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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 22: 1969. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill Withdrawn

Extract

← 886 | 887 → CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

1969. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill Withdrawn

Signs of Determined Opposition

When a bill receives a second reading, it must go through what is called the committee or report stage. Normally ad hoc standing committees are set up by the House to consider the bill clause by clause. This is an opportunity for discontented party members to bring in amendment after amendment to prolong the debate day and night, unless the House passes an ‘allocation of time’ motion, which is a sort of guillotine to control the process of debate. However, bills of ‘first-class constitutional importance’ are considered by a committee of the whole house. The Parliament (No. 2) Bill was such a bill. The proceedings were taken on the floor of the House, and it was here that the major obstructions began.

The opponents of the bill were determined to engage in a filibuster. Stopping this proved very difficult for the government. A motion to stop the use of such dilatory tactics could be passed only with the consent of the Opposition, and the Opposition refused to give this consent. The result was inevitable. Days were spent on debating the bill. The Government was now even prepared to meet the Tory demand that the bill, when passed, should come into effect in the following Parliament. But the Tories would not give in. Yet it was not the unwillingness of the Tory Leadership to cooperate that was the...

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