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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 3: 1946/47. A Proposal to Amend the Parliament Act, 1911: Labour and the Lords

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← 20 | 21 → CHAPTER THREE

1946/47. A Proposal to Amend the Parliament Act, 1911: Labour and the Lords

During 1946/47 several important government bills were passed by both Houses (the National Insurance, Civil Aviation, National Health Service, Coal Industry, New Town and Company bills in 1946; the Transport, Town and Country, Agriculture and Electricity bills in 1947). Except for an amendment here and there, the Lords did not seriously block the passage of any of them. In fact Lord Addison noted in July 1946, that ‘under Lord Cranborne’s leadership, the Tory Opposition has shown hitherto a disposition to sink mere prejudice and to join with us on the Government Benches in helping the House of Lords to perform its proper function as a Second Chamber, namely, that of revision and acceptable amendment, rather than in using it as a Tory engine for the frustration of the Labour Government summoned to office and to power by the nation’.1 Years later, Clement Attlee, now Earl Attlee,2 paid another tribute to Lord Cranborne (later the 5th Marquess of Salisbury). When Labour came to power in 1945, Earl Attlee said, in a speech in the House of Lords on 31 October 1957, there had been no trouble: ‘I think that was very largely due to the high statesmanship of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and I think the country will always be indebted to him for it’.3 Yet the government did entertain ← 21 | 22 → fears that the Lords might block...

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