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It amazes me that we still hear sedentary complaints from SNP Members about this decision, which will actually help to protect the character and beauty of Scotland.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): I believe that, as we speak, the Vatican is publishing a new encyclical letter from Pope Francis, which will contain a radical message about social justice and protection of the environment. When might the Government respond to that, and will the House have an opportunity to consider what the Holy Father has to say?

Chris Grayling: We would not normally make a direct governmental response to a statement from the Vatican, but in the next few days Members will have opportunities to raise those matters with both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Of course, the Pope is making important points. I remind the House that only this week the Secretary of State gave consent to an important new project in Swansea bay that will generate renewable electricity. A smart approach to renewables is the right approach, and it is what this Government stand for.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is well aware of the long-running scandal surrounding the way in which the Post Office has dealt with issues involving its Horizon software system. A large number of postmasters and postmistresses may have been wrongly prosecuted. May we have an urgent debate about that system, and about the potential injustices, both past and current?

Chris Grayling: I congratulate my hon. Friend on being such a persistent advocate of those who have been affected by that issue. It is of course a commercial matter between the sub-postmasters and the Post Office; they are independent contractors to it. None the less, he has played an important role in ensuring that the issue is firmly on the Post Office’s agenda, and I know he is doing so again next week. The issue was addressed by the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills in the previous Parliament, and it will only be through the persistence of Members such as he that any wrongs end up being righted.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): When we consider what we do about the refurbishment of this place, will we have an opportunity to discuss what happened between June 1941 and October 1950, when the House of Commons met in the House of Lords Chamber, a period when we won the war and also had the greatest Government ever—the 1945 Labour Government? Would that be one option we could consider?

Chris Grayling: I remind the hon. Gentleman that those decisions need to be taken by both Houses of Parliament, with great sensitivity and after extensive discussion. Trying to identify individual solutions now might be slightly premature.

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): In Colchester we have seen an unfortunate number of high-profile cases involving knives over the past few years. Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a debate about the importance that education institutions and charities can play in tackling the scourge of knife crime?

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Chris Grayling: I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend. Members may not be aware that notwithstanding his fantastic victory in Colchester at the election, the coalition is still alive and kicking there, because last week he and a Liberal Democrat councillor made a citizen’s arrest on a burglar. I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing that; he brings a new dimension to justice enforcement in this House. Knife crime is an issue that the Government take very seriously, and I encourage him to bring forward questions or an Adjournment debate to make his points about Colchester.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Before we embark on the essential inquiry into the terrible mistake of sending troops into Helmand in 2006 in the vain hope that not a shot would be fired, could we debate the need to replace the cumbersome Chilcot arrangement with the form of parliamentary inquiry commended by a Select Committee in 2009, which would ensure that truth was speedily delivered, not endlessly delayed?

Chris Grayling: When the Chilcot process is finally completed, there will be some serious lessons to be learned from it. I personally believe that we should make greater use of the skills that exist in this House. I cannot prejudge any post-mortem of the process, except to say that I have no doubt at all that it will take place.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): Over the past few weeks we have seen Caffé Nero blackmailed by a bunch of people—only 200 of them—into not taking milk from my constituents. Could we please find time to debate in the House the point that these organisations feel that they can get away with it and do what they want, and that there is no recourse to law or any other way of stopping it?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has made and put on the record an important point. It is not acceptable, in my mind, for companies to give in to pressure from a very small number of activists in a way that can damage the livelihood of people who may in reality have no connection at all to the issues being raised. What took place was utterly unacceptable, and I am glad that Caffé Nero has changed its mind, but I wish it had not taken that decision in the first place.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The NSPCC’s very disturbing report this week showed that there were an additional 8,500 recorded sexual offences against children to April 2014, yet prosecutions are actually falling. Following that, may we please have a debate in Government time to find out what is happening in this very important area?

Chris Grayling: This is an enormously important issue. I suspect that a significant part of the increase is because—in an entirely welcome way—more victims feel able to come forward to report crimes that would otherwise go unnoticed and unreported. That is good. It is of course of enormous importance that all authorities involved do everything they can to bring to justice the perpetrators of those crimes. Justice questions is on Tuesday next week, and I hope that the hon. Lady will raise the matter directly with my colleague the Secretary of State.

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Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday, Prime Minister’s questions were a revelation. I thought that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who stood in as Leader of the Opposition, did an extremely good job, but I am sure that all parts of the House will have been wowed by how the Chancellor of the Exchequer handled himself at the Dispatch Box as acting Prime Minister. He has been made First Secretary of State, but in next week’s business could the Leader of the House arrange for a short written statement confirming that if the Prime Minister were incapacitated the Chancellor would take over?

Chris Grayling: I will make sure the Prime Minister is aware of my hon. Friend’s question.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is well known for his preoccupation with the health of others.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Leader of the House may well be aware of the series of crises that have afflicted Barts Health NHS Trust in east London. It is the biggest trust in the country, serving 2.5 million people, and has been the subject of a series of damning Care Quality Commission reports. The situation is not sustainable—it simply cannot go on. May we have a statement on the Floor of the House from the Secretary of State for Health, or perhaps a debate, on that issue?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. A number of trusts have faced pressures and a number are doing an excellent job. Of course the Secretary of State and those who lead NHS England will always take careful cognisance of where problems and issues arise. I will make sure the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are drawn to the Secretary of State’s attention, and I will invite my right hon. Friend to respond to him accordingly.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): May we have a debate about looked-after children going missing from care? A concerning report from the London Assembly this week highlighted the fact that in Enfield 199 children have gone missing from care in the past five years, 109 of them for more than 24 hours. That puts those vulnerable children at risk of abuse, exploitation and radicalisation.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which links very much to the one made a moment ago by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). The disappearance of children from care can lead to all kinds of adverse consequences. I have talked to some of the victims of the sex abuse gangs, and one of the most striking things was the way in which in many parts of this country young people were able to walk into and out of care easily, without proper monitoring and without supervision. That simply should not happen, and every local authority has a duty of care to young people to ensure that they are not wandering the streets at night and cannot be preyed upon by gangs.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Speaker: As colleagues will know, I am almost invariably keen to get everyone in at business questions, but we do now need to speed up a bit. If account of that could be taken, it would be helpful.

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): I shall be incredibly brief, Mr Speaker. We have touched on the ending of the subsidy for renewable onshore wind. With a stroke of the pen, a written statement and a press release, £3 billion-worth of investment in Scotland is at risk. When will the Secretary of State come to this House to explain that disastrous decision?

Chris Grayling: The Secretary of State will be here next week, but we will continue to have a substantial wind sector in this country and we continue to support offshore wind. I do think there are limits to the amount our countryside can be covered by wind farms. That may be a point of difference between me and the hon. Gentleman, but I am happy to have that argument with the residents of Scotland, as well as the residents of England.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): The Davies commission on the future of airport expansion is due to report at the end of this month. Clearly, the Government will want to reflect on its recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made on the day the report is issued, followed by a full day’s debate, so that Members from across the Chamber can give their views and inform the thinking of the Government?

Chris Grayling: First, I can assure the House that the Secretary of State will, of course, be addressing these issues in this Chamber. I will take note of my hon. Friend’s request for a debate. This report will affect a number of colleagues. It will need to be considered carefully by Government and by this House, and I will do everything I can to make sure that happens.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): One week after the events at Harwich, in an unreported and undocumented incident, 55 people, mainly Albanian nationals, were trafficked into Killingholme docks in Lincolnshire. That received no coverage and was hushed up. Border Force is losing staff on the Humber and in Lincolnshire, and the entire enforcement office at Hull. Teesport officers were sent down to deal with the situation but have now found themselves with 90 days’ notice of redundancy. What exactly is the Government’s policy on border controls on the east coast of England?

Mr Speaker: And may we have a statement or debate on the matter?

Tom Blenkinsop indicated assent.

Chris Grayling: Our policy is to do everything we can to make sure our borders are tight and secure. We face a constant battle to do that, but I will draw my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s attention to the concerns the hon. Gentleman has raised and ask her to respond to him.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that, earlier this week, many RBS customers failed to receive funds into their accounts as a result of a computer failure. I was surprised to hear

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an RBS spokesman say on Radio 4 yesterday that it was inappropriate for customers to receive compensation. Banks are compensated in reverse by charging their customers. Will he find time very soon for a debate on that issue?

Chris Grayling: If a bank has a failure of that kind and it ends up costing its customers money, it has a duty to its customers; it is as simple as that. Those customers are buying a service from the bank. If the bank ceases to be able to deliver it for a period of time and customers suffer financially as a result, the bank should respond accordingly, and I very much hope that it does.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Although my friends in the Scottish National party may wish for hard-pressed electricity consumers to continue to pour money into the wind energy gravy train, communities across the United Kingdom will welcome the Government’s announcement today. However, given the consequences of the high cost of electricity, may we have a debate on why the Government still insist on electricity consumers subsidising expensive offshore wind energy when there are cheaper alternatives from oil and gas generation?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to raise that point with the Secretary of State next week. I am glad that he welcomes today’s decision. There are a great many beautiful parts of Northern Ireland, which are sometimes well served by wind, but which I would not wish to see covered in wind farms.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Two weeks ago, a fire took place in Clowance Street in my constituency. Members will be relieved to know that there were no fatalities. However, it was the second serious fire in my constituency in the past six months. May we have a debate on how we improve safety, and on what measures we can take to avoid house fires?

Chris Grayling: I am pleased that there were no fatalities, but house fires are always alarming when they happen, jeopardising life. It would be beneficial for fire safety generally if we in this House did what we could to raise awareness of the issue. May I suggest that my hon. Friend takes advantage of one of the 90-minute slots in Westminster Hall to requisition such a debate? That would help build awareness of the challenge to which he rightly draws attention.

Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): During the general election campaign, the Prime Minister told my constituents that the A&E in Halifax would not close. Last week, the clinical commissioning group said that the Prime Minister’s pledge should be taken up with the Prime Minister and not with it. May I ask for a statement from the Prime Minister, or, alternatively, a meeting with him to clarify just how and when he intends to keep his promise to my constituents to keep the A&E open?

Chris Grayling: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election. The whole point of the reforms that we put in place in the previous Parliament is that, ultimately, the decisions rest with GPs. In my own constituency, where there was a similar situation, I consulted all the local

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GPs. It became clear that they did not want change, so change did not happen. I suggest that she does the same.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): This morning, the Government issued two written statements about the future of onshore wind. They are important policy changes, especially when linked with the Prime Minister’s clear assurance two weeks ago that any wind farm without planning permission currently will not receive any subsidy whatsoever. May I add my request for a written statement so that we can explore the implications of those changes, particularly on my constituency of Montgomeryshire, which is threatened with desecration?

