The bill led to the resignation of George Douglas Campbell, duke of Argyll [q. v. Suppl.], who considered that his colleagues had departed from sound economic principles. He was succeeded in his office of privy seal by Samuel Chichester Fortescue, lord Carlingford [q. v. Suppl.], a less brilliant but more useful minister. The second reading of the bill was moved in the House of Commons on 26 April, and the debate continued till 18 May, when it was carried by 352 to 176. Parnell and thirty-five of his followers abstained from voting, on the ground that the bill was inadequate, and they did much to delay the progress of the measure in committee. On 14 July Gladstone strongly denounced their obstructive tactics; but on the 30th the bill was read a third time.
In the House of Lords very serious alterations were made in committee, most of which the House of Commons refused to accept. Ultimately the lords gave way on almost all points excepting the clause, originally proposed by Parnell, for giving the benefit of the act to tenants already evicted. On 16 Aug. Gladstone abandoned this clause on the ground that Parnell himself attached little importance to it. The lords dropped most of their other amendments, and the bill became law.
During this autumn the disturbed state of Ireland, despite the working of the Peace Preservation Act and the Land Act, absorbed public attention. Speaking at Leeds on 7 Oct., Gladstone compared Parnell very unfavourably with O'Connell. But while denouncing Parnell's conduct, Gladstone complained that the loyal classes in Ireland were apathetic, and did not give the government the support which it had a right to expect. Five days afterwards, when receiving at the Guildhall the freedom of the city, Gladstone excited enthusiastic cheering by announcing that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Parnell and his friends, Mr. Sexton and Mr. O'Kelly, on suspicion of treasonable practices. This warrant was executed on the 15th. The reply to this step was the issue from Kilmainham gaol by the captives of the 'no rent' manifesto, urging the Irish tenants not to pay their landlords anything until their champions were released and their arrears were wiped out. The same day the land league was suppressed by the proclamation of the lord-lieutenant as an illegal body, and the number of troops in Ireland was raised to twenty-five thousand. On 26 Oct. Gladstone addressed a liberal meeting at Liverpool, and charged the leaders of the land league with marching through rapine to the dismemberment of the empire.
Parliament met on 7 Feb. 1882. The Irish question was at once raised on the address by the amendment of Patrick James Smyth [q. v.] in favour of home rule. Gladstone surprised many of his supporters and many of his opponents by directing his arguments, not against the principle of home rule, but against its practicability under present conditions. No plan, he said, had been produced which would be workable under the British constitution and which would provide for the supremacy of the imperial parliament. Mr. Plunket (afterwards Lord Rathmore), replying on behalf of the opposition, described this speech as at least a partial surrender to the home-rulers, and said that Gladstone could no longer in consistency oppose the Irish demand for a parliamentary inquiry. This was on 9 Feb., and a week later Gladstone, in response to numerous challenges, protested that his views were unchanged, inasmuch as the question had always been for him how the supremacy of parliament could be preserved.
On 20 Feb. Gladstone proposed his resolutions for reforming the procedure of the house, of which the most important were the adoption of the closure and the appointment of standing committees as substitutes in certain cases for committees of the whole house. The debate had not proceeded far when it was interrupted by other matters.
Early in the session Lord Donoughmore carried, in the House of Lords against the government, the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the working of the Land Act. The cabinet refused to recognise the committee, and no ministerialist sat upon it. Gladstone took so strong a view of the conduct of the lords in seeking to interfere, as he put it, with the proceedings of a statutory tribunal that on 27 Feb. he moved in the House of Commons a protest against the appointment of the committee, which was really a vote of censure on the majority of the other house. He called upon the House of Commons to declare that such a proceeding was unconstitutional, and dangerous to the peace of Ireland. After a long debate his motion was carried on 9 March by 303 to 235. Meanwhile the committee had been appointed, and it continued to sit and take evidence. But it prudently abstained from asking the commissioners to explain their judicial decisions, and nothing practical came of it.
In Ireland the question of arrears became more urgent, and on 26 March, in a debate on Mr. Redmond's bill for amending the Land Act, Gladstone stated that while he could not consent, after so short an interval,