The Reform Acts and representative democracy

For centuries, Parliament consisted of a small landowning elite whose priorities were their own power and prosperity.

From the 18th century onwards, the social changes brought about by industrial growth and the decline of agriculture meant that the demographic landscape of Britain was altered.

With these changes came demands from the working and middle classes for equality and fairness. It took many years for a more representative Parliament to be achieved.


The ruling elite was challenged by calls for parliamentary reform and changes in legislation led to a fairer, more democratic system

Key dates

Key dates

Follow the dates and legislation that mark milestones in 19th century parliamentary reform

Contemporary context

Contemporary context

Is today's Parliament representative of the electorate?

Further your research

Further your research

Take your parliamentary reform research further with additional material and Parliamentary sources

From the Parliamentary Collections

Explore the Parliamentary Collections for documents and images about John Wilkes and The Great Reform Act

Related information

Find out about the role of the House of Commons and current business in the chamber

Listen to a tour of the Commons Chamber given by a visitors' assistant at the Houses of Parliament

Also within Living Heritage