Chris Grayling: I very much hope that the changes we have announced today will prevent any such desecration. My comments about beautiful areas apply equally to the beautiful areas of his constituency. It is one of the loveliest parts of Wales, and I hope that the changes will protect his constituency for the future. I also hope that he will take advantage of next week’s Department of Energy and Climate Change questions to ensure that the Secretary of State gives him that further information that he is looking for.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): May we have a debate on the ability or otherwise of Highways England correctly to manage infrastructure projects, particularly in the light of its failure to manage the A483/A55 Posthouse roundabout project in my constituency? Might that debate also include the possibility of the private sector contractors, which have contributed to that failure, being precluded from further public sector work until they can demonstrate competence? Such a debate would be timely, because, in the next two weeks, we are coming up to the third deadline for the completion of the work.

Chris Grayling: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. He rightly raises an important issue that affects the Chester area, so I suggest that he looks to take advantage of the system of Adjournment debates to bring a Minister to this House so that he can raise the issue directly.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): May we have a debate on the future of consistent forms of renewable energy, such as wave and tidal, and of energy storage to future-proof our energy network? I wholeheartedly welcome this morning’s written statement on the ending of lucrative taxpayer subsidies to onshore wind farms, which threaten to encircle the city of York.

Chris Grayling: I am glad that my hon. Friend is happy with today’s announcement. I share his views about renewable energy and am very pleased that the scheme in south Wales has been given the go-ahead for tidal power generation. He will of course have the opportunity to raise these issues next Thursday with the Secretary of State and I hope that he will do so.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): May I add my voice to those from both sides of the House who want an urgent debate or statement on further delays to the Chilcot inquiry? I impress on the Leader of the House the anger and frustration about the issues

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of Maxwellisation and impress on him the views of my constituent Mrs Rose Gentle, whose son, Gordon, was killed on active duty in Iraq. There is concern that these people have waited for answers for far too long.

Chris Grayling: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and share that frustration. I understand the frustration felt by his constituents. This is an independent process and I have no doubt that after it has been completed lessons will need to be learned, but the messages going out from both sides of the House are appropriate and will, I hope, speed things towards a proper conclusion.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): To mark national care home open day tomorrow, I will visit three care homes across Pendle. The debate on care homes often focuses on bad care, so may we have a debate on national care home open day, which would allow hon. Members across the House to pay tribute to the many excellent local care workers in our constituencies and to celebrate the many examples of great care that we see?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the important point he is making. Bad examples of care often hit the headlines whereas the good examples in all our constituencies and the devoted and diligent work done by the people who work in those homes often goes utterly unmentioned. It is right and proper that that should be championed and I commend him for what he is doing. The Minister for Community and Social Care will visit a care home in Cheshire tomorrow and I hope that all Members will take advantage of the opportunity in the next few days to say thank you to those people in their constituencies who do this important work.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): The whole House will be aware of the recent decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Lord Janner for alleged child abuse owing to his apparent ill health. May we have a debate on this decision, and will the Leader of the House offer any advice on why Lord Janner can retain his seat in the other place, writing laws, when he is apparently unable to face the law himself?

Chris Grayling: This immensely sensitive issue is part of a much broader sensitive issue. I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work in this regard; he has done as much as anyone to bring this matter of great national concern to the fore. There has been a lot of debate and controversy about the decision that has been taken, and there will be an Adjournment debate next week in which Members will have the chance to raise concerns and issues about the Crown Prosecution Service. I am sure that the messages from that debate will be listened to very carefully.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) asked the Leader of the House. The Care Quality Commission has just inspected Admiral Court care home in my constituency, saying that it showed a blatant disregard for humanity. Residents were virtually imprisoned and were denied food and water, and wheelchair users were not allowed to wash. It is an absolute disgrace that this sort of thing happens in our country in 2015.

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On the back of that, may we have an urgent debate on the quality of social care to ensure that those who are often the most vulnerable people in our society do not have to suffer in this way again?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman’s point is the flipside of what we heard a moment ago. Although there is great care in this country, there is sometimes awful care. What I find encouraging at the moment is the willingness of the Care Quality Commission simply to close bad homes. It is not acceptable to leave people in that condition and anyone who is running a care home that is substandard in looking after our elderly should expect a knock on the door and should know that their livelihood is in danger. I commend the CQC for ensuring that that happens in enough cases to send out a message.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): In the past 12 months, the eight NHS hospital trusts in Greater Manchester have spent more than £100 million on employing agency staff. May we please have a statement from the Health Secretary about the training, recruitment and retention of nurses in the NHS so that our health service can be both financially and medically sustainable in the future?

Chris Grayling: This subject is debated regularly in this House and will continue to be so. I know that health service managers and Ministers in the Department of Health are focused on the unnecessarily high level of cost. Personally, I am strongly in favour of creating banks within the NHS rather than externally generated ones, and some trusts are now doing that—certainly, that is beginning to happen in my area. It is right and proper that we try to bring down costs in the health service where we can, and this is an important way of doing so.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): The Leader of the House will be aware that a few days ago the UK Government rejected a freedom of information request on the grounds that compliance would involve the release of information that could damage our relationship with France. Given that the request was about the circumstances in which a then Minister of the Crown authorised the deliberate leaking of a confidential, but probably inaccurate, record of a private conversation between another Minister of the Crown and a senior representative of the French Government, may we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland to reassure the House that the Government’s attitude to secrecy and open government is based on what is in the interests of the public and not on what is politically expedient for individual politicians?

Chris Grayling: Given the recent changes, the Government have no particular reason to have a vested interest in this matter, but I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman. It is important that Government can operate in a way that is in the interests of the country, and I know that those who look at ways to respond to such inquiries will always seek to do that; but if he and others are concerned, the point of having an Information Commissioner and an Information Tribunal is to enable decisions to be challenged, to establish whether they were right or wrong.

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Point of Order

11.46 am

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, I asked twice about onshore wind—once directly of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on the Floor of the House, and once in last week’s business questions requesting a statement on support for renewables. This morning, a written statement came out with appearances in the media, and they have added to the confusion. Even a few minutes ago in this morning’s business questions, Tory Back Benchers were seemingly clueless about what the announcement might mean for projects in the pipeline especially. What powers do you have to frogmarch DECC Ministers here to show respect to the House and those in the onshore wind industry, both those in jobs and investors?

Mr Speaker: I fear that the hon. Gentleman invests me with powers that I do not possess. I am not in the frogmarching business. There are procedures for bringing Ministers to the House with which the hon. Gentleman, as an experienced hand, is well familiar, and he can seek to deploy them if he thinks it appropriate. Whether a Minister makes a statement in the House today on the matter in question is a matter for the Minister. I heard the exchanges, and if the hon. Gentleman, who is a dextrous and versatile operator in this House, remains dissatisfied, he well knows that there are means by which he can continue to raise the matter on the Floor of the House.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Were you astonished, as I certainly was, when last week the Minister for Skills made an important statement about changing policy on apprenticeships in The Sun—not to this House, not in this Chamber? It was a real innovation in policy, but it was announced in The Sun. Is that right?

Mr Speaker: Very few things astonish me. I am not sighted on the matter and I want to let the hon. Gentleman down gently, but I am not invariably in the business of reading The Sun, so I have not seen the material so covered. If a Minister has erred, I hope that the Minister will make amends. If the hon. Gentleman, on the strength of his 36 years’ service in this House, continues next week to be dissatisfied, I have a feeling that both the Minister and the House will not be unaware of the fact. We will leave it there for now.

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European Union Referendum Bill

[2nd Allocated Day]

Further considered in Committee

[Natascha Engel in the Chair]

Clause 2

Entitlement to Vote in the Referendum

11.50 am

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Natascha Engel): I must notify the Committee that amendment 51 is wrongly marked on the amendment paper as applying to line 16, whereas it should apply to line 17, and should therefore be listed after amendment 18. Therefore we begin with amendment 18 to clause 2.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): I beg to move amendment 18, in page 1, line 17, leave out from “electors” to the end of line 12 on page 2 and insert—

“at a local government election in any electoral area in Great Britain, or

(b) the persons who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote as electors at a local government election in any electoral area in Northern Ireland.”

This amendment extends the franchise in the referendum to EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom.

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following:

Amendment 51, in page 1, line 17, leave out “parliamentary” and insert “local government”.

The amendment would allow citizens of all countries of the European Union living in the UK and Gibraltar to vote in the referendum.

Amendment 1, in page 1, line 17, at end insert

“and persons who would be so entitled except for the fact that they will be aged 16 or 17 on the date on which the referendum is to be held”.

The amendment would entitle British citizens, qualifying Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland aged 16 and 17 to vote in the referendum.

Amendment 12, in page 2, line 9, after “Commonwealth citizens”, insert

“or citizens of the Republic of Ireland”

Amendment 2, in page 2, line 12, at end insert

“and persons who would be so entitled except for the fact that they will be aged 16 or 17 on the date on which the referendum is to be held”.

The amendment would entitle Commonwealth citizens aged 16 and 17 who would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar for elections to the European Parliament to vote in the referendum.

Amendment 19, in page 2, line 16, at end add—

‘(3) A person is entitled to vote in the referendum if, on the date on which the poll at the referendum is held, the person is aged 16 or over and registered in—

(a) the register of local government electors, or

(b) the register of young voters maintained under section (Register of young voters) for any such area.”

This amendment follows the Scottish independence referendum model for the franchise, which includes 16 and 17 year olds and EU nationals.

Amendment 52, in page 2, line 16, at end add—

‘(3) Notwithstanding the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983, as amended, or of any other statute, a British citizen resident overseas in a country within the European Union will be eligible:

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(a) to register to vote and

(b) to vote in the referendum.

The amendment would entitle British citizens living in any country in the European Union to vote in the referendum irrespective of the time they have been resident overseas.

Clause 2 stand part.

New clause 2—

“Register of young voters

‘(1) For the purposes of this Act, each registration officer must prepare and maintain, for the officer‘s area, a register to be known as the register of young voters.

(2) The register must contain—

(a) the names of the persons appearing to the registration officer to be entitled to be registered in the register, and

(b) in relation to each person registered in it, the person’s—

(i) date of birth,

(ii) (except where otherwise provided by an applied enactment) qualifying address, and

(iii) voter number.

(3) Subsection (2) is subject to section 9B of the 1983 Representation of the People Act (anonymous registration).

