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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may apologise for not having heard the whole debate. He made reference to the committee on delegated legislation. Will he help me as a member of that committee as to whether there is any statement of policy that will be achieved by the provisions of the Bill, or is it entirely a matter of order and regulation-making powers being conferred upon the Secretary of State to do whatever seems to him or her to be appropriate later? I am not aware of any specific matter of policy that is sought to be achieved by the provisions of the Bill, save the conferring of powers to make regulations.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is a policy implication in terms of structuring a single regime and the concentration on installations rather than processes in that regime. That is a narrow but strategic point in the approach to the whole issue of pollution prevention and control.

The noble and learned Lord is correct. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee will no doubt examine the powers of regulation under the Bill. It will confer on the Secretary of State powers which for the most part he already has in a different context; nevertheless, it does convey substantial regulation-making powers on the Secretary of State. That is no doubt of direct and central interest to the committee.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may take up my noble and learned friend's point. It is a matter that I raised at the start of the debate. Can the Minister give the House a better idea as to timing? As I said, the time is very tight. Perhaps he can therefore enlarge upon the matter.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards the timing of the draft consultation document, which will include the draft regulations, I cannot absolutely put my hand on my heart and say that it will be available before Christmas. It will certainly be available before Committee stage, which will give adequate time for consideration by this House. We accept that the wider consultation process is tight. However, after the end of

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that formal consultation period other views could be taken into account in determining approaches to particular processes and installations.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Local Authorities: Age of Candidates

7.43 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider lowering the minimum age for candidates standing in local elections to 18.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, first, I wish to thank all those who have chosen to take part in the debate. When I looked at the Speakers' List last week I feared that very few were interested in this issue and that, despite frequent references to the need to consult, engage, involve, and listen to young people, concrete action further to involve them was of no great interest. However, with those noble Lords who have chosen to speak, I now look forward to hearing your Lordships' views and the Government's thinking on this subject.

Noble Lords may wonder why I have chosen to address particularly the question of local authority candidature rather than all candidature. While I believe that the arguments in favour of parliamentary representation at 18 may be equally valid, I wish to concentrate on why we need young people to be able to represent their local communities in particular. But first, I wish to touch on some wider principles.

We lay great emphasis on trying to create balance in our elected bodies. We try to address gender imbalance and ethnic imbalance, and try to ensure that people with disabilities are not disabled from standing as candidates. Yet we treat our young people as though we hope to exclude them from office for as long as possible. A minimum age of 21, if your birthday falls just after the election, can mean in practice that you will be nearly 25 before you can stand. Inevitably that creates councils where a "very young" counsellor is someone in his or her late 30s. That may seem young to us, but to children, teenagers and those in their early 20s that is already at the top of the hill, if not over it.

In the Government's modern local government paper, In Touch with the People, paragraph 3.60 states:


    "In particular, there is a need for more talented, vigorous young people in local government".

That is correct. Young people are not only able to be among the most active in their community; they are the future of their community. For that reason we should involve them as early as possible. They are also the major users of local authority services. Education is obviously one of those services, but they are also major users of leisure facilities such as swimming-pools and football pitches; they are major users of the housing service as they leave home or become homeless or first-time tenants. If there were more young councillors, I am sure that the kind of investment we have seen by some councils in, for example, the foyer model of housing--where there is housing, training and support

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all in one--would have been far greater. We can cast our minds back to remember what it was like being young (that is, if we try hard) but what we remember bears little or no resemblance to what it is like being young nowadays. We need people to be involved in decision-making in their own communities who have grown up there in the past five years and who have experienced the realities, for example, of how effective a community safety strategy is, what public transport is like, or whether street lights make a difference. The experience of a group of 17 year-olds waiting at a bus-stop at 10.30 p.m. after the cinema is vastly different to the experience of two pensioners waiting at the same bus-stop at 10.30 in the morning after a shopping trip.

