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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 19: The Victoria-Rosebery Controversy: 1894


← i. 352 | i. 353 → CHAPTER NINETEEN

The Victoria-Rosebery Controversy: 1894

The Earl of Rosebery kissed hands in the ceremony accepting office on 5 March, and on the morning of 12 March, now as prime minister, he addressed a party meeting at the Foreign Office. He declared, ‘We stand where we did. There is no change in measures – there is only a most disastrous change in men.’1 The audience welcomed Rosebery’s declaration, particularly because the question of Home Rule was not to be forgotten: ‘It will be pressed to the forefront, and as far as in me lies, pressed to a definite and successful conclusion.’2 But what Rosebery said in the House of Lords, later in the afternoon, shocked the members of his party, and no less the Irish. He entered the House to attend the debate on the Queen’s Speech. There Lord Salisbury assured the new prime minister ‘of the heartiest welcome from the majority of the House’, and pointed out that Home Rule was ‘now in suspense, that the issue depended on its acceptance by England, and its decision should be asked at once’.3 The prime minister answered with ‘needless fidelity’.4 The noble marquess, he said,

made one remark on Irish Rule with which I confess myself in entire accord. He said that before Irish Home Rule is concluded by the Imperial Parliament, England as the predominant member of the Three Kingdoms will have to be convinced of its justice and equity. ← i....

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