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Baroness Miller of Hendon: Or she. I thank the noble Lord. However, he should not be able to bring the case 20 years later. That would be intolerable for a small employer. If the Minister is saying that it does not matter because there will be so few casesone would be too many, if the person did not get paidI cannot understand why the amendment cannot be accepted. It would not interfere with the Bill in any way.
The noble Baroness said: At this stage, this is a probing amendment. When the Bill, which is intended to correct an anomaly that operates to the possible detriment of what may, admittedly, be a small number of employees, becomes an Act, it will not come into effect for two months. What is the reason for the delay?
Neither employers, employees nor the Inland Revenue need to gear themselves up extensively to give effect to the Act. It is a simple matter. All that it involves is that, possibly, some extra casesnot many, I suspectwill be brought into the system now, rather than later. Whatever the number, there is no reason why they should be deferred at all. I remind the Minister of the adage:
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I believe that this amendment is intended to be helpful, as it would bring the Bill into force as soon as Royal Assent is obtained. I take this as an indication of general support for the Bill from the noble Baroness and am grateful to her for that.
We have checked the position with the Cabinet Office and the established procedure is that Bills commence two months after Royal Assent, unless there are pressing reasons for bringing the Bill into force more rapidly. The idea is that both business and employees should have a reasonable opportunity to see and understand the implications of a new Act before it comes into force. Although I agree with the noble Baroness that the argument is not particularly strong in this casewhere we are not changing the existing entitlement to the minimum wageI think we can all agree that in general it is highly desirable that there is this period before a Bill comes into effect.
Even where there are pressing legal reasons the two month commencement period is generally retained, except in the case of emergencies. This is clearly not an emergency. The Bill will allow enforcement officers to issue notices in respect of pay periods ending before the Bill comes into force, so we shall be able to recover past moneys owed to workers whether the Bill comes into force in, say, March or May of this year.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I made it clear that it was a probing amendment. I thank the Minister, first, for having sympathy with the amendment and, secondly, for taking it to the Cabinet Office. I am grateful to him for that. However, while I shall certainly withdraw the amendment, I do not really accept what he is saying because in this case the reason for bringing forward the Bill is that the first Bill was drafted incorrectly. Had it been drafted correctly the employee would receive his money immediately. In view of that, I believe that employees are entitled still to do so because the mistake is the faultI do not say of the Government or the Ministerof the actual Act and the way in
This Bill does exactly what it says on the can. It would reduce the voting age in parliamentary and other elections to 16. There are two principal reasons for doing this. One is equity and justice. The other is the opportunity which it might give us to make a contribution to the revival of active democratic politics in this country, whose decline over many years we are all well aware of and much concerned with.
I turn first to the argument of equity, which I see as the main argument. In the process of a child's life from birth to 21 we accord it various responsibilities at various ages. At age five, a child is expected to know how to behave welland can be thrown out of school if he or she does not. At age 10, a child can be convicted of murder and has criminal responsibility. At age 16, a whole slew of responsibilities are lumped onto children. They can get married; they can leave home; and they can join the Armed Forces. It is an age when we turn children out of children's homes. Sixteen is a great turning point in a child's life. At 17, we allow them to drive; at 18, we allow them to buy cigarettes and alcohol; and at 21, we accord them the most dangerous privilege of all, which is standing for election for Parliament.
The question is: where in that spectrum should we allow them to vote? I suppose it depends on whether a vote is regarded as a right or a privilege. Through the centuries a vote has been regarded as a privilegefor example, in arguing against women's suffrage. I remember from my own youth the argument against the extension of suffrage to the black population in Rhodesiathey were not ready for it; they did not know enough; and it was not a privilege that they were yet up to exercising. If we did give them the vote they would merely elect a monkey, as in Hartlepool. That is an argument founded on the idea that a vote is a privilege. If one follows down that route we in this country should have some kind of examination before someone is allowed to exercise a vote to prove that they understand the issues in question.
However, that is not the basis that we act on in this country. In this country, we regard a vote as a right. Rights should go with responsibilities. In this country, after our various efforts over past years, 16 is the age
As the old adage says, "No taxation without representation". Much the same, to my mind, applies to all the other burdens that we place on children's shoulders. We have chosen to do it at 16. That is when they should have the right to have a say in how they are governed and how those burdens are placed on them.
Turning to the other aspect which is of opportunity, we are taking steps at last to see whether we can revive an interest in democratic politics in this country and reverse the gradual decline in participation in general and other elections. One of the most significant changes, to my mind, is the introduction of a citizenship curriculum in schools, so that children will go out into the world knowing something of what their rights and opportunities are in a world of democratic politics. It will be a little strange to say to those kids, "We can teach you about it before 16 but you haven't actually got any rights to exercise and get involved in these things until you are 18". That misses a tremendous opportunity to get kids involved at that age.
As part of the citizenship curriculum, children could be encouraged to register for voting and encouraged to participate in whatever elections are taking place at the same time. There is so much practical application and involvement in the modern curriculum. One could even have it as a project: "This is what I did during the 1986 local elections. These were the issues. These were the positions I took. This is what I did. This is my participation in it." There are elections of one form or another most yearscertainly every other yearin which children could be involved. There is no reason why it should not be part of the curriculumif children so wish they could pursue it and to be involved.
There is no bar on politics in schools. We teach extensive politics under the headings of environmentals and history. There is a great deal of politics in that. Not to include the full span of current politics, current involvement and current issues seems to me to be a great missed opportunity.
We should not be afraid of political debate and political radicalism at that age. A lot of the current Cabinet were active politically at that age. Yes, now they do not hold the opinions that they held then but that does not invalidate the fact that when they were 16, 17 and 18, they were active politically and held views which were a valid set of views for them to have at that age. We should not deny children the right to vote merely because with mature reflection 40 years on they do not hold the view that they held then.
Therefore, there seems to me to be a great argument in favour of getting the young involved politically. It provides the opportunity to revive real democratic debate. We can also find other ways of involving young people. There seems to me to be no reason why we should not allow them to stand for election to parish councils. It is hard enough to get good people
Indeed, when we are looking at the future of this House, we might even consider having a youth representation. How else are we to choose the democratic representatives who are to come here? It cannot be on the basis of parliamentary constituencies or we would rival MPs, and it cannot be on the basis of Euro constituencies because that is a recipe for apathy. To use proportional representation would make us more legitimate than the House of Commons. The template we have been offered is that we should be a House which represents all parts of the kingdom and all interests. Youth is part of that, and if you get people to vote for a group of which they believe themselves to be part and in which they take an interest, you have a hope of reviving real interest.
There are many ideas to be pursued, and if we are to revive democratic politics in this country we must be prepared to be adventurous and try different things. It may not workso many things must come together to make it work. Giving votes to 16 year-olds has worked in Germany and there is greater participation and interest, but it may not work in this country. However, we have the opportunity to try things and we should consider votes at 16 now. Because of all that we have done to give responsibilities to 16 year-olds, it is right that we should give them the right to vote. We need to take the opportunity now to start at the base and revive an interest in democratic politics in this country.
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