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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 32: Ditchers versus Hedgers: 1911


← ii. 22 | ii. 23 → CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Ditchers versus Hedgers: 1911

On 15 May 1911 the Parliament Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 121. It reached the House of Lords on 23 May. There a dramatic debate began which lasted until the evening hours of 10 August. This drama, Sir Robert Ensor rightly observes, had ‘rarely been surpassed in parliament’.1 One has only to read the relevant columns of Hansard to come to this conclusion.

The passing of the Parliament Bill has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere and in detail by various historians.2 We would like to emphasize a couple of points worth mentioning, but our chief intention is to make available to the reader the observations that Sir Arthur Bigge made at the time.

We believe that the prime minister had acted constitutionally in securing an assurance from the King that, if necessary, the monarch should exercise his prerogative of creating new peers. The prime minister also acted in good faith in sharing the King’s confidence only with the members of his cabinet. Asquith’s conscience was clear. Thus armed with a moral sense of ← ii. 23 | ii. 24 → being right, he gained the enormous willpower needed to stand against any onslaught. Two other men, equally vigorous, strong and determined, Viscount Morley and the Marquess of Crewe, mobilized the prime minister to submit to no compromises. This resulted in the rejection of the Lords’ amendments. Faced...

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