed the Church Temporalities Act; but, instead of appropriating the surplus revenues of the alien Establishment to the furtherance of purposes approved by the majority of the nation, the Appropriation Clause was abandoned from fear of the Lords. The Tithe War of fifty years ago had brought Ireland to the verge of anarchy. Coercion of the most rigorous type had been tried and found utterly wanting. In 1834 the Commons passed a Tithe Bill for Ireland. O'Connell declared on its third reading that the page 76 Bill "would form a new epoch in the history of the government of Ireland. This was the first great step towards a conciliatory system in Ireland. He hoped no attempt would be made to blast the first step made towards the pacification of his country." Six days later the Bill was summarily rejected by the Lords, by a majority of 189 to 122.

The next year the Tithe Bill was again sent up to the Lords. They struck out the clause appropriating a portion of the ecclesiastical revenues to the religious and moral instruction of all classes of the community, thereby securing the abandonment of the Bill. In 1836 the Commons a third time sent up the Bill to the Lords, and the Peers again defeated it by the elimination of the Appropriation Clause. In 1837 the Tithe Bill was read a second time by the Commons, but the death of the King saved the Lords the trouble of rejecting it. In 1838 the fifth Bill dealing with the question of Irish Tithes was introduced into the House of Commons. To secure its acceptance by the House of Lords, the Government assented to the elimination of the Appropriation Clause. The alien Church was to keep all its endowments; not one penny was to be devoted to the education of the people. The Lords triumphed, and the Church of Ireland was saved—for a time.

The sequel of the victory was not seen for thirty years. In 1868 the House of Lords rejected Mr. Gladstone's resolutions demanding the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish Church. It was their last effort. In the following year the second reading of the Disestablishment Bill was carried in the Upper Chamber by 179 votes to 146, and the Establishment which the Peers had refused to adapt to the wants of the nation in 1838 was swept away altogether with their assent in 1869.

The way in which the House of Lords dealt with the subject of the Irish franchise affords a good illustration of their general policy. When Roman Catholic Emancipation was wrung from the House of Lords in 1829, the concession was only made on condition that the forty-shilling freeholders should be disfranchised, a stipulation which was insisted upon before the Bill was accepted by the unreformed House of Commons. Without that stipulation even the dread of civil war would not have overcome the objection of the Peers and their nominees in the Lower House to admit their Catholic fellow-subjects to the privileges of citizenship. The spirit of jealous antipathy to every extension of the franchise in Ireland has been one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Second Chamber. The Government of Earl Grey, after passing the Reform Act of 1832, lowered the suffrage in Ireland; but, so far from treating Irishmen as Englishmen, the result of the Irish Reform Act was that only 5 per cent. of the adult males in Ireland in 1839 possessed the franchise. In England the percentage of voters was nineteen, or nearly four times as great as in Ireland. In 1841, and again in 1848, English Ministers admitted the scandal of the excessive limitation of the Irish electorate, but nothing was done. The Bills were dropped. With the fate of the Corporations Bill fresh before them, Ministers naturally did not care to push forward measures certain to be rejected in another place. It was the experience of many years which led O'Connell to tell the Commons in 1839, "Though a majority in this House may be disposed to do us something like justice, all your efforts will be frustrated by the other branch of the Legislature."

In 1835 the House of Commons sent up to the Lords a measure simplifying the Irish registration system. The indirect effect of this was considerably to increase the numbers of voters in Irish constituencies, by page 77 relaxing the reactionary stipulations of 1829 and 1832. The Peers threw it out by a majority of exactly three to one, 81 voting against it and only 27 in its favour. Forty-five years later another Irish Registration Bill intended to secure the same object as that of 1835-the assimilation of the English and Irish system—was thrown out by a vote of 42 to 30 The influence of the Peers has always been used in favour of restriction This tendency appears in small matters as well as great. In 1837, on the eve of the General Election, a Bill was sent up to them by the Commons to enable returning officers in large towns to increase the number of polling-places, for in Ireland the limited number of polling-places, coupled with the absurd oaths and formalities insisted upon by the law, involved the practical disfranchisement of no inconsiderable proportion of the very limited number of electors. It was rejected by the Peers by a majority of 74 to 36.

