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Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 23:


"(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1), section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) (local government electors) shall have effect as if for subsection (1)(d) there were substituted—
"(d) is of voting age (that is, 16 years or over)"."

The noble Lord said: We regard Amendment No. 23 as very important as it would mean a voting age of 16 years or over. That is the main point of the amendment. It is extremely important because we believe that the non-participation of young people in elections must be reversed. One reason for that is the increasing maturity of young people who, in their
 
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middle teens, very often are frustrated by not being able to participate in the political process. The amendment would give young people an increased interest in politics. I joined a political party at the age of 15. One reason was that the leader of the party was arguing for world government, which undoubtedly will not be achieved in my lifetime nor probably in my grandchildren's lifetime, but it is a worthy objective; the creation of a European Union—that was in 1950—and a parliament for Wales, which judging by the kind of debate that we have had today, possibly will now occur in my lifetime. We have been championing these causes for the past 50 years or so.

If young people, and 16 year-olds in particular, are given the right the vote, then they will participate in the political process and develop the habit of voting. Indeed, many of us have seen, particularly when visiting schools and looking at mock elections, especially at the time of general elections, that young people are extremely keen on participating in the political process. Sometimes, when they reach their later teens, they are not motivated because earlier in their lives they have not developed the habit of voting. This amendment is an extremely worthy one, to achieve that aim for the Welsh Assembly.

Amendment No. 25 is a tidying-up amendment and puts people involved in parliamentary service or in the employ of the Assembly Government on exactly the same footing as those in the Civil Service. It extends the list of those disqualified from being Assembly Members. I beg to move.

Lord Norton of Louth: I speak against the amendment, since I spoke against votes at 16 on the Electoral Administration Bill. I intend to be perfectly consistent. I say that despite the fact that I joined my political party at the age of 13—they allowed me to join earlier. However, I have always been opposed to lowering the voting age.

There are two objections to this amendment. One is its inclusion in this Bill. Any amendment to do with the voting age should be in national legislation, not specific to a particular part of the United Kingdom. The second is more substantive on the arguments. I notice that, in moving it, the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, did not even present any, which suggests that his party may have lost heart in the case for votes at 16. I shall immodestly assume that that is because of my persuasive arguments on the Electoral Administration Bill, but let me knock the noble Lord's arguments on the head anyway.

We are normally told that 16 year-olds can get married, join the Army and pay income tax. That in itself is misleading. You cannot marry at 16 unless you have parental consent; if you join the Armed Forces, you are not sent to the front line; and hardly any 16 year-olds pay income tax. In any event, there is a distinction to be drawn between where we allow 16 year-olds to do certain things and lowering the voting age to 16. In many areas where people are allowed to do things at 16, you are empowering not 16 year-olds but those who can select 16 year-olds to do particular tasks. These things cannot be
 
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exercised by all 16 year-olds; they are empowering other people. You can join the Army at 16, but you must be selected to do so, widening the pool available to the Army in making that choice. If 16 year-olds are going to be given the power to join boards of companies, again, the companies are being empowered, not so much the 16 year-olds. There is a filtering mechanism, rather than allowing 16 year-olds to exercise a power directly.

There is also a distinction to be drawn between lowering the voting age and lowering the age at which one can stand for election to public office. If you are going to lower an age, lower the age at which you can stand for election, for the reason I have just given: you are not empowering 16 year-olds, you are empowering the electors. It is then up to them to choose whoever they wish. There is a crucial distinction there.

I am not persuaded that a compelling case has been made for lowering the voting age. It is not standard practice elsewhere. I know the argument is that it would encourage 16 year-olds to get more involved. I go round and speak to sixth forms; they are very interested in politics. The problem is that we must address those who are not in the sixth forms, and this is not going to encourage them. We must get them interested in the first place, and just opening up the voting system will not do that in itself. We must look at other routes for achieving it. I am not persuaded that there is a case for lowering the voting age, and it is completely inappropriate in the context of this Bill.

7.15 pm

Baroness Gale: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that this is not the correct Bill to lower the voting age to 16. I cannot see how we could have different voting ages in different parts of the United Kingdom, and I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, means voting at 16 just for the Welsh Assembly elections, or for all elections in Wales: local government, parliamentary and European.

The noble Lord said that the provision would encourage 16 year-olds to get more involved in politics and be more interested in voting. I am not too sure about that. I am not sure how many 18 year-olds vote. If we had 16 year-olds voting in Wales, there could be an even lower percentage of the electorate voting if they did not take up the right to vote. If we suggest that 16 year-olds should get the vote, we should have a UK consultation—not just a Welsh one—for it. We need a much bigger discussion than simply slotting this amendment into the Bill. For that reason, I oppose the amendment.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that the Government do not regard this Bill as an appropriate vehicle for a reduction of the voting age. That has been said before, and will come as absolutely no surprise. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, made this point and we agree with him, although we do not necessarily agree with a number of other things he said.
 
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The issue was recently debated in another place as a result of an amendment to the Electoral Administration Bill. More than 100 MPs from across the party divide have signed an Early-Day Motion calling for a lowering of the voting age. In addition, the Government welcome the recommendations of the Power inquiry, and its contribution to the debate on democracy in Britain. Careful consideration will be given to the report and its findings. We welcome the debate created by the report concerning the reduction of the voting age. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, says that this amendment is important, and we agree. The Government, in the context of our wish to boost voter registration and participation in the electoral process, are keeping the matter under active consideration.

Noble Lords are absolutely right that we should look at ways of increasing turnout and political engagement among young people. It is a myth to suggest that they are not interested in politics. Although levels of turnout may be low among young people, surveys consistently indicate that they are passionately interested in a wide range of issues, from the environment to animal welfare. It is vitally important that we look for ways to reconnect young people to the political process and tackle the shockingly low turnout among young people at elections. Votes at 16 are one possible way of achieving that, and it is absolutely right that we have a public debate about the subject.

Although arguments have sometimes been made in favour of a different minimum voting age for different elections, we have always approached matters such as this on a consistent basis across the UK. Nevertheless, we remain open-minded about the proposal for votes at 16, and will continue to listen to arguments such as those made today.

While I agree with the sentiments of Amendment No. 25—to ensure that both Assembly government and Assembly staff are disqualified from being Assembly Members—it is not necessary. Assembly government staff are civil servants, so are disqualified from being Assembly Members by virtue of Clause 16(1)(a). Assembly staff—those who serve the Assembly, and who are employed by the Assembly Commission—are disqualified by virtue of subsection (1)(e).

With the benefit of these explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendment.


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