The House of Lords and Contemporary Politics: 1911-1957

The House of Lords and Contemporary Politics: 1911-1957

The House of Lords and Contemporary Politics: 1911-1957

The House of Lords and Contemporary Politics: 1911-1957

Excerpt

When the Parliament Act of 1911 was passed, both its advocates and its opponents expected that it would soon be replaced by a comprehensive reform both of the powers and of the composition of the House of Lords. The past forty years have in fact seen innumerable proposals, modest and ambitious, in Parliament and in Party Conferences, but all have been abortive. The powers of the House have been left unchanged until now, except by the new Parliament Act of 1949, which merely modified the provisions of the old by reducing from three sessions to two the Lords' power to delay bills passed by the Commons. At last, in November 1957, a Conservative Government brought forward a proposal to reform the composition of the House with a serious intention that it should go through; but the modest provisions of the Life Peerages Bill came as something of an anti-climax. Both socialists and conservatives would have liked a more far-reaching reform, but they are still far from agreeing on the objectives at which larger reforms should aim. The differences between the Parties have become narrower as time has gone by, but the restricted and essentially uncontroversial scope of the Life Peerages Bill recognizes the need for caution.

Thirty years ago the Conservatives apparently wanted to restore the formal power of the House of Lords to obstruct socialistic legislation; now, however, they have abandoned this aim as unrealistic. Their present purpose seems to be more limited; they hope to improve the effectiveness and increase the prestige of the upper House, and would be prepared to accept a reduction of their own excessive numerical superiority in it in order to achieve that objective. The Labour Party has lost its former attitude of active hostility to the House of Lords, but still has little enthusiasm for any change which might enhance the prestige of the House, without guaranteeing a Labour majority there in periods of Labour majority in the Commons. People of the Left find it hard to forget the Lords' record of resistance to the popular will under Left governments during the past hundred years, and particularly between 1892 and 1914. While recognizing the usefulness of the House of Lords within a restricted . . .

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