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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 45: The Earl of Clarendon’s Motion: 1928


← ii. 426 | ii. 427 → CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

The Earl of Clarendon’s Motion: 1928

It appears that the government of the day was making little progress towards reaching any reform at all. Certainly the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, seemed to lose whatever enthusiasm he might have had previously. We encounter these doubts in a private conversation the prime minister had with Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, in September 1928. Dawson noted in his diary that he had had ‘a talk with the Prime Minister who had just returned from Aix and Paris and was looking extraordinarily well’. Dawson also touched on House of Lords reform, and asked Baldwin whether he had ‘seriously considered the plan’ Dawson had several times put forward in The Times, ‘namely a gradual reform based on fresh power to nominate life peers’. Dawson had ‘always thought it the right line of approach and the one which was most likely to commend itself to the Labour Party’. Baldwin, Dawson notes, replied that ‘he had given a good deal of thought to this idea and had gone so far as to broach it to MacDonald before he went away. But he does not seem to have had very much response. No doubt MacDonald was not likely to commit himself to anything which he might possibly be able to oppose with profit later on.’1 Since both the government in power and the opposition spoke with indecision, the initiative to propose reforms originated in the House of...

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