Over many centuries Parliament has ensured that the nation’s armed forces have been supplied with enough people. One of Parliament’s oldest functions has been to authorise taxation for war and defence. Every year since 1689 it has voted funds for the upkeep of the armed forces.
As well as providing the money, Parliament has sometimes supported the government’s need to reinforce the fighting forces with extra recruits. From the 18th century Parliament passed laws to ensure that adequate manpower was also available for home defence.
During the two world wars of the 20th century, the nation faced unprecedented military challenges and the threat of imminent invasion.
Only by compelling people to enlist could Britain’s leaders be sure that the largest possible numbers of servicemen and women were available to fight.
Just as importantly, it meant the mobilisation of the civilian population at home on a scale that could never be imagined in peacetime.
Though measures of this kind were essentially the work of the government and its advisers, Parliament’s role in authorising them has been profoundly important.
In passing laws compelling people to take on the burdens and sacrifices of war, it has acted – very often in times of grave crisis – out of the highest concern for the nation’s well-being and preservation.