What Ways Did The Liberal Government Implement Social And Welfare Reforms 1906-1911 Bring About Conflict With The House of Lords?

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Martyn Chadderton                14th November 2000

What Ways Did The Liberal Government Implement Social And Welfare Reforms 1906-1911 Bring About Conflict With The House of Lords?

Between the years of 1906 and 1911, the Asquith led Liberal Government tried to implement a number of reforms. The majority of these reforms met opposition in the House of Lords. It appeared that everything the Liberal Party tried to implement was rejected almost without reason by the Conservative majority in the Lords. The Conservative Party was at the time led by Balfour, relations with Ireland were strained and Europe itself was unstable. Society had become eager for new reforms to be introduced and the idea of the slightly more radical Liberal government bringing about the changes excited the majority of the British public.

The Liberal government was elected in 1906 and won with a large majority. With support from the Irish Nationalist Party and the Labour Party it had control of the democratically elected House of Commons. However, the House of Lords in 1906 had 591 members of which 561 were hereditary peers. Two thirds of the peers were Conservatives. This gave the Conservatives a permanent handle on the direction of the country. Since as early as 1890, the Liberals had been unhappy with the state of constitution in Britain.

In 1906 the Education Bill and the Plural Voting Bill passed through the Commons with relative ease, both Bills however were rejected by the Lords and as such couldn’t become law. There appeared to be nothing that the Liberals could do to counter the House of Lord’s actions. When in 1908 the Lords rejected the Licensing Bill, designed to cut down the number of Public Houses, which were seen to be a large cause of Poverty in Britain at the time, Campbell-Bannerman fumed and warned the Lords that if they continued to reject all the reforms set by the Liberals then he would take measures to reduce their powers. However, the Liberals managed to squeeze the Old Age Pensions Bill through the Lords, as it was a Finance Bill, the bill meant that a larger majority of the elderly could qualify for a state pension.

It appeared as if the Lords were putting their own interests first, ahead of the interests of the millions of people they were meant to be representing. They were supposed to be the Watchdog of the Constitution but in reality they were the watchdogs of their own self interests. They were using their majority in the Lords to veto any Bill the could or would affect them. This caused a threat to democracy, how was it right that hereditary peers in the Lords could veto a Bill introduced by the democratically elected Ministers in the Commons? It could be argued that what the Lords weren’t necessarily looking after their own self-interests but in fact the interests of the Conservative Party and its leader Balfour. The Lords were classed as ‘Balfour’s Poodle’ as opposed to being the Watchdog of the Constitution.

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This leads to a ‘Peers vs People’ debate. The majority of people in Britain felt that the government weren’t able to do their job properly because of the Lord’s constant interventions. A debate raged as to whether the millions of people who made up Britain should have more of a say over the direction of their country than the 600 Lords. It could be argued though that some of the reforms were deliberately risqué in an attempt to infuriate the Conservatives, with the Liberals knowing that in all likeliness the Bills would be rejected. There is more evidence to ...

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