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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 9: 1953. The Life Peers Bill: Viscount Simon

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← 316 | 317 → CHAPTER NINE

1953. The Life Peers Bill: Viscount Simon

With the dawn of the year 1953 came some movement towards reform of the House of Lords. On 3 February Viscount Simon1 introduced his Life Peers Bill there. However, on the same day, the prime minister, Winston Churchill, sent letters to the leaders of the Labour and Liberal parties inviting them to an inter-party conference on reform of the House, on his own initiative. Viscount Simon was not informed about the actual state of this correspondence. Only at the end of December 1952, when Viscount Simon informed Lord Salisbury that he intended to introduce his bill, was he warned that the government could not give their encouragement to the bill because of the proposed inter-party conference on Lords reform: it would clearly be unwise for the government to ‘prejudice the results of this conference by supporting any limited measure of reform which might be proposed in the meantime’.2 It was Lord Salisbury who gave this warning, but he told a half-truth. The prime minister’s letters had already been drafted in December 1952 and they awaited only his signature. Even in January 1953, when it was certain that the letters would soon be dispatched to the party leaders, Lord Salisbury should have communicated this information to Viscount Simon. This he did not do. He simply tried to deter Viscount Simon from moving the bill. The reason behind this unkind treatment may easily be guessed. The 5th...

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