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House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 4. 1971–2014: The Exclusion of Hereditary Peers – Book 1: 1971–2001 – Book 2: 2002–2014

Peter Raina

Peter Raina’s magnificent history of Lords reform has already brought into the public domain a mass of original documents and thrown light on the debates they fuelled. In Volume 4 he brings his study up to the present age.
The Thatcher and Blair governments were both determined to shake up the system, and in such times the old House of Lords began to look more and more outdated. Mrs Thatcher’s inaction on the issue only increased calls for abolition or change. So the Blair government grasped the nettle. In one historic Act of Parliament it ejected hereditary peers from the House – except for 92 saved by a last-minute amendment. The negotiations and reactions surrounding this event are recorded here in lively detail.
This concluding book brings Peter Raina’s History of Lords’ Reform up to the end of 2014. It follows on from the banishment of hereditary peers from the House in the name of democracy. This was proclaimed as only the start of more sweeping change. What was to happen next?
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The withdrawal of the House of Lords reform bill of 1969 was a great disappointment for the then prime minister, Harold Wilson and for his home secretary, Jim Callaghan. Both had worked hard to force the bill through the Commons, had failed to do so, and felt humiliated. Edward Heath, the leader of the Opposition at the time, had also contributed enormously to the success of the inter-party talks that had resulted in the drafting of the government White Paper in 1968; but he was humiliated by his own back-bench MPs. Thus when Heath became prime minister in 1970, he showed little desire to proceed with Lords reform. Similarly, when Labour won the general election in 1974 and Wilson returned to the office of prime minister, he too would have nothing to do with attempts to reform the Upper House. Jim Callaghan, who succeeded him in this office in 1976, behaved no differently. Thus, from 1970, for almost a decade, successive governments left Lords reform well alone. Having devoted so much effort to reach consensus on the issue during the bout of activity in 1968–69, and then having failed, the party leaders strongly believed it was best to concentrate their efforts on other matters.

Yet reform was not entirely neglected. Sporadic attempts were made by certain individuals and groups to urge the need for change in the Upper House and to examine possibilities. One such attempt was the establishment of Earl Home’s Committee on the...

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