We use cookies to help us make this website better for our visitors. More about how we use cookies.

Lowering the voting age to 16:

A glance at some of the key moments in the history of Parliament in England.

Note: Throughout, Parliament refers to Parliament at Westminster.

13th Century

From the 13th Century, two knights are elected from each county by the county courts. Soon after, they are joined by two representatives from the boroughs.

This is not obligatory. As representation in Parliament is originally considered a burden rather than a blessing, not every local community is willing to pay for MPs to go to Westminster.

This results in gross inequalities in different parts of the country.


Owners of freehold land worth over 40 shillings a year can vote in county elections.


Wales is now represented in Parliament.


Scotland is now represented in Parliament.


Ireland is now represented in Parliament.

1430 - 1832

Some monarchs extended the franchise in some boroughs, in attempts to influence the make-up of Parliament.

However, the qualification to vote is often arbitrary.

In some boroughs, every male head of a household is eligible to vote, while in others it is restricted to those that own property or pay local taxes.

Around one in five adult men can vote.


The Great Reform Act cleans up corruption in the voting system. Every man who pays more than £10 a year in rates or rent can now vote.

However, this only applies to the boroughs.

The 40-Shilling freehold (and a host of other possible qualifications) still applies in the counties.

The Act raises the number of voters by 38 per cent. 720,784 can now vote, in a population of over 10,000,000 of voting age.


The Second Reform Act extends the franchise. Although this enables over two and a half million men to vote, it only applies to the boroughs.

People cannot vote if they claimed Poor Relief in the qualifying period.


The secret ballot is introduced. Before this, the entire community would be watching to see how people voted on polling day.


The Third Reform Act equalises voting restrictions between counties and boroughs.

Over 50 per cent of adult men can now vote.

Most British men over 21 may vote, if they have lived in the same place for a year.

1918, February

The Representation of the People Act gives the vote to women over the age of 30. It also reduces the time that voters must live in the same place from one year to six months.

1918, 21 November

A Bill is passed allowing women to be Members of Parliament.


The Equal Franchise Act lowers the voting age for women to 21.


The voting age for both men and women is lowered to 18. This takes effect from 1970.

1998, 1 July

Dr Ashok Kumar introduces a Ten Minute Rule bill. The debate is about empowering local authorities to consult with young people about services designed for their benefit.

2001, 8 December

Matthew Green MP introduces the bill Elections (Entitlement to Vote At Age 16) under the Ten Minute Rule. The bill is allocated a date for a second reading but runs out of parliamentary time.

2002,23 January

Prime Minister Tony Blair tells Mps, 'I am not sure that we would always want 16-year-olds to do all the things they can do. I think that it [the voting age] should remain as it is'.

2002, 27 November

Lord Lucus introduces the bill Voting Age (Reduction to 16) in the House of Lords.

2003, 9 January

The bill Voting Age (Reduction to 16) has its second reading in the House of Lords.

2003, 27 February

The Electoral Commission announces a review of the minimum age for voting and candidacy in UK public elections.

2003, Summer

A consultation takes place as part of the Electoral Commission's review of the minimum voting age.

2004, 19 April

The Electoral Commission submits its final report to the government. It recommends that the age at which someone can become an MP (the 'candidacy' age) is lowered to 18. However, it does not recommend lowering the voting age to 16, saying there is not enough public support for it.


Printable version of this page. Printable version