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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 8: 1952. Regulating Attendance: Lord Exeter and Standing Orders


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1952. Regulating Attendance:Lord Exeter and Standing Orders

The five-year life-time of the parliament elected in July 1945 was soon to reach its constitutional end. The prime minister, Clement Attlee, requested the king to dissolve parliament on 5 January 1950, and a general election was held on 23 February. The Labour election manifesto, entitled Let us Win Through Together, made no reference to the reform of the House of Lords. At the election Labour gained a majority of just 5 over all other Parties. This majority indeed enabled Attlee to form a government, but the prospects of being able to bring through any more major legislation looked pretty meagre. Just over a year later, on 4 October 1951, the prime minister decided to dissolve parliament. The election, on 25 October, returned the Conservatives to power. They won 321 seats to Labour’s 295. Attlee duly resigned, and Winston Churchill became prime minister once again. In their party manifesto of 1951 the Conservatives had committed themselves to ‘call an all-party conference to consider proposals for the reform of the House of Lords’, but in the months that followed no such endeavour was made.

We may, however, record two events, sad but significant. On 11 December 1951 Viscount Addison died at the age of 82. The general feeling, not only within the Labour party, but also in the House of Lords, was that the country had lost a great politician.1 The lords especially...

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