It may be that councils will be urged, for example, to use a youth focus group in order to gain views. The trouble is that a focus group, which is a rather eulogised tool for making the excluded feel involved, can at best give only a snapshot of the views of a young age group. It is not the same as being part of the decision-making process.

At 18 or 19 you may be in a first job, unemployed or still in education. But the 19 or 20 year-old is often relatively free of other commitments. One of the most difficult combinations in life is that of public office, a very young family and a career. So if we exclude young people from standing before they have a family we may in practice be excluding them until their late 30s or early 40s as the demands of that young family and career take over. This may be the last civil right denied to people who are by all other definitions adults. At 18 you can marry, die for your country and be deemed old enough to look after your own needs in housing terms--but you are too young to represent your community.

Elsewhere in Europe nearly all countries accept that 18 is sufficiently mature for local candidature. One or two countries in Europe have differentiated between local elections and national elections and have retained the higher age of 21 for eligibility for regional or national elections. I shall not enter into that argument today. I wish to concentrate on the argument, which is overwhelming, for reducing the age for candidature in local elections.

This Government have been quite active in supporting a young people's democracy programme to encourage them to vote, to take part and to express a view, but that only goes so far. I believe it lacks credibility. We are saying to those young people: "We want you to be interested in 'our show'. You cannot be part of it, but please come along and watch". No wonder apathy is so frequently encountered among the young when politics is mentioned. We want them as activists, we want them out there delivering our leaflets, and we want them as voters--much is talked about how to get them to turn out and vote--but we do not want them as representatives. I believe that they can understand the double standard that that represents.

What would it mean in local communities? I should like to turn for a moment to the communities that I know best, small rural communities, and look at the things that a parish council deals with. They are small things but

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they make a big difference in the life of the community. Let us look at how a parish council reaches the decision as to how to spend its precept. The spending choices for an older age group may include floodlighting the church and benches on which to sit to look at the church once it is floodlit. They may include street lighting so that people can see the group of scary teenagers lurking in the bus shelter. Issues for that age group include getting the police to stop the teenagers lurking in the bus shelter and to stop those same teenagers skateboarding in the street.

If the younger age group were involved, what would they provide for their younger brothers and sisters aged between, say, 8 and 18? If someone were elected who had only just stopped lurking in the bus shelter, he or she would provide a place for that younger age group to meet in on a couple of evenings a week so that they were not condemned to the cold, dark bus shelter. They might choose, for example, to rent the village hall for an informal youth session, to provide a multi-surface area for street hockey or to subsidise a bus back from town on a Saturday night.

The voice of those growing up now is different. They have had a completely different experience of life from the one we had, growing up in the 1960s, 1950s and 1940s. I will not go back any further out of respect for those here! If we are to modernise our service delivery in line with the reality of what it is like living in our communities today, we need to hear that voice on the decision-making bodies of our country. What are we going to do about it?

There has for many years been cross-party support for making no differentiation between the age at which one can vote and the age at which one can be a candidate. In 1985 Conservative Back Benchers tabled a members of parliament (minimum age) Bill, which I believe was talked out. The Labour Party said, in its document A new age for democracy:


    "There is no justification for the continued discrepancy between the age of nomination and voting rights. We believe that it is right that the age of nomination, which at present stands at 21, should be reduced to the age of 18".

We on these Benches have consistently campaigned for and included in our Liberal Democrat manifestos the reduction of the age to 18.

I do not believe that it is the law which should restrict voter choice. If people do not want to be represented by a very young candidate, they can simply not vote for that candidate. That is perhaps an argument in favour of trying this change first, especially for local elections. A constituency MP is the people's one representative to Parliament. If people were nervous about reducing the age of candidates, it could be tried at local level--for example at parish or town council level, where multi-member wards means that one can field some very young candidates and also have older people representing that same community. People could choose to vote for one very young candidate among their choices.

