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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I shall follow my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth in nothing except for starting my speech with the words, "I had not intended to speak in this debate". I have been prompted to do so by him.
I have much enjoyed listening to the debate, which has had a certain Byzantine quality of which the Reverend C L Dodgson would have approved. However, if the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas and supported by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth were to reach the statute book without the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, the one thing of which one could be absolutely sure is that the next time we face legislation on this matter, one of the arguments deployed for lowering the age of voting by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others, would be that it is ridiculous to allow a man who has been elected to cast his vote in Divisions on serious matters and not allow him a vote himself.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I draw his attention to the fact that in this country there is historical precedent for the age of candidature to be lower than the voting age. It applied to women in the period from 1918 to 1928.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said about
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Amendment No. 53, and with nothing that he said about Amendment No. 54. So that probably places me in reasonably good company.
The noble Lord set out very wellas, indeed, did the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfieldthe reasons why we are not minded at this point to support the amendments. I say that on the basis that the Government will keep the matter under review. These are important issues and I take nothing away from what has been said about young people. It does not mean that I do anything other than support the rational arguments that have been put forward for engaging with our young people.
I declared my interest in Committee of having a 16 year-old. He is still 16. My daughter, who is 14, was very upset that I did not mention her. She wants me to make it clear that she sits on the St Albans Youth Council and considers that a very good way of voting to get the things that she thinks are important. They are not the same things that I think are important but, quite rightly and properly, they are important to her. I completely accept the need to ensure that we engage with young people.
We have to be clear about what messages we send from this debate and from the way in which we engage with our young people. We expect people who voteand we are all guilty of thisto read the manifestos of the political parties in order to gain an understanding of what is being proposed, to understand what the differences are and to try to make rational and coherent judgments about what they are being asked to dowhich is to choose the government of the day or the local government for their area.
Many young people, as indeed the traditions of families demonstrate, will follow the family voting pattern, but people are increasingly making their own judgments. The points about single-issue campaigns are well made. Many young people find their way into the party political process via a single-issue campaign. This may lead them in one direction or another, and it may be an entirely different direction from that of their family. But we expect them to take care with our democracy and to behave appropriately and rationally.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned 16 year-olds when he referred to company law. There are particular 16 year-olds and particular 12 year-oldsthere may even be particular three year-oldsto whom we could point and be quite confident that they would be able to exercise responsibility in that area. There are also particular 25 year-olds about whom we would not be confident. We have to make some kind of distinction. At the moment, after listening to public opinion, which is very clear on this subjectas the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said, unless you have got good reasons to ignore it, you should be mindful of itand after listening to what the Electoral Commission has said, I think we are where we should
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be at this point in recognising that the age of 18 is appropriate for people to exercise their democratic vote.
I absolutely agree that we need to engage young people throughout their lives so that they understand what citizenship and democracy are all about. They need to understand the benefits and rights of voting and how important it is that they should hang on to something so precious. I have no difficulty with that. But we have to make a judgment about when we can seriously expect people to make the kind of decisions that are so important to our democracy.
As for the age of candidacy, I do not accept the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. What we have done in making the age of candidacy the same as the age of voting is right and proper and I do not want to see it reduced. The implications for candidates is that they could be elected and they could be expected to play a hugely important part in our democracy. Again, we have to be clear about when we believe that it is right and appropriate to put such a responsibility on a young person. I am not convinced by the noble Lord's arguments.
We should keep the situation under review. I am probably rehearsing the arguments from some years ago when the age was reduced from 21 to 18. There may be a familiarity in all of this. Of course we must keep looking very carefully. For my part, however, I think we have got it about right. I do not expect to have won over the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Lucas, on this or, on candidacy, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. It is not that I am unwilling to keep the matter under consideration; it is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, I believe we have got it right.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, this has been a short but interesting debate. I remain firmly of the opinion that the age of 16 is an appropriate age. We divide into stages the process of becoming a fully qualified adult. Some rights are given at 16, some at 17for instance, the right to drive a car if you pass the driving testand others at the age of 18. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that there is a difference between the rights you are given at 16 and those you are given at 18. The right to give consent to sexual intercourse, for example, is an unconditional rightapart, obviously, from the consent of your partner, who may also be a 16 year-old. Certainly the right to consent to the first occasion of sexual intercourse is a far more significant matter than exercising the right to vote. A 16 year-old cannot be forced to attend school.
It is true that some of these rights are conditional. In particular, the right to get married or enter into a civil partnership is conditional upon the consent of the parents or a court. However, the right to get married is a far more significant right than the right to vote. So I think it is wholly appropriate to put the right to vote into the category of those rights which are given at the age of 16.
As for the right to stand for election, I am not quite so radical. I agree with the Minister that the right to stand for election should be at the same age as the right
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to vote in an election. I was interested in the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, because its logical conclusion is, why stop at the age of 16? I can see that someone at least has to have the capacity to have some idea of what they are doing by becoming a candidate, but I would be entirely satisfied that my eight year-old granddaughter would have that capacity. The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is one of those splendid examples where, by a process of impeccable logic, you arrive at an absurd conclusion.
I remain firmly of the opinion that 16 is the right age. Although public opinion polls have shown that a majority of people in this country do not wish the voting age to be reduced, we are campaigning with a view to changing public opinion. I see no reason why on this issue public opinion should not be changed, in the same way as it was changed for the reduction from 21 to 18. We wish to make our position on this very clear. In order to do that, I wish to take the opinion of the House.
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