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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 34: The Termination of Hereditary Titles: 1914


← ii. 112 | ii. 113 → CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

The Termination of Hereditary Titles: 1914

On 20 May 1914, a bill on the termination of hereditary titles was introduced in the House of Commons on the initiative of Arthur Ponsonby.1 He was not, he said,

dealing with this question at all from a party point of view. Most men are quite free to choose their own profession or trade or the walk of in life that they desire to pursue. There is only one man in the community who is not, and that is the eldest son of a peer if he survives his father. For him there is no outlet. He is compelled to become a peer. […]

There are several Members of the House who, in the course of time and nature, will have to leave us, not because they want to or because we want them to, but because they are obliged, under the present system, to join in the deliberations of the moribund Assembly at the end of the corridor. This Bill deals only with hereditary titles. Of course that would include the 1,100 baronets. It would have the effect, on the whole, of mitigating the the present appetite that there is for titles, but I am not attacking in this Bill at all the practice of giving a title to a man for conspicuous services. It is a short Bill. […]

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