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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 10: 1967. Composition and Powers of a Reformed House: The Lord President of the Council


← 210 | 211 → CHAPTER TEN

1967. Composition and Powers of a Reformed House: The Lord President of the Council

Since Richard Crossman was to chair the Ministerial Committee and to direct its proceedings, he desired to execute his functions in consultation with the prime minister. Crossman picked up the question at a meeting with Harold Wilson on 3 April 1967, proposing to draft a bill to limit the powers of the Lords. Wilson thought that it ‘would be very dull bill. The press will say it is a bore.’1 Crossman disagreed. He observed that it would be a bill which ‘modernized the House of Lords as part of the modernization of Parliament, and integrated the work of the two Chambers’. It would not be ‘dull at all’. He could ‘see a way of taking a lot of dull stuff off the Floor of the House of Commons, but if we’re going to do this we must deal with composition. The simplest way of doing it is with a bill to make all the existing peers who are active in the House become life peers and introduce a formula providing the Government of the day with a built-in majority.’ He wanted to get the Ministerial Committee established. ‘We’ve got to have the Lord Chancellor on it and Roy Jenkins and the two Chief Whips from both Houses and perhaps the Scottish Secretary as well as me and Gordon Walker.’ The prime minister himself had these men in mind,...

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