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House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 3. 1960-1969: Reforms Attempted

Peter Raina

Volume 3 of Peter Raina’s magisterial history covers the 1960s and draws on newly released documents. In astonishing detail, it traces new plans drawn up during the Macmillan-Wilson era to reform the House of Lords. ‘Mission impossible,’ a civil servant declared. But when, to remain a Commons MP, Tony Benn insisted on disclaiming an inherited peerage, he started off a fresh willingness to tackle old problems. The Peerages Act 1963 allowed peers the option of disclaimer and, at last, gave equal rights in the Upper House to Scottish and women inheritors.
A Labour government came in, and in 1967 gained the majority needed to embark on bold legislation. But it feared interference, so comprehensive plans were backed for changing the whole complexion of two-chamber politics. Led by Lord Shackleton and the intellectual Richard Crossman, schemes were devised and inter-party talks got under way – at first in a spirit of cooperation. But had the party elites listened to their fiery back-benchers? When a bill was introduced into parliament, the scenes were unforgettable …
This volume tells not just the story, but reveals the intricate thinking of those who wanted to make a bicameral system work in the age of modern party politics.
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Chapter 2: 1961–63. The Setting up of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform: Conservative Proposals

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← 54 | 55 → CHAPTER TWO

1961–63. The Setting up of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform: Conservative Proposals

Long before the government finally decided to introduce a motion on the reform of the Lords at the beginning of 1962, several motions had appeared on the Commons Order Paper in the names of various members. On 20 April 1961 a Conservative member, Mr Leavey, tabled the following motion:

That this House, having agreed with the Committee of Privileges in their Report concerning Mr Anthony Wedgwood Benn, urges Her Majesty’s Government to state the steps for the appointment of a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament with such terms of reference as would require the Committee to make specific recommendations for legislation to permit in appropriate circumstances renunciation of Peerages on inheritance.

Amendments to this motion were tabled by Sir Peter Agnew and Mr Hirst (both Conservative) on 21 and 24 April, suggesting that the terms of reference should include recommendations for general reform of the Lords. Mr Ellis Smith, a Labour member, tabled an amendment on 3 May recommending ‘the complete abolition of the hereditary principle’. A similar amendment was tabled by Mr Emrys Hughes (Labour) on 1 June. Another Labour member, Mr Ness Edwards, tabled an amendment on 9 June inviting the joint committee to consider ‘whether the House of Lords should be abolished and its legislative functions be transferred to a Standing Committee of the House of Commons,...

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