Representation of the People Act 1948

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Representation of the People Act 1948
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Long title An Act to amend the law relating to parliamentary and local government elections and to corrupt and illegal practices, and for purposes connected therewith.
Citation 11 & 12 Geo. 6 c. 65
Introduced by James Chuter Ede
Territorial extentUnited Kingdom
Royal assent 30 July 1948
Status: Repealed

The Representation of the People Act 1948 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that altered the law relating to parliamentary and local elections. It is noteworthy for abolishing plural voting, including by the abolition of the twelve separate university constituencies; and for again increasing the number of members overall, in this case to 613.

An act of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature). Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. It is also comparable to an Act of Congress in the United States.

Parliament of the United Kingdom supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, or Westminster Parliament, and domestically simply as Parliament, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.

Plural voting is the practice whereby one person might be able to vote multiple times in an election. It is not to be confused with a plurality voting system which does not necessarily involve plural voting. Weighted voting is a generalisation of plural voting.


Part I: Parliamentary Franchise and its Exercise

Part I of the Act declared that in future the United Kingdom would be divided into single-member borough constituencies and county constituencies. These terms replaced the former designations of parliamentary borough/division of a parliamentary borough and parliamentary county/division of a parliamentary county (in Scotland "burgh constituencies" replaced parliamentary burghs). There were to be 613 such constituencies, in place of the 591 under previous legislation.

These were to be the only constituencies, and the Act thus abolished the university constituencies; thus graduates of universities (about 7% of the electorate) [1] no longer had the right to vote in two constituencies. Constituencies which had been represented by more than one MP were also abolished. [2] [3]

A university constituency is a constituency, used in elections to a legislature, that represents the members of one or more universities rather than residents of a geographical area. University constituencies may or may not involve plural voting, in which some voters are eligible to vote in both a university constituency and a geographical constituency.

Persons eligible to vote were to be British subjects of "full age" (21 years) and "not subject to any legal incapacity to vote", provided that they were registered to vote in the constituency. Each voter was only permitted to cast a single vote in one constituency, even if for some reason they were registered in more than one. The arrangements which had given plural votes to electors who met a property qualification because of their business or shop premises were abolished.

Each constituency was to have an electoral registration officer, who was to compile the electoral register. In England and Wales, this officer was the clerk of the appropriate county or borough council; in Scotland, it was the assessor[ clarification needed ] of a county or large burgh; and in Northern Ireland it was the town clerk of the county borough of Belfast or the secretary of the county council. An electoral register was to be published in Spring and Autumn of each year.

England and Wales Administrative jurisdiction within the United Kingdom

England and Wales is a legal jurisdiction covering England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom. ’England and Wales’ forms the constitutional successor to the former Kingdom of England and follows a single legal system, known as English law.

A county council is the elected administrative body governing an area known as a county. This term has slightly different meanings in different countries.

Municipal boroughs were a type of local government district which existed in England and Wales between 1835 and 1974, in Northern Ireland from 1840 to 1973 and in the Republic of Ireland from 1840 to 2002. Broadly similar structures existed in Scotland from 1833 to 1975 with the reform of royal burghs and creation of police burghs.

Qualifications for an elector to be registered were set out, with residence in the constituency on a specified date being the principal requirement. There was an additional "service qualification" for members of the armed forces and other persons outside the state on diplomatic or other Crown business, and their spouses. Electors were to vote in person, except in exceptional circumstances in which a proxy vote might be permitted.

Each constituency was to be divided into polling districts by the registration officer, who was also to designate polling places within each district. Rules were laid down for the process: for instance each civil parish in an English or Welsh county constituency was to be a separate district. Where a group of thirty electors felt that they were not provided with a convenient polling place, they were entitled to petition the Secretary of State for a review.

