25 DECEMBER 1880, Page 4



IT is clear that there is more feeling of irritation in the country against the House of Lords for rejecting Mr. Forster's Compensation for Evictions (Ireland) Bill, than at the time we were at all aware of. In meeting after meeting, sneers at the House of Lords are met with a sort of ap- plause to which we have not of late been at all used. No doubt it is held, and justly held, that the Lords, as Mr. Parnell said, did his dirty work for him,—dirty work, more- over, which he would not have dared to do for himself, —when it threw out Mr. Forster's Bill. That was just a moment when a great deal depended on the attitude of the British Legislature towards Ireland, and the Lords took upon themselves the responsibility of summing up that attitude in one word,—scorn. They rejected the Bill for equalising the borough suffrage in the two countries on the plea of time, without even a debate on the prin- ciple. And they rejected Mr. Forster's Bill with con- tumely, by a great majority of both sides of the House, of Liberal Peers no less than Tory Peers. Of course, the result in Ireland was just what Mr. Parnell wished,—an intense irrita- tion against the British Legislature, and a passionate desire to show in any way the determination of Irishmen to set the British Legislature at defiance. Well, we do not wonder that the larger English constituencies are rendered very angry by this consequence of the cynicism of the Peers, and that, for the first time for many years back, attacks on the House of Lords are becoming a very popular element in popular speeches. But what we want the House of Lords to consider now, is not so much the mischief of what they have done,— for it is of no use crying over spilled milk,—as the mischief of what they may do, in case they resolve to treat any Irish Land Bill passed by the House of Commons as they treated last year Mr. Forster's Compensation for Evictions Bill. In fact a great deal depends on the temper in which the Lords assemble next January ; and this is why we take up the subject so soon. If they assemble in a serious and moderate spirit,—in a spirit of self-distrust,—in a spirit that admits a doubt as to the wisdom of their last Session's work,—in a spirit anxious to undo any mischief which over-haste may then have done,—we have no doubt that all will be well. But if they assemble in the same hectoring and irritable spirit in which they separated,—in the same Olympian and super-proprietary confidence in the judg- ment of large landowners,—the next Session may bring even more mischief to the Constitution than the last, because it will carry further the mischief which then commenced.

We would have the House of Lords recall to their minds that the dissolution was taken by• Lord Beaconsfield more especially upon his. Irish policy ; that he made it his great charge against the Liberal party that they had trifled with the Home-rule movement, nay, that Lord Beaconsfield himself gave the cue to his followers in the famous letter to the Duke of Marlborough, in which he denounced Home-rule as a danger "in its ultimate results scarcely less disastrous than pestilence or famine." It was against "the arts of agitators" that "all men of light and leading" were exhorted to combine. It was against Home-rule that an ideal English Minister was bound, he declared, to provide by the process so obscurely described as "consolidating that co-operation which renders irresistible a community educated as our own in an equal love of liberty and law." It was as a condemnation of "the policy of decomposi- tion," that Lord Beaconsfield flattered himself that he should obtain a favourable verdict from the constituencies of the United Kingdom. We all know, too, that Mr. Gladstone in his canvas of Midlothian, accepted that challenge ; that he condemned the Irish policy indicated in the letter to the Duke of Marlborough, and that he sketched a policy of equity and conciliation, including a scheme of provincial self-government, and a development of the policy of the Land Act of 1870, which he regarded as the substitute for Lord Beaconsfield's scornful and aggressive suggestions. This being so, we maintain that Mr. Gladstone was returned to power on a popular vote, invited by Lord Beaconsfield himself on his Irish policy,—a vote which expressed distrust of that policy, and special confidence in Mr. Gladstone's policy for Ireland. If this be so,—and it is, we think, indisputable that it is so,—the House of Lords must consider that any rejection by them of a Bill proposed by Mr. Gladstone's Government and passed by the House of Com- mons, will be such a challenge to the country to reconsider the relation of the House of Lords to the Constitution, as the English people will be extremely likely to take up with some warmth.

Of course, if the Lords believe, and have good reason for their belief, that the convictions of the country have materi- ally changed in relation to Irish politics since the letter to the Duke of Marlborough was written, they may be justified! in running the risk of attempting to secure for the country an opportunity for the avowal of that change of opinion. Only let them recollect that it is a risk, and a great risk, which they run ; and that if they should succeed in forcing an appeal to the people, only to prove that the people have not changed their minds, it would be a critical moment for the House of Lords. Nothing is more irritating to a democracy than, having declared its opinion upon a policy of great moment, to be materially delayed in the execution of that policy by the obstinacy of such an assembly as the House of Lords, which is no more representative of the nation than any carefully selected body of great merchants, or great ship- owners, or great bankers could be called representative of the nation. The House of Lords represents a powerful class, and it represents adequately nothing else in the world. The con- stitutional assumption that the House of Lords yields to a de- liberately expressed national conviction, even when this is a con- viction opposed to its own, is not to be easily reconciled with a deliberate rejection of the Irish policy of a Minister who was chosen by the people because his policy was in the most, marked contrast to the policy of Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Beaconsfield himself having selected the Irish question as his chosen battle-ground.

The House of Lords is still popular enough in the country, if only it will understand its true position, which is that of a semi-social, semi-political coping-stone to a grand Constitu- tional edifice, which history has endeared to the associations of the people. But just as every constituency which can get a lord for its Member slightly prefers him, caeteris paribus, to a commoner, just because he is a lord, and yet would never think of accepting him if he did not satisfy it by his political confession of faith, so the country decidedly prefers the House of Lords for its Second Chamber, so long, and only so long, as it is wise and moderate, and declines to interfere deliberately with the policy of its chosen leader for the time being. If the House of Lords fails to satisfy this condition, and shows itself disposed to thwart, as it thwarted last Ses- sion,—and to thwart almost for the sake of thwarting,—the policy of the great Minister of the day, the question as to the clumsiness of our political method in providing a Seconds Chamber which inherits a violent aversion to all popular reform, may again become a practial one. We trust that the caution of the House of Lords will avert so superfluous, a danger.