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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 39: The Duke of Sutherland’s Motion: 1925


← ii. 330 | ii. 331 → CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

The Duke of Sutherland’s Motion: 1925

On 25 March 1925, the Duke of Sutherland rose to ask his majesty’s government if they were prepared to introduce legislation to reform the House of Lords ‘in the near future, in view of the importance of passing such legislation during the lifetime of the present government’. He moved ‘That there be laid before the House papers with regard to legislation for the reform of the House of Lords’.1 The duke maintained that the House was to discuss a problem that bristled with difficulties and had proved itself to be one of the most complicated and difficult questions of modern times.

Many of your Lordships who have considered it have given it up in despair, and when I look around me and see the wealth of ripe experience, sober logic and grey-haired knowledge that for many years have debated and discussed and considered this problem in all its aspects and in all its phases, I am sometimes tempted to think that a mere novice like myself is initiating perhaps a hopeless task. If any scheme is to succeed, in my opinion, we must all make sacrifices for the common good.2

He thought there were certain broad lines on which the majority of their lordships were agreed. It was known that the powers and the constitution of the Lords must be kept completely separate, and be considered separately in relation to...

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