(4) A person‘s qualifying address is the address in respect of which the person is entitled to be registered in the register.

(5) A person‘s voter number is such number (with or without any letters) as is for the time being allocated by the registration officer to the person for the purposes of the register.

(6) A person is entitled to be registered in the register of young voters for any area if, on the relevant date, the person—

(a) is not registered in the register of local government electors for the area,

(b) meets the requirements (apart from any requirement as to age) for registration in the register of local government electors for the area, and

(c) has attained the age of 16, or will attain that age on or before the date on which the poll at an independence referendum is to be held.

(7) In the case of a person who has not yet attained the age of 16—

(a) the person‘s entry in the register must state the date on which the person will attain the age of 16, and

(b) until that date, the person is not, by virtue of the entry, to be taken to be a voter for the purposes of any independence referendum other than one the date of the poll at which is on or after that date.

(8) Where a person to whom subsection (7) applies has an anonymous entry in the register, the references in that subsection to the person’s entry in the register are to be read as references to the person‘s entry in the record of anonymous entries.

(9) In this section, “the relevant date” mean the date on which an application for registration in the register of young voters is made (or the date on which such an application is treated as made by virtue of section 10A(2) of the 1983 Act).”

This amendment extends the franchise in the referendum to 16 and 17 year olds.

Amendment 13, in clause 8, page 4, line 15, at end insert—

““Commonwealth citizens” does not include citizens of any country which has terminated its membership of the Commonwealth or which has been wholly or partly suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.”

Stephen Gethins: I shall speak to amendments 18 and 19 and new clause 2.

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It is apt that we are debating our future relationship with the European Union on this, the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. Even though we in the Scottish National party voted against the referendum, we want to see a good relationship with Europe going forward, not one that is damaged by the Prime Minister or the Conservatives. If we are to have a referendum—obviously, we voted against it—we want to see it meet the gold standard that was met by the Scottish independence referendum.

Even though it is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, French nationals and other nationals should be able to vote in that referendum. We have mentioned before the example of Christian Allard, a very fine Member of the Scottish Parliament, who is a French national who has made a significant contribution to Scottish public life—a more significant contribution than many have made. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) will build on that and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) will discuss it further. On the subject of EU nationals, I refer hon. Members to the excellent intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) on Tuesday.

I shall focus on 16 and 17-year-olds. I am glad our Labour colleagues have tabled an amendment and are backing a long-standing SNP policy on giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Stephen Gethins: I would love to give way on that point—in fact, this is the first intervention I have taken.

Mr Sheerman: I feel privileged that I am able to give the hon. Gentleman his first intervention, but may I tell him that we are not united on the Labour Benches? I chaired the Children, Schools and Families Committee for 10 years. I believe that the measure that he proposes will shrink childhood. We will eventually have young people going into the Army at 16, and many of the protections that children currently have through to 18 will be destroyed. This policy will bring adulthood down to 16 and will take away protections just as childhood becomes less and less that part of life.

Stephen Gethins: I am not terribly surprised to find out that Labour Members are split. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes a good point but we disagree. That was not our experience in the Scottish independence referendum, which I shall go on to discuss.

We need to get more young people engaged in politics. All of us across the Committee can agree on that. Even if we disagree on this issue, we can all unite on that; I am sure the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) will agree on that. I know his views are held honestly. In the independence referendum, an astonishing 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds took the opportunity to vote. The same survey showed that 97% of them said that they would do so again. Turnout in the UK election was 66.1%. It was higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK—because of the Scottish independence referendum, we like to think, and a more politicised electorate. There are lessons for us all to be taken from that.

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In February 2015 a BBC “Newsbeat” survey found that young people in Scotland aged 18 to 24 were more politically engaged than in any other part of the United Kingdom. As somebody from Scotland, I am proud of that, and I think everybody from Scotland who engaged in the referendum, whether they voted yes, as we on the SNP Benches did, or no, as our colleagues from the other parties did, should be proud of that.

An Edinburgh University study has found that two thirds of Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds have said that they would vote if they could, compared with just 39% in the UK as a whole. That is a challenge for every one of us across this Chamber. That is why we think that the independence referendum was a great opportunity to get people politically engaged, and we would like to see young people continue to be engaged.

With the EU referendum we have a big question over whether we remain a part of that Union. We want to see a positive case not just for remaining a part of that Union, but for looking at where we could work together more closely, for example, on security, on dealing with the worst refugee crisis since the second world war in the Mediterranean, on climate change, which we were all lobbied about yesterday, or on creating a more socially just Europe. I think that the way to engage more young people is by having a positive campaign—not just tinkering around the edges of certain policies on which the Prime Minister might or might not be able to win the argument.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On Second Reading the Secretary of State rejected the strong case that the hon. Gentleman is making for giving 16 and 17-year-olds a say, claiming that he would rather get 18 to 24-year-olds to turn out. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those two things are not mutually exclusive? One of the best ways to get 18 to 24-year-olds to vote is by engaging all young people in precisely the way he is describing.

Stephen Gethins: As is often the case, the hon. Lady is absolutely spot-on. The facts that I have read out show that giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote is the way to make them more politically engaged from an earlier age, and therefore more likely to vote later in life.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): The hon. Gentleman was giving reasons why young people would be interested in the referendum in general. I referred in my speech on Second Reading to the wider horizons that young people have. The unity we seek in Europe is a matter not only of the stomach and the wallet, but of the imagination and the spirit. The referendum could be an opportunity for those young people to express that hope.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman made an excellent contribution on Tuesday, and he makes an excellent point today. I think that 16 and 17-year-olds have a perspective that many of us lack, just as people from an older generation have their own perspective, and that is what makes our democracy so rich. He and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) have made excellent points.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Is not this about trusting young people to make informed decisions about their future, given that 16-year-olds can leave school, go to work, pay income tax and national

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insurance and consent to sexual relationships? This is about their future, too. That is why it is absolutely right to extend the franchise.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman speaks for the other side of the Labour party on this—I wonder whether there is a third side—and he makes a very good point.

On the Scottish Parliament’s Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill, which I will talk about in a moment, YouthLink Scotland has stated:

“We believe that this Bill addresses the inequality that young people aged 16 and 17 years old have historically faced: the discrepancy between their democratic rights and responsibilities—16 and 17 year olds can join the armed forces, enter employment and be subject to taxation, get married and drive a car, yet they were deemed too immature to cast a vote in an election.”

That is exactly the point the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) made.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con) rose

Stephen Gethins: I have given way to Members on the Opposition side of the Committee, so I would be delighted to give way to someone on the Conservative side.

Tom Tugendhat: The hon. Gentleman speaks fluently on the legitimacy of 16 and 17-year-olds participating in this debate, and I understand the points he is making. As a former soldier, I want to say how proud I was to serve with many who were 18, 19 and 20 years old—young men who served their country with courage and determination—and how pleased I was that we in this country do not use child soldiers. I think that the age of legal responsibility in that sense, whether on the military or democratic front line, should be aligned.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I respect his service. Voting in an election and trying to get young people engaged in the democratic process is quite different from fighting on the front line, so there is a distinction to be made in that regard.

12 pm

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Gethins: I will make some progress for the moment. I have been generous so far, and I will happy to take more interventions later.

On this very day, Scotland is again ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. Today the Scottish Parliament is on stage 3—the final stage, for Members who are not in the know about the dealings of the Scottish Parliament—of the Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill. That is one of the many examples of where power has been devolved from this place to Holyrood and the Scottish Government have put it to good effect. Today the Scottish Parliament will historically pass that Bill into legislation and give 16 and 17-year-olds a vote. The Scottish Government deserve praise for what they are doing, just as they deserved praise in the independence referendum. I look forward to the next local authority elections, when we will be able to go out and canvass for the votes of 16 and 17-year-olds.

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Interestingly, as Members from across the House will be delighted to learn, this draws cross-party support. Even Tories are supporting it.

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): Surely not Tories!

Stephen Gethins: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that votes at 16 are supported not just by the SNP, Labour, the Greens, and even the Liberal Democrats—we still have some—but by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who says:

“I’m a fully paid-up member of the ‘votes at 16’ club now”.

It is great to see progress being made even with the Conservative party in Scotland. The benefit of this is not just to 16 and 17-year-olds; it is in having a bit of common sense across all the parties.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons there has been such a change in attitude in Scotland is the experience of seeing how well-informed young people were when they had the chance to vote, when they were among the best-informed parts of the electorate?

Stephen Gethins: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We found that 16 and 17-year-olds, in particular, were studying the information and taking it from a wide range of sources. As she says, they were among the best-informed parts of the electorate. That is a great credit to the 16 and 17-year-olds who took part in the democratic process.

Dr Murrison: I have lots of 13, 14 and 15-year-olds in my constituency who have very good political views on a variety of issues. On what basis has the hon. Gentleman fixed on 16 as the age of enfranchisement?

Stephen Gethins: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware—he was clearly not listening earlier, so I will repeat it—at 16 and 17 people can get married and pay tax; all sorts of responsibilities kick in at 16. We therefore think—and, interestingly, others across this Chamber think—that 16 is the right age at which to give people the vote. Ruth Davidson, the leader of his own party in Scotland, thinks that 16 is bang on the right age as well. She and I may not agree on many issues, but I am very glad that she has come round to our way of thinking on this.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Gethins: Not at the moment; I will make some progress.

On the example of the Scottish Bill, for which we must give due credit to the Scottish Parliament, Children in Scotland said:

“Children in Scotland believes that it is vital that 16 and 17 year olds are able to participate directly in the democratic process, and strongly supports the extension of the franchise to young people. This Bill will play an important role in addressing the discrepancy that young people aged 16 and 17 continue to face as far as their democratic rights and responsibilities are concerned.”

Young Scot said:

“In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child…we believe that young people should be involved in making decisions

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that directly affect them, and that one of the best ways of getting involved in decision-making is through voting. Therefore, Young Scot strongly supports extension of the franchise for all elections”.

We have a responsibility across this House to try to engage people as fully as we can in the democratic process. Each one of us, of every political colour, knows the challenge that we face. Scotland has some good ideas, believe it or not. When we came to this place, we came to be constructive. We know there will be good ideas from Members from other parties, and we look forward to hearing them, but we also want to look at areas where Scotland has been ground-breaking, and this is one of them.

Voltaire said, once upon a time:

“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”

Obviously, we know that the Labour leadership candidates are all looking for ideas on leadership from Scotland’s First Minister, but perhaps this is an area on which we can work together. The Electoral Reform Society puts it succinctly:

“There is a widening gulf between people and politics—we see lowering the franchise age as vital to nurturing more active citizens for the future health of our democracy.”

