Sir Robert Peel was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He entered Parliament in 1809, when he was only 21 years old. By the time he became Prime Minister for the first time he had long experience of Parliament and he had held various important Government posts including Under-secretary for War and the Colonies 1809, Chief- Secretary for Ireland 1812 and in 1822, he had become Home Secretary. As Home Secretary, Peel had introduced extensive criminal law and prison reform as well as instigating the formation of the Metropolitan Police. Police officers are still affectionately called "Bobbies" this term still recalls Robert Peel. By convention then British Ministers and Prime ministers could be members of either House of Parliament, (now the Prime Minister must be an elected member of the House of Commons). Ministers in the United Kingdom Government (unlike many other countries) have always had to be appointed from members of either House of Parliament.
Peel was first appointed Prime Minister in 1834 by William IV. The party under his leadership made a turn towards a more enlightened conservatism but this first administration was a minority government and did not last long, Peel resigned in 1835.
It was in Peel's second administration that his greatest achievements were realized. This began in 1841. A great deal of reforming legislation was passed during this government's term of office, including; The Mines Act 1842 which forbade the employment of women and children underground, The Factories Act 1844 limited hours for women and children and introduced rudimentary safety standards for machinery. These two formed the basis for the very good Health and Safety Legislation for the protection of workers that Britain has today. These two acts alienated many in Peel's own party for many businessmen and landowners were Conservative party members.
Peel's second administration also saw the implementation of income tax as a five year temporary measure, many would be happy if income tax had indeed disappeared after five years. Another tax reform was the rationalization, reduction and abolition of duties on goods.
Peel's downfall came with his attempts to repeal the Corn laws, which imposed tariffs on imported wheat so protecting British wheat against the importation of cheaper wheat, thus keeping the price of wheat artificially high. Potato blight had caused terrible famine in Ireland people were dying in their thousands and there was desperate need for more and cheaper food. The Corn Laws were repealed in June 1846 with help from the Whigs and Liberal Conservatives in the face of much opposition from landowners within his own party. On the same day Peel was defeated on another bill and resigned. He was never to hold high office again.
Sir Robert Peel was thrown from a horse on constitution Hill in London in 1850 and died three days later.
Peel's supporters, known as "Peelites", from within the Conservative party along with the Whigs eventually combined to form the Liberal Party. Sir Robert Peel's achievements as Prime Minister were many and varied, it is ironic that the one thing that the people of the United Kingdom remember him for is the instigation of the British police Force, which he did as Home Secretary not as Prime Minister. Few Workers would realize that Sir Robert Peel began the Health and Safety Legislation that protects them at work today, and it is perhaps his greatest achievement as Prime Minister.