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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 16: 1955. Select Committee Conclusions: Viscount Hailsham’s Memorandum

Extract

← 520 | 521 → CHAPTER SIXTEEN

1955. Select Committee Conclusions: Viscount Hailsham’s Memorandum

The Lords select committee, appointed in June 1955 to enquire into the powers of the House of Lords in relation to the attendance of its members, finished its work before the end of the year. On the express wish of the committee, Lord Hailsham,1 one of its members, drafted a memorandum on the problems that had been discussed and the conclusions reached.2

We were appointed by the House to enquire into the powers of the House in relation to the attendance of members. We have now had full submissions from the Counsel instructed by the Treasury Solicitor, and the advantage of papers from the Clerk of the Parliaments, and an admirable summary from the Chairman. It seemed likely at the close of the last sitting that we should have some further evidence relating to the powers of the House of Commons and to the extent to which it could be considered analogous to our own powers, and we also hope to hear evidence from such members of the House of Lords as desire to assist us in our work. I have thought, however, that perhaps it would be worthwhile to review the situation as it exists at the moment in order to see to what extent matters may be thought to have been established, and to what extent, if at all, there are matters for controversy or fresh enquiry. This memorandum is...

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