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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 5: 1965. Procedures and Functions of the House of Lords: Lord Alport

Extract

← 168 | 169 → CHAPTER FIVE

1965. Procedures and Functions of the House of Lords: Lord Alport

Not very long after the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, Harold Macmillan, who was partly responsible for having got this Act through Parliament, decided to resign from the premiership. In fact, he was forced to do so. It was his Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, who caused Macmillan’s resignation. From the early 1960s John Profumo and Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London, had been sharing the same mistress, the call girl, Christine Keeler. When news of the affair first broke in 1962, a Labour MP, George Wigg, brought the matter up in the Commons: rumours were being heard that a member of the government front bench was involved in a sex affair. Profumo rose to deny the charges; but later it turned out that he had lied, and in consequence, he resigned in June 1963.1 On 10 October 1963 Macmillan followed suit.2 The Queen, on the advice of the departing prime minister, summoned the 14th Earl of Home ← 169 | 170 → to form an administration. Now Home was a peer. He had been a great enthusiast for the 1963 Peerage Bill, hoping some day to utilize it in his own favour. This hope was now being realized. He immediately renounced his peerage and, as Sir Alec Douglas-Home, kissed hands as prime minister on 19 October. He then contested the safe Tory constituency of Kinross...

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