Civil parish territorial designation and lowest tier of local government in England, UK

In England, a civil parish is a type of administrative parish used for local government, they are a territorial designation which is the lowest tier of local government below districts and counties, or their combined form, the unitary authority. Civil parishes can trace their origin to the ancient system of ecclesiastical parishes which historically played a role in both civil and ecclesiastical administration; civil and religious parishes were formally split into two types in the 19th century and are now entirely separate. The unit was devised and rolled out across England in the 1860s.

The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals, ensured by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791). Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ensures the right to petition to the European Parliament. The right can be traced back to the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, the Bill of Rights 1689, the Petition of Right (1628), and Magna Carta (1215).

The procedures for recounts and for choosing the winning candidate by lot in the event of a tie were laid down. A candidate who received less than an eighth of the total number of votes cast would forfeit their monetary deposit.

Finally Part I dealt with the appointment and duties of the returning officer. In England and Wales these were to be either the high sheriff of a county, the sheriff of a county corporate, the mayor of a borough or the chairman of an urban district council, as appointed by the Home Secretary. In Scotland the returning officer was to be a sheriff of a local sheriffdom, and in Northern Ireland the under-sheriff of a county or county borough.

In various parliamentary systems, a returning officer is responsible for overseeing elections in one or more constituencies.

A high sheriff is a ceremonial officer for each shrieval county of England and Wales and Northern Ireland or the chief sheriff of a number of paid sheriffs in U.S. states who outranks and commands the others in their court-related functions. In Canada, the High Sheriff provides administrative services to the supreme and provincial courts.

A county corporate or corporate county was a type of subnational division used for local government in England, Ireland, and Wales.

Part II: General Provisions as to Local Government Franchise and its Exercise

The electorate for local elections was larger than that for parliamentary elections. Apart from those resident in the district, there was an additional "non-resident qualification" to vote where an owner or tenant occupied rateable land or premises therein of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds. The electoral registration officer appointed under Part I of the Act was also to compile a local government register, although the two registers could be combined, with the names of those persons registered only as local government electors marked. Electors were not permitted to be registered more than once in a single local government district, even if they occupied multiple premises. There was no prohibition on voting in different local authority areas, however.

Polling districts were to be delineated and polling places designated by the registration officer. In the absence of other arrangements these were to be identical to those used for parliamentary elections.

Part III: Corrupt and Illegal Practices and other Provisions as to Election Campaign

Part III of the Act set new limits for the expenses that candidates were permitted to pay their election agent. In a county constituency this was to be £450, plus 2d for each name in the electoral register; in borough constituencies it was to be £450 plus 1½d for each elector.

Among other restrictions, no supporter of a candidate was permitted to use a motor vehicle to bring an elector to the polls, or to loan or rent such a vehicle to an elector, unless the vehicle was first registered with the returning officer. There was to be a limit of one vehicle per 1,500 electors in a county constituency and 2,500 in a borough constituency. The broadcast of any programme relating to an election on a radio station other than one operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation was also prohibited. This prohibition extended to broadcasters outside the state.

Each candidate was allowed to send an election address to each elector post free, and was entitled to the use of a room in a publicly funded school in which to hold meetings.

Part IV: Special provisions as to local elections in England and Wales

Part IV altered the dates for the holding of local elections in England and Wales. County councillors were to be elected in the first week of April, and all other councillors in the first week of May. All borough elections were to be held on the same day, set by the Home Secretary. The date for other elections was to be set by the appropriate county council. The change of dates meant that the borough elections due in November 1948 were postponed until the following May. Mayors' and council chairmen's terms of office were extended until the first meeting held after the rescheduled elections.

The constitution of the London County Council was slightly altered: previously two councillors were elected for electoral divisions corresponding to each parliamentary constituency in the County of London, with an additional four for the City of London. With the reorganisation of constituencies in the county by the Act, the City lost its special position, being combined with Westminster in a single electoral division.

Part V: Special provisions as to local government elections in Scotland

The dates for holding local elections in Scotland was also altered:

County, district and burgh elections due in 1948 were postponed until 1949, and councillors due to retire were to continue in office. This also applied to county conveners, burgh provosts, honorary treasurers of burghs and chairmen of district councils.