The condition of the Irish electoral system, which the Lords repeatedly refused to permit the Commons to reform, may be inferred from the following extract from one of Mr. Bright's speeches in the session of 1848: "In the whole of Ireland there were not 60,000 electors—probably not 40,000—among a population of 8,000,000. In the city of Dublin there were 21,000 names on the electoral roll, and perhaps not more than 7,000 of them entitled to vote. The registration took place once in eight years. The elector must pay at least six rates before he could register his votes, some said ten; and he had been informed on good authority there were no less than fifteen of one sort or another." Year after year the House of Commons admitted the necessity of a change; but it was not till 1850 that the franchise was reduced and the registration reformed. The Bill sent up from the House of Commons proposed to fix the franchise at an £8 ratal qualification. At that time the percentage of electors to adult males, which in England was 28, in Wales 32, and in Scotland 25, was in Ireland only 2. The £8 rating franchise would have added 264,000 electors to the register. The Lords struck it out, and substituted for it a £15 rating, reducing the numbers to be enfranchised to 120,000. To save the Bill the Commons consented to fix the limit at £12, which enfranchised 172,072. The compromise excluded 90,000 Irishmen from the privileges of citizenship. A vigorous attempt was made to restore the £15 rating by the Lords. Sixty-two voted in favour of Lord Stanley's proposition to that effect, and fifty-six against it. Proxies, however, turned the scale, and the £12 compromise was accepted by 126 to 115. The clause establishing a self-acting method of registration was struck out by the Lords, restored by the Commons, and reluctantly assented to by the Upper House.

Fifty years ago O'Connell and the Irish popular party demanded the English franchise. In 1844 even Sir Robert Peel declared his conviction that "Great Britain and Ireland should be placed upon the same footing and upon an equality as to civil and political liberties. But as the net result of half a century's struggle for representation the Irish borough franchise was fixed in 1867 at £4 rating, instead of household suffrage. Of the Irish borough population only 1 in 18 had a vote. In England the proportion is 1 in 7. Even in English counties it was 1 in 14. It was not till 1884 the equalisation of franchise of the two countries was accomplished.

Municipal reform in Ireland was not less strenuously resisted by the Peers than the reduction of the franchise. In 1835 the scandal occasioned by the corrupt, unrepresentative character of the Irish corporations led the House of Commons to demand that the principle adopted in England page 78 should bo extended to Ireland. The Lords in 1835 had consented to reform the whole of the English corporations; but when, in the latter year, they wore asked to mote out to Ireland the same measure that they had meted out to England, they refused. The Irish Municipal Reform Bill passed through all its stages in the Commons. It failed to make its way through the Lords. In 1836 the Commons again passed the Bill through all its stages, only to have it mutilated out of all recognition by the Lords. One hundred and six out of its one hundred and forty clauses were struck out, and the Bill was abandoned. In 1837, for a third time, the Commons sent the Bill up to the Lords. The Lords adjourned its consideration from May to June, and then again from June to July, when the Bill dropped. The Commons in 1838 sent the Bill up a fourth time, hoping that in exchange for the abandonment of the Appropriation Clause the Peers would pass the Municipal Bill. They were disappointed. The Lords raised the franchise from £5 to £10, and restored the rights of the freemen, alterations that led to the abandonment of the Bill. In 1839 a fifth attempt to secure municipal government in Ireland met with the same fate, although the Government offered to accept an £8 franchise. "Give us the English municipal franchise! "was the cry of O'Connell; but not even the House of Commons dared to place all Irish householders in towns on the burgess roll. The House of Lords in 1840 insisted upon fixing the Irish municipal franchise as high as £10, and, wearied out by six years' fruitless attempt to secure English privileges for Irish municipalities, the House of Commons gave way, and nine-tenths of Irish borough householders outside Dublin remained down to 1884 without that voice in the municipal government of their own town which they enjoyed as a matter of course when they migrated to an English or Scotch borough.

Earl Russell, speaking of the pledges given by England and Ireland when the Union was concluded, said:—"The promises which were made at the time of the Union were that Ireland should be placed upon an equality with England, and that she should be governed upon the same principles and should enjoy the same rights and privileges." They enjoyed equality when the law entailed disabilities, not when it conferred privileges. Take the penal laws, for instance, which, although common to the whole country, chiefly affected Ireland, where the immense majority of the population were Catholics.

