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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 26: A Memorandum by Lord Salisbury: 1910

Extract

← i. 528 | i. 529 → CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

A Memorandum by Lord Salisbury: 1910

We print here a valuable memorandum drafted by the Marquess of Salisbury1 with respect to the reforms of the House of Lords – presumably on 1 March 1910. It is not clear for whom the marquess wrote this memorandum or what he did with it.

1. Memorandum (1.3 1910).2

Upon the general grounds attaching to all Conservative policy I think that any great reform (i) should, as far as possible, introduce the change gradually, and (ii) in the same spirit should, so far as it can be effected without prejudicing the main purpose of the reform, maintain the position of those who have actually exercised powers under the unreformed system. If we put these two desiderata no higher than as lubricants for the establishment and smooth working of a new state of things, they are very important. But of course I put them much higher than this. If the House of Lords is to be changed it is not because it has worked badly. Those who have actually done its work during the time I have witnessed it are exceedingly efficient. The absence of their experience would be a loss to the country. Moreover, it is much more easy to deal completely with reform if we recognise that there must be a transitional stage from the old system to the new. Otherwise changes, advisable in themselves, may be hampered by...

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