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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 18: 1968. The Government White Paper

Extract

← 720 | 721 → CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

1968. The Government White Paper

We now return to our narrative. The government informed the Opposition that it would be including the conclusions of the inter-party conference in its White Paper on reform. In the Lords, Shackleton contacted Carrington and in the Commons, Crossman got in touch with Heath.

The draft itself would be the work of Shackleton and Wheeler-Booth.

Last-Minute Consultations

It was left to the discretion of Wheeler-Booth to solicit any further views from those who had not been directly involved in the inter-party negotiations. One of the people Michael Wheeler-Booth asked to comment on reform was Lord Annan:1

Michael Wheeler-Booth to Lord Shackleton with enclosure from Lord Annan

Attached are Lord Annan’s comments2 on the draft White Paper. Soon after the P.M.’s statement he asked if he should still comment on it. I encouraged him to do so and I think his letter is a valuable one. Perhaps the most courteous thing would be for you to write in reply and I will attempt a draft for you. The letter betrays the influence of Bernard Crick who is a friend of his, but Crick’s ← 721 | 722 → notions are here deployed with much greater persuasiveness than he achieves himself. I attach an extra copy in case you want to show it to Mr Crossman this evening, and would suggest that a copy should be sent to the Lord Chancellor...

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