Representation of the People Act 1918

The Representation of the People Act 1918 was an Act of Parliament passed to reform the electoral system in Great Britain and Ireland. It is sometimes known as the Fourth Reform Act.[1] The Act extended the franchise in parliamentary elections, also known as the right to vote, to men aged 21 and over, whether or not they owned property, and to women aged 30 and over who owned property with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands did.[2][3] At the same time, it extended the local government franchise to include women aged 21 and over on the same terms as men.[4]

As a result of the Act, the male electorate was extended by 5.2 million[2] to 12.9 million.[5] The female electorate was 8.5 million.[6][3] The Act also created new electoral arrangements, including making residence in a specific constituency the basis of the right to vote, institutionalising the first-past-the-post method of election, and rejecting proportional representation.[7]

It was not until the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 that women gained electoral equality. The 1928 Act gave the vote to women at age 21 regardless of any property qualification, which added another five million women to the electorate.[8]

After the Third Reform Act in 1884, 60% of male householders over the age of 21 had the vote.[9] But 40% did not. So millions of soldiers returning from World War I would still not have been entitled to vote in the long overdue general election. (The last election had been in December 1910. An election had been scheduled for 1916, but was postponed to a time after the war.)[citation needed]

The issue of a female right to vote first gathered momentum during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1865 the Kensington Society, a discussion group for middle-class women who were barred from higher education, met at the home of Indian scholar Charlotte Manning in Kensington. Following a discussion on suffrage, a small informal committee was formed to draft a petition and gather signatures, led by women including Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, and Elizabeth Garrett. In 1869, John Stuart Mill, published The Subjection of Women (1861, published 1869), one of the earliest works on this subject by a male author.[citation needed] In the book, Mill attempts to make a case for perfect equality.[10][11] He talks about the role of women in marriage and how it needed to be changed, and comments on three major facets of women's lives that he felt were hindering them: society and gender construction, education, and marriage. He argued that the oppression of women was one of the few remaining relics from ancient times, a set of prejudices that severely impeded the progress of humanity.[10][12] He agreed to present a petition to Parliament, provided it had at least 100 signatures, and the first version was drafted by his step-daughter, Helen Taylor.[13]

The Suffragettes and Suffragists had pushed for their right to be represented prior to the war, but felt too little had changed, despite violent agitation by the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Women's Social and Political Union.

The suffragist Millicent Fawcett suggests that the women's right to vote issue was the main reason for the Speaker's Conference in 1917. She protested at the resultant age limits while accepting that there were at the time one and a half million more women than men in the country and that even the friends of women's suffrage wanted to maintain a male majority.[14]

The debates in both Houses of Parliament saw majority cross-party unanimity. The Home Secretary, George Cave (Con) within the governing coalition introduced the Act:

This page was last edited on 24 June 2018, at 16:53 (UTC).
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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