Part VI: General

The final part of the Act listed the duties of the registration officer and established an appeals procedure for persons excluded from the register. It also allowed for funds to be made available for the registration process.

Number of constituencies

Schedule I set out the names, number and constitution of the constituencies, which replaced those created by the Representation of the People Act 1918 and Redistribution of Seats (Ireland) Act 1918. In a few counties where there had been an exceptional increase in the electorate since 1918, additional constituencies had been created for the 1945 general election by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944 as a temporary measure.


(parliamentary boroughs
+ county divisions)
(borough constituencies
+ county constituencies)
Bedfordshire 3 (0 + 3)4 (1 + 3)
Berkshire 4 (1 + 3)6 (2 + 4)
Buckinghamshire 3 (0 + 3)
(increased to 4 (0 + 4) in 1945)
5 (1 + 4)
Cambridgeshire 2 (1 + 1)2 (1 + 1)
Cheshire 14 (5 + 9)
(increased to 15 (5 + 10) in 1945)
15 (6 + 9)
Cornwall 5 (0 + 5)5 (0 + 5)
Cumberland 5 (1 + 4)4 (1 + 3)
Derbyshire 9 (1 + 8)10 (3 + 7)
Devon 11 (4 + 7)10 (4 + 6)
Dorset 4 (0 + 4)4 (1 + 3)
Durham 16 (5 + 11)18 (8 + 10)
Isle of Ely 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Essex 20 (12 + 8)
(increased to 26 (13 + 13) in 1945)
24 (16 + 8)
Gloucestershire 11 (7 + 4)12 (8 + 4)
Hampshire 11 (5 + 6)13 (8 + 5)
Herefordshire 2 (0 + 2)2 (0 + 2)
Hertfordshire 5 (0 + 5)
(increased to 6 (0 + 6) in 1945)
7 (1 + 6)
Huntingdonshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Kent 14 (3 + 11)
(increased to 16 (4 + 12) in 1945)
18 (6 + 12)
Lancashire 62 (44 + 18) [5]
(increased to 63 (45 + 18) in 1945)
64 (48 + 16)
Leicestershire 7 (3 + 4)8 (4 + 4)
Lincolnshire: Parts of Holland 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Lincolnshire: Parts of Lindsey 6 (4 + 2)6 (4 + 2)
Lincolnshire: Parts of Kesteven and Rutland 2 (0 + 2)2 (0 + 2)
County of London with the City of London 63 (63 + 0) [6] 43 (43 + 0)
Middlesex 17 (7 + 10)
(increased to 24 (18 + 6) in 1945)
28 (26 + 2)
Norfolk 6 (1 + 2) [7] 8 (2 + 6)
Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough 5 (1 + 4)5 (1 + 4)
Northumberland 10 (7 + 3)10 (7 + 3)
Nottinghamshire 9 (4 + 5)10 (4 + 6)
Oxfordshire 3 (1 + 2)3 (1 + 2)
Shropshire 4 (0 + 4)4 (0 + 4)
Somerset 7 (1 + 6)7 (1 + 6)
Staffordshire 18 (11 + 7)18 (12 + 6)
Suffolk 6 (1 + 5)5 (1 + 4)
Surrey 12 (5 + 7)
(increased to 14 (6 + 8) in 1945)
19 (9 + 10)
East Sussex 6 (2 + 4) [8] 7 (3 + 4)
West Sussex 2 (0 + 2)
(increased to 3 (0 + 3) in 1945)
4 (1 + 3)
Warwickshire 17 (13 + 4)
(increased to 20 (14 + 6) in 1945)
22 (16 + 6)
Westmorland 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Isle of Wight 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Wiltshire 5 (0 + 5)5 (1 + 4)
Worcestershire 6 (2 + 4)6 (3 + 3)
Yorkshire: East Riding 7 (4 + 3)6 (4 + 2)
Yorkshire: North Riding 7 (3 + 4)6 (2 + 4)
Yorkshire: West Riding 44 (25 + 19)45 (31 + 14)
York 1 (1 + 0)1 (1 + 0)

Wales and Monmouthshire

(parliamentary boroughs
+ county divisions)
(borough constituencies
+ county constituencies)
Anglesey 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Brecknockshire and Radnorshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Caernarvonshire See Carnarvonshire2 (0 + 2)
Carnarvonshire 2 (1 + 1)Renamed Caernarvonshire
Cardiganshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Carmarthenshire 2 (0 + 2)2 (0 + 2)
Denbighshire 2 (0 + 2)2 (0 + 2)
Flintshire 1 (0 + 1)2 (0 + 2)
Glamorganshire 16 (9 + 7)16 (9 + 7)
Merionethshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Monmouthshire 6 (1 + 5)6 (1 + 5)
Montgomeryshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Pembrokeshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)


County / counties1918
(Parliamentary burghs
+ county divisions)
(Burgh constituencies
+ county constituencies)
Aberdeenshire See Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire4 (2 + 2)
Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire 5 (2 + 3) [9] See Aberdeenshire and Angus and Kincardineshire
Angus and KincardineshireSee Forfarshire and Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire4 (2 + 2)
Argyll 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Ayrshire and Bute 4 (1 + 3)5 (0 + 5)
Banffshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Berwickshire and East Lothian See Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire1 (0 + 1)
Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire 1 (0 + 1)Renamed Berwickshire and East Lothian
Caithness and Sutherland 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Dumfriesshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Dunbartonshire 2 (1 + 1)2 (0 + 2)
Fife 4 (2 + 2)4 (2 + 2)
Forfarshire 4 (3 + 1)Renamed Angus, see Angus and Kincardineshire
Galloway (Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire)1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty 3 (0 + 3)3 (0 + 3)
Lanarkshire 22 (15 + 7)22 (16 + 6)
Linlithgowshire 1 (0 + 1)Renamed West Lothian
Midlothian and Peeblesshire 8 (6 + 2)8 (7 + 1)
Moray and Nairnshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Orkney and Zetland 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Perthshire and Kinross-shire 2 (0 + 2)2 (0 + 2)
Renfrewshire 4 (2 + 2)4 (2 + 2)
Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire 1 (0 + 1)1 (0 + 1)
Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire 3 (1 + 2)3 (1 + 2)
West Lothian See Linlithgowshire1 (0 + 1)

Northern Ireland

County / counties1918
(parliamentary boroughs
+ county divisions)
(borough constituencies
+ county constituencies)
Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone 20 (1 + 19)
Reduced to 8 (0 + 8) in 1920
8 (0 + 8)
County Borough of Belfast 9 (9 + 0)

Reduced to 4 (4 + 0) in 1920

4 (4 + 0)


  1. "From Magna Carta to universal suffrage, the 1000-year history of British democracy". The Telegraph. 2017-04-18. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  2. "Fact Sheet G1: The House of Commons and the right to vote" (PDF). House of Commons Information Office. August 2010. p. 5.
  3. Barnett, Hilaire; Jago, Robert (2011). Constitutional & Administrative Law (8 ed.). Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge. p. 344. ISBN   978-0-415-57881-3.
  4. "Landward" referred to areas outside a burgh. "Scottish Counties and Parishes: their history and boundaries on maps". National Library of Scotland . Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  5. Lancashire returned 65 MPs as Blackburn, Bolton, Oldham and Preston returned two members each.
  6. The County of London with the City of London returned 65 MPs as the City of London elected two members.
  7. Norfolk returned 7 MPs as Norwich returned two members.
  8. East Sussex returned 7 MPs as Brighton returned two members.
  9. The Kincardineshire burgh of Inverbervie was included in the Montrose District of Burghs in Forfarshire.

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