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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 31: A House of Lords Reconstitution Bill: The Marquess of Lansdowne, 1911

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← ii. x | ii. 1 → CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

A House of Lords Reconstitution Bill: The Marquess of Lansdowne, 1911

On 8 May 1911 the Marquess of Lansdowne1 rose to present his bill to amend the constitution of the House of Lords. Introducing the bill, the marquess gave his reasons for doing so.2 The situation which confronted him and his colleagues was a ‘most extraordinary situation – a situation created by the conduct of His Majesty’s Government in dealing with this great constitutional question’. His majesty’s government had ‘from the first, admitted that a measure of House of Lords reform was necessary and desirable. Their whole case arises from their complaint that this House, because it has not been reformed, has obstructed the action of the House of Commons and has been an insurmountable barrier, as they say, in the way of useful legislation.’ The government, the marquess complained, had displayed very little interest towards reforming the House of Lords. Yet it was about to introduce its own bill to reshape the relations between the two Houses. The marquess thought along different lines. He was convinced that no lasting settlement, no balanced reform of the constitution was possible except with a reconstituted second chamber. He felt that the amendment of the constitution of the Lords should proceed as far as possible pari passu with a reform of the relations between the Lords and the Commons. Indeed, the reform of the Lords should come first, because it ← ii. 1 | ii. 2...

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