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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 14: 1968. Inter-Party Conference on Lords Reform

Extract

← 432 | 433 → CHAPTER FOURTEEN

1968. Inter-Party Conference on Lords Reform

Preliminary Arrangements

The cabinet was now on the point of authorizing the prime minister to write inviting the leaders of the Opposition parties to join an inter-party conference on Lords’ reform. The ministers reached their final decision after they got news of Lord Longford’s meeting with Lord Carrington on 24 October.

The Earl of Longford: Meeting with Lord Carrington1

Tuesday, 24 October 1967

As arranged I saw Lord Carrington this afternoon and told him what we had in mind to say in the Queen’s Speech. I emphasised that we should announce in both Houses of Parliament on the same day that we were ready and anxious for consultations. It was possible, though not certain, that the Leaders of the Opposition might be informed of this in writing in advance. I am afraid that Lord Carrington (as I feared at Chequers might be the case) was highly critical of our proposal to make a bald announcement in the Queen’s Speech without any accompanying suggestions for consultation. He still, I think, believes that the present is the best moment there has ever been for reaching an agreed settlement for the Lords but he considers that our proposed procedure jeopardises the whole project and could indeed have fatal consequences.

← 433 | 434 → It is not that he himself suspects our intentions; he was good enough to say that he thought...

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