The Penal Laws remained unrepealed till 1844. The action of the Lords in that year illustrates the difficulty—the permanent difficulty—of doing justice to Catholics through such an instrument as the House of Peers. The Penal Laws Repeal Bill of 1844 was introduced to the Lords in July. The measure repealed the whole of the Acts which made it penal for a Roman Catholic to attend mass, and high treason to recognise the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, which forbade Catholics to bear arms or to own a horse valued at more than £5, which punished Catholics who taught children to spell without a licence from a Protestant bishop, and sentenced to transportation for life those who administered the vows of any monastic Order to a subject of the Queen, and which fined Catholics who did not attend Protestant service, and forbade the use of sacerdotal vestments outside the Catholic chapels. When it came before the House of Lords it was so vehemently opposed by the Bishop of London—the bishops have always been worse than the temporal Peers—that the Lord Chancellor was compelled to remodel the measure by leaving out all "the objectionable clauses." Even this did not remove the objections of the Bishop; but the expurgated Bill was allowed to pass into law. The page 79 clauses which were thus sacrificed to propitiate the Peers left unrepealed the old Acts fox bidding Catholics to teach without a licence from a bishop of the Establishment, to wear sacerdotal vestments outside church, and to educate their youth as Jesuits, as well as those prohibiting members of any monastic Order setting foot within the Queen's dominions without a licence from the secretary of State.

These laws, it may be said, were dead letters, although they might be put in motion by any informer; but the less vitality they possessed the less excuse had the House of Lords for perpetuating in the Statute Book these mouldering monuments of the bigotry of the sixteenth century.

Even that apology, however, fails in the case of the Marriage Laws. In 1835 the Commons proposed to repeal the law which permitted any scoundrel married by a Catholic priest to repudiate his wife when he pleased, by proving that he had attended a Protestant place of worship within twelve months of his marriage. This prostitution of the marriage service for purposes of seduction in the name of Protestantism was maintained by the Lords by a majority of 42 to 16. Even the House of Lords, however, could not long resist the demand for a removal of this odious "privilege," and after a time they annulled their vote by passing a Bill similar to that which they rejected in 1835. The spirit which promoted the vote in favour of the Penal Laws long lingered in the Upper House.

Thirty years after the vote on the Marriage Bill, Lord Derby secured the rejection, by a majority of 84 to 63, of the Bill relieving Roman Catholics from the oath of abjuration imposed on their representatives in Parliament by the Act of 1829. It was only an insult, but even an insult could not be surrendered without a pang. The same spirit of intolerance was even more painfully displayed in matters concerning the administration of justice. In 1839 the Lords, after a long and angry debate, solemnly passed a vote of censure on an Irish judge, Sir M. O'Loghlen, because he had given directions that no juror should be set aside merely on account of his political and religious opinions.

The catalogue of the misdeeds of the Lords in thwarting the redress of Irish and Catholic grievances might be extended to almost any length, but considerations of space forbid any attempt to present more than the salient heads of the indictment which history brings against their system of administering Ireland in opposition to the wishes and ideas of the Irish people.

A whole chapter might well be devoted to a statement of the damning record of the case against the Peers for their treatment of the Irish Land question. The House of Landlords has, from first to last, legislated in its own interests. In their legislation for the tenants it was as if foxes were legislating for the welfare of the geese. This characteristic is the distinguishing note of all their actions, from the beginning of last century down to 1909. In the year 1906 they mutilated the Town Tenants Bill to such an extent that nothing but the firmness of Mr. Bryce and the exasperation of the House of Commons induced the Lords to swallow their own amendments and pass the Bill substantially as it was sent up to them. Last year they mutilated the Irish Land Bill to such an extent that even at the last week of the session its fate trembled in the balance. The Irish Land question is one of such intricacy and complexity that it would only weary the reader to pass in review all the obstructive acts of the Peers from the day when their policy of delay defeated Mr. Brownlow's Bill page 80 for the drainage of bogs and the reclamation of waste land, in 1830, down to the present day. But there are two great landmarks which can never be passed over, even in the most cursory survey of the history of the Irish Land question.

In its essence the Irish Land question is, whether the Irish landlord shall or shall not be allowed to steal the property of his tenant. This was done sometimes by confiscating their improvements on the termination of their tenancy, at other times by raising their rent upon the improvements made by the tenant. The first attempt to prevent the former form of robbery was recommended by the Devon Commission as far back as 1845.

