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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 12: Representative Government Resolution: Henry Labouchere, 1886

Extract

← i. 218 | i. 219 → CHAPTER TWELVE

Representative Government Resolution: Henry Labouchere, 1886

The rejection of Rosebery’s motion by the Lords showed that the majority of their lordships were in no mood for any change in the Upper House, which the general public quite rightly thought to be a political nest of the upper and privileged class. A feeling that the actions of this upper class were dictated by personal interests and were grinding the faces of the poor spread and deepened in the British mind, especially after events in France and Germany. In the late eighteen-eighties Britain hosted many political exiles from Europe. These men, who had challenged the privileged establishment and argued for social emancipation in their own nations, were declared personae non gratae there, and now continued their activities in Britain. They considerably influenced the native intelligentsia, including such men as the ex-conservative journalist H.M. Hyndman and the poet William Morris. Hyndman founded the Democratic (later Social Democratic) Federation in 1881, and Morris initiated the establishment of the Socialist League in 1883. Further, in January 1884 a group of very young and brilliant minds founded the Fabian Society. These socialist political bodies became the chief centres of theoretical discussion on how to improve British society. They also produced practical open-air agitators, prominent among whom was a Londoner of Scottish and working class descent, the trade unionist John Burns. This agitation gave a smouldering intensity to Edward Carpenter’s ‘England, Arise!’. The Houses of Parliament...

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