The BBC this morning was reporting that Mhairi Black, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, is, at the age of 20, ‘Britain’s youngest member of Parliament since 1667’. The problem with this is that it is incorrect by a wide margin.
Prior to the Parliamentary Elections Act 1695, those aged under 21 were disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons by, according to Sir Edward Coke, the law of Parliament. Coke, however, conceded that several had sat ‘by connivance’. A number who sat in Charles II’s Pensioner Parliament are said to have been 14 or 15 years of age. A clause of the 1695 Act strengthened the stringency of the law against the election of minors. The disqualification was extended to Scotland by the Union with Scotland Act 1706 and to Ireland by the Parliamentary Elections (Ireland) Act 1823. Despite these measures, the sitting of some minors ‘by connivance’ continued.
In the period from 1734 to 1832 some 81 Members were elected while under age, all bar one of them being allowed to take their seats. Among their number was Charles James Fox (pictured). As Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke recorded in The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790: II Members (1985):
“Charles James Fox was his father’s favourite child; caressed, adored, and spoilt; and treated as a man when he was little more than a boy. When only nineteen he was brought into Parliament for Midhurst by an arrangement between Lord Holland and Lord Montagu, patron of the borough. Following the line marked out for him by his father, he voted steadily with Government, and as a speaker became noted for his self-assurance and aggressiveness. In February 1770, a month after his twenty-first birthday, he was given a place at the Admiralty Board…’ (p. 455)
There are no instances of minors sitting after the Reform Act of 1832. Only in 2006, by the Electoral Administration Act, was the qualifying age for election to the House of Commons lowered (from 21 to 18 years), thus enabling those aged 18-20 years to seek to emulate Fox.
For other sources, see those cited in Philip Norton, ‘The Qualifying Age for Candidature in British Elections’, Public Law, Spring 1980, pp. 55-73.