It then makes a good point:

“If they vote early, they vote often!”

That has been our experience in Scotland and we think that extending the franchise will result in it also being the experience of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is a pleasure to be called so early in this debate. With no disrespect to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), I will speak to amendments 12 and 13, which stand in my name.

On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated that this is an important matter for the United Kingdom—it is indeed—and therefore that the appropriate franchise is the general election franchise. That, in my respectful judgment, is absolutely correct.

This Bill extends the franchise to Gibraltar because it is part of the south-west constituency of the European Parliament. Clause 2(1)(c) states that those entitled to vote will include

“Commonwealth citizens who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar as electors at a European Parliamentary election in the combined electoral region in which Gibraltar is comprised.”

The difficulty, however, is that the proposed franchise for Gibraltar is not the general election franchise, because it leaves out of the count those who are citizens of the Republic of Ireland.

I know not how many people that may affect—it may affect three, five or a dozen, or it may affect none—but if we are going to pass legislation, it should be consistent. I suspect that, because this is a new extension of the franchise, the issue was overlooked by the Government and the Foreign Office lawyers when they considered how the Bill should be drafted to extend the franchise to Gibraltar.

I do not intend to push the amendment to a vote, but, because this House aims for consistency and because the Government’s stated aim is to use the general election franchise, the franchise extended to Gibraltar, with the consent of its Government, should be the same franchise as that which is used for general elections in this country.

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That is why I ask the Minister to consider amendment 12 and perhaps table it as a Government amendment. It would insert words designed to ensure that those who are citizens of the Republic of Ireland but who are none the less domiciled in Gibraltar are entitled to vote in the forthcoming referendum.

Amendment 13 seeks to deal with the definition of “Commonwealth citizens”. I have searched long and hard in electoral law, including the Representation of the People Acts, and, indeed, in this Bill and other sources to try to ascertain who is and who is not a Commonwealth citizen. There is, obviously, a broader debate to which this House may wish to turn in due course, particularly given the accession of Mozambique and Rwanda to the Commonwealth, about whether Commonwealth citizens should continue to be part of the franchise for general elections in this country. There is also, however, an entirely different problem, which relates most acutely to nationals of Zimbabwe who are resident in this country and in Gibraltar.

At the moment, Zimbabwe is not a member of the Commonwealth; it has simply withdrawn from it. The Commonwealth ministerial action group is charged with deciding who is and who is not a member of the Commonwealth, who is suspended and whose membership is terminated, and it is unclear whether or not some countries—for example, Fiji—are currently members of the Commonwealth for all purposes.

I know not whether there is non-statutory guidance for returning officers, but the law is unclear whether they are supposed to afford the right to vote in a general election to a national of Zimbabwe, which, as I say, is not currently a member of the Commonwealth.

As I understand it, a previous Government indicated that no Zimbabwean should, as a result of that country’s withdrawal, suffer in respect of their ability to vote in general elections. However, in the absence of a definition, who is and who is not entitled to vote among Commonwealth citizens of countries that have been suspended from the Commonwealth or that have terminated their membership is, in practice, entirely unclear. We might therefore end up with the position where in one place in this country, a Zimbabwean national is on the electoral roll and entitled to vote, whereas in another place, a Zimbabwean national is not entitled to vote because the returning officer takes the view, rightly or wrongly, that Zimbabwe is not a member of the Commonwealth and therefore that that person is not a Commonwealth citizen.

There is a much broader debate to be had about this matter, but the Government need to ensure that there is consistency across the entire country and to make it clear whether the national of a Commonwealth country that has withdrawn from the Commonwealth or been suspended by the Commonwealth ministerial action group who has permanent leave to be here and should therefore be entitled to a vote is able to vote. When the Minister responds, I would like to hear what his plans are in this area.

Amendments 12 and 13, although they originate from the Back-Benches, are meant to be helpful to the Government, in the sense that they will provoke debate and ensure that there is consistency across the legislation. For that reason, I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government’s attitude to them is.

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Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): I rise to speak to amendment 1, which would extend the franchise for the referendum to 16 and 17-year-olds, and amendment 2, which would have a similar effect in Gibraltar.

The franchise that has been chosen for the referendum, which is set out in clause 2, is the franchise for UK parliamentary elections, but with two exceptions. First, it is extended to peers, and secondly, it is extended to the people of Gibraltar. The Opposition have no objection to those two extensions of the franchise, but we believe that they are incomplete. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) flagged up our concern on this issue on Second Reading, when he said that we wished to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds for the purposes of the referendum.

There has been an active debate for some years about extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, and we heard some of the arguments in the initial exchanges of this debate. People of that age can pay income tax and national insurance, obtain tax credits, consent to sexual relationships, get married, enter a civil partnership, become a company director and do many other things. In fact, both my party and the Conservative party allow them to join and have a vote in the selection of the party leader, if they so wish. Until very recently, 16 and 17-year-olds could not vote in national or local elections, despite their ability to select someone who aspires to become Prime Minister.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): If the right hon. Gentleman is going to cite a list of things that people can do at 16, he also needs to consider the things that they cannot do. They cannot leave school without being in full-time education until they are 18. They are protected in law as a minor if they commit a crime. They do not serve on the front line. They can only get married with parental permission, and they cannot buy fireworks, alcohol or cigarettes. I do not see the point of trading these lists. We have made a decision that young people at the ages of 16 and 17 receive protection in law, up to a point. That is agreed in relation to the franchise.

Mr McFadden: The hon. Lady makes the point that not every right and legal responsibility is conferred on people at 16. That is true, but many of them are. The question of the right to democratic participation is therefore not a science, but a matter of judgment. That judgment will be the subject of the rest of my remarks.

12.15 pm

Mr Sheerman: I find this very awkward, because I nearly always agree with my right hon. Friend, but is not what is missing from this debate the responsibility that we have as parliamentarians to care for young people who are very vulnerable? Up and down this country, young people are vulnerable to sexual predators and ghastly things happen to them right up to the age of 18. This move towards making people adults at 16 will make a lot of young men and women more vulnerable to sexual predation than they are at the moment.

Mr McFadden: I have huge mutual respect for my hon. Friend, but I do not see the connection between extending voting rights to people at 16 and making them more vulnerable to sexual predators.

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Of course, the first major poll in the UK in which 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote was last year’s Scottish independence referendum. That major referendum tested all the familiar arguments that we have heard before and which we may hear in this debate about whether such people are old enough to understand the issues and mature enough to take part in the debate and exercise their democratic responsibilities. I do not think that anyone on either side of the independence debate argues that Scotland’s 16 and 17-year-olds did not pass those tests with flying colours. Many campaigners have said that the debates among 16 and 17-year-olds were some of the most engaged and informed of the referendum campaign. The post-referendum report by the Electoral Commission said:

“109,593 16 and 17 year olds were included on the registers by the registration deadline and 75% of those we spoke to claimed to have voted. Importantly, 97% of those 16-17 year olds who reported having voted said that they would vote again in future elections and referendums.”

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that schools and colleges have a role to play? Perhaps the thought that anyone who is vulnerable or who has certain issues can have a wider debate in the school or college context, and therefore be better educated about democracy and the role it can play, will put the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) at rest.

Mr McFadden: I do not think any of us would ever want schools to be engaged in partisan debate, but schools do have an important role in teaching young people about citizenship, their responsibilities, the importance of elections and so on. My hon. Friend is right about that.

The experience of last year is that young people did understand the issues and did take part. They felt empowered by their democratic choice, not apathetic or overawed. They exercised their democratic rights in huge numbers and, afterwards, said that they would be more likely to vote again. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) quoted the leader of the Scottish Conservative party as saying that she is now

“a fully paid-up member of the ‘votes at 16’ club”.

There may be a relationship between allowing votes at 16 and 17 and encouraging voting in the 18 to 24 age group. If we get young people registered early and they stay on the register when they are between 18 and 24, it might address the low turnout among that group. That is the age at which people leave home to study, to go to work or for other reasons. That is a challenge on the registration front and the turnout front.

Dr Murrison: The argument that the right hon. Gentleman is employing could equally be made for 13, 14 and 15-year-olds, so may I put to him the same question that I put to the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins)? Why is he fixed on 16, as opposed to a lower age, for example 13, as the age for enfranchisement?

Mr McFadden: As I said, the rules of the hon. Gentleman’s own party allow people to join at 15, but we have related our amendments to the age at which legal responsibilities and rights are conferred. There is a

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slight difference between the general argument about the age of the franchise and its applicability to important constitutional referendums.

Stephen Phillips: The right hon. Gentleman says that he is fixed on 16 as the age at which legal rights accrue to the individual, but that is true only of some rights. It is not until an individual is 18 that we treat them as being a full member of society. Surely that is the point at which they should be enfranchised and be able to contribute to our national life through a full democratic debate.

Mr McFadden: We could argue that there are some rights that people do not get even at 18. In the end, it is a matter of judgment. I do not want to go through the list again, but when people can start to work, pay taxes and do many other things, there is at least a reasonable case for giving them the right to vote.

Mr Sheerman: A small minority of Labour Members worry that we will make 16 the age of becoming an adult, which will shrink childhood at a time when kids in this country are going to live to 100. The amount of time that they will be children is getting smaller as a percentage of their life. There are arguments for and against certain things happening at 16 and at 18, but if the Opposition amendments became law, they would mean that young people would become adults at 16.

Mr McFadden: My hon. Friend has made his point about shrinking childhood before. I say to him that maturity is not an exact science. There will be some people who are mature at 16 or perhaps less, and some who manage to hang on to their immaturity for a great many years after that. I do not believe that any of us can pinpoint an exact age.

One thing that the EU referendum has in common with the major constitutional referendum that took place in Scotland last year is that it is a decision for a long time into the future. To quote the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who is not here today, it is a decision to be made once in a lifetime, or at least for a generation, not something to be repeated every few years. I hope that all hon. Members will agree with that. The referendum will not return every few years like general elections.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman will remember from our happy days together in the Labour club at Edinburgh University that in Scotland, unlike in England, the age of legal capacity is 16. However, child protection laws in Scotland, like those in England, go up to the age of 18. The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) made the point that the age of legal capacity in England is 18, but it is worth making the point that it is 16 in Scotland.

Mr McFadden: I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her intervention.

