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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 16: 1968. The Lords’ Rejection of Sanctions Against Rhodesia: A Provocation

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1968. The Lords’ Rejection of Sanctions Against Rhodesia: A Provocation

The members of the inter-party conference had hardly received a copy of the final draft when an event occurred which totally overshadowed its achievements. On 17 June 1968 the Attorney-General, Sir Elwyn Jones, begged to move in the House of Commons that the ‘Southern Rhodesia (United Nations Sanctions) Order 1968 (S.I. 1968, No. 885) dated 7th June 1968, made by Her Majesty in Council under the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965’ be approved.1 The motion was opposed by the Conservative MPs on the ground that the employment of sanctions would only worsen the situation of the people of Southern Rhodesia, but the Commons resolved to approve the motion by 319 votes to 246. The order required the approval of the House of Lords, where it was debated on 17 June. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, moving the order, told the House how important it was that their lordships should approve it. He even quoted a highly distinguished hereditary peer, Lord Harlech [5th Baron], who had stated that refusing the government order ‘would be an unprecedented interference by this, a non-elected Chamber, in the executive actions of a Government supported by large majority in another place’.2 Lord Wade [Life Baron] observed that the ‘rejection of this Order would be comparable with a case where a treaty had been solemnly entered into by the British Government, had been ratified by the House of Commons, and...

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