In 1843 this Commission was appointed; and after two years' investigation of the Irish Land question, it reported strongly in favour of legislation to secure the tenant compensation for his improvements. In 1845 Lord Stanley brought in a Bill, based upon the report of the Devon Commission, giving the tenant compensation for improvements made with the consent of the landlord, or even without his consent, if they had been sanctioned by a Commissioner of Improvements, who would also be charged with the duty of awarding fair and equitable compensation in case of eviction. The Bill was read à second time on June 24th, in spite of the vehement protests of the Irish landlords, and referred to a Select Committee. This Committee practically insisted upon turning the Bill inside out. On July 15th Lord Stanley abandoned the Bill, in consequence of the strong feeling manifested both in Committee and in the House, and the difficulty of reconstituting it in the time available for the purpose. Thus a Bill introduced by a Conservative Government, based on the recommendations of a Commission which reported that "no single measure can be better calculated to allay discontent and to promote substantial improvements throughout the country," was unable to make its way through the Lords, and for twenty-five years Irish agriculturists had to put up with a land system which the Devon Commission declared inflicted upon them "greater sufferings than the people of any other country in Europe have to sustain."

In 1870 Mr. Gladstone made his first attempt to give effect to the recommendations of the Devon Commission. He had a long, tough battle with the Lords, who succeeded in mutilating the Land Act, although they dared not throw it out. One of their mutilations brought with it a grave Nemesis.

The Bill when sent up to the Lords contained the proviso that, although the claim for compensation for disturbance should be voided when the tenants were ejected for non-payment of rent, the Court should be empowered on special grounds to award compensation even in those cases. The Lords struck this proviso out. Mr. Gladstone declared that the stipulation was necessary, and the House of Commons reinstated it by a vote of 248 to 171. The Duke of Richmond and Lord Cairns pointed out that the effect of the clause would be that the Court would be empowered to decide against allowing a landlord to eject a tenant without compensation for disturbance if the latter could plead the failure of crops as a special ground for his inability to fulfil his obligations. Lord Granville and Lord O'Hagan in vain urged the importance of giving the Court power to soften the oppression under which the peasant might be placed, but they appealed in vain. The Lords decided to insist upon the amendment, and the Bill was sent back to the Commons. Mr. Gladstone said the Government attached great value to the clause, but as the Bill might be lost by insisting on it he page 81 yielded, and at a conference between the Lords and the Commons "special causes was struck out, and it was decreed that compensation could only be awarded in cases of eviction for non-payment of rent when the Court certified that the non-payment was due to the fact that the rent was exorbitant. He was reluctantly compelled to sacrifice the clause as it stood to avert a rupture between the two Houses. The House of Commons gave way, and the Bill became law without the phrase to which the House of Lords had objected.

The consequences of this acceptance of the Lords' amendment were not fully revealed till the session of 1880. A failure of the harvest for three years in succession created one of the special grounds contemplated by the vetoed clause for interposing a judicial check upon the exercise of the landlord's right to evict the tenant without compensation. To remedy the injustice of allowing the landlord to use a famine as a means of effecting a clearance, the Government made an attempt to restore the clause abandoned in 1870 by the Compensation for Disturbance Bill of 1880. The Bill passed the Commons, but in the Lords, although the Peers were warned that its rejection would bring Ireland within a measurable distance of civil war, it was rejected by a majority of 282 to 51. To that vote can be traced the excessive exasperation of the tenants against their landlords which enabled Mr. Parnell to make the Land League supreme in Ireland.

Mr. Forster, who saw all too clearly the terrible consequences of the action of the Lords, blurted out in his rough way the indignation which he felt at the suicidal action of the Peers, and still more at the callous cynicism which led them to justify their action by the hollow pretext of want of time to consider it, the lateness of the session, etc. He said:—

This was one of the matters in which especially noblesse oblige, and the House of Lords ought not to allege personal inconvenience to prevent Bills sent up from that House at any time of the session being thoroughly considered. . . .

They could not forget—at any rate the country could not forget—thoso two facts: first, the Commons were the hardest-worked law-makers in the world; and secondly, that on the other hand probably there was no assembly of law-makers with so much power and so little personal labour as the House of Lords. They must not forget that they were the representatives of the people, and that the power which the Lords had was simply owing to an accident of birth.—("Forster's Life," vol. ii. pp. 248-9.)

