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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 28: Resolutions for a Strong and Efficient Second Chamber: Lord Rosebery, 1910

Extract

← i. 568 | i. 569 → CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Resolutions for a Strong and Efficient Second Chamber: Lord Rosebery, 1910

The Marquess of Lansdowne was in the habit of fostering good contacts with the King and his secretary Sir Arthur Bigge. It is quite possible that the marquess was well informed about Asquith’s approaches to the King. He hurried to declare in the Lords, on 16 November 1910, that he was ‘given to understand by those who are usually in a position to speak with authority that we are on the eve of a Dissolution and a General Election’.1 The government was planning to launch a bill to deal with the relations of the two Houses. That was a serious matter: their lordships must immediately know what was in store for them. With this in mind, on 16 November, Lansdowne rose to move the resolution

That this House invites His Majesty’s Government to submit without further delay the provisions of the Parliament Bill for the consideration and decision of Parliament.2

The marquess then put forward his arguments in support of his motion. He differentiated between the interests of the government and those of his own party. There was the question of the powers of the House of Lords on one side and the composition of that House on the other. The predominant feeling of the government had been one of resentment at the interference of the Lords in important questions dealt with by the Commons....

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