The issue before us is the UK’s future in the European Union, a huge constitutional issue that will affect the future of the country and its citizens for many years to come. The rights of Britain’s young people will be directly at stake in the referendum. Let us consider the

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politics behind why the referendum is coming about. A major reason is concerns about how the free movement of people operates in the EU and in this country. Our citizens currently have the right to live, work and study in 27 other member states by virtue of our membership. I do not think there are many people who want us to leave the European Union but do not want to restrict the right of free movement. There may be some, but not many, and that is pretty high on the agenda of those who want to leave.

If we leave the European Union, and as a result decide that we will restrict the rights of other European citizens to come to live and work in the UK, we can be sure that reciprocal action will be taken against young people from the United Kingdom. The rights that British citizens currently enjoy to live, work and study throughout the EU are directly at stake in the referendum. Even setting aside the general debate about the right of 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in elections, that is a strong reason for giving those citizens the right to vote in the referendum. Their future is directly at stake.

It is 40 years since this country last voted on membership of the European Union. As we hear perennially in these debates, someone would have to be in their mid-50s to have voted in the last EU referendum. The referendum will not come around every few years. It is a generational decision that will have a direct impact on young people’s future rights, which is why I believe they should be given a voice in it.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): One of the key rights that we have as citizens in this country is to be judged by a jury of our peers, and eligibility for jury selection begins at 18 because of how important a responsibility it is. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that that eligibility, which is drawn from the electoral roll, should be changed to 16?

Mr McFadden: That is not part of our amendments, but I am sure such things can be considered in other debates. My point, as the hon. Lady has just heard, is that the referendum result will have a direct impact on our citizens’ right of free movement.

Tom Tugendhat: I associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) said, because her point is fundamental. We are talking about the constitution of the United Kingdom and the details that allow people to participate in decisions on it. The right hon. Gentleman is arguing that we should play with it in the case of this particular referendum, but in fact we should have a proper debate in the House about the age at which people should be enfranchised to debate the matters of our nation. That age should apply throughout, whether to juries or to an EU referendum.

Mr McFadden: I believe that the long-term trend will be towards enfranchisement at a younger age, for some of the reasons that have been set out in the debate. My party believes in a general reduction to 16, but the amendments are concerned with the EU referendum facilitated by the Bill. My argument is that there is a good reason for enfranchisement at 16 in this case, given the direct impact of the result on the right of free movement and the right to study and work in other EU countries. There is a good argument for that, and I do

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not believe that it is a partisan one that is made only by Labour or Scottish National party Members. Some Conservative and other Members support it.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Although some say that the voting age should be dealt with generally rather than specifically, is it not the case that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government and the House were quite happy for a specific change to be made for the Scottish referendum? Why cannot my 16 and 17-year-old constituents in London, and those in the rest of England, have a vote, yet Scottish young people can?

12.30 pm

Mr McFadden: The decision was taken for the Scottish referendum because the power to do so was devolved. The power has also been devolved to the Welsh Assembly.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It may be helpful if I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the last Parliament the House in fact voted for votes at 16.

Mr McFadden: It did, but it was not put into legislation in the way that we have the opportunity to do today.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has given way on the nature of the legislation before us as we are—after all—in Committee. I welcomed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) about the electoral register and I am deeply alarmed that the proponent of any amendment would not have—in the right hon. Gentleman’s words—“thought through” whether it would have an effect on such an important issue as jury service. I am a supporter of votes at 16, and I shall seek to make further comments on that later, but we are now examining the quality of legislation.

Mr McFadden: I thank the hon. Lady for her praise of my amendment, but its effect would be clear and we have taken advice on the point. The amendment would extend to 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote on exactly the same basis as the other changes to the franchise in the rest of the Bill. As was said on Second Reading, the Bill already changes the franchise—for Gibraltar and for peers—so the amendment, like the Bill, will apply only to the EU referendum.

The amendment on EU citizens is also in this group of amendments. The franchise in the Bill is that for UK parliamentary elections, except for the exceptions that we have discussed, and the amendments would extend it to citizens of other EU countries. EU citizens currently have the right to vote in local and European elections, but not in parliamentary elections. When other EU countries have held referendums on EU accession decisions or treaty changes in recent years, EU citizens from member states outwith those countries have not been given the vote. That is true for recent referendums held in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark and many other countries. When a member state makes a decision on its own membership of the EU, on whether to join the euro or on whether to accept treaty change, the pattern has been to use the franchise for national elections. It has not been the pattern to extend that to citizens of

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other EU countries. For that reason, we do not support allowing citizens of other EU countries to participate in this referendum, but we do believe that it is important to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): We all visit schools in our constituencies, and I am sure I am not alone in thinking that some of the most thoughtful and challenging discussions in those visits have been with 16 and 17-year-olds. Do I feel that they have the capacity to understand the information, to weigh it and to communicate their views? Absolutely I do. The question is whether Members of Parliament have the capacity to change our view and give those young people a voice and a vote. I could not return to my constituency, look those young people in the eye and tell them that I had denied them the opportunity to take part in the forthcoming referendum.

I have lobbied hard for everyone in my constituency to have their say on our future in Europe, but when I reflect on who will feel the impact of the result most, I conclude that it will be 16 to 25-year-olds, who will live with the decision for longer than the rest of us. I am delighted that we have extended the franchise to Members of the Upper House, and that their lordships will have the opportunity to vote in the referendum, but I feel strongly that we should extend the same courtesy to young people in our constituencies.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend think that 16 and 17-year-olds are mature enough to decide whether to buy a pint of beer in a pub or 20 cigarettes to smoke?

Dr Wollaston: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear me say that I do not think that we should widen the opportunity for young people to be exploited by big tobacco or big alcohol—I am robust on that point. I do not think, however, that we need the same thresholds across the board. We have already heard that we judge people to have capacity at many different thresholds, but we do not deny people detained under the Mental Health Act the opportunity to vote. We do not deny the opportunity to vote to people who may lack capacity because of advanced dementia. We understand that those people need the opportunity to express their voice.

The wider point is that as the age of our population increases, which is a good thing—the only thing worse than getting older is the alternative—it will have profound implications for us all, and we should be concerned about that. Because older people vote, it tends to drive policy in their direction. There is a compelling case for balance, and we need to give young people a voice and a vote.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): I, too, often speak to sixth-form colleges, and after a discussion about whether 16 and 17-year-olds should vote, I often ask them whether they would like the vote themselves. In my experience, the majority of sixth-formers say that they would prefer to wait until 18 to vote as they could then make a more informed decision. Has that been my hon. Friend’s experience?

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Dr Wollaston: Absolutely not. I am clearly talking to very different young people in south Devon. I agree that young people—indeed, people of every age—are crying out for clear information. Perhaps, instead of the Government churning out information that is not widely trusted, we could consider some way in which we could grade the quality of information, as we do for scientific papers, which are graded according to the quality of the evidence. Perhaps we could ask academic bodies, or the Library, to grade the information to which people have access, so that they can judge whether it comes from one perspective or another. People want clear information.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree in principle that votes at 16 is an idea whose time has come, but that it should not be introduced by means of an amendment on a matter of this significance? Does she agree that lowering the voting age to 16 is inevitable and would she welcome, as I would, the Government taking the initiative on that sensible and timely reform of our franchise?

Dr Wollaston: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the time has come. The time came in Scotland, and we saw very clearly how important that was for young people. More than 90% of young people in Scotland registered to vote. They now permanently have a voice and a vote, and I do not think they will accept its being taken away from them now. That would be infantilising. We should accept that they have the capacity to make these decisions, and the House should embrace that.

I believe this should be a decision for Parliament, not a party political decision through the Whips. I would like the whole House to have the opportunity to decide on this in a free vote. Furthermore, on my hon. Friend’s point about whether we should take this as a stand-alone issue or debate the wider franchise, I will be making the same point and voting in the same way when this comes back and we have a wider discussion about the franchise in other elections. Let us not be dragged into this kicking and screaming; let us make a positive decision that we trust our young people and want to give them a voice.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Lady is making a rigorous case. I agree with her very much about the importance of information, and certainly young people in Brighton are telling me that they would like more information too. Does she agree that things such as more personal, social, health and economic education in schools is one place where we could have that kind of debate? I have had a private Member’s Bill for mandatory PSHE in schools, so I wonder whether she would support that point.

Dr Wollaston: I think the hon. Lady knows that I agree with her on the importance of PSHE in schools, and there are also opportunities through citizenship. I have heard people in this debate so far arguing, “Well, shouldn’t we first be concentrating on getting 20-year-olds to vote?” I absolutely agree—that is important too, but the two are not mutually exclusive. We can set patterns for a lifetime if we get young people starting to think about the importance of voting, as well as about their active participation in politics. That is important, because although young people take part in politics—we know that; they are very engaged on issues and with community

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activism—we need to persuade them that it is absolutely in their interest to vote as well, because of the way in which voting drives policy, as I said earlier.

In my opinion, too much of our policy across this House is being driven by issues that are important to people who vote, and as there are more and more people from the older demographic who vote, there is a risk that our debates will become even more distorted. We must recognise the need to balance that by giving young people a greater voice, but the voice is always stronger if it is accompanied by a vote. What message will we send to the young people we will be asking to vote in 2020 if we infantilise those same young people and deny them the vote as 16 or 17-year-olds in 2016 or 2017?

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a persuasive and enlightened case. She is right: we should never be fearful of making fundamental changes to the franchise; but they should be properly and fully considered, and not rushed. Does she agree that the Electoral Commission should be asked to carry out a full review of the voting age? I think it last did so in 2003-04, when it said it wanted to return to the issue in the next five to seven years, and we are now 11 to 12 years on.

Dr Wollaston: I agree with my hon. Friend, but we can sometimes use excuses to delay important issues. The important thing is to look at the experience in Scotland and the way the vote was energised. Is anybody seriously arguing that 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland were incapable of taking in the information, weighing it in the balance and communicating their views? Is anybody seriously suggesting that there were harms to those young people from taking part? No, and I would say to those on our Benches that they should look at what has been written by Ruth Davidson for the Tory Reform Group. She makes a compelling case for Conservative Members to embrace that change and take this forward. We must do so for the referendum for the very reason that we are talking about the young people who will be most affected by the decision and living with it for the longest, but who will not, as in general elections, have an opportunity to change their view in five years’ time. This decision will last for decades.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a strong argument, but, to reflect the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), surely it is better that a constitutional issue that is so important that it affects all elections should be fully debated by the House as a separate matter. She has mentioned Scotland. Scotland has a heritage of 16 and 17-year-olds being able to vote in local elections, and when it comes to responsibilities such as marriage, there has been a long-standing position that people can get married there without their parents’ permission. That is not the case in England at 16. Therefore, we need a far more in-depth discussion about this issue, rather than cramming it into today’s debate on amendment 18 to clause 2.

