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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 29: On the Relations of the Two Houses: The debate of 1910


← i. 580 | i. 581 → CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

On the Relations of the Two Houses: The debate of 1910

The controversy over the relations of the two Houses of Parliament lies beyond the scope of the present work. Perhaps this controversy arose because of the absence of the badly needed reforms in the Upper House. But the debate which took place on this issue between 21 and 24 November 1910 in the House of Lords only marginally interests us. And yet it illustrates not only the divergence of views between the two Houses but want of trust between them. For this reason we must refer, even if briefly, first to the Parliament Bill which the Earl of Crewe introduced in the House of Lords on 21 November, and secondly to the motion which the Marquess of Landsdowne moved in the Lords on 23 November. It is vital to understand the background: on 18 November the prime minister had announced that a dissolution of parliament would come into force on 28 November. Thus the Lords considered the relations of the two Houses under the shadow of an imminent general election.

Let us then first quote at length the justification Lord Crewe gave while presenting the Parliament Bill for its second reading on 21 November. In regard to this bill, he said,1

the origin of this controversy goes back four years. It goes back to the winter of 1906 when the first Education Bill of...

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