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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 15: The Constitution Bill: The Earl of Dunraven, 1888

Extract

← i. 284 | i. 285 → CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The Constitution Bill: The Earl of Dunraven, 1888

In April 1888 the House of Lords debated a bill proposed by a person whose passion in life was sailing and big game hunting in America. But his enthusiasm for politics was no less ardent. Windham Thomas Wyndham Quin, the fourth Earl of Dunraven and Mount Earl was born at Adare Manor, County Limerick, Ireland on 12 February 1841, the only son of the third Earl of Dunraven (1812–1871). Thomas, then called Lord Adare, went to Christ Church, Oxford. He wrote for the Daily Telegraph on the military expedition in Abyssinia in 1867 and on the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. In 1871 he succeeded to the peerage and took his seat in the House of Lords as second Baron Kenny, a United Kingdom title granted to his father in 1866. In English politics the young baron associated closely with Lord Randolph Churchill and published his first book, The Irish Question, in 1880. Then, increasingly, he advocated protectionism and British imperialism. During Lord Salisbury’s government he worked as undersecretary for the colonies during 1885–6 and 1886–7. On April 26 1888 the earl surprised the House of Lords when he moved a bill to amend its constitution. The earl said, in moving the bill, that he had thought out the matter of reform for many years, and he was approaching the subject with an amount of anxiety, Yet he ‘entertained hope,...

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