Saturday, 8 January 2011

Centenaries of ground-breaking legislation

1911 was a bumper year for legislation, not all of it good. For instance, the Official Secrets Act of that year made it an offence to disclose any official information without lawful authority. This state of affairs, under which, as one wag put it, you could be gaoled for revealing what was on a ministry's canteen menu, continued until 1989.

On the other hand, the Shops Act 1911 introduced the early closing day affording some relief to put-upon shop assistants.

More significantly, the Parliament Act, which clipped the wings of the House of Lords, was passed. It was not an easy passage. The guillotine (or "kangaroo closure" as it was then called) was applied in the Commons and the Lords was only persuaded to pass it by the threat of the prime minister calling upon the king (George V, in the first year of his reign) to create enough new peers to ensure the Liberals got their way in the end.

And, of course, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill finally pushed through the National Insurance Act, from which some of us date the real start of the British Welfare State.

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