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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 44: Viscount FitzAlan’s Motion: 1927

Extract

← ii. 416 | ii. 417 → CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

Viscount FitzAlan’s Motion: 1927

On 20 June 1927 Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent1 rose to move ‘That in view of the long-standing declarations of Ministers that reform of the Second Chamber of the Legislature is of urgent importance to the public service, this House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of the House and dealing with the defects which are inherent in certain of the provisions of the Parliament Act’.2

He was convinced, he argued, that their lordships would never agree to a ‘total eclipse of the hereditary principle’, but he was equally certain that ‘even the present House of Commons, with its large majority representing Conservative opinion, would not agree to a prepondering element of the hereditary principle’. He believed that election from outside, in some form or other, was necessary and that a system of indirect election could be devised which would be simple and efficient. A proportion of the second chamber could be elected by those peers who had the privilege of sitting in the Lords, and there would be a smaller proportion nominated by the government of the day to be lords of parliament for a period.

The Duke of Marlborough rose to move an amendment: to leave out all the words after ‘That’ and to add ‘in view of the failure of any scheme of House of Lords reform to arouse interest, this House regards further discussion of the...

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