The Conservatives split

Parliament reconvened in February 1911 and the Parliament Bill was reintroduced. After much wrangling it finally passed its third reading in the Commons on 15 May, but when the Bill reached the Lords it was subjected to a barrage of amendments.

The Government deemed the amendments to be unacceptable and asked King George V to use his prerogative in order to create hundreds of Liberal Members of the Lords, a prospect Asquith relayed to Balfour and Marquess Lansdowne, leader of the Conservatives in the Lords.

The "diehards"

The Conservative Party split in response. Balfour and Lansdowne believed there was little option but to pass the Bill, while a number of Conservative "diehards" in both Houses, led by the Earl of Halsbury, thought the Liberals were bluffing.

When Asquith informed the Commons in July 1911 the Government was not willing to accept the Lords' amendments and intended to push the Parliament Bill through in its original form, the Commons Speaker was forced to adjourn the House - so extraordinary were the interventions from Members.

Cheered by his own side, the opposition benches chanted "traitor, traitor, traitor" as Asquith entered. For half an hour he stood at the box as the Commons' Speaker appealed for the usual courtesies. Conservatives, led by Lord Hugh Cecil and FE Smith, according to one account, "behaved like mad baboons" as they screamed insults at the Prime Minister.

In the Lords

Although George V reluctantly agreed to create additional Liberal Members of the Lords (a list had been prepared), he asked for the Lords to have the opportunity to debate the Commons' counter-amendments first.

Members of the Lords debated the counter-amendments on 9 and 10 August 1911, but when Viscount Morley announced that in the event of the Parliament Bill being defeated the King would create a sufficient number of Members of the Lords to guard against a fresh defeat of the Bill, it had the desired effect.

When the debate, conducted during a heat wave, concluded, the Bill was passed by 131 votes to 114. Those voting for the Bill included 37 Conservative Members and 13 bishops, who did not normally vote.

Biographies

You can access biographies of

George V
Herbert Asquith
Arthur Balfour
Earl of Halsbury
Lord Hugh Cecil
Viscount Morley

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Glossary link

Related information

Historic Hansard

Parliament Bill passes its third reading in the Commons

A stormy Commons session

Lords passes the Parliament Bill

Did you know?

"Lords Spiritual" are bishops who sit in the House of Lords.