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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 36: Further Resolutions: The Coalition Government, 1921–1922

Extract

← ii. 226 | ii. 227 → CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

Further Resolutions: The Coalition Government, 1921–1922

The Coalition cabinet under Lloyd George (1919–1922) was not as keen on reforming the House of Lords as one might have thought. There were good reasons: the war had just ended; the country was in economic and social chaos; the best minds of the cabinet were occupied with the peace treaty. These issues demanded the government’s undivided attention. There was one further element which had to be reckoned with: the war had caused much social upheaval, not only in Britain but all over Europe. A bolshevik revolution had succeeded in Russia. Revolution now threatened Germany. Would France, Italy and even Great Britain follow? In Britain, the Representation of the People Act (1918) had enormously extended the number of people entitled to vote in any future national election. The working class was on the march, and radical elements were not lacking. The Establishment felt threatened. And the Conservatives were ready to raise the alarm. They regarded all radical movements in Britain, especially the radical elements within the Labour party, as inimical to the national interest. Hardly anyone was as excessively obsessed by the danger of ‘extreme men’ taking control of the Labour party as the two hereditary peers, the second Earl of Selborne and the fourth Marquess of Salisbury. Of the two it was Selborne who seemed to be haunted by this bogey more, and he never tired in his attempts to mobilize...

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