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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 18: Peers Disabilities Removal Bill: 1893


← i. 346 | i. 347 → CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Peers Disabilities Removal Bill: 1893

When Gladstone formed his fourth government in August 1892, his main concern lay in the fulfilment of the Second Home Rule Bill. The prime minister himself introduced the bill in February 1893, with great eloquence and substantial argument. And, in spite of formidable opposition led by Chamberlain, the prime minister conducted the bill through the Commons with success: the bill passed its second reading in April by 43 votes, and its third reading on 1 September by 34.

The Lords, however, killed the bill on 8 September by 419 votes to 41. The Lords even killed an Employers’ Liability Bill which Gladstone’s Home Secretary, Asquith, had conducted through the Commons. The Lords were now clearly exhibiting the power they had of vetoing any bill proposed by a non-Conservative government, and their undisguised partisan use of this power. This partisan character was regarded as unconstitutional and evoked much criticism, not only outside the House of Lords but also within its own ranks, as we shall see later.

The fate the Second Home Rule Bill met in the Lords hurt Gladstone intensely. He decided to resign from his office on 3 March 1894. Lord Rosebery succeeded him. We will come to write about Rosebery’s brief premiership in the next chapter. But, for the moment, we must remark upon two bills introduced in the House of Commons with regard to the rights of the...

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