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 suggest this when Lloyd George announced the Budget of 1909. The budget was designed to raise an extra £15 million to pay for pensions, labour exchanges and dreadnoughts. The Budget was aimed to make to rich pay to support to the poor. It was labelled the ‘People’s Budget’ and was guaranteed to infuriate the Conservative Party. The Liberals knew that there was very little chance that the Lords would reject the bill for the single fact that it was a finance bill. Finance Bills were traditionally not vetoed by the House of Lords, amended maybe but never rejected. The Conservatives called it the beginnings of socialism, it would affect all those who would traditionally vote for the Conservatives (the land owners and the wealthy) and would benefit all those who would traditionally vote for the Liberals.
Much to the surprise of just about everyone, the Lords rejected the budget. In reality this meant that the government was paralysed and could do no spending and could not collect any taxes. One of the Conservative leaders Lord Lansdowne defended the decision by proclaiming that such a revolutionary budget should be put before the public in the form of a general election. Lansdowne may have been confident that the Conservatives would win the election and regain control of the country. This move plunged the Constitution into crisis, possibly what Lloyd George wanted all along. Although this is unlikely as the money for the reforms needed to be generated from somewhere, taxing the rich was a sure fire way of securing these extra funds.
In January 1910 a general election was held to decide the budget it was classed as the ‘Peers vs People’ election. Although the Liberals lost over 100 seats they retained their majority and so stayed in power, they had of course the support of the Labour party and the Irish Nationalists. In April 1910 the commons passed the Parliament Bill that would dramatically reduce the powers of the House of Lords. However the next day the Lords passed the People’s Budget mainly in the hope that the Liberals would not continue to push through with Parliament Bill. It took another general election and the intervention of King Edward VII and King George V before the Parliament Bill was finally passed and the Lords powers greatly and significantly reduced. The Lords could no longer reject a bill for more than three terms, if they did it would automatically become law. The constitutional crisis was seemingly over.
The time that passed between 1906 and 1911 saw constant competition between the Conservative party and the Liberal party that all revolved around the issue of power. Both parties wanted control and the Conservatives saw the Lords as their way of keeping a lid on the supposedly explosive reforms and ideas of the liberal party. What brought about the most conflict was the simple fact that nearly all the Liberal reforms affected the rich and benefited the poor or the elderly. The Conservatives labelled this Socialism, but on the other hand you could call say that the Lords were abusing their power, destroying democracy and attempting to dictate the country. Democracy didn’t truly reign until the Lords powers were greatly reduced in 1911.
Perhaps it is true that the clever leadership of Asquith backed up by Lloyd George did deliberately set out to bring about the crisis safe in the knowledge that with the Labour party and Irish Nationalist party backing they would almost certainly win any election and would in the end reach their goal of dissolving the powers the powers of the House of Lords. Maybe Balfour and Lord Lansdowne thought that by forcing General Election after General Election and Constitutional Crisis they might have been able to sneak a victory and regain the leadership of the country, this would have put an end to the crisis and the Lords powers would have been intact. Either way the passing of the Parliament Bill ended the serious conflict between the Lords and the Commons as the Lords could no longer reject out right a Bill, they could merely delay it.
Why Did The Attempt To Reform The Constitution In 1910-11 Succeed?
In 1911 the Liberal Government passed the Parliament Bill through both the Commons and the House of Lords. The bill reduced the powers of the Lords to such an extent that they could only reject a bill twice before it automatically became law. This was a huge progression in how Britain was governed. More than ever the country was democratic and the reforms of the democratically appointed ministers could only be delayed. This change in constitution took place over the years of 1910 and 1911, but the main question that remained was why did the Lords pass a bill that would all but cripple their political powers? There was a clear sequence of events that led up to the Lords letting the bill pass through and thus reducing their powers.
Perhaps the main reason that the Liberals were able to reform the constitution was the fact that they had a very powerful leadership. Asquith and Lloyd George were both superb public speakers. Lloyd George especially was a very strong speaker who was full of ideas, he knew how to put his ideas in to practice. He was a clever man and alongside Asquith made the Liberal party look the stronger of the two. The Liberal party had united and were together with the vision of a common goal. On the other hand, Balfour didn’t come across as a great leader and there appeared to be a division in the Conservative party, more so than ever when the House of Lords split over the ‘Peoples Budget’ in 1911.
