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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 2: 1945. Composition of the Upper House: Edward F. Iwi and Viscount Cecil of Chelwood


← 10 | 11 → CHAPTER TWO

1945. Composition of the Upper House:Edward F. Iwi and Viscount Cecil of Chelwood

To fight the general election of July 1945, the Labour party issued its manifesto, Let us Face the Future, in which it declared its policy for the ‘consideration of the nation’.1 What should the election be about? The manifesto declared that the nation wanted food, work and homes. People, indeed, desired more than that, it asserted: they craved ‘good food in plenty, useful work for all, and comfortable, labour-saving homes that take full advantage of the resources of modern science and productive industry’. The nation wanted a ‘high and rising standard of living, security for all against a rainy day, and an educational system that will give every boy and girl a chance to develop the best that is in them’. The Labour party promised to execute this programme. The party also stated that it would ‘not tolerate obstruction of the people’s will by the House of Lords’. To achieve its declared aims the party outlined its intended actions.

1) In order to achieve full employment, various measures were necessary. First, the ‘whole of the national resources, in land, material and labour must be fully employed’; secondly, a ‘high and constant purchasing power’ was to be ‘maintained through good wages, social services and insurance, and taxation which [bore] less heavily on the lower income groups’; thirdly, ‘planned investment in essential industries and on houses, schools, hospitals...

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