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House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 2. 1943–1958: Hopes Rekindled

Peter Raina

Peter Raina’s House of Lords Reform recounts the long struggle to bring an ancient institution up to date. The first volume ended in 1937, as crisis overwhelmed Europe. Reform issues were not forgotten, however. This second volume continues the story, presenting a wealth of illuminating records, a great many of them published here for the first time.
The 4th Marquess of Salisbury planned changes to the Lords even before the war’s end. Further proposals followed after the establishment of the Labour government in 1945. Fearful that its legislation would be blocked, Labour amended the Parliament Act, 1911 to limit the Lords’ delaying powers to just one year. Some believed the Upper House would disappear altogether.
Salisbury’s heir worked hard for preservation, and managed to secure an all-party conference. Its complex schemes and animated discussions are all presented here in original documents. Though the conference failed, Lords Reading, Exeter and Simon continued the effort, with ideas that would eventually bear fruit. They championed the rights of women, self-regulation through standing orders, and the creation of life peers. The Churchill government formed a Lords Reform Committee but could get no further. Then, in an unexpected twist, the cause finally triumphed when Harold Macmillan and the Earl of Home got a one-clause bill through parliament in 1958. The Life Peers Act transformed the nature of British politics.
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Chapter 1: 1943. Qualifications for Peers: The 4th Marquis of Salisbury


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1943. Qualifications for Peers: The 4th Marquess of Salisbury

It was the month of April 1943. A frail man, but one with a superbly active mind, sat in the quiet library of Hatfield House, drawing up a preliminary plan, brief but entirely constructive, to reform the composition of the House of Lords. His beautiful home must have reminded him of his ancestors, who had so devotedly served crown and country in the past. So rich and valuable had been the role of the aristocracy in the service of the state that the 4th Marquess of Salisbury1 could not entertain the thought that this might not be the case in the future. The members of this aristocracy were a worthy set of people, and the marquess felt deeply that in any reform of the Lords it would not be ‘expedient altogether to abandon the hereditary principle’. Such an abandonment would be ‘contrary to the whole spirit of the Constitution’, which had grown by a ‘process of evolution and never by catastrophic change’. However, times were changing, and society had begun to think in different categories. British society was now no longer feudal in nature; the right to vote in political elections had been greatly extended, and universal suffrage had given people the power to choose representatives to sit in the House of Commons. No such choice existed, however, for the House of Lords. It consisted totally of hereditary peers. The question that preoccupied...

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