To what extent did the powers of the government in Britain increase during the First World War?

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It was the Defence of the Realm Act, introduced in August 1914, which enhanced the powers of the British government during the First World War. This growth in power really was considerable: the Act was consolidated in November 1914 and extended another three times over the course of the war. Historians have argued that this law would never have been passed in peace-time Britain because it was so authoritarian in nature and intruded on a number of personal freedoms which had existed before the outbreak of war.

Here are a few of its key powers:

  • people could only keep homing pigeons if they had a government permit
  • controls were introduced on the sale alcohol, including the 'No Treating Order' which made it illegal to buy a drink for someone else
  • shops had to close by 8 pm
  • local councils were allowed to seize land that was not in use and grow crops in it to increase food production.

On the whole, British people appear to have accepted this legislation as being necessary during the war but the government did prosecute anybody who broke it. These were generally accidental in nature. The government repealed this legislation after the war ended but a similar law was enacted during the Second World War. 

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