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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 8: 1966. Motion to Appoint a Lords Select Committee: Lord Alport

Extract

← 194 | 195 → CHAPTER EIGHT

1966. Motion to Appoint a Lords Select Committee: Lord Alport

Lord Alport in the Lords

As was expected, on 4 July 1966, Lord Alport1 rose to move in the House of Lords ‘that a Select Committee be appointed to consider how, whether by changes in its procedures or by other means lying within the limits of its own powers of decision, this House can make a more substantial contribution to the efficient working of Parliamentary Government in contemporary Britain’.2 His motion, Lord Alport argued, did not include the question of composition of the House, nor did he have ‘wish to see reproduced here the opportunities which exist elsewhere to exploit procedure in the interest of an individual or a section of the membership of our House’. He did not want to see ‘this House vie with the House of Commons in providing a forum for the public clash of personalities or Party platforms’. If the committee were established it should investigate the following important points:

How can we make better use of the ample resources of authority and experience which are available to us here? What should be the relations in the future between this House and the Executive? What is our proper role in the legislative process? Can we make a more useful contribution to national discussion of public policy? ← 195 | 196 → In what respects are our working methods time-consuming and inappropriate? Do we need greater control...

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