What is it that frightens successive governments about giving the younger age group the right to vote and a voice? As far as I can see, there are no valid arguments

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to continue the anomaly that at 18 one can do everything but represent one's community. I hope that your Lordships will send a strong message to the Government that this issue should be looked at as a matter of urgency. I think that the local government Bill could be amended to include this measure so that young people could qualify for election next May.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on raising this issue and on the way in which she has presented it. I do not need to detain the House long since I agree with a large number of the noble Baroness's arguments. Whether she would receive the extent of support that she would hope for if the House were more crowded this evening, I beg leave to doubt.

I realised a few weeks ago that, whereas I arrived in this House with expectations that we would promote reform of your Lordships' House--a matter which has been the subject of general debate over the past few weeks both here and in the other place--on the grounds that it was less representative of the nation than it ought to be and over-representative of privilege and wealth, in fact the major problem is that it is over-representative of the aged. Our problem is that we are grandfathers and grandmothers deliberating on the affairs of the nation. The debate on the age of consent brought home to me very sharply that we are a true gerontocracy. The aged are seeking to present laws and rules for a generation--in fact, two generations--behind us. We are out of touch with an important segment of opinion in our nation. That is why I welcome this evening the opportunity to support a proposal which would give greater recognition of the rights of young people.

I decided to quote this evening a distinguished Liberal since the noble Baroness who introduced the debate is of that party. Lord Asquith said that the attitude was often adopted--and it seems to be adopted here--that youth would be a much more impressive state if it came a little later in life. I think many of us probably share that view.

I believe that there is change in the air. For example, as a result of the last election we have in the other place the youngest Prime Minister of the 20th century. The Leader of the Opposition is the youngest in his post in the 20th century. We have a Member of Parliament who was aged only 24 on his election to the House. These are indications that voters are not put off by the younger generation. It is against this background that the debate about whether candidates, in particular for local elections, should be drawn from those aged 18 and upwards is to be considered.

As the noble Baroness pointed out, the law at present is fairly arbitrary. There are no clear lines in this country for defining the age of maturity. We allow young people to marry at the age of 16. We allow people to drive cars at the age of 17--and, regrettably, some do so dangerously. As the noble Baroness pointed out, people can join the Armed Forces at the age of 17. If they are in work--and, believe it or not, some 16 year-olds are--they start paying taxes at the age of 16. They do not

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have the vote until they are 18 and they are not allowed to be candidates until the age of 21. There is an argument for tidying up this position and, in particular, for bringing the age at which a person may be a candidate down to 18, the age at which they may vote. That could certainly be done with regard to elections to local authorities.

Perhaps I may declare an interest here. I wish to make a short reference to education. I chair the Further Education Funding Council. The Government are at present considering the issue of reforms to the governing bodies of colleges. Those reforms clearly envisage the possibility of students being members of governing bodies. In many colleges that position already obtains and students--some of them younger than 18--play their full part on governing bodies. It can be said that students have a particular stake in education and therefore bring to the work of governing bodies the obvious value that they are stakeholders with a particular interest in the enterprise. A college of education can have a very large budget, but perhaps not as large as those of some local authorities which have colleges. I am sure the students will be represented on such bodies which measure up to the budget size of the smaller local authorities. We shall see students playing their part on such bodies at a young age. If we are prepared to invest that degree of trust in their contribution within that framework, I am not quite clear why 18 year-olds who are not students but who are part of the local community and who might wish to represent the communities on the local authorities should be denied the opportunity. That is against the background that it may have been said in the past that such young people who are most motivated towards political understanding and who wish to play their part in politics would go into higher education and get their chance in the National Union of Students. At least one spokesperson this evening--probably from the Liberal Democrat Benches--might even refer to the glorious days of that organisation in the past. People should have a chance to play their part in higher education.

We are increasingly facing change in the provision of higher education, and more people will study at their local university and live at home. They will want to play their part in the local community as opposed to engaging in the student activities of the higher education institution. I see no reason at all why we should deny them the opportunity. When one considers the talent which plays its part in student activities in higher education there is no reason to deny the opportunity for that kind of talent to be deployed to the advantage of local authorities if young people choose to make that their area of contribution to society rather than higher education.

