Reform Act

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In the United Kingdom, Reform Act is legislation concerning electoral matters. It is most commonly used for laws passed in the 19th century and early 20th century to enfranchise new groups of voters and to redistribute seats in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Reform Acts[edit]


The parliamentary franchise in the United Kingdom was expanded and made more uniform through a series of Reform Acts beginning with the Great Reform Act in 1832. Sources refer to up to six "Reform Acts", although the earlier three in 1832, 1867/8 and 1884 are better known by this name. Some other acts related to electoral matters also became known as Reform Acts. There are many other electoral reform acts in the United Kingdom that are not known by the name "Reform Act". Such legislation typically used the short title of Representation of the People Act, by which name the 1918, 1928 and other acts in the 20th century are better known.[1][2][note 1]

  • Reform Act 1832 (often called the "Great Reform Act" or "First Reform Act"), which applied to England and Wales and gave representation to previously underrepresented urban areas and extended the qualifications for voting.
  • Reform Act 1867 (also called the "Second Reform Act"), which widened the franchise and adjusted representation to be more equitable
  • Ballot Act 1872 (sometimes called the "Reform Act of 1872"), which introduced the secret ballot.
  • Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883 (sometimes called the "Reform Act of 1883"), which introduced campaign spending limits.
  • Reform Act 1884 (also called the "Third Reform Act"), which allowed people in counties to vote on the same basis as those in towns. Home ownership was the only qualification.
  • Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 (sometimes called the "Reform Act of 1885"), which split most multi-member constituencies into multiple single-member ones.
  • Reform Act 1918 (also called the "Fourth Reform Act"), which abolished property qualifications for men and introduced limited female suffrage, for women over the age of 30.
  • Reform Act 1928 (also called the "Fifth Reform Act"), which widened suffrage by giving women electoral equality with men.
  • Reform Act 1969 (also called the "Sixth Reform Act"), which lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.

Modern usage[edit]

The periodic redrawing of constituency boundaries is now dealt with by a permanent Boundary Commission in each part of the United Kingdom, rather than by a Reform Act.[3]

Some people in Britain, mostly associated with the Liberal Democrat political party, have called for a new "Great Reform Act" to introduce electoral changes they favour. These would include lowering the minimum voting age to 16 and introducing proportional representation.[4][5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See the info box at the bottom of the article for additional information.


  1. ^ Johnston, Neil (2021-02-01). "The History of the Parliamentary Franchise". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ For the narrative history see Llewellan Woodward, The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (2nd ed. 1961) and Asa Briggs, The Age of Improvement 1783-1867 (1959).
  3. ^ Johnston, Neil (2021-02-01). "Constituency boundary reviews and the number of MPs". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Stone, Greg (2009-07-30). "It's time for the next Great Reform Act". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-01-02.
  5. ^ Toynbee, Polly (2014-01-31). "Giving 16-year-olds the vote can be Labour's Great Reform Act". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-01-02.
  6. ^ "A new Great Reform Act is needed to limit the absurdities of our constitution". The Independent. 2015-05-06. Retrieved 2021-01-02.

Further reading[edit]

  • Briggs, Asa The Age of Improvement 1783-1867 (1959)
  • Woodward, Llewellan. The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (2nd ed. 1961)