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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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Preface

Extract



To many, the British House of Lords may seem a strange and antiquated institution. It is an integral part of the British constitution, a second chamber or ‘Upper House’ working hand in hand with the monarch and the far more visible House of Commons. It originated in medieval times. Over the past two centuries many clever minds have tried to find a way of bringing the House of Lords up to date. Individual members of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons, select committees and cabinets have all searched for some means of reform and, at various times, there has been considerable public interest in the issue. Approaches to this long, laborious and complicated problem are the subject of the present study. We present a comprehensive coverage of the many measures and plans that have been put forward over the years. Though many of these have been seriously conceived, with good attention to detail, there have always been groups who resisted them or found them inadequate. For this reason an effective settlement has never been reached and the problem has been deferred from one session of parliament to another.

The creation of an Establishment

We begin with a brief chapter on the origins of the House of Lords. Although these origins are fairly well known, we restate them because a clear understanding of the roots of the English (later, British) constitutional arrangement will help readers appreciate attitudes their lordships came to...

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