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"Mr Balfour's poodle"?

From the moment the Liberals won a landslide victory at the 1906 general election a clash between the elected House of Commons and the unelected House of Lords became more likely.

In the Commons the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, had 377 Members while the Conservatives had only 278; but in the Conservative-dominated Lords only 88 Members of the Lords out of 602 defined themselves as Liberals. With the new Government committed to a radical agenda of Irish home rule and social reform, it was likely the Upper House would seek to block certain pieces of legislation.

The Liberal MP David Lloyd George mocked Members of the Lords as "Five hundred men, accidently chosen from among the ranks of the unemployed".

When a Conservative backbencher defended the Lords as the "watchdog of the constitution", Lloyd George quipped that it was in fact "Mr Balfour's poodle" (Arthur Balfour was Conservative leader in the Commons).

As the Parliament progressed the Lords was selective in which Bills it chose to block - for example the Education Bill of 1906 and the Licensing Bill of 1908 - while Campbell-Bannerman prepared plans for restricting the veto of Members of the Lords.

1909 Budget

Matters reached a head in 1909 when the new prime minister Asquith and Lloyd George, the Chancellor, unveiled a radical Budget which proposed an increase in death, licensing and tobacco duties, a petrol tax, motor car licences and a differential rate of income tax on earned and unearned income. The most controversial provisions, however, were those for taxing large landowners, many of whom sat on the Conservative benches in the Commons and Lords.

Following bitter exchanges the Budget passed its third reading in the Commons on 25 November. Five days later it was rejected by the Lords. Although Members of the Lords were entitled to amend Money Bills, defeating a Budget went against parliamentary precedent.

Related information

Historic Hansard

Lords rejection of 1909 Budget

Lloyd George's speech referring to the House of Lords as Balfour's poodle


You can access biographies of

Henry Campbell-Bannerman
David Lloyd George
Arthur Balfour

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.

Also within Living Heritage

Find out more about Lloyd George's People's Budget in our segment on the Changing House: The Life Peerages Act 1958

Glossary link