Constitutional crisis

The Government - now led by Herbert Asquith following the death of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1908 - called an immediate general election after the defeat of its Budget. Asquith declared that "the will of the people...must within the lifetime of a single Parliament, be made effective".

The verdict of the election, however, was inconclusive. The Conservatives made substantial gains and the Liberals depended on the support of Labour and Irish Nationalist MPs (eager to see Irish home rule) to continue in government. The Lords, meanwhile, took the view that the Budget now had a popular mandate and passed it in April 1910.

The Parliament Bill

Almost immediately the Government introduced its Parliament Bill, which proposed that:

  • the Lords' veto on finance bills be abolished
  • other Bills passed by the Commons in three successive sessions of Parliament should become law even if rejected by the Lords, and
  • the maximum duration of a Parliament should be five years instead of seven.

The Bill also hinted at a wider reform of the Second Chamber. Realising the Bill stood little chance of being endorsed by Members of the Lords, the Government warned that it might become necessary to advise King Edward VII to create hundreds of new Members in order to ensure its success.

Constitutional conference

Edward VII died suddenly on 6 May 1910. Wishing to avoid a constitutional crisis so early in the reign of King George V, a constitutional conference was convened in June to find a compromise. Discussions continued until November and despite some progress on the prospect of a Conservative/Liberal coalition and an agreed reform of the powers of the Lords, the conference failed.

The Government decided to hold a second general election on the Lords issue. The election in December 1910, however, resulted in little change, with the Liberals and Conservatives both winning 272 seats.

Did you know?

The Liberal Government of 1906-10 threatened to create hundreds of new Members of the Lords in order to pass its Parliament Bill.

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Herbert Asquith
Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Edward VII
George V

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.