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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 4: 1948. Opinion Divided on the Parliament Bill: The Efforts of Lord Addison

Extract

← 68 | 69 → CHAPTER FOUR

1948. Opinion Divided on the Parliament Bill:The Efforts of Lord Addison

The king anticipated rejection of the bill in the House of Lords. Such an outcome would certainly cause him some inconvenience. The very thought of a replay of the year 1910 must have made him uneasy: in that year the Liberal government had approached King Edward VII requesting the creation of enough peers to swamp out those who obstructed the Parliament Bill in the Lords. Would the present king have to face the same dilemma as his predecessor? After the second reading of the bill in the Commons, Lord Addison held an audience with the king. This was at the beginning of December 1947. We do not have the minutes of this audience. But there is extant correspondence that gives us a clue to what was said. Here is a letter from the prime minister’s office to Sir Alan Lascelles, private secretary to the king.

Letter from 10, Downing Street to Sir Alan Lascelles1

10, Downing Street

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