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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Although lowering the age of voting may not alone affect the engagement of young people, the Labour government of 1966 considered that it was a significant factor in reducing the voting age from 21 to 18. To further the examination and argument they appointed a Speaker's Conference in which I had the honour to serve. It recommended a reduction in the voting age. Have the Government given consideration to the appointment of a Speaker's Conference to focus on this issue at this time?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have not considered that approach. However, we established the Electoral Commission, which is actively considering all these issues. No doubt its reports and reflections on such matters will inform continued debate on the subject. I believe that that is perhaps the best way for us to address the issue.
In general, we are determined to identify other ways in which we can stimulate and encourage younger people to become involved. A number of initiatives have already been undertaken in the field. For example, through the "YVote?/YNot?" exercise, the Children and Young People's Unit explored with young people what can be done to ensure that they receive the information needed to bring issues to life for them, and thus encourage their participation. The Electoral Commission has researched,
As a number of noble Lords observed, the concept of citizenship was introduced into the school curriculum from 2002 to interest and inform young people in the democratic process. Above all, it has to be the case that we listen to young people to find out, and implement, what they want and need in order to enable them to play their full part.
I turn to the specific purpose of the Bill. As most noble Lords have noted, wider discussion of voting age and other electoral issues must be beneficial in raising the profile of electoral matters, in gauging public views, especially those of young people, and, most importantly, in informing policy-making. As has been mentioned, many bodies both within and outside government are presently examining the question of the voting age and related issues. The independent Electoral Commission is preparing to look at such issues, and we fully welcome that initiative.
Throughout the world, 18 years of age is by far the most common minimum age for voting. Some 142 countries set their voting age at 18 for at least one of their chambers of parliament: 171 chambers altogether have a franchise at 18. Only three, Korea, Indonesia, and the Sudan, set the voting age at 17, with a further three, Brazil, Cuba, and Nicaragua, permitting voting at 16, and just one, Iran, setting the age at 15.
As has been acknowledged, the age of majority in the United Kingdom was last reviewed in depth in the 1960s by the Latey commission, whose recommendation was brought into effect through the Representation of the People Act 1969. There has been no further legislative move on this subject since then, although an amendment was proposed to reduce the minimum voting age to 16 during the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill in 1999. However, that legislation had been drawn up to implement the recommendations of the Howarth working party, and was fast-tracked on the understanding that it was purely a vehicle to implement those recommendations. We took the view that amendments on other issues could have endangered its fast-track status. Therefore, the amendment was opposed and defeated at that stage.
Any decision on the major step of further reducing the voting age cannot be taken in isolation, or without widespread public debate. While the Government are not necessarily opposed to the policy that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is seeking to push forward, we argue that his Bill is premature
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I wonder whether he could consider why extreme regimes have a higher incidence of voting at the age of 16 than other kinds of democratic regimes. Can he express a view as to why that might be the case?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting observation. No doubt the point relates to the issue he raised earlier about bullying and intimidation. Obviously, we wish to reflect on such issues. For that reason, it is also right that the Government should reflect on the results of the research currently being undertaken on the potential impact of reducing the minimum voting age.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, pointed out, the Electoral Commission expects to launch a number of public discussions and reviews as part of its work. There will also be extensive consultation, which we greatly welcome. The report will be followed by
We remain neutral on the issue. I should perhaps observe that the Bill is technically deficient as drafted; for example, while providing for young people to vote at the age of 16 and thereby facilitating their eligibility, it does not include provision for their registration as electors. Therefore, it would not work. However, putting that to one side, we greatly welcome the debate that the noble Lord has stimulated by bringing forward the Bill. In a sense, we hope that the debate will form part of a wider and deeper consultation on how we encourage and improve the participation of young people in the electoral and political processes of our country.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords, who have spoken, especially those who have chosen to support me. My noble kinsman came riding to my aid in that regard, and I warmly thank him for his contribution. I must also express my thanks to the Liberal Democrat Party. I have to confess that my family, too, is a Liberal family. Indeed, the previous Lord Lucas was a Minister in a Liberal government. I should perhaps therefore repay some of my treachery by being grateful for the support of noble Lords from those Benches on this occasion.