12.45 pm

Dr Wollaston: My hon. Friend is right that we need to debate it. We need to do that too, and I will be making exactly the same argument at that point, but we must

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not miss this opportunity to express a view as a House. I believe we should have a free vote—I believe that passionately—on whether 16 and 17-year-olds have the capacity. I say to my hon. Friend: what is the harm and what are the benefits? We should all weigh up—if we look at our ethical grid—the benefits versus the harms to the individual and society. As I said earlier, I believe there are compelling societal reasons why we must give young people a voice and a vote, because without the vote, they do not have the same voice. There are also societal reasons about the changing structure of our population, but I ask him: where are the harms?

Chris Skidmore: Taking a philosophical approach, if we look at, say, young offenders institutions and prisons, is my hon. Friend therefore arguing that 16-year-olds should go straight to incarceration in adult prisons? If we take voting as part of the age of responsibility, we will be opening a whole can of worms; therefore, the argument that they could be placed in prisons comes up. That is what I am worried about. Sixteen-year-olds are vulnerable. I appreciate what she is saying, but this is not just about the voting age; it is about looking after those vulnerable young people. She is making the case for voting, but the obverse of that is that equality must apply everywhere.

Dr Wollaston: Let me point out to my hon. Friend that one of the things I campaigned long and hard on in the last Parliament—one of the things that perhaps drove me into politics—was the scandal of children being detained in police cells under section 136.

Chris Skidmore: But they are children.

Dr Wollaston: But the point is that these are children who are being incarcerated. The inquiry on child and adolescent mental health services that I led as Chair of the Select Committee on Health at the end of the last Parliament shows, I feel, the opposite. The point is that one of the reasons we have such woeful services for young people suffering from mental health problems is partly the way that policy drivers tend to come from the other end of the age spectrum. If my hon. Friend is going to bring up incarceration in prisons, I would say yes, we do incarcerate young people in wholly inappropriate circumstances. Part of giving them a voice and a vote is about changing the way we treat our young people in those circumstances. I am delighted that the Government are finally making progress on this scandal and stopping the incarceration of children in cells—something that I witnessed as a forensic medical examiner and have felt passionately about for years.

One of the most extraordinary arguments I have heard this afternoon was from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is no longer in his place. He suggested that children would somehow be at greater risk of abuse if they were allowed a vote. I would say absolutely the opposite, so I do not accept the argument that my hon. Friend has made about the criminal justice system. Let us stop infantilising young people; let us give them a voice and a vote.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): My hon. Friend may not be surprised to know that I agree that it is time for people to have votes at 16. However, we are seeing an interesting and passionate debate in the

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Committee, and if something is worth doing and is important, it is worth doing well. Our hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) raises some interesting points. Whatever we think about them, these are important points for debate. If we open this new opportunity for young people, there may be inconsistencies. Consistency in when we feel that young people are adults and responsible is something that we have to get right. Does my hon. Friend feel that it is now time for the Government to grasp the nettle and have a proper debate about the franchise and when we have the vote? This is not the time for that, because a lot of debate needs to be had and there is too little time now in which to have it. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

The Temporary Chair (Mr George Howarth): Order. Before the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) continues, I should say that there has been a great deal of tolerance of over-long interventions, but they are straying into the territory of mini-speeches. Those intending to make an intervention should try to keep it to a single point and be brief.

Dr Wollaston: There will always be inconsistencies. We will never get complete consistency on the threshold issues; we will continue to have different thresholds for different things, and the points at which we choose cut-offs tend to be around 16 and 18. I am comfortable with that. The issue is whether we feel as a Committee and as parliamentarians that we should look those 16 and 17-year-olds in the eye and say to them on an issue that will have far-reaching implications for their future that although they have the capacity to make decisions, we are going to deny them the vote and kick it into the long grass.

If we are honest, there are other political reasons at stake, and we should be honest about them. We should give young people a voice and the vote in this referendum and then let us have the other discussions. As I say, I will make the same arguments about the wider general election franchise, but I feel that the case for this particular referendum is compelling. I can see no reason why we would not want to give young people a vote on this extremely important issue, which will affect them for far longer than it will affect me.

Dr Murrison: I am always keen to follow what my hon. Friend has to say and the thoughtful way in which she makes her case. Does she agree that this is indeed all to do with maturity, and that the reason why we protect children concerns their level of maturity and the need for society to make sure that they are okay? The same argument can be deployed for the age of enfranchisement. We need to define what we mean by a child and what we mean by an adult. The argument about enfranchisement is really a supplementary and consequential argument, depending very much on the age we have determined.

Dr Wollaston: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I feel that this is the right age to have the opportunity. Do I think that 16-year-olds have the capacity to make decisions and weigh all the arguments in the balance in this referendum vote? Absolutely. I cannot believe how I could walk into classrooms to meet 16 and 17-year-olds,

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look them in the eye and say, “Actually, I do not believe that you have the capacity to understand and make a case.”

Hywel Williams: Are not the people who are arguing against votes at 16 also doubting, by extension, the virtue of the vote in Scotland earlier this year, which came down, of course, on the Unionist side?

Dr Wollaston: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point and take another intervention.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): Does the hon. Lady think there are lessons to be learned about what happened in Scotland, where there was massive engagement on the part of young people? Also, after a debate very similar to this one in the Scottish Parliament, when people saw what really happened, they stopped being worried about what might happen, so there is now very little opposition in Scotland to giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote for every election.

Dr Wollaston: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Who could have watched that extraordinary debate, the most compelling debate of the referendum campaign, with thousands of people in the stadium in Glasgow, without feeling inspired by the opportunity and enthusiasm for the whole campaign and the wide turnout? I believe those young people will continue to be engaged in politics, not just in activism within their communities but in turning out to vote, which is the important issue here. We must increase voter engagement. If we do nothing, we could face a situation within a decade where half the population are simply not turning out to vote. That will have terrible consequences for our democracy.

I shall finish on that note. I really hope that any Members in doubt about the issue who feel that we can kick it into the long grass will ask themselves whether they want to walk into those schools after this debate and tell young people that they have denied them the vote.

Mike Gapes: I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on her speech, and I absolutely agree with what she said. I will support votes for 16 and 17-year-olds and the position put forward by my Front-Bench team. I want to speak to my amendments 51 and 52. Amendment 51 relates to a serious anomaly in the current position regarding European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom, while amendment 52 relates to a further anomaly regarding British citizens living elsewhere in the EU.

Let me deal first with amendment 51. As things stand, a citizen of Malta, Cyprus or the Republic of Ireland, which are all European Union countries, can vote in the proposed referendum on the future of the UK in the EU. Those citizens can do so because, in the case of Malta and Cyprus, they are also in the Commonwealth. In the case of the Republic of Ireland, they can do so because it was once a British colony and there would be complications with regard to Northern Ireland if they could not vote. These are historical reasons. Under our parliamentary franchise, we allow citizens of those three countries and all other Commonwealth citizens in the UK to vote in the election.

Oliver Dowden: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a valid reason for extending the franchise to members of the Commonwealth—many of the citizens

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of those countries fought and spilt blood in defence of the freedoms we enjoy, which gives them a unique entitlement to vote?

Mike Gapes: I will not be diverted into a long argument, but I have constituents and friends who are Poles, whose parents and grandparents fought with the British. I also have constituents whose relatives fought with the resistance, with the left in Italy and in France against fascism and Nazism. I have friends from other European countries who acted similarly, so I am afraid the hon. Gentleman cannot use that argument.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. In Scotland, we have an excellent Polish community, for example. We have a huge Polish community who fought incredibly bravely during the war, and a newer Polish community who are making a significant contribution to Scottish life.

Mike Gapes: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

On the question of EU citizens, there is a very good organisation called New Europeans. I was privileged to be involved when it launched exactly two years ago on 18 June 2013 in the Boothroyd Room. I spoke at the launch. It brings together EU citizens living in the UK. New Europeans has just sent to the Prime Minister a letter signed by a large number of people. I will not list them all, but Nishan Dzhingozyan from Bulgaria, Monika Tlacyt from Poland, Anastasios Vourexakis from Greece and Dean Domitrovic from Croatia were the four main signatories. It was signed by a representative of each of the other EU countries resident in the UK. These are people who are paying taxes, studying, working and living here. Many of them have children born here.

In my recent general election campaign, I met a couple on the street: he was British, she was French. She has been living in this country for many years, and they have children at a school in my constituency. In the referendum, however, one of them will have a vote and the other will not. We have the interesting scenario whereby Commonwealth citizens can vote. A person from Jamaica can vote in the referendum. A person from India or Bangladesh can vote in it. However, someone from Italy or Spain who may have lived in the United Kingdom for longer than people from those other European countries that I mentioned cannot vote.

1 pm

During the general election campaign, a man stopped me in the street and said, “I am not sure whether I can vote.” I asked, “What is your nationality?” He said, “I am an Italian citizen.” I said, “In that case, you will not be able to vote in this election.” He then said, “I am originally from Bangladesh, and I have dual citizenship.” I told him, “Well, in that case you can vote.” But if that man had been a Somali with Italian citizenship, he would not have been able to vote. Someone in a similar position who had come to this country in similar circumstances, as a migrant or an asylum seeker, with the nationality of another European Union state such as Sweden or the Netherlands, could not vote, but if that person had come from a Commonwealth country in such circumstances, he could vote. It is an absurdity.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his pronunciation of all those names.

In her brilliant speech, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) spoke of sending a message. I hope that the Committee will accept my hon. Friend’s amendment, which I have signed and which I support—I also support the amendment tabled by the Scottish National party—because it sends the message that those who come to this country and pay their taxes ought to have the same franchise as everyone else, and to be able to vote in the same way.

Mike Gapes: I take that point entirely. The letter that the New Europeans sent to the Prime Minister points out that it is unfair to discriminate against some EU citizens by not allowing “so many of us” to vote.

Antoinette Sandbach: The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) read out a powerful list of other European countries that apply exactly the same criteria. I speak as the child of an EU citizen—my mother—who does not vote. She chooses to retain her nationality and her citizenship in the Netherlands, where she was born, although she has lived in this country for many years. Ultimately, it is for such individuals to decide what their citizenship is. If they wish to become British citizens, they can exercise the franchise here.

Mike Gapes: That is true, but there remains an anomaly which is not dealt with by what has been said by either the hon. Lady or my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East. We allow some EU citizens to vote in our elections; there is not a blanket ban. A Cypriot can vote, a Greek Cypriot can vote, but a Greek cannot vote.

