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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 52: The Life Peerage Bill: Lord Rockley, 1935

Extract

← ii. 564 | ii. 565 → CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

The Life Peerage Bill: Lord Rockley, 1935

All along, the National Government indicated a desire to reform the Lords. The desire was indeed there, but no concrete measures were undertaken. In fact both Stanley Baldwin (prime minister from June 1935) and Ramsay MacDonald (lord president, 1935) would have liked to leave the House of Lords as it was. Change seemed to be impossible: it cost too much time and too much nervous energy, without offering any hope of success. The political leaders thought it prudent to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. Many hereditary peers thought the same. Yet there were one or two who would not give up. Lord Rockley1 was one of them. He informed the lord chancellor, Viscount Hailsham,2 what his intentions were. Lord Hailsham took advice from the cabinet. The cabinet was not happy about Rockley’s intentions but could not stop him from moving what he described as his ‘very modest Bill’. What happened next we relate below.3

← ii. 565 | ii. 566 → 1.

Lord Rockley to Lord Hailsham, 18 February 1935.

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