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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 46: The Life Peers Bill: Viscount Elibank, 1929


← ii. 442 | ii. 443 → CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

The Life Peers Bill: Viscount Elibank, 1929

On 28 February 1929, Viscount Elibank1 moved a bill aiming to make provision for the appointment of peers of parliament for life. He began by giving a brief historical account of the form in which this question had been brought before the House on former occasions. The principle of the appointment of life peers, he said, had aroused considerable controversy in the Lords. Although it had received the support of the most distinguished members of the House over a period of seventy years and had been accepted by a Lords’ select committee within the last twenty years, it had sadly gone no further than that. Viscount Elibank believed that any constitutional change ‘ought to be introduced and fathered by the Government of the day. But since the Government had not thought fit to introduce a measure of reform themselves it should be open to private members to undertake the initiative’. He was guided by this intention. The present bill was a short three-clause bill containing two provisions:2

First of all, I should like to point out that this Bill in no way interferes with the existing Prerogative of His Majesty to appoint hereditary Peers. So far as the principal object of the Bill is concerned, it will permit of the introduction into this House of individuals who, for various good reasons, would be embarrassed by taking an hereditary Peerage, but...

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