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Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, there are some serious anomalies concerning the age of candidature. One could make the case that people should hold public office only if they have a certain amount of life experience. I believe that in the United States there are different qualifying ages for being a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate or even for being President. However, it is difficult to see what additional learning experience comes from saying that one has to wait three years after being entitled to vote before one can stand for public office. I believe that it is a matter that should be considered.

I would add a caution—not that any noble Lords have suggested that this would be the case—that somehow this will magically open the floodgates and that large numbers of young people will stand for office. I speak as someone who was at one time the youngest member of my local authority. I do not believe that very different kinds of people will come forward to stand for election. I believe that the signal that it will provide will be extremely important. I hope that the Government will give some indication that this matter is under active consideration.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I appreciate that this is a probing amendment to see what possibilities there are for lowering the age. I have some sympathy with the amendment, but I do not think that it is something that could simply be incorporated into the Bill without further consideration. It is true that people can do much at 18, including vote and one comes of age at 18, so there is a rationale behind this. Although I do not support the amendment being included in the Bill, it is worth consideration. If the Minister would give such an assurance I am sure that we would all be happy to make observations on it.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the amendment would mean joining together the age of standing for election and the age for voting for local authorities. While saying that we believe that it would be wrong to accept the new clause now—I have some words to say that are good and positive—it would pre-empt the findings of the Electoral Commission, which is currently undertaking a review of the age of candidacy along with the voting age. The review commenced only on 27th February this year. The commission is planning to conduct consultation in the summer and will make its recommendations early next year. At that stage the Government will carefully consider any recommendations that the commission has to make. Given the fact that that work is taking place, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth,

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said about who becomes empowered under such a change. I freely admit that I am a little conservative about the age in the other place.

I only once wrote a Bill, in 1995. I went to the Library one night and tried to write a Bill from a policy document. It is not the easiest thing to do as a humble Back Bencher, as I was at the time—I had never sat on the Front Bench. The Bill was to convert the Labour Party policy document about elections and changes, one of which was to bring forward the Electoral Commission, to convert the Plant report into legislation. I produced a Bill in March 1995. Part of that proposal was to change the age of being able to be elected. In order to make the change I had to go back and find out where it appeared in legislation. I found out that the current legislation—it shows what a disgrace this place is; it is unbelievable—requiring that one has to be 21 to stand for election to the other place, but it apples also to local government, is contained in the Parliamentary Elections Act 1695. The reference is,

    "7 AND 8 WILL. 3 CHAPTER 26".

There is only one section of that Act on the statute book—Section 7. The side title is,

    "Infants not to be elected".

It is worth repeating, and it states,

    "And that no person hereafter shall be capable of being elected a member to serve in this or any future Parliament who is not of the age of one-and-twenty years and every election or return of any person under that age is hereby declared to be null and void. And if any such minor hereafter chosen shall presume to sit or vote in Parliament he shall incur such penalties and forfeiture as if he had presumed to sit and vote in Parliament without being chosen or returned".

That is currently the law of this land in 2003. The legislation is over 300 years old. There might be other parts that are older, but I hope that the Electoral Commission gets to work with this, as we certainly need to update our legislation.

7 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, it may amuse the Minister to hear that many people were elected under the age of 21 before that Act and became distinguished Members.

Lord Rooker: I am sure that they did.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I was about to make the same point. The Act to which the Minister referred was not fully enforced until after 1832. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, is right. Many were elected under-age, including Charles James Fox, who entered Parliament at the age of 19. I gather that research carried out by the excellent History of Parliament has actually found some Members were returned at the age of 15. So there are precedents if one lowers the age. It might be that one may wish to choose someone below the age of 21.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I should not have done that; it was totally out of order. Although we have changed the age of majority from 21 down to 18, in fact there is virtually no age between about the age of five and 21 where there is not some restriction. I remember dealing with the question when I was a Home Office

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Minister. Someone set all this out for me. There are all kinds of odd age restrictions, even concerning buying chemicals. There is a whole series. There might be a couple of years between five and 21 when there is no restriction on what the individual can do. But all the way up the age range there is a huge number of limitations based on age. It shows just how pathetic this place is at modernising its legislation, if nothing else. To be positive, I hope that with the Electoral Commission's review we shall have a consultation and a report, which will be published next year, and then we shall be able to get our teeth into it.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have made a contribution. It is an unexpected gem at the end of a long afternoon. I am also grateful to the Minister for his positive replies. I am fairly happy to wait for the outcome of the Electoral Commission report—although I note in passing that having had the same legislation on the statute book since 1695 we would not wish rush into anything, would we? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Imposition of borrowing limits]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 27:

    Page 3, line 5, leave out subsections (2) to (6) and insert—

"( ) No regulations may be made under this section unless—
(a) the Secretary of State has consulted such representatives of local government as appear to him to be appropriate,
(b) he has laid before each House of Parliament a report explaining the reasons why he considers it necessary that the regulations be made, and
(c) the report has been approved by resolutions of each House of Parliament.
( ) Section 122(1) and (2) do not apply to regulations made under this section."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we discussed this matter in Committee. The clause lays down restrictions on local authorities' ability to borrow. To borrow was one of the great flexibilities and freedoms that the Bill was intended to promote, and it is one of the areas upon which local authorities have hung their collective hats and hopes for the future.

Clause 1 gives local authorities the power to borrow. Clause 2 promptly reduces that and states that it can be limited. The amendment seeks to restrain the Secretary of State from rushing in too liberally to limit that power. We understand that the Secretary of State may have reasons—for example, macro-national reasons—that require all borrowing to be curtailed in some way. The power in the Bill would enable him to curb that borrowing.

However, we believe that before any such necessary curbing is brought forward, either for individual local authorities or in general, that there should be discussions with the local authorities—either with the Local Authority Association or individual local authorities—which might find this power reduced.

Under the amendment, we would also expect the Secretary of State to come to Parliament and explain why this borrowing power was going to be reduced.

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We would further ask were it to happen that it should be introduced only by affirmative resolution, so the House has another opportunity to discuss the issue.

As I said at the beginning, this power to borrow has become a major feature of the freedoms and flexibilities which local authorities are looking forward to having. So any restriction of it will be—and should be—taken extremely seriously. It is for that reason that we move the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, as in Committee, we support the amendment of the noble Baroness. As she said, the provision gives with one hand and takes away with the other which seems to be clad with a rather tougher glove in a tougher fist. It is a pity because the Government have made so much of building a good relationship with local government. That has been referred to throughout the proceedings on the Bill.

The Government's attitude is that they want to recognise local government's responsibilities; they want to allow it to take its own decisions; and they want to reserve to themselves the right to deal with authorities which are in difficulty or which are not doing so well. Of course we have our own interpretation of the possibilities allowed by some of these provisions. But, that is not the way to build the relationship, and certainly not the way to bring struggling local authorities up to scratch.

I have had difficulty throughout with Clause 4(2) to (6), including what still seems to me to be an inconsistency between subsections (1) and (2), that the whole of this is based on the Secretary of State being able to limit borrowing for national economic reasons. One understands the rationale for that, but under subsection (2) the Secretary of State is able to set limits on borrowing by a particular local authority. I do not find those two points lie comfortably or logically with one another.

The noble Baroness has covered both the philosophical and practical points well. We support her.

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