The Conservatives in 1911 were split as whether or not to pass the Parliament Bill through the House of Lords. They knew the Lords powers would be reduced if they did pass through the Bill, but if they did not they would face the introduction of 500 new liberal peers. Balfour failed to unite his party and the Lords split into three groups. The ‘Hedgers’, the ‘Ditchers’ and the ‘Rats’. The Ditchers were totally opposed to the Bill, the Hedgers thought it best that their powers be cut than to lost their majority, the Rats however few and far between were in favour of the bill. It was this split that led to the Parliament Bill pass through the Lords in 1911, 131 votes to 114. Many of the Lords abstained from voting.
It was the involvement of the Monarchy that led to the split though. In the midst of constitutional crisis in 1910, the Commons passed the Parliament Bill, the Lords countered and passed the infamous ‘Peoples Budget’ the next day. The move to allow the budget was not good enough for Asquith and Lloyd George though as Asquith tried to persuade King Edward VII to create 250 new Liberal Peers to give the Liberals the majority in the House of Lords. King Edward agreed but declared that it depended on the out come of a general election; what would be the second of the year. When Edward died suddenly in May 1910 the new king, George V didn’t want a major constitutional crisis so early on in his reign so tried to organise a Constitutional Conference. The Liberals and the Conservatives could not agree and so the problem went to the General Election first proposed by Edward VII before his untimely death. The Liberals won the election, once again with the help of Labour and the Irish Nationalists and stayed in power.
The success here though depended on Labour and the Irish Nationalists, the gap in the majority between the Conservatives and the Liberals had shrunk dramatically in the last three elections and now held an equal number of seats. Without Labour and the Irish Nationalists the Conservatives may well have won the election, gained control and the whole reform of the constitution would have been scrapped or at least delayed for a substantial period of time. This throws into doubt the claim that the Liberals had a much stronger leadership than their counterparts as the Conservatives had clawed back a large number of seats since 1906. However the fact that the Liberals kept control shows that the people voted in favour of reform.
The fact that people wanted reform must have been the main reason behind George V proclaiming that if the Parliament Bill did not go through the Lords then he would have no choice but to create up to 500 new Liberal peers. This left the Conservative party with a dilemma of epic proportions. Do they give into the threat of King George or run the risk of the introduction of 500 new peers and see their majority in the Lords disappear. It can be argued that they were left with no choice but to pass the bill, they were put into a corner by King George and it was a case of the Lords voting for what would be less damaging over a long period of time. It wouldn’t be so disastrous to lose some power in the lords if it meant they kept their majority. The Conservatives knew that having a liberal majority in both the Commons and the Lords would leave the country open for more radical reforms and perhaps a greater sense of socialism.
What started the ball rolling in the first place was the budget of 1909, labelled the ‘People’s Budget’. The had the Conservatives reeling. The seeds of socialism were being sown in the budget as Lloyd George wanted to introduce higher taxes for the land owners and the wealthy. It served as a catalyst for constitutional crisis. The fact that the Lords rejected the budget meant the question of ‘how much power should the lords have?’ was raised. The whole constitution had become stale and was in need of change, there should have no way that the Lords could veto the Budget, if all the Lords were democratically selected then maybe, but the fact that at the time about 550 of the Lords were hereditary meant they should have very little power, if any. It could be this reason that first Edward VII and George V threatened to introduce new liberal peers. There was no other way for the Liberals to make the system more democratic and fair.
From the events highlighted above, the main reason behind the attempt to reform the constitution succeeding in 1910-11 was the involvement and intervention of the monarchy. Had the monarchy not interfered in the debate then the constitutional crisis may have continued for a substantial period of time. The monarchy like stated earlier, put the Lords and the Conservatives as a whole into a corner. They had very little choice in the end but to pass the Parliament Bill. The Liberals did very well in getting the monarchy involved and perhaps for deliberately antagonising the Conservatives with bills they knew the Lords would reject, finally culminating in the 1909 Budget. Whether or not it was all a plan or conspiracy it will never be known, but the passing of the Parliament Act left the Conservative party both defeated and divided, in the words of Ewen Green ‘Having entered the fray in 1909 with enthusiasm and high hopes, the Conservative party emerged defeated and in disarray,’