HC Deb 05 November 1959 vol 612 cc1178-80
10. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will take steps to set up an all-party committee on electoral reform having regard to changes in circumstances during the last twelve years and experiences at four General Elections, and to consider, among other things, votes for men and women from the age of 18 years.

28. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to initiate all-party discussions with a view to introducing legislation to give all persons a vote at 18 years of age.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am not at present convinced of the need to set up a committee on the lines proposed by my hon. Friend. I would remind my hon. Friend that the decision that the appropriate age for the franchise is 21 was taken by Parliament in 1948, and I should wish to have further evidence of general demand before making a change.

Mr. Nabarro

While not necessarily supporting any proposal to reduce the minimum age for voting, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is quite a large number of other electoral problems which have been thrown up by the last four General Elections, including, apart from what has happened to the former university franchise, the whole of the postal voting arrangements, which are not in such a state of good order as many of us would wish? Could he consider that aspect of the subject with these other matters?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. I think that it is the duty of the Home Secretary to consider all possible changes in electoral reform and then to consider the appropriate steps, usually through a Speaker's Conference, by which things can be put right. Of course, if hon. Members have any points they wish to draw to my attention, they are perfectly at liberty to do so.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the present system is very unfairly biased in favour of the Conservatives, and that it is calculated that the Opposition need to gain a majority of half a million votes in order to achieve an equality of seats? Is this not something which really should be looked into?

Mr. Butