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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 35: Report of the Second Chamber Conference: Viscount Bryce, 1918

Extract

← ii. 118 | ii. 119 → CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Report of the Second Chamber Conference: Viscount Bryce, 1918

With the outbreak of the war in 1914 and the formation of the Coalition Government, inter-party controversy on domestic issues began to decline. This was fitly illustrated by the calling of an all-party conference in 1916, generally known as the Speaker’s Conference on Electoral Reform. The object of the conference was to examine and to reach an agreement on a franchise and registration bill originally initiated by the Asquith government in 1912. A ‘balanced selection’ of members was made to represent all party interests at the conference: fourteen Unionists, ten Liberals, three Irish Nationalists, two Scottish Liberals, and three Labour members.1 The Speaker of the House of Commons, James Lowther, consented to act as the chairman of the conference, which held its first meeting on 12 October 1916 behind closed doors. The members regularly met two mornings a week. When in December Asquith stepped down from office, the new prime minister, David Lloyd George, urged the Speaker to complete his task ‘with all dispatch’.2 In the following twenty-six sittings substantial agreements were reached on the electoral reform needed, which included, importantly, securing women’s suffrage. The Speaker’s recommendations, which were first intended to be introduced as the Representation of the People Bill, appeared in the Reform Bill of 1918, another landmark in the history of British constitutional development. It is rightly alleged that the ‘existence of a coalition government and a spirit...

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