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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 47: Labour Proposals: 1931


← ii. 454 | ii. 455 → CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

Labour Proposals: 1931

The chief Labour spokesman for reform in the House of Lords was now Arthur Ponsonby, who had very recently been raised to a hereditary peerage. Ponsonby was a very charming and highly intelligent person. He had had a Victorian childhood, born in the Norman Tower of Windsor Castle on 16 February 1871, the third son of General Sir Henry Ponsonby, for many years Queen Victoria’s principal private secretary. The young Arthur attended the Queen as page-of-honour in 1882.1 This thorough aristocrat turned into a thorough radical socialist and pacifist. The Labour prime minister of 1929, Ramsay MacDonald, rightly thought that Ponsonby’s talents would be more helpful to the socialist cause within the House of Lords than elsewhere. So in December 1929 MacDonald’s private secretary, Robert Vansittart, penned the following letter to A.A.W.H. Ponsonby, Esq., MP:2

Private Secretary

Prime Minister

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