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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 11: 1953. Conservative Proposals: Lord Salisbury Takes Control

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← 356 | 357 → CHAPTER ELEVEN

1953. Conservative Proposals:Lord Salisbury Takes Control

The interventions of Viscount Simon and the Marquess of Exeter appear to have inf lamed the determination of Lord Salisbury. Now, more than anyone else, he set about composing various drafts on the reform of the House of Lords. These drafts, submitted to the cabinet as memoranda, were usually long, and invariably complicated. Personally, Churchill showed very little interest in them; other members of the cabinet grew accustomed to receiving them, and were then allowed to be advised further. Between 1953 and 1956 Lord Salisbury, assisted by competent civil servants, worked with considerable ardour at drafting reforms. They were all then dismissed with peculiar consistency. Again and again the cabinet felt that the schemes were much too intricate to win the support of the majorities in either House. The more the cabinet delayed its decisions, the more the marquess pressed them. Until he left office in 1955, Winston Churchill tolerated Salisbury’s compulsive habit offorcing his schemes on the cabinet, and Anthony Eden, the new prime minister, did so too. This toleration came to an end, however, in January 1957 when Eden resigned. The new prime minister, Harold Macmillan,1 viewed the situation in different terms. With one simple stroke, delivered in concert with his faithful friend Earl Home, Macmillan destroyed the munificent edifice the Marquess of Salisbury had built with so much dedication. Late in 1957, the cabinet brought the text of the Simon bill...

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