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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 54: Parliament Act (1911) Amendment: 1937


← ii. 592 | ii. 593 → CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

Parliament Act (1911) Amendment: 1937

The National Government of 1937 had other, more important problems to deal with than reform of the House of Lords. The political crisis in Europe had become the dominant topic in the debates of both Houses. Yet in spite of this crisis, interest in the Lords’ reform was not lacking, especially in the House of Commons. Here, on 19 February 1937, Mr H.G. Williams begged to move his bill to be read a second time. Mr Williams justified his intentions. He thought that in one respect the House of Lords was too strong, that in regard to normal legislation it could, in certain circumstances, hold a bill up for two years and there was no constitutional means of preventing the Lords doing so. In other directions, however, the powers of that House were too small. And Mr Williams wanted to ‘correct both failings’.1

The text of his bill read as follows:

A Bill 2

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