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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 13: 1955. ‘Lords of Parliament’: Viscount Samuel’s Motion and his Plea for the ‘Short and Simple’

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← 456 | 457 → CHAPTER THIRTEEN

1955. ‘Lords of Parliament’: Viscount Samuel’s Motion and his Plea for the ‘Short and Simple’

Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister on 6 April 1955 and held this office until 9 January 1957. When Eden came to build his cabinet, he asked Lord Salisbury to continue as lord president of the council. Apart from strong ties of personal friendship, Eden had, he was to write later, the ‘greatest admiration’ for Salisbury’s mind and character.1 The marquess made considerable use of this confidence for his own ends. Above all, he promoted his personal plans for reform of the Lords. Indeed, Eden had hardly established himself in office before Lord Salisbury was pleading for immediate action. ‘Do get on with it’, the prime minister replied. Lord Salisbury took the message seriously, and fed Eden with plentiful material. The vast number of documents that landed on his desk did not make the prime minister entirely happy.2 We will offer a substantial account of this later; but in the first weeks of 1955, it was an enquiry by Viscount Samuel that caused the most stir.

On 25 January 1955 the viscount rose to ask if her Majesty’s government would state what course, if any, it proposed to take on the question of the reform of the Upper House. He was sure, he said, that great constitutional changes could best be arrived at, not ‘after bitter Party controversies and a struggle on purely...

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