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House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 1. The Origins to 1937: Proposals Deferred- Book One: The Origins to 1911- Book Two: 1911–1937

Peter Raina

One of the peculiarities of British history is the development of a constitution headed by the Crown and the two Houses of Parliament. This system emerged to become a balance of democracy, efficiency and moderation that became the admiration of the world.
The contribution of the House of Lords to this balance is all too often overlooked. In this richly documented two-volume work, the author offers a detailed examination of the Lords’ constitutional position and the predicament they faced as the Commons increasingly championed popular rule. With a landowning membership based on the hereditary principle, the Lords struggled to adapt. Yet, valiant attempts were made. The author gives us the first thorough, full-length history of the Lords’ ambiguous responses to the new democracy and the stream of arguments, proposals and bills raised for reform of their House.
Drawing on speeches, letters, reports and memoranda of the times (some never previously published), the book brings to life the inner wranglings and arresting personalities, the hopes and anxieties and the sheer frustrations of a House divided between entrenched interests and idealism, and often threatened by progressives outside.
The two books in Volume One cover the period from the medieval origins of the House of Lords and proceed, through many tumultuous events, to the outbreak of the Second World War.
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Chapter 4: The Reform Bill of 1832: The Lords’ opposition

Extract

← i. 78 | i. 79 → CHAPTER FOUR

The Reform Bill of 1832: The Lords’ opposition

Before we come to discuss the Reform Bill of 1832, it is necessary to refer briefly to the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland which took effect on 1 January 1801. It would not be unsafe to say that, whatever legislative independence the Irish had possessed until then, they now completely lost it. The Act of Union added thirty-two temporal Irish peers to the House of Lords at Westminster. As in the case of union with Scotland, the Irish union changed the composition and extended the representative character of the Upper House. The Irish union indeed created a new element. We now had peers chosen for life, their positions not hereditary; but they were all Irish. This distinction was still denied to their counterparts in England. When one reads the provisions for the Irish representation, one would think that an important step had taken place towards reform. The contents of these provisions, which we quote below, are so substantial that we could not but commend their authorship. In actual practice, however, they were much abused.1 The Irish ‘representatives’ were the nominees of the ministry of the day in London. They were, just like their Scottish counterparts, susceptible to bribery and notorious for their servility to the ministry that had brought about their election. They chiefly looked after Protestant Anglo-Irish interests, and loyally followed the instructions of their British patrons. This...

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