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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 15: 1968. Conclusions of the Inter-Party Conference


← 638 | 639 → CHAPTER FIFTEEN

1968. Conclusions of the Inter-Party Conference

After nearly six months of intensive work, the inter-party conference agreed to establish the fundamentals for a bill to reform the House of Lords. There was one point still to be settled: the date on which the bill should come into force. The agreement was the result of concerted effort by the individuals actively engaged in the negotiations. Lord Carrington, one of these, aptly sums up the argument. There had always been, he writes,

more disposition to grumble about the Lords than to agree on what should replace it. There were, of course, the extremes: the abolitionists who wanted a single Chamber and the traditionalists who would have no change. Most people, however, were in between, but organizing a consensus for reform was a different matter. I was determined to try: obviously both main parties needed to be associated with the attempt and I welcomed a Government initiative which led to a sequence of talks. The Leader of the House was Shackleton and the Leader of the Commons was Dick Crossman. I was supported by George Jellicoe, my deputy, who had followed me at the Admiralty, and Ian Macleod held a watching brief for the Conservative Opposition in the Commons. The five of us were, I think, at least agreed on the basic object, on the framework of our conferences. We all wanted a second Chamber which could be recognized as having a right...

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