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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 6: 1949. The Parliament Bill: Lord Addison Faces Opposition


← 256 | 257 → CHAPTER SIX

1949. The Parliament Bill:Lord Addison Faces Opposition

Now that the all-party conference had failed, the government went ahead with the second reading of its Parliament Bill in the Lords. The debate on Lord Addison’s motion was resumed on 8 June and lasted until 9 June. Lord Salisbury had given notice of an amendment that:

this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which by the reduction proposed in the period of delay laid down in the Parliament Act 1911 would go far towards establishing Single-Chamber Government and thereby deprive the Country of a vital constitutional safeguard of its liberties.1

The lord chancellor, Viscount Jowitt, moved the government motion on the Parliament Bill. The conference, he claimed, had broken down on the question of powers. In his view, the powers of a non-elected chamber should have the right to initiate discussion of any topic and to initiate legislation if ‘it is so minded’.2 The second chamber should have ‘the right to reject or revise’ legislative proposals which come before it. He also agreed that in exercising their functions their lordships must have ‘adequate time to perform those functions thoroughly and efficiently’. He agreed further that their lordships had the right to ‘require the Members of the elected Chamber to think again, in the light of discussions’ in their lordships’ House. It was also right that when the other House did think again, they should know...

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