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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 14: An Inquiry into the Efficiency of the House: Lord Stratheden and Campbell, 1888

Extract

← i. 280 | i. 281 → CHAPTER FOURTEEN

An Inquiry into the Efficiency of the House: Lord Stratheden and Campbell, 1888

After Lord Rosebery’s motion to appoint a select committee had been rejected by the House in March, Lord Stratheden and Campbell1 brought a new motion before their lordships. This was on 19 April 1888.2 The lord explained what had motivated him to take this step during the course of his presentation. The motion read as follows:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to appoint a Commission to inquire and report upon the question whether a revision of the Standing Orders in the House of Lords, or other changes with regard to it, might be so framed as to add to its efficiency.

In support of his motion Lord Stratheden argued, that a commission would be more effective in bringing about a reform of the Lords than a select committee. The latter would not be a ‘proper agency from several considerations’.3 A select committee could not be consultative; it was made up on principle of adverse elements, which looked upon one another ‘with reciprocal distrust’ and could not ‘well be drawn to harmony and confidence’. It could work only during the session, and ‘the remainder of the Session would not suffice for such a task as it would have to grapple with. It might be re-appointed. Its toil would even thus be intermittent. Evidence would grow and no...

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