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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 6: 1966. The Labour Party Manifesto: Modernizing the Work of Parliament

Extract

← 174 | 175 → CHAPTER SIX

1966. The Labour Party Manifesto: Modernizing the Work of Parliament

On 4 May 1965 William Hamilton (Labour) begged to move in the Commons that ‘leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the delaying powers of the House of Lords in respect of legislation’.1 Mr Hamilton said that he wanted to put on record what had ‘happened in the Lords this Session. There have been 10 Divisions and the Government have been defeated on six occasions. The average number of defeats per Session during the last 13 years, under a Tory Government, was two, or, at most, three. In some years it was never defeated at all. Clearly, they are chancing their arm in this Session, with the Government constituted as it is.’2 The intolerable fact was that the House of Lords could ‘delay, thwart and defeat at will any Measures passed by this House and in this Parliament’. The most controversial legislation3

is yet to come – steel, the Lands Commission, and the rest. In my view, the threat to create a sufficient number of peers to outnumber the Tories in the other place is no answer. Nor is it sufficient, in my view, to wait for a mandate, as the Prime Minister himself suggested. We should accept the challenge now and, if need be, cut the Summer Recess to do so.

The bill, Mr Hamilton argued, would be ‘short, simple, unequivocal and moderate’, and it...

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