Victorian ReformsReforms Act
Victoria’s reign (1827-1901) was an age of important reforms in the political and social fields.
The three Reform Acts:
* (1832) First Act abolished rotten boroughs, redistributed seats on a more equitable basis in the counties, and extended the right to vote to any man owning a household worth £10. For many conservatives, the effect of this act was revolutionary.
* (1867) Reform Act extended the right to vote to all settled male tenants (the electors were two millions in England and Wales).
* (1884) The Act and the 1885 Redistribution Act tripled the electorate again, giving the right to vote to most agricultural labourers.
Women weren’t granted voting rights until the Act of 1918, which enfranchised all men over 21 and women over 30. This discrimination was eliminated in 1928 by the Equal Franchise Act which granted the right to vote to all adult women.
The factory act
The Factory Act (1833) prevented children from being employed more than 48 hours a week and no person under eighteen could work more than 69 hours a week. Adult workers, however, continued to work long hours and remained unprotected by the State until 1847, when the Ten Hours’ Act limited the working hours to ten a day for all workers.
In 1862 the Mines Act banned women and children under 10 from working in mines.
Poor law amendement act
The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) refused outdoor relief to those people who could not support themselves by admitting them to a workhouse. However the life there should be so unpleasant and inhuman to make the condition of industrial labour attractive. The machinery of the Poor Law Commission introduced an administrative revolution because it established a central body that wasn’t under parliamentary control; it had wide powers to establish local administrative units; supervise the work of locally elected guardians; make regulations for the general administration of relief.
Commissioners followed the principle of “less eligibility”(workhouse conditions should be made less preferable than those of the lowest paid labourer); the prohibition of relief outside the workhouse; the segregation of different classes of poor people including the separation of married couples.
Repeal of the corn laws
Britain’s protectionism and fiscal policy seemed out-of-date, and a strong movement for complete freedom of trade asked for the abolition both of tariffs on imports an exports and the repeal of the Corn Laws, which had been imposed after the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and had kept the price of corn higher than necessary in order to protect the interest of British farmers and landowners.
It was the Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel (1788-1850) who was forced by the scarcity of food and the Irish potato famine to repeal the Corn Laws and thus betray his party of landowners.
The step was taken in 1846 and, as a result, Peel had to resign.
Social ReformsThe Sanitary Act (1866) obliged local authorities to improve local conditions by the provision of sewers, water and street cleaning. The Act enforced the connection of all houses to a new main sewer; it set definite limits for the use of cellars as living rooms, and established the definition of overcrowding. In 1870 the Elementary Education Act recognised the need for general primary schooling. In 1872 the Ballot Act secured secret vote at elections. The Emancipation of Religious Sects (1871) allowed Catholics to hold government jobs and to enter Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
The Trade Union Act (1882) recognised unions as legal bodies with the right to own property and funds and to conduct strikes. The Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898) introduced sobriety as a character-reform. The Licensing Act (1872):
* gave to the magistrates the power to issue licenses to public houses and to close down some of them.
* public houses had to close in towns at midnight and at 11 p.m. in the countryside, so that agricultural labourers could walk home and arrive before midnight.
* the adulteration of beer was made illegal.