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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 30: The Prime Minister’s Parliament Bill: Asquith, 1910

Extract

← i. 590 | i. 591 → CHAPTER THIRTY

The Prime Minister’s Parliament Bill: Asquith, 1910

The electoral results of the December 1910 general election gave Asquith sufficient confidence to launch the Parliament Bill in the House of Commons. The prime minister did not as yet seek a direct promise from the King to exercise his prerogative of creating the needed number of peers to pass the bill, but the two had reached a tacit understanding that the King would act on the advice of his prime minister if the Lords rejected the bill. The overall uncertainty affected the course of events nevertheless. No one noticed this course as closely as the King’s private secretary, Sir Arthur Bigge (Lord Stamfordham). He recorded his observations minutely, even if briefly, in his own handwriting, and we quote him below.1

1910

Dec. 1st

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