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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 10: 1953. Peers’ Attendance and Voting Rights: The Marquess of Exeter

Extract

← 352 | 353 → CHAPTER TEN

1953. Peers’ Attendance and Voting Rights:The Marquess of Exeter

The Simon Bill had been blocked in the House of Lords not because of its demerits, but because both Lord Swinton and Lord Salisbury were prejudiced against it. On 2 February 1953, even before the bill was introduced in the House, Lord Swinton had told the prime minister that ‘this tiresome Bill will be scotched’.1 But a mere six weeks later, their lordships were again being plagued by a resolution. It was moved, this time, by the Marquess of Exeter. On 17 March 1953 he rose to move:2

That this House is of the opinion that no Peer, except he has obtained leave of absence under Standing Order No XVIII, should vote on a Division of this House unless he has, if resident in England and Wales, attended the House at least x times, and, if resident elsewhere, attended at least y times, during the previous Session in which the House has sat for Pubic Business on twelve or more days; provided that this Resolution would not apply (a) in the case of a newly created Peer until after the expiry of a complete Session following the date of his introduction, nor (b) in the case of a Peer succeeding by descent until after the expiry of a complete Session following the date of his succession.

 

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