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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 18: 1956. Government Interest: The Official Committee


← 606 | 607 → CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

1956. Government Interest: The Official Committee

The government official committee held its first meeting on 7 June 1956. Here we enter on perhaps the most productive stage in the long quest for Lords reform. The members of this committee, well versed in the principles of the constitution, spent the next few months debating and framing the most comprehensive bills for legislation. The committee considered almost all the objections brought forward, made allowance for diverse opinions, and finally presented two versions of the bill to the cabinet. Sadly, both the committee’s time and effort were employed in vain. The cabinet was not disposed to show any interest in the proposed reforms at that moment. Other, more crucial problems occupied it. The Suez crisis of July 1956 plagued the Government, and continued to do so all through the year.1 Although the crisis was nearly over by the year’s end, another followed. Anthony Eden’s health began to show signs of serious deterioration. The prime minister decided to resign from office. Under these circumstances the cabinet had no option but to defer consideration of plans for reform of the Lords. Yet these plans were thoughtfully drawn up and were written throughout with, as Thomas Macaulay said of Gladstone’s treatise on Church and State, ‘excellent taste and excellent temper’.2 Their historical value remains, and they are of sufficient worth to be quoted here in full. The documents that follow track the course of events from June until...

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