Henry VIII Clauses

The History of Parliament: Director's Blog

H is for the Henry VIII Clause, a nickname given to a provision in an Act of Parliament that delegates to a minister the power to modify the Act itself, or other Acts of Parliament. The delegation by Parliament of various powers to ministers – ‘delegated legislation’ or ‘secondary legislation’ – became common during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; indeed the increasing complexity of government business meant that it was unavoidable. For many, however, it was associated with the growth in a powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy, and the Henry VIII clause, apparently conferring a sovereign legislative authority on the government itself, was both symbolic of that growth and a dangerous step towards eroding the ability of Parliament to rein it in.

The tag seems first to have been referred to in a parliamentary debate by Lloyd George in the highly controversial National Insurance Bill in 1911. The nickname…

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