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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord makes the budgetary position much clearer at the second attempt. I shall look at this matter further because I am not certain that the position is stable in the long term. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [The Speaker's Committee]:

[Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Appointment of Electoral Commissioners and Commission chairman]:

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

7.15 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 25 and 26:

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    (d) has at any time within the last ten years--
    (i) been such an officer as is mentioned in paragraph (b), or
    (ii) held such an office as is mentioned in paragraph (c), or
    (iii) been named as a donor in the register of donations reported under Chapter III or IV of Part IV.").

    Page 3, line 9, leave out subsection (6) and insert--

    ("(6) In this section "registered party"--
    (a) includes (in relation to times before the appointed day for the purposes of Part II of this Act) a party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998; and
    (b) in subsection (3)(b) also includes (in relation to times before 1st April 1999) any political party.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 25 and 26, both of which were spoken to with Amendment No. 5.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Reviews of electoral and political matters]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 29:

    Page 3, line 35, at end insert--

    ("( ) the age at which people may be eligible to stand for election;").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 29 seeks to add to Clause 5 of the Bill one matter that the commission must keep under review and report upon to the Secretary of State. This matter has been the subject of discussion and a degree of consensus among the political parties but nothing has ever happened. I refer to the age at which an individual is eligible to stand for election. Recognition of the fact that 18 is the age at which people have the right to vote and to do virtually everything else, with the possible exception of matters such as adoption--in that case, I believe that a person must be 21--is long overdue. By and large, it is accepted that 18 is the age at which people are responsible. Therefore, a person of that age is entitled to be a representative.

The fourth report of the Home Affairs Select Committee was debated on 7th December 1998 when I drew the House's attention to this matter. I do not rehearse all the arguments then raised, but for those noble Lords who were not present at the time I refer to paragraph 123 of the report of the Select Committee:

    "Professor Blackburn suggested the minimum age should be reduced to 18 (the minimum voting age) since there was no sound reason to distinguish between the maturity required to have a vote and the maturity required to represent the electorate in the Commons ... This view was supported by the spokesmen for the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties".

The Conservative Party did not take a strong stand against it either. A personal view was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. Surprisingly, the committee said that there was an argument for reducing the age of candidates to 18 but on balance did not recommend the change.

The commission needs to keep this matter under review as a matter of urgency. There is perhaps greater urgency in the field of local government, where so

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many services are provided to young people; for example, those still in education and those in temporary housing. Young people are those on whom the New Deal is focused. People aged 18 to 24 have a particular perspective on the world which I believe deserves a voice. By the age of 30 many people are car owners. They are in permanent homes. They often have a stable job and a young family. I contend that there is a greater difference between those aged 18 and 30 than between 30 and 55. If their birthday falls in the wrong place, the effect of the law as it stands is to exclude people often until their middle 20s

It is urgent for the commission to keep the issue under review. Although I am concerned particularly with the younger age limit, it should keep under review all issues as regards age. This may be an era in which anti-ageing genes mean that an upper age limit is not applicable. On the other hand, if more people, sadly, develop Alzheimer's the age limit may need to be reduced. The commission should consider and report on both ends of the spectrum. The political parties should not pay mere lip service to the wish to hear younger representatives taking part in decision-making rather than acting as observers. We encourage them to take part in political debate but do not allow them to do so in their own right. I beg to move.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I support the amendment. I have never seen the point of having a democracy in which one limits the qualifications of the people whom one elects--apart from fairly obvious limitations on people who are in prison, and so on.

There are strong reasons for limiting the qualifications of those who elect: they should have a certain maturity. Having done that, one has established the fact that one has a democracy whose electorate is capable of choice. That choice may be wrong but, if necessary, it should be allowed to choose wrongly.

Noble Lords will remember that considerable efforts were expended in seeking to limit the residential qualifications of people who were elected to various councils. I always thought that that was a very bad thing too. We should give the widest possible scope to those who wish to stand for election and are allowed to do so, while limiting the qualifications of those who elect.

Lord Norton of Louth: I, too, have tremendous sympathy with the amendment. I am a longstanding supporter of reducing the qualifying age for election to 18.

I shall not rehearse all the arguments. We have heard several already. Perhaps I may call attention to a detailed article in the journal, Public Law, in 1980. The most powerful argument is the one put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley: because it extends voter choice. As a general rule, electors should be free to elect whoever they want. It is their responsibility. It is not for us to impose restrictions on them. That is a powerful case.

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The arguments are different from those employed for lowering the voting age. The two do not have to be the same. If one has a differential age, it is more logical to have a higher age for voting than for standing for election to public office.

I have tremendous sympathy for the motivation underlying the amendment. I have a problem with the amendment because I am not sure that it is the best way to achieve that goal. I am not sure that the commission should consider the issue. We should grasp the nettle and bring forward a Bill to reduce the qualifying age for standing for election. We have rehearsed the arguments. I should like to see the age limit reduced rather than pass the responsibility to the commission to review the issue. Indeed, I have toyed with the idea of bringing forward a Private Member's Bill on the subject.

I welcome the amendment as a way of putting the issue on the agenda. The noble Baroness has raised the issue previously in this Chamber. I look forward, therefore, to the Government's response on the matter.

Viscount Astor: I took part in the debate in December 1998 when we discussed whether the age for standing for election should be lowered. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn--he answered for the Home Office--and I were in perfect agreement on the subject: we did not think that it was a good idea.

I am intrigued that my noble friend said one should be able to stand for office at an earlier age and vote at an older age. I do not understand his logic.

Lord Norton of Louth: I shall endeavour to enlighten my noble friend. The criteria on which the argument is based are completely different. With the voting age one is giving the power to all. One is saying, "You are able to exercise that vote however mature or not you are". It is a universal application. As regards standing for election, the electors make the choice. One is talking about two completely separate matters.

Viscount Astor: I knew that I should never have asked the question of my noble friend! I am extremely grateful for his answer. It explains why he is an academic and I am not.

I have a more serious objection in principle. For a number of years we have been encouraging further education. There are forums within university systems for people to play a part in political life. I do not think that those in further education should be encouraged to rush off to stand as councillors, MPs, and so on. We should be sending the wrong message. The idea of an 18 year-old suddenly wanting to become an MP almost fills me with horror. Perhaps someone who wants to do so at 18 should be disbarred for a number of years on principle!

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