During the two world wars many of those not enlisted with the fighting forces were involved in other ways as civilians. In this area, too, Parliament had a wide-ranging impact on people’s daily lives and on the contributions they made to the war effort.
Defence of the realm
In 1914, in the opening weeks of the First World War, Parliament passed the Defence of the Realm Act. This enabled the government to impose all kinds of controls and restrictions on the British population in the interests of maintaining security and winning the war.
The day after war was declared in August 1914, a separate measure, the Aliens Restriction Act, was also hurried through Parliament, requiring foreign nationals to register with the police and if necessary to be deported. The Act was aimed chiefly at Germans and other enemy aliens living in Britain.
Parliament also approved crucial legislation drafted by the government to help maximise the supply of munitions to the war zones. Strike action in the munitions industry was made illegal by the Munitions Act of 1915.
In 1916 another Act introduced British Summer Time, allowing longer working days in factories during the summer months.
As war loomed again in August 1939, Parliament passed the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act which allowed the government to issue whatever controls and regulations it felt were necessary to pursue the war effectively on the Home Front.
Its provisions were extended by a further Act in 1940, which contained wide-ranging powers.
These laws included provision for punishment, detention without trial, and for the requisitioning of land and property for military use.
Detailed defence regulations were also issued under these Acts, including the establishment in 1940 of the Local Defence Volunteers, better known as the Home Guard.
Other regulations covered areas which affected practically everyone such as the blackout, air raid procedures, and food rationing.