Tom Brake: I am happy to have added my name to the hon. Gentleman’s very sensible amendment. What reasons have his Front-Bench colleagues given him for not supporting it?

Mike Gapes: I will let my Front-Bench colleagues speak for themselves. I will not put words into their mouths. I am presenting a case that is linked with my other amendment, which relates to British citizens living in other EU countries.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for his amendment in arguing against differentiation between people of different nationalities who are resident here and pay taxes, but why stop at EU citizens? Why does he not apply the same argument to citizens of the wider world who are also resident here and pay taxes, and who will also be affected by the decision?

Mike Gapes: I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but the referendum is about the European Union. I agree that people in the United States and other parts of the world are affected, but we already allow a great many people from other countries who live here to vote in our parliamentary elections, because of the Commonwealth. A large number of British people living in other countries and a large number of Commonwealth citizens living in the United Kingdom—many of whom have not taken British citizenship, whether they have come from Pakistan, India, Australia or Canada—can vote in those elections.

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Chris Skidmore: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman’s argument relates to the complexities of our current system of eligibility to vote in either the potential European referendum or a general election, but may I take up the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who mentioned tax? How long does the hon. Gentleman think the period of contribution should be? Should it be five years or 10 years, or should taxpayers be eligible immediately?

Mike Gapes: That is not a question that I can answer at this stage. We have residence rules with regard to people’s eligibility to vote. The essence of my argument is that there should be no discrimination against European Union citizens who are not from Commonwealth countries that are in the European Union. My amendment would end discrimination against EU citizens who may have lived in the United Kingdom for many years—perhaps with children who are at school or university—and may have been making a contribution during that time, whether they are directors of companies, accountants, traders in the City of London, or taxi drivers. Yesterday, I was taken to the climate change event on the South Bank and Lambeth Bridge in a rickshaw pedalled by a Polish guy who had been living in London for many years, working as a rickshaw driver.

The future of many people who are making a contribution to British society could be seriously affected by the referendum. If we leave the European Union, what will happen to the right of those people—many of whom have children who were born here—to stay in our country? The referendum has enormous implications for them and their families, and it also has huge implications for the 2.2 million British people who live elsewhere in the European Union. That is what amendment 52 is about.

The two amendments are balanced, in a sense. There are 2.3 million EU citizens living in the UK, and 2.2 million British citizens living in the other 27 EU countries. However, the demography is a bit different. The people who are living here are younger, they are paying taxes, and they are working. Many, although not all, of those British citizens are living in countries such as Spain and France. Today, I received e-mails from people in, for instance, Crete and Germany who believe that their voices should be heard.

It is possible for people who live abroad to register to vote in UK elections, although there is a restriction. A person who has lived in any other country as a British citizen for up to 15 years has a right to register as an overseas voter, although, despite the efforts of political parties, very few people do. However, a person who has lived in another country for more than 15 years is not eligible to register.

I tend to study the manifestos on which general elections are fought, and I came across a paragraph in the Conservative party’s election manifesto that states:

“We will complete the electoral register, by working to include more of the five million Britons who live abroad. We will introduce votes for life, scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting.”

That is in the Conservative manifesto and was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, yet the Government propose a referendum that is not consistent with their own policy on which they were elected. I am perplexed by that, so perhaps the Minister when he responds will explain why

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they want to change the law and allow people in future general elections, presumably, and local elections, probably, to have a vote irrespective of how long they have lived abroad. They are not, however, going to allow those people—the 2.2 million—living in the EU, of whom a significant number have lived in Spain, France or elsewhere for more than 15 years, to have a vote in a referendum that is vital to their future.

There is an organisation that represents Labour party supporters who live in other countries. It is called Labour International. It is affiliated to the Labour party and sends people to our annual conference. Other parties have similar organisations; there is an equivalent Conservative one. Labour International this week sent an email to the general secretary of the Labour party. It quoted one of its members, who says:

The In/Out Referendum has the very real and very frightening possibility of making me an illegal immigrant overnight. How are you going to get the Government to protect me, my family and friends should the electorate turn their back on Europe. What will happen to my rights under the Freedom of Movement clause? What about my job, my pension, my health-care, my property? Will I be able to/forced to claim political asylum? Will I be compensated for losses? Who is making our voice heard in the UK? The list of questions just grows and grows along with my insomnia.

There are people, who perhaps went to Spain 25 or 30 years ago, who are extremely nervous about their future. They are apprehensive, because a decision will be taken in as little as two years’ time that will have an enormous impact on their status, their future and their life. They thought they were settled in another European country, yet they will have no say over that decision, because the British Government—the Conservative Government—believe that their future can be put at risk through this referendum, while they as British citizens living in other European countries have no democratic voice because they have lived there for more than 15 years.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case, as does that email, but first, may I gently remind him that it was the previous Labour Government, whom he supported, who introduced the 15-year limit; and secondly, may I assume from everything he has said that he will support the proposal he read out from the Conservative manifesto to extend the limit for life, beyond 15 years, when it comes before the House?

The Temporary Chair (Mr George Howarth): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds, I must say that interventions are supposed to be on a single point. When I hear the words “and secondly”, I begin to get a bit concerned. Please keep interventions as brief as possible.

Mike Gapes: There is no proposal from the Government, and that is why my amendment explores exactly what their position is. It is unclear to me why they believe that British citizens living in a European Union country for 15 years and one month should not have a democratic right, while those living there for 14 years and 11 months do. That is an argument for all parties; I am just raising the democratic principles. A referendum is going to happen that will have a profound impact on British citizens and their families living in other European countries, on British-born children, on people in this

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country with European Union backgrounds and on people from other countries who are married to, working with or employing British citizens in this country. Yet, none of those people has a voice in this debate. These are serious democratic anomalies which need to be dealt with, if not today, then by another place when it considers these matters.

1.15 pm

Chris Skidmore: Is the hon. Gentleman therefore restating his opposition in principle to a referendum and to allowing the British people to have their say? I thought the Labour party had finally done a U-turn and walked through the Lobby with us the other week.

Mike Gapes: It is a pity the hon. Gentleman was not here on Tuesday to hear my response to another intervention from one of his colleagues. I will not repeat it now. My views on a referendum are well known—they are the same as Margaret Thatcher’s and Clement Attlee’s—and if he reads Tuesday’s Hansard he will see the whole quotation.

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman consider the fact that some people who miss out during elections are impacted when such votes occur? Government Members are seeking to ensure that the rules are completely consistent and that those who vote in general elections—indeed, those who voted for this referendum—are the same people who vote to decide whether to stay in the European Union.

Mike Gapes: The problem with that argument is that the hon. Gentleman’s party agreed to a local government and European Union-model franchise for the Scottish referendum. European Union citizens living in Glasgow or Edinburgh were allowed to vote in the referendum that took place in 2014, yet European Union citizens living in London, although they will be able to vote in the mayoral election next year, will not be allowed to do so in the referendum in 2016 or 2017, on membership of the European Union, which will have a profound impact on whether they can continue to live in London and whether their families stay here afterwards. There is an anomaly, and the Government need to get real about the problem and the damage it could cause to the presence of people who are a benefit to our country and to our own citizens in European Union countries.

I do not wish to prolong my contribution. I have made my points—[Interruption.] I am happy to take another intervention before I conclude.

The situation is clear: hon. Members on both sides of the Committee need to look carefully at the implications of this referendum for the future of our country, our citizens and those who are resident here. It is going to happen, and it needs to be seen to be fair—and to be seen to be in the interests of our country—so that we get the best possible result.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): Surely, the hon. Gentleman recognises that one way to guarantee that the referendum will not be seen to be fair is to change the rules of the franchise from those which applied when he was elected—when all of us were elected—just a few weeks ago.

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Mike Gapes: The choice is clear: we could have the local government franchise, which would allow European Union citizens to vote, as they did in the Scottish referendum and in the Mayor of London and local council elections; or we could have the restrictive franchise that the hon. Gentleman proposes. On the wider question, I quoted the Conservative party’s manifesto, which stated that they would extend the franchise period for British citizens living abroad, yet mysteriously—perhaps the Minister will explain why—that proposal is not in the Bill.

Tom Tugendhat: Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Bill is a local or a national matter? If he thinks that it is a local matter, will he not seek to apply a local franchise? If he thinks that it is a national matter, will he not seek to apply the franchise that is traditional in this country at national elections?

Mike Gapes: This Bill is more than a local or national matter; it has wide-ranging international implications. Before the hon. Gentleman puts his hands up in the air, he should note that EU citizens living in the UK can vote for MEPs in this country. Given the wide ramifications for our relations with our partners in other European countries, and the mingling and movement of peoples and investments, which is an inevitable consequence of a European Union with a population of 500 million, there are enormous interests for many British people and their families in having a say on this proposal. That is not being allowed to many of them at the moment.

Hywel Williams: Conservative Members liken this argument to arguments about local government, but the Scottish referendum was based on a franchise of 16-year-olds and European citizens voting, and it could be scarcely have been on a more profound matter: the very Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mike Gapes: I absolutely agree with that. I will conclude my remarks with the hope that both Front-Bench teams are listening to the points I have made, because the voice of the European Union citizens living in the UK and of British people living elsewhere in the EU needs to be heard in this debate.

1.21 pm

Mrs Main: I would like to say it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), but I found his arguments somewhat confused and wide-ranging. Let me remind him that the reason we have a Conservative Government is that a Conservative manifesto promised the people that if we had a Conservative-led Government, they would have a referendum. That was decided on by the current franchise of 18-year-olds and over. Those people voted to have a Conservative Government—I like saying that—so that we could then give those aged 18 and over a choice on their future in Europe. As someone who is in her late 50s, I am sorry to say—[Hon. Members: “Never!”] You are so kind. I would like to remind Labour Members that until this moment they, including the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who led for the Opposition, wanted to deny me, in my 50s, a choice on the future of my country. I am glad there has been a Damascene conversion to allowing people of all ages, including me, to have a choice that I never had 44 years ago.

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We now have a choice on the future of our country. Muddying the waters by, as the hon. Member for Ilford South was suggesting, including every person who could be affected as a result of being in this country in the time of a referendum and trying to make the franchise so wide—

Stephen Gethins rose

Mrs Main: Let me make a little progress, because Scottish Members have made a lot of comments in this debate. I am pleased that Scotland had its own referendum under its own rules, because that was devolved as such, but we are not devolved here. We have a franchise and I would like to stick with it. That is why I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) that I fully disagreed with the points she made. I understand the passion with which she made them, but I do not believe this is the time to adopt her approach. The electorate who decided that we would have this choice should now have the right to exercise that choice.

