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Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939

What did the Act achieve?

Passed just before the outbreak of WWII, as a response to Germany and the Soviet Union's non-aggression pact, this Act gave the Government special powers to take almost any action necessary to carry out the war successfully. This meant that these powers controlled many aspects of everyday life during the war – including the blackout and food rationing.

The laws which the Act allowed the Government to pass were known as ‘defence regulations', and covered a huge range of activities from seizing property and entering premises to amending enactments. This meant that the Act allowed the Government to bypass a lot of existing laws.

For example, it allowed the Government to carry out arrests which would not be legal in peacetime, and even give the death penalty for two crimes (breaking through roadblocks and looting). The Act was supposed to be in force for only a year but (using extensions) it actually stayed in force until 1964.