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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 55: The Peerage Law Declaration Bill: Lord Strickland, 1937


← ii. 600 | ii. 601 → CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

The Peerage Law Declaration Bill: Lord Strickland, 1937

It sounds paradoxical, but the last proposal for reform before the outbreak of what A.L. Rowse justifiably calls the second German War was put forward by an ‘Imperial Aristocrat and Aristocratic Imperialist’, the first and last Baron Strickland of Sizergh in the county of Westmorland (1861–1940).1 What Strickland proposed was not exactly reform of the House of Lords but an increase in its membership. He desired that the prime ministers of the dominions should have the right to sit and speak in the Upper House. The baron explained this wish in a motion he introduced in the House on 24 March 1937.2 He rose

to call attention to the law in reference to Life Peerages and to ask His Majesty’s Government whether under the law as it stands steps may be taken that would enable Prime Ministers from the Dominions to sit and speak in the House of Lords after the precedent established in South Africa to which they do not belong; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, this Motion is urgent because, in view of the approaching Coronation, Prime Ministers of the Dominions beyond the seas are coming to the heart of the Empire. In connection with the crisis last December, which affected the most ← ii. 601 | ii. 602 → important relations between the Crown and the Dominions, it became evident that, according to a...

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