The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) argued that we should have people on the franchise at 16 because it gets them into good habits, but he then made the confused argument that between 18 and 25 people dropped into bad habits, because they went off to university, got married, moved away or went travelling during a gap year. But those 16-year-olds would eventually become 18-year-olds, so surely they would then have the same chaotic approach to voting that he described. This is not a time to make the point that we will get 16-year-olds into good habits that they will continue for the rest of their lives.

In a relatively short time, we will have this momentous referendum, which I have wanted for a significant period. I would have been hugely disappointed because up until now a Labour Government would have denied me that choice—I am sure I would have gone to my grave without ever having had it. We should stick with the franchise we have. As people have said, they want there to be a recognised choice and a momentous decision. Eighteen is not so far past 16 to say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, that these people are not going to be the ones who have that future—they are, too. We should be making the effort to engage the 18 to 25-year-olds and to increase the turnout. St Albans had a high turnout—

Stephen Gethins: A study by the University of Edinburgh showed that if people engage at 16, that increases their chances of being engaged from 18 to 24. That is one of the many reasons why we should have votes at 16.

Mrs Main: I respect the right of the Scottish people to draw those conclusions, but my conclusion is that we need to look at why in so many of our constituencies—perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to tell me the turnout in his in a further intervention—the turnout is so low. Why does the weather affect the turnout?

Stephen Gethins: The turnout in my constituency was 72%, which was significantly higher than the turnout across the UK, as indeed was the turnout in every Scottish constituency.

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Mrs Main: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, but his turnout was lower than my turnout. Having said that, many Members will know that in their constituencies the turnout, particularly in local elections, is woefully low. The turnout among young people is woefully low. I did 10 hustings—I am sure he did 110—but I can tell the Committee that many young people told me that those who were able to vote did not know enough. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes on that, because we need to make sure that that information is got across. We do not have the mechanisms at the moment to get the information to enough young people in a way that I would like. I do not believe now is the time to consider lowering the age for the franchise and including 16 and 17-year-olds. We need to put our energies and efforts into the 18-plus group.

In my intervention, I made the point that we have things that people can do at 16, but we have a lot of things that they cannot do. The comments made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) have been somewhat misinterpreted by the Committee. I think the point he was trying to make is that we protect young people from a lot of things—he happened to discuss child and sexual abuse. If a young person gets involved in a bad group and eventually goes down the criminal path, we treat them in a way that accepts their youth in law. We treat them in a way that protects them and we hope they will learn the error of their ways before they enter the adult world when they would face extremely serious consequences. We take that approach on a lot of things for young people. We try to protect them from the evils of smoking, drugs and drink.

I know that this is different in Scotland, before someone bounces up and down to tell me so, but we say that a young person still needs parental permission in our country to get married at 16, which I would suggest is a very young age to be getting married. Now is not the time, in an amendment to a Bill as important as this, to decide that we have to review the whole franchise. I do not accept that it is infantilising young people to treat them as what they are—young people, pre-18, the age at which the full weight and consequences of the law fall upon them.

Let me also point out to Opposition Members that people pay tax aged three if they happen to be a child star—that has nothing to do with age. So let us leave that one out; “taxation and representation” is somewhat of a misnomer. We say that young people are protected. What we need to say is why those young people of 18 are then considered adults. They can leave school—they can leave full-time education—and enter the world of work. They lose that protection of that twilight era between being a very young child and an adolescent, and being a young adult.

Chris Skidmore: Has my hon. Friend considered the issue of who the electoral roll and electoral data should be made available to? During the general election we all had access to the data in order to ensure that we provided materials, but those data could be used in other ways, such as by marketing companies to target 16 and 17-year-olds. How would she ensure that the roll is used sensibly and is not used for damaging purposes?

Mrs Main: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but I will be chided if I go down that route because it is not within the remit of the amendments under consideration.

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Such a matter would have to be discussed if we were to reconsider the franchise. I do not think that we should pick and choose our franchise arrangements; I know that Scotland did for the referendum. At the moment, we have a franchise of 18 plus. Those voters elected this Government and asked this Government to deliver a referendum and it is those voters who should vote in the referendum; it is as simple as that.

If we are going to start treading in these waters of saying that 16-year-olds should vote, why should we stop there? As has been said in this Committee, why not 15-year-olds? Why not 14-year olds? How have we picked this arbitrary age? Scotland went down the 16-year-old route. Does that make it the right one?

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) rose

Mrs Main: I know that I mentioned the word Scotland, so I shall give way to the hon. Lady.

Alison Thewliss: Does it not strike the hon. Lady that whenever franchises have been extended in this country, whether it be from 21 to 18, or indeed allowing women the franchise, arguments about capacity and the ability to vote have always been made, yet the franchise age has gone down? More people have participated in elections, and that has been a good thing for democracy.

1.30 pm

Mrs Main: The hon. Lady has just made my point. My point is: why not any age? She has exactly made the point. We choose ages for a reason. My generation was one of the first to vote at 18. I am sure that my father thought I was barking mad and should not even be running a whelk stall. The point is that we made a decision, and that decision has stood us in good stead. We must face the fact that 18 to 24-year-olds are not exercising that franchise. Moving the franchise inexorably downwards, which the hon. Lady thinks is a good idea, does not necessarily mean that we get better political engagement, debate or even consequences.

The hon. Member for Ilford South seemed to feel that the franchise for this particular referendum should apply to everyone who may or may not feel they are affected by being in the country as a result of EU membership; well, I profoundly disagree. This is about the self-determination of our country and how we see our place within Europe. That is something that I have never voted on, and I wish to vote on. I am pleased that the public have been offered such a vote now.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely rich of the Opposition to have a view on the details now when they were seemingly disinterested in the basic question for many years?

Mrs Main: My hon. Friend reinforces my point. Up until this very moment, the Opposition did not want us to have this debate. Suddenly, they are coming up with a whole load of detail that they feel is crucial to the debate. I think they suspect that the younger generation are more likely to want to remain in Europe. Political opportunism is why they are looking to move the franchise. I agree that, in the future, we should all have a larger debate on whether the franchise is pitched at the right age. Let us park that political opportunism, welcome

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the fact that Opposition Members want to give us old birds an actual vote—at long last—but let us keep the franchise where it is. It has stood us in good stead. Any efforts and bluster—

Keith Vaz rose—

Mrs Main: I shall certainly give way to the right hon. Gentleman who does not bluster.

Keith Vaz: I missed that last comment. I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Just to be clear: she keeps referring to Opposition Members. Some of us have been calling for a referendum on this subject for many, many years—and it was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2010. It is just that the Front Bench team took a bit of time to get to where some of us were.

Mrs Main: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; I hope that he will forgive my comments. We have many friends on both Benches who have wanted a referendum. I accept that he is a firm and staunch European. He wanted to have the referendum to give a choice, with the choice being, in his view, to stay in. He has colleagues who share that view, and others who share the opposite view. I am prepared to be corrected by the right hon. Gentleman, who holds staunch views.

The right hon. Gentleman is also right in another regard. I have that poster on my wall that says, “We are the only party that will give a true referendum”. I think we were playing games with the Lisbon treaty at the time. A poster of Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, is on the wall in my office, and has been there for some time, as are pictures of those who want to give us a true referendum.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): My hon. Friend said that her father might have thought she was eccentric voting at the age of 18, when she was first allowed to do so. The fact that she has a poster of Nick Clegg on her wall seems to add to her father’s view. Does she need some help in this matter?

The Temporary Chair(Mr George Howarth): Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). I really hope that we are not going to spend a great deal of time talking about the artistic merit of what hangs on the hon. Lady’s wall.

Mrs Main: I have been gently chided from going down that route. The point is that a referendum is something that has been rattled around for a considerable time. We are now having one, thanks to the fact that we have a Conservative Government who have promised to deliver a referendum, and deliver it we shall. I do not wish to muddy the waters of something so vital, so important and so longed for by trying to move the franchise down to the age of 16 or 17.

I look forward to all sides expending as much effort and energy on this matter to ensure that those people who currently have the franchise exercise it. That will be the best way to ensure that we get a vote that represents the true wishes of the people of this country. Those people of 18 will be living with the consequences for a very long time—just as those of us in our fifties have

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lived with the consequences of what our parents chose for us. We should stick with our current franchise, and not be considering passing an amendment that does something so momentous as extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. Such a decision may be for another day. All the implications raised by the hon. Member for Ilford South could be discussed then. We could consider who should vote at general elections and at local elections. That is an important issue, but it is not for today. I shall vote with the Government and not support the amendment.

Tom Brake: I rise to speak in favour of amendments 51, 1, 2 and 18. Having been advised that the lead amendment would be 51, I put my name to that, but I am also happy to support amendment 18, which seeks to achieve the same thing in relation to EU citizens being able to vote.

Briefly, on the subject of votes at 16 and 17, the Scottish referendum has demonstrated convincingly that 16 and 17-year-olds are interested in politics and that when there is a vote of substance, they will want to take part. They have demonstrated, I would have thought convincingly to the House as a whole, that they should be entitled to vote. Certainly, that is something that the Liberal Democrats have pursued vigorously for many years. Indeed, Stephen Williams, the former Member for Bristol West, pursued the matter in the previous Parliament and ensured that the House voted in favour of votes at 16. It was not legislated on, because it is not something that the Conservatives would agree to in the coalition.

My friend in the other place, Lord Tyler, has also pursued the issue through a private Member’s Bill in the other place, calling for votes at 16 for all elections and referendums.

Chris Skidmore: The right hon. Gentleman takes a snipe at the Conservative party for refusing to take certain decisions within the coalition. But the Liberal Democrats refused to give us a referendum on Europe in the previous Parliament, which is why we are having it now. It is hardly fair to make those assumptions when his party, at heart, has always been against a referendum on Europe—certainly after 2010.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman will know that that is not the case. In the previous Government, we legislated to allow a referendum to take place if there was a substantial transfer of powers—or proposals for such a transfer—from the UK to the EU.

There is one final reason why 16 and 17-year-olds should be given a vote in this referendum, which is that if the UK votes to come out of the EU, it will be a one-way street. If we choose “Brexit” rather than “Bremain” there will be no “Breadmission”. What does that mean for 16 and 17-year-olds? Their options for living, working, travelling and studying abroad are curtailed. Their horizons are restricted and their futures diminished. They have a right to have their say in a referendum, which, if the UK votes to leave the EU, could have a long-lasting and damaging impact on their life chances. We in this place should be giving them that right.