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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 50: The Marquess of Salisbury’s Bill: 1934

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← ii. 500 | ii. 501 → CHAPTER FIFTY

The Marquess of Salisbury’s Bill: 1934

The economic and political crisis of 1931 caused the formation of a National Government, in which power was shared by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals with Ramsay MacDonald as prime minister. Many of the Labour leader’s colleagues were not very happy about his joining such a government. The most prominent among these critics was Sir Stafford Cripps, son of Lord Parmoor and nephew of Lord Passfield. Cripps strongly believed that the Conservatives were in principle a bunch of capitalists who would never agree to any socialist reform planned by Labour. He also held the view that the House of Lords, a spawning-ground for reactionary elements, would be the main source of obstruction to any Labour policy. What was therefore needed, Cripps kept asserting, was either to create new peers to swamp the House or to abolish it entirely. At the Labour conference in October 1932 Cripps gathered enough supporters to establish the Socialist League, a left-wing pressure group whose aim was to bring about radical social reform. This was in opposition to MacDonald’s gradualist approach. Some of the prominent national Labour figures joining the League were Aneurin Bevin, G.D.H. Cole and Harold Laski. Cripps revealed his ideas in his controversial book, Can Socialism Come by Constitutional Methods? (1933). The Socialist League was viciously attacked by The Times: in its leading article of 10 October 1933, the newspaper claimed that the League would drive...

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