Parliament Act 1911

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This Act, and later enactments of the same name, gives the House of commons the right to introduce new legislation against the objection of the House of lords. Technically, the Royal assent is still needed for a Statute to be created, but this is a formality in modern times.

Traditionally the House of lords has been dominated by hereditary peers, rather than representatives of the populace. With peerages largely being the gift of the monarch, the Lords could not be said to have a popular mandate to govern. It was accepted as early as the 17th century that the Commons had clear priority in certain matters, particularly financial ones. On other subjects priority was less obvious, and many matters could not be resolved by agreement between the Houses. In the 19th century it became accepted practice in these cases for the Commons to advise the monarch to create enough new peers that were sympathetic to its cause to overwhelm opposition from established peers, or at least threaten to do so. In 1832 the Lords dropped its fervent opposition to the Reform Bill promoted by the Liberal Party in the face of this tactic, and this established the principle that the Lords should not oppose the Commons when the latter clearly represented the will of the people.

However, the increased prevalence of popular election as a means of choosing the Commons, combined with the beginnings of the party system of government, led the Commons to assert its priority in a more general sense. While the Lords would not challenge a Commons policy that was the will of the people, it could assert that the only way the will of the people could be determined was by a general election. This gave the Lords a political weapon; if peers tended to side with the party which was not currently in the majority, they could effectively bring about a general election. Since the Lords tended to side with the Conservative party, a Liberal majority in the Commons was obviously going to have problems exercising the priority that it felt it should enjoy.

Matters came to a head in 1906 when the Lords rejected social reform measures proposed by the Liberal Government of Lloyd George and supported by the Commons. In 1907 the Government proposed measures to limit the power of the Lords. Clearly this was not going to be acceptable to the Lords, which responded by vetoing the 1909 Finance Bill. Even after two general elections in 1910 which returned the same Government to power, the Lords was not prepared to accept the proposed reductions in its powers. The matter was only resolved when King George V made it known that he was prepared to create 400 new Liberal peers to overwhelm opposition. Thus the Lords were compelled to accept the 1911 Act, which removed the power to veto a 'Money bill' altogether, and reduced the power of veto in other matters to a power to delay for two years. It also reduced the length of the Parliamentary term from seven years to five.

Even this reduced power of veto allowed the Lords to disrupt the progress of Bills offered in the last two years of a Parliamentary term, as it can seek to delay the legislation beyond the next general election. This was a particular problem in 1945 when the new Labour Government wanted to carry out a significant program of nationalization against the wishes of the Lords. It therefore had to invoke the 1911 Act to introduce the Parliament act (1949), which reduced the delaying power of the Lords to one year.

See: Constitutional legislation