I take the strictures of my noble friend Lord Renton most seriously. I have listened to him over many years, and have thus been educated by him. However, I do not agree with him on this occasion. If we are putting someone in a position where he can take the responsibility of starting and bringing up a family, with all the difficult decisions that that involves as regards looking forward and considering such issues, and if we tell him that he is free to commit himself to fight and die for this country as a member of the Armed Forces, as well as taking other similar decisions, it is very hard then to say to him that voting involves taking a much more responsible and difficult decision. I believe that we should follow the consistency of our previous decisions and say that 16 is the age at which we grant this sort of responsibility.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy for his elegant tour d'horizon of the issues; and, indeed, if I may put it this way, for his lack of opposition. I also thank the Minister for his response. We should not allow ourselves to be too hemmed in by the practice in other countries. This is a domestic issue.
Similarly, I am not put off by the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on what happens in other regimes. We should be extremely grateful that 15 year-olds can vote in Iran. That has brought a measure of democracy to that country and, indeed, an interest in political radicalism. I do not believe that the 15 year-olds are the source of power for the mullahs; neither has Brazil suffered notably in its recent electionsat least from the noble Lord's point of viewfrom the fact that 16 year-olds are able to vote. I should be surprised if the noble Lord were to disagree with that. It does not seem to me that such parallels should be drawn in this respect.
The noble Baroness said: This is a simple seeming amendment but the issue is not simple. Light is of the greatest importance in the Bill, although we shall debate other issues of great importance to people's lives when we come to further amendments. Medically, light is known to have a major impact on health. Unavoidable loss of daylight during the winter is accepted as a cause of ill-health and a depressed state of mind. How much worse is it for hedge victims to suffer avoidable loss of light? The Bill is intended to deal with that issue.
I do not know whether the amendment I have tabled, using the word "natural", is the right one; natural light may be too restrictive a definition. Before I go into the detail, it is important to dispel some worries and concerns people have put to me. I have received a great deal of correspondence since Second Reading. Because of the press coverage, people still do not understand that the Bill is not intended to reduce every hedge in the country to 2 metres. We must make it clear that the decision as to the height at which the
Other individuals are worried that treasured trees may be covered by the Bill and that their favourite tree will have to go. The Bill has nothing to do with trees. There are separate laws for trees. We must be certain that we are not dealing with individual trees. There have been legal case precedents with trees and there are other ways of resolving disputes over trees. But the law on hedges has been ineffective. It has taken 20 years to achieve success in the law courts.
Others are concerned that levels presently agreed with their neighbours might be considered no longer appropriate and they might be forced to change them. The Bill makes it clear that there will be opportunities; if levels have been agreed that is a good precedent which should be followed.
The aim is for hedges to be of reasonable, not oppressive height; it should be possible for them to be trimmed regularly; and they should be the sort of hedges that people would choose for a garden of a given size and which they would not consider too bad to impose on a neighbour. Light criteria on their own are not capable of defining such hedges. Light is not the only problem, but there is grave concern that the BRE guidelines for light would be inappropriate for hedges. For example, if you have a 5.25 metre hedge on a south boundary of a 15 metre garden, by mid-February 65 per cent of the garden will still be in full shade; by the end of March 50 per cent will still be in full shade; and at the summer solstice 20 per cent will remain in shade. In other words, 20 per cent of the garden is permanently shaded, but the degree of shade increases at different times of the year.
The Bill is intended to retain light of a degree that will make life good and liveable for the people on the dull side of the hedgeas I have said before, no one ever complains if they are on the sunny side. Under the BRE standards, a north hedge at the end of a 15 metre garden would be allowed up to 14 to 15 metres high. That is no answer for anyone. A hedge at the end of a tiny 9 metre garden could be 5 to 6 metres high. That applies to all aspects other than south, because if you get all the south sun you are on the sunny side and the situation would not apply.
If we followed the BRE guidelines on light, over one-third of people who have complained about hedges would receive no benefit at all, and two thirds would receive so little that it would not be worth their while using the Bill to seek an improvement. It is important that the question of light be determined. I hope that the Government will come forward with a more clear and positive way of determining light, not using BRE standards. I am not asking them to produce a magic answer nowthere is time to consider the matterbut I would like the views of other Members of the Committee on light.
Natural light is one thing, but diffused light, sunlight and living light are others. Natural light would mean anything except artificial light. That is why I am not terribly pleased with my amendment, but I wanted to raise this important issue, which I hope will be viewed seriously. I beg to move.
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