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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 7: 1949. Peeresses in the Lords? The Marquess of Reading


← 296 | 297 → CHAPTER SEVEN

1949. Peeresses in the Lords?The Marquess of Reading

Despite the acrimonious controversy the Iron and Steel Bill had provoked in both Houses, and notwithstanding an impending fear that the bill might be virtually thrown out by the Lords, the Iron and Steel Bill finally passed both Houses and was given Royal Assent on 24 November 1949. This was less than a month before the amended Parliament Act, 1949 received its own Royal Assent. Such are the accidents of history that the latter act, originally drafted to ensure the passage of the Iron and Steel Bill lest it be blocked by the Lords, now proved to be useless for that purpose.

Yet there is another episode that invites our attention. When the House of Lords began debating the Iron and Steel Bill, after it had reached the House in May 1949, various amendments were put down. One such included a motion by the Marquess of Reading1 that membership of the House of Lords should be conferred on peereses in their own right. Although the motion was introduced in the Lords on 27 July 1949, it had been suggested earlier on that perhaps a clause might be introduced into the Parliament Act. The lord privy seal, Viscount Addison, considered the intentions of the opposition and submitted his views to the Prime Minister:


← 297 | 298 → Office of the Lord Privy Seal

Prime Minister


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