I ask the Minister to recognise that we are seeking to help the nation recover from a really depressing period. Young people today have grown up in circumstances where a Prime Minister denied that there was any such thing as "society". It was suggested that the only obligation one had was to oneself and the immediate family and to pursue the rather narrow interests identified by self. If we are seeking to create a better sense of community and a better climate for public

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activity, we have to try to reinstate concepts of public service so that there is some belief that there are common values to which young people can contribute. Why should we seek to deny them at a young age from taking part? We should encourage 18 year-olds to seek nomination to fight a council seat, if that is at all possible.

In other words, we have to recognise that young people today have developed a very different culture from that which the majority of noble Lords would recognise. There is a great deal of commercial pressure, and opportunities. There is a great deal of wealth in society. It makes the younger age group a much more defined and separate community, not least in its purchasing power and the way in which it defines its own cultural icons and practices. All this surely requires recognition by wider society. Local authorities need to respond as well.

Although local authorities need to cater for all sections of the population, when it comes to the matter of facilities in the evening, whether that is where young people go or something as basic as whether the public lavatories are open late in the evening, it is young people who are likely to need such facilities and not older people, who are more concerned and content to be either in front of the television or involved in bringing up their families. As regards young people out on the streets engaged in joint activities, the local authority should have some proper concern for what is provided for them.

A genuine debate needs to take place in our society concerning the role of young people and the extent to which we can be a more embracing culture, recognising that our representative institutions need to take full account of the developing culture of younger people. It is right that we should look at the question of representation. The representation of 18 year-olds standing for local authorities is as good a place to start as any.

8.5 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, it is certainly a paradox that the House should be discussing this subject. I am sure that the grey heads on the Government Front Bench are already quaking that the debate has unleashed the youth wing of the House of Lords to put the case. It seems only yesterday that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and I were playing football for the parliamentary team. We all suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has a portrait of himself in his attic, which is growing old, so youthful does he display himself on the Opposition Front Bench.

We are very grateful to be able to put the case for youth to the Government tonight. We do so with considerable pride. I confess that I am not one of my party's local government experts so I was very careful to make sure that I armed myself with Grassroots Campaigner, the magazine of the Association of Liberal and Democratic Councillors. In reading other and more relevant issues, I noted that there is a very good article on making money at jumble sales. That is something

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which both the Labour and Conservative parties may have to study if the committee of Lord Neill starts to bite.

I am grateful to the MORI organisation for its research. Recent polling shows some quite disturbing facets of the attitude of young people, which this debate and proposal may go some way to address. MORI recently asked 16 to 21 year-olds how important they thought their vote would be in affecting their lives. Four per cent. thought that it was very important; 21 per cent. thought it fairly important; 50 per cent. thought it not very important; and 21 per cent. thought it not important at all. Four per cent. said that they did not know. So about one in four young people consider voting fairly or very important to them.

A recent poll asked 15 year-olds and over what they thought most important about being good citizens. In some ways that was more encouraging. They identified respecting others, being good parents and obeying the law. But only 9 per cent. said voting at elections and only 6 per cent. referred to the importance of being active in their local community. Another poll of 18 to 24 year-olds was slightly more encouraging, 54 per cent. saying that they were fairly or very interested in politics. The polls are not exactly comparable; nevertheless they show an interesting discrepancy. One in four believe that the vote matters, but two in four are interested in politics. There is a high level of social responsibility, respect for others, good parenting and obeying the law. The poorest result was for voting or local community action.

One of the challenges facing society is how we bridge the gap between interest and participation. If we do not bridge that gap these are worrying trends. Local government is an important part of our democracy and it is a part of our governance which most touches people's lives. Worrying dislocation between the importance of local government and the participation by electors in the process can distort representation. We all know that turn-out at local government elections is depressingly low. In the 1988 elections the turn-out was 29 per cent. in England and 34 per cent. in London.

