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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 2: Eighteenth Century Reforms: New peers


← i. 46 | i. 47 → CHAPTER TWO

Eighteenth-Century Reforms: New peers

Before we proceed to attend to the phenomena of reform during the eighteenth century it might be worth mentioning briefly a few parliamentary measures that took place in the House of Lords between 1621 and 1628. These measures could be described partly as reforms, partly as the desire of their lordships to strengthen their power vis-a-vis the crown. At the beginning of the parliamentary session in 1621 the Lords moved to install a committee to investigate the ancient rights of the baronage. This then led to ‘the first set of permanent standing orders for the body and also contributed to the resumption of judicial authority in the House of Lords, the greatest expansion of constitutional authority for the upper house since its inception’.1 Two standing committees were created: the Committee for Customs and Privileges and the Committee for Petitions. Then followed the proxy reform in 1626. It limited a peer to a maximum of two proxy votes.2 Until then the crown had, with the help of its favourites in the Lords, maintained ‘tight control’ over the proceedings of the Upper House. At one time the Duke of Buckingham held thirteen proxies, nearly ‘one half of the votes of all absent nobles’. This increasingly angered the Lords, especially when such votes ‘came to be employed as a vehicle for the ← i. 47 | i. 48 → personal aggrandizement of the favourite’.3 The House of Lords further established ‘the right...

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