Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was created on 1 January 1801, by the merger of the Kingdoms of
Great Britain and
Ireland under the
Acts of Union 1800. The principle of ministerial responsibility to the lower House did not develop until the 19th century—the House of Lords was superior to the House of Commons both in theory and in practice. Members of the House of Commons (MPs) were elected in an antiquated
electoral system, under which
constituencies of vastly different sizes existed. Thus, the borough of
Old Sarum, with seven voters, could elect two members, as could the borough of
Dunwich, which had almost completely disappeared into the sea due to land erosion.
Many small constituencies, known as pocket or
rotten boroughs, were controlled by members of the House of Lords, who could ensure the election of their relatives or supporters. During the reforms of the 19th century, beginning with the
Reform Act 1832, the electoral system for the House of Commons was progressively regularised. No longer dependent on the Lords for their seats, MPs grew more assertive.
The supremacy of the British House of Commons was established in the early 20th century. In 1909, the Commons passed the so-called "
People's Budget", which made numerous changes to the taxation system which were detrimental to wealthy landowners. The House of Lords, which consisted mostly of powerful landowners, rejected the Budget. On the basis of the Budget's popularity and the Lords' consequent unpopularity, the
Liberal Party narrowly won two general elections in 1910.
Using the result as a mandate, the Liberal Prime Minister,
Herbert Henry Asquith, introduced the Parliament Bill, which sought to restrict the powers of the House of Lords. (He did not reintroduce the land tax provision of the People's Budget.) When the Lords refused to pass the bill, Asquith countered with a promise extracted from the King in secret before the second general election of 1910 and requested the creation of several hundred Liberal peers, so as to erase the
Conservative majority in the House of Lords. In the face of such a threat, the House of Lords narrowly passed the bill.
Parliament Act 1911, as it became, prevented the Lords from blocking a
money bill (a bill dealing with taxation), and allowed them to delay any other bill for a maximum of three sessions (reduced to two sessions in 1949), after which it could become law over their objections. However, regardless of the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, the House of Lords has always retained the unrestricted power to veto any bill outright which attempts to extend the life of a parliament.
Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Government of Ireland Act 1920 created the parliaments of
Northern Ireland and
Southern Ireland and reduced the representation of both parts at Westminster. The number of Northern Ireland seats was increased again after the introduction of
direct rule in 1973. The
Irish Free State became independent in 1922, and in 1927 parliament was renamed the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Further reforms to the House of Lords were made in the 20th century. The
Life Peerages Act 1958 authorised the regular creation of
life peerage dignities. By the 1960s, the regular creation of hereditary peerage dignities had ceased; thereafter, almost all new peers were life peers only.
House of Lords Act 1999 removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the Upper House, although it made an exception for 92 of them to be elected to life-terms by the other hereditary peers, with by-elections upon their death. The House of Lords is now a chamber that is subordinate to the House of Commons. Additionally, the
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 led to abolition of the
judicial functions of the House of Lords with the creation of the new
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in October 2009.