Representation of the People Act 1981

The Representation of the People Act 1981 (c. 34) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It creates the provision for the automatic disqualification of an MP if they're imprisoned for over a year, leading to a by-election being held in their constituency.

Representation of the People Act
Long titleAn Act to disqualify certain persons for election to the House of Commons; to make changes in the timetable for parliamentary elections; and for connected purposes.
Citation1981 c. 34
Territorial extentUnited Kingdom
Royal assent2 July 1981
Status: Current legislation
Text of the Representation of the People Act 1981 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from

The Act is not to be confused with the Recall of MPs Act 2015, which allows constituents to sign a constituency-wide petition for the recall of an MP if they're imprisoned for a year or less. If 10% of constituents sign it, the MP is recalled and a by-election is held.[citation needed]

The text of the Act states that it provides:

  1. for the disqualification from membership of the House of Commons of any person who is detained anywhere in the British Islands or the Republic of Ireland (or who is unlawfully at large at any time when he would otherwise be detained) for more than a year for any offence,
  2. that the election or nomination of such persons shall be void, and
  3. that the seat of a Member who becomes so disqualified shall be vacated.


The Act was passed following the election to the Westminster Parliament of a hunger-striker, Bobby Sands, in the April 1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, while he was serving a long term of imprisonment.[citation needed]

As a result of the Act, following the death of Bobby Sands, other prisoners on hunger strike were unable to stand in the second 1981 by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.[citation needed]