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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 21: 1969. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill: Debate in the House of Commons

Extract

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1969. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill: Debate in the House of Commons

The Queen and the Royal Peers

The Queen was being kept properly informed of discussions on reform of the House of Lords. Since the proposed bill would soon come before the Commons, it was obligatory for the government to seek Her Majesty’s consent and to ‘place her interest’ at the disposal of Parliament. The minister responsible for obtaining the Queen’s consent was James Callaghan. The Queen would be interested to know what effect the abolition of the hereditary system might have on the royal family. Accordingly, the following memorandum, which was drafted, on the wishes of Lord Shackleton, by Sir Denis Dobson (Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, House of Lords) was sent to the Queen for her information sometime in December 1968.

Memorandum to the Queen1

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