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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were both determined to shake up the system, and in such times the old House of Lords began to look more and more outdated.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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Chapter Thirteen: 2006. Conventions of the British Parliament

← ii. 180 | ii. 181 →CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Great Britain has no written constitution. Instead there is convention – or, rather, a set of conventions. These customs or conventions, as F.W. Maitland makes amply clear, ‘derive their force, a force which is often felt to be quite as strong as the force of law, from the fact that they are so much mixed up with law that they could hardly be violated without a violation of law’.1 But no matter how strong the force of law may be, these constitutional practices, customs or conventions are not themselves rules of law. In the circumstances of 2005–6, it was necessary to ask whether departure from ‘sound constitutional precedent’ would serve any useful purpose. This question deserved careful consideration. Both Houses of Parliament decided to appoint a Joint Committee to make a study of the conventions that governed the relationship in matters of legislation between the two Houses.

The House of Commons appointed its members of the Committee on 17 May 2006; the House of Lords did so on 22 May 2006. The Committee held its first meeting on 23 May 2006 and appointed Lord Cunningham of Felling to be the chairman. Parliament agreed to extend the Committee’s life from 21 July to the end of the current session of Parliament.2

← ii. 181 | ii. 182 →The membership of the Joint Committee was as follows:


Viscount Bledisloe

Lord Carter

Lord Cunningham of Felling

Lord Elton...

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