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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 16: The Life Peerage Bill: The Marquess of Salisbury, 1888


← i. 314 | i. 315 → CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The Life Peerage Bill: The Marquess of Salisbury, 1888

Lord Salisbury’s first government lasted for a very short period, from June 1885 to January 1886. There was therefore not much time to undertake substantial reforms. However, two events of note occurred during this period, both concerned with foreign affairs. Neither involved the efforts of Salisbury directly. The first event was the annexation of Upper Burma, and for this the secretary for India, Lord Randolph Churchill, was responsible. The second event related to Ireland. Here the new lord chancellor of Ireland, Lord Ashbourne, showed interest in giving the Irish some sort of Home Rule status and secretly held conversations with the Irish leaders, Justin McCarthy and Charles Parnell. The Irish leaders hoped that the Conservatives might perhaps satisfy their desires and promised Irish help in a future election. The Irish kept their promise, but the Conservatives did not.

The second Salisbury government (August 1886 to July 1892) produced, on the whole, more results. Lord Salisbury held two offices: the office of the prime minister and, from January 1887, the office of foreign secretary. His activities during this period show that Salisbury was interested more in foreign than in domestic affairs. It is not the object of the present work to analyse the verdict on Salisbury’s policies given by a very distinguished British historian: that Salisbury was a ‘very great foreign minister’, but in home affairs represented ‘the merely anti-progressive...

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