The Lords smiled superciliously as is their wont, and the storm burst. Next year, when the Irish Land Bill went before the Peers, they did not dare to reject it. They read it a second time, and then proceeded to mutilate it. The Commons promptly rejected the Lords amendments. The Lords reinstated most of them, and then began a struggle between the two Houses. The situation was so desperate, however, and Mr. Gladstone so firm, that most of their amendments were rejected. The only considerable blot that they made in the Bill was the rejection of Mr. Parnell s clause staying evictions pending the application for a judicial rent. But if they had not been overruled, the Bill would have been utterly spoilt. As it was, nearly all their alterations were in the wrong direction. The Bill failed because it was not strong enough. All their efforts were devoted to weaken it; as a consequence, it has needed repeated amendment.

This was strikingly illustrated the very next session. The Lords had page 82 struck out the only clause staying evictions pending the application for a [unclear: udicial] rent. In 1882 the great and alarming increase of evictions compiled the Government to bring in the Arrears Bill, for the protection of [unclear: enants] who could not pay their arrears of rent run up in the years of amine. The House of Lords introduced an amendment giving the land [unclear: ord] a right to veto the tenant's application for remission of his arrears, and further mutilated the Bill. Mr. Gladstone stood firm, and rejected he Lords' amendments. Lord Salisbury wished to throw the Bill out altogether, but he was deserted by his followers, and once more a measure of healing was passed for the Irish tenant in spite of the protest of the majority of the Peers.

In 1894 the Lords rejected the Evicted Tenants Bill sent up from the House of Commons with the object of saving the victims of the bad season of 1886, when it was admittedly impossible to pay rent in full, but for whose evil case the law provided no remedy.

It only remains to complete this very rapid and imperfect survey of the way in which the House of Lords has handled the Irish question, by a reference to the last occasion in which they thwarted the wishes of the majority of the Irish people by rejecting Home Rule.

Mr. Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule Bill in 1886. It was defeated in the Commons, and in the General Election of the same year he Home Rule Ministry was overthrown. But during the six years' administration of Lord Salisbury which followed, the question of Home Rule was discussed incessantly, and made the test question at bye-elections. It was the question on which the General Election of 1892 mainly turned. Mr. Gladstone, being then returned to power, brought in his second Home Rule Bill in 1893. It was carried through the House of Commons by a majority of 43 on the second reading. On September 8, 1893, it was defeated in the Lords by a majority of 419 to 41 votes.

The action of the Peers on this occasion is not open to the same severity of censure as that to which their conduct on other occasions has [unclear: justly] exposed them. They disregarded the declared wishes of a four to one majority of the representatives of Ireland, it is true. But their [unclear: ation] was approved by a majority of the representatives of Great Britain. Hence, when an appeal was made to the constituencies in 1895, their Action was condoned, and the Unionists governed the Empire for the next ten years.

With the exception of the rejection of the Home Rule Bill of 1893, [unclear: he] House of Lords in its Irish legislation has thwarted not only [unclear: he] will of Ireland, it has set itself in opposition to the wishes of he majority of the English, Scotch, and Welsh representatives. The result, the tragic result, is written in the story of Irish discontent. The [unclear: poral] was pointed out seventy years ago, but we have not yet taken it [unclear: o] heart.

Addressing the ministerial majority which represented the English people in 1837, Mr. Roebuck said:—

You have tried on your knees to obtain justice for Ireland . . . and what has been our reward? Contempt and scorn. Your enemies have trampled upon your measures; they have contemptuously delayed, changed, or rejected them as the [unclear: umour] of their insolence suggested. . . . What ought you to have done? What you [unclear: id] not dare to do. You should have boldly told the people of both countries that justice could not bo gained by either while an irresponsible body of hereditary legislators could at will dispose of the fortunes and the happiness of the people. We have page 83 laboured in order to relieve the miseries of Ireland and if possible to heal the wounds inflicted by many centuries of misrule. We have not advanced one single step. Every year sees our labours rendered abortive by the headstrong proceedings of the House of Lords.

And as it has been so it will be until we clip the claws and draw the teeth of the hereditary enemies of the Irish people.