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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 19: 1957/58. The Life Peerages Bill: Lord Salisbury and Harold Macmillan

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1957/58. The Life Peerages Bill: Lord Salisbury and Harold Macmillan

Harold Macmillan barely had time to install himself in the prime minister’s office before a letter came to him from Lord Salisbury1 with a reminder about the need to push through the reform of the Lords. There was no need to supply details, since, as a member of Eden’s cabinet, Macmillan had all along had personal knowledge of Salisbury’s proposals. As a cabinet member, however, he had not failed to express reservations. Perhaps because Lord Salisbury was aware of this, he, the marquess, was now keen to exert pressure from the very beginning and leave nothing to chance. Macmillan was equally adamant. Without being of fensive, he made clear exactly where he himself stood on the question of reform. This he communicated to Lord Salisbury in one of the first letters he wrote as prime minister. In very candid language, he told Lord Salisbury that he would prefer a concise and limited reform to Salisbury’s elaborate, comprehensive designs. Later, this view was unconditionally supported by Earl Home.

In due course, the new prime minister urged his opinion upon his cabinet, but he did suggest that Lord Salisbury should keep the cabinet up to date with any developments in reform plans. The marquess lost no time in doing just that, and acted with his usual vigour. Again we have elaborate and lengthy proposals from him, sent in rapid succession to the...

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