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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 12: 1954. House of Lords Reform: A Memorandum by Sir Charles Hendricks


← 438 | 439 → CHAPTER TWELVE

1954. House of Lords Reform:A Memorandum by Sir Charles Hendricks

For whatever reason, the committee of ministers stopped assembling altogether for conferences on reform. During 1954 we hardly notice any interest. Perhaps it was because the cabinet had other important business to attend to, or perhaps because the government was just tired of the conglomerate of proposals and saw very little hope in reaching a conclusion. But die-hards were not absent. We find one in the person of Sir Charles Hendricks, private secretary to Lord Salisbury. On 17 June 1954 he addressed a memorandum of unusual length to the marquess. The paper has its merits, and deserves to be presented here.1

I hope you will bear with me if I set out on paper in some detail, my ideas upon the Reform of the House of Lords.

Let me be perfectly clear upon what I conceive we are trying to do, and why we find it necessary to do something.

We seek to restore authority to the Second Chamber so that, in the event of the House finding it necessary to take a stand against the popularly elected Chamber upon some major political issue, its view shall command attention and impose restraint. It will then certainly make the Commons think again and may eventually lead to a direct reference to the electorate. It will thus exercise its constitutional function as a safeguard against the improper...

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