To the credit of the Government they are taking action to shake up the process of local government. The idea of a Cabinet-style executive--an elected mayor--has caught the headlines, but there is also scope for a wide range of community involvement and participation. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is bringing together programmes to provide an holistic service provision. The New Commitment for Regeneration gives local authorities responsibility for establishing long-term partnerships. The Minister of Housing is positively promoting the idea of full tenant participation. How do I know that? All of these matters are listed in Grassroots Campaigner. Perhaps more surprisingly, it states:


    "There are many many more examples of increasing good practice from the Government which we want to implement".
That is a good basis. If the Government seek to improve local government we should look seriously at this proposal, not in isolation but as part of a general programme to strengthen local democracy.

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The Government must take a good look at the percentage of local government expenditure within the control of local authorities if they are serious about transferring power. As the head of one important local authority said to me, the problem with successive governments is that the numbers and the words on the cheque rarely match and the intentions are not backed up by real financial commitment.

Nevertheless, we are moving into a period in which there is flexibility and a willingness to try ideas. We on these Benches believe that proportional representation at local level would transform local government. Votes at 18 would encourage participation and involvement but not in isolation. I should like to see much greater emphasis on civics at school and the use of the new technologies to promote awareness: the digital channels, the Internet and the like. I believe that the use of local referendums will increase involvement in local government.

The aim must be to put real power back into local government so that there is genuine democracy, transparency and participation. The proposal by my noble friend is part of a process that the Government encourage; it is a "Let 1,000 flowers bloom" approach to local government. If we view it as a period of change aimed at strengthening and invigorating our democracy nothing can prepare us better for the 21st century than to enable the young people who will play such a part in shaping that century to participate in building local communities and taking part in local government. My noble friend has made a positive and clear suggestion to incorporate this measure into the Local Government Act. If the Minister gave that assurance tonight it would be a very positive response. We look forward to his response.

8.13 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Question before noble Lords this evening is whether we should consider lowering the minimum age for candidates to stand in local elections. The response must be that the case has not yet been made. The answer is probably no. The corollary to that is whether we need to have young people involved in government and politics. The answer to that question must be yes. Therefore, we must examine the issues. We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for giving us the opportunity to debate this intriguing matter.

It is important that young people are involved in politics, and many of them are. They canvass in general elections and local elections and support various parties. But I believe that that is where we should draw the line for one very good reason that has been referred to but not emphasised: one-third of young people in this country are in higher education. The Government aim to raise that one-third to 45 per cent. I do not believe that a young person can be in higher education and easily be involved as a candidate or councillor in local government. After all, many of those who go on to higher education travel to different parts of the country and do not necessarily remain where they are. Often they change universities. For example, are we asking people aged 18 who, as in the case referred to by the

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noble Lord, Lord Davies, attend a local university to sign up for what may be a three or four-year term? That is a lot to ask of a young person aged 18 if he is elected. Does he know whether he really wants to hoist himself on that? He will be in difficulty if he wants to go elsewhere. If it causes a by-election pressure is then exerted on him by his party that he should not stand down; otherwise, in a by-election that party may lose out in the balance of power. Such a person may find his career in higher education constrained by such a commitment. It may seem wonderful at the time when everyone is frightfully enthusiastic and full of good ideas, but suddenly it begins to affect his life. I believe that that is the most important reason.

Political activity is part of university life and higher education. One learns about politics and the issues involved. I am sure that many elected at the age of 18 would do a good job. Equally, there will be those who find that it does not suit them, that they have got into something that they do not really want, that they have changed their mind and that it is detrimental to their education. The noble Baroness said that young people are often free of other commitments. I do not believe that we should be proud if young people are free of commitments. We want them to be committed. They should have further education and a career and should be concentrating on that.

Of course, one can be involved in politics as a student. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was very active in the Cambridge Union as President, following Michael Howard. That was where he engaged in politics. I also note that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was President of the Students Union. That was his first stab at politics.

