An act of the British parliament in 1911 that enshrined that the people, as represented by the elected House of Commons, are the supreme rulers of the land, and their will cannot be thwarted indefinitely by the hereditary members of the House of Lords. It is one of the fundamental planks of the British constitution. A second Parliament Act in 1949 was forced through without the consent of the Lords, using the Parliament Act 1911 to amend itself; and the combination of them is now used as a last resort to assert the supremacy of the elected government.

The early 1900s was one of the great periods of social reform, under the Liberal government of prime minister Herbert Asquith and chancellor David Lloyd George. The Old Age Pension was introduced in 1908, and the "People's Budget" in 1909 proposed to pay for it by a progressive redistribution of wealth, with higher taxes on the rich. The Conservatives resolutely opposed this threat to their privileges, and blocked it, because they controlled the House of Lords with a large majority.

Asquith won a general election in 1910, and said he would go to the King with advice to create hundreds of new Liberal peers. George V would certainly have complied, but the Conservatives caved in to the threat and allowed the Parliament Act 1911 to be passed.

It had three main provisions. The Lords were deprived of the right to block money bills; they could delay them for a month. Their power to block other bills was limited to three sessions of parliament; if they had continued to reject legislation that the Commons had repeatedly passed, the Act could be invoked to make it law without their consent. Finally, the duration of parliaments was reduced from seven to five years.

The 1911 Act was used only three times to gain Royal Assent to a bill: the Government of Ireland Act 1914, the Welsh Church Act 1914, and the Parliament Act 1949.

In 1949 Clement Attlee's Labour government determined to restrict the power of the House of Lords still further by reducing the number of times they could block a bill: from three parliamentary sessions to two. The Lords refused to accept this diminution of their power, and blocked it: three times in succession. Attlee then invoked the Parliament Act 1911, and forced through the new Parliament Act.

Even with the removal of most of the hereditary peers in the reforms of the 1990s, the Lords still has a Conservative or at least conservative majority, and has repeatedly blocked legislation passed by the Commons. The most controversial of these has been the Hunting Act 2004, finally banning fox hunting and other cruel acts against wild mammals. This was brought into law using the 1949 Act to override the Lords. The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance has challenged the validity of the law up to the highest courts, alleging that the passing of the Parliament Act 1949 was itself unconstitutional; but judgements in January and February 2005 have gone against it.

There are certain limits to the powers of the Commons too. They can't force through bills introduced in the Lords; nor can they increase the length of parliaments from the current five years, without the consent of the Lords.

Under the 1949 Act, Royal Assent has been given to four bills without the consent of the Lords, enacting the War Crimes Act 1991, European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, and Hunting Act 2004. On several other occasions where Parliament Act procedures have been set in train, the process has been settled by compromise, or otherwise not completed.

By way of comparison, the supremacy of Parliament as a whole over the Monarchy was established by the Bill of Rights 1689, after King James II was removed and replaced by William and Mary. The supremacy of the people to choose their government was established by the radical reformer John Wilkes, who though convicted for sedition and libel against the King and Government, was elected as MP for Middlesex four times in succession in 1768-9, and in every case disbarred by the House of Commons from joining them: he was reelected in 1774 and took his seat.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/L1911.htm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4024923.stm
http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-00675.pdf

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