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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 24: The Beginning of the Turmoil: 1908–1910


← i. 458 | i. 459 → CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

The Beginning of the Turmoil: 1908–10

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had shown signs of poor health for some time. In the second half of February 1908 he fell seriously ill and on 1 April he informed King Edward, who was holidaying in Biaritz, that his health was worsening and that he might be forced to relinquish his office. The King wrote back on 3 April to say that he ‘reluctantly’ agreed to ‘your wishes’, but ‘I shall of course take no steps in approaching a successor till I receive your formal submission of resignation.’1 Campbell-Bannerman resigned on 6 April. The King then summoned Herbert Asquith to form a government.

Some very able people joined Asquith’s Cabinet. Lord Loreburn was appointed lord chancellor; David Lloyd George, chancellor of the exchequer; Sir Edward Grey, foreign secretary; the Earl of Crewe, colonial secretary, Viscount Morley, secretary for India; R.B. Haldane, secretary for war; Herbert Gladstone, home secretary; R. McKenna, first lord of the admiralty; Winston Churchill, president of the board of trade; Augustine Birrel, secretary for Ireland; Walter Runciman, president of the board of education; and there were others. This was a cabinet of what might truly be called social reformers. Not only were Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill, Runciman, Morley and Birrel advocating new and just social schemes; Sir Edward Grey, now mostly occupied at the Foreign Office, persistently reminded his cabinet colleagues of the importance of reform of the Upper...

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