If the Liberal Democrats believe as a principle that one should be able to stand in local elections at 18, what about hereditary Peers? I am one of the few people who were disfranchised for a short period of time. When I was 18 I could not take my seat in your Lordships' House. When I wanted to vote I could not do that either. For three years I had no democratic representation at all. However, the country seemed to get on quite well without my role in politics. It meant that I was able to sit on the Back Benches on the Government's side during the Heath government of 1970 to 1974. Does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, consider that such a proposal would have made a great difference? However, the advantage of the Liberal Democrats is that they always have local policies for local areas. Someone once said, "Liberal Democrat policies are rather like the weather forecast, variable in the regions and often wrong".

Education is a serious matter. I have two boys. If this proposal were accepted by the Government, they would be able to stand in local elections. I think that they have quite a difficult task coming to grips with issues of national government. It is quite difficult at that age to decide which issues are important and which are not, and how they should deal with them. They have the vote in general elections, as I think they should. However, I am not persuaded that they should have views forced upon them and that they should be part of a party

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machine. They should have time in which to develop their own ideas, to decide which party they wish to stand for, and exactly what they want to do.

I have to admit that the Leader of my party in the House of Commons made one of the greatest speeches of his career at a very early age at the Conservative Party conference. That shows that one can be involved in politics at a young age and be very successful.

I shall be interested to see what the Government's view is of this issue. Do the Government have a policy? However, if they have one, they can change it. I suspect that they might, like me, remain to be convinced. I look forward to the Minister's speech.

8.21 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we have heard some fascinating, if under-compelling, arguments, two of which I specify immediately. My noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham--he was echoed a moment or two ago by the noble Viscount--said that the Conservative Party in the House of Commons had the youngest Leader of the Opposition this century. I remember when I was at the Bar the late Mr. Justice Caulfield saying, "Is that really your best point?" The noble Viscount said that because of his presence, unwillingly, in your Lordships' House he was not able to vote in parliamentary elections. We shall be able to help him quite soon.

From 1695--I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is not in his place to hear these historical reminiscences--the age of voting and taking a seat in the House of Commons was 21. Then the Latey commission was set up and it came to the conclusion that there was a good case for reducing the voting age to 18. Obviously, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, has focused particularly on the local authority context rather than the parliamentary context.

The arguments deployed in front of Latey have been deployed this evening. Young people can marry, fight for their country, pay taxes, own property and vote at a younger age than that which pertains for standing in a local authority election. That is true. However, it has never been the case that attaining a particular age has necessarily been seen as denoting the level of maturity which gives access to rights across the board.

As has been mentioned, the school leaving age is 16. The armed forces can recruit volunteers at the same age. Sixteen is the age at which it is lawful to have heterosexual relations and to marry in some circumstances. We have already said that this session we shall legislate to make the age coterminous for homosexual relations. Eighteen is the age of voting, of course, but that is only in this country. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that in Mongolia it is 25 and in Iran it is 15. The age of criminal responsibility in this country differs from that in other jurisdictions. There is no absolute harmonisation but at 16 one can lawfully buy tobacco. The age limit for

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married couples and single applicants who want to adopt children is still 21.

In other jurisdictions which have been mentioned, one finds differences again. Denmark, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Finland and Sweden go for the minimum age of 18, not only to vote, but also to stand as a candidate. In France you have to be at least 23 and in Greece at least 25 to be a candidate. In the United States you have to be at least 30 to be a senatorial candidate and at least 25 to be a Congressman and in the local context in the United States, state legislatures differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

It is true that some young people are very sophisticated and able to come to mature conclusions. Equally, we know of examples of men and women in the prime of life--about 70 or 75--who do not seem to

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have benefited from the years of experience which separate them from their youth. That certainly is not an example that I have noticed in your Lordships' House.

There is an arguable difference in capacity and suitability between what is required to be a voter and what is required to be a representative. I do not believe that there is a definite conclusion to which one can come. Notoriously, we are not a government driven by dogma. Certainly we have heard an attractive argument, which has been attractively deployed this evening, and I believe it is wise not to have a closed mind in listening to such arguments. I can assure the House, and in particular the noble Baroness, who has stimulated us to discuss these important matters, that the Home Secretary will undertake to keep the position under continuing review.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past eight o'clock.

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