13 November 2018

Lest We Forget

Armistice Day and Remembrance Day on 11 November 2018 not only prompts us to remember and honour those who sacrificed their lives in war but also provides us with an opportunity to look back on the impact that the end of the war had on the laws that were subsequently passed and which fundamentally changed the way that England and Wales were governed thereafter.

In February 1918, some months prior to the end of the First World War, the Representation of People Act was passed ("the 1918 Act"). The 1918 Act was viewed to be necessary due to the fact that millions of returning soldiers were not entitled to vote because they did not satisfy the property related qualifications that were in place.

Before 1867 ownership rather than occupation was a requirement for men to have a right to vote and extremely few working class men owned property. The Representation of People Act 1867, also known as The Second Reform Act 1867, gave the right to vote to working class men for the first time, although certain property related qualifications still applied. The Second Reform Act 1867 granted the right to vote to male occupiers in the boroughs (people who rented properties rather than owned them) including lodgers, provided that they paid rent of £10.00 a year or more and it also reduced the property owning threshold in the counties which meant for the first time some agricultural landowners and tenants with just very small amounts of land were able to vote.

The right to vote was still restricted to male adults over the age of 21.

The 1918 Act was significant because it abolished almost all property related qualifications for men and granted all men aged 21 years or older (and men on military or naval service, from the age of 19), a right to vote. In addition, the 1918 Act also granted some women aged 30 years or older, who met certain property related qualifications, the right to vote.

Women of 30 years or older were only eligible to vote if they were: -

  1. Registered property occupiers or were married to a registered property occupier of land or premises with an annual rateable value greater than £5.00; or
  2. Registered occupiers of a dwelling house or married to a registered occupier of a dwelling house and who were not subject to any legal incapacity; or
  3. Graduates voting in university constituencies, being graduates of universities that conferred degrees on women or women who qualified for degrees in universities that did not confer degrees on women.

The effect of the 1918 Act tripled the size of the electorate in the UK from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. Some 5.6 million men and approximately 8.4 million women became eligible to vote in 1918.

The age limit of 30 for women was imposed purely to avoid there being a larger number of women able to vote than men, due to the loss of men in the war.

The 1918 Act also introduced the present system of holding general elections on one day and brought in the annual electoral register. Further the 1918 Act also stipulated that women were for the first time allowed to sit in the House of Commons.

Four years later that the law was changed to enable a husband and wife to inherit each other's property. The Law of Property Act 1922 not only enabled a husband and wife to inherit each other's property, but also granted them equal rights to inherit property of intestate children. It was not until 1926 women were allowed to hold and dispose of property on the same terms as men.

Then ten years later the Representation of People (Equal Franchise Act) 1928 gave all women the right to vote on the same terms as men giving all adults aged 21 or older the right to vote.

Jacqueline is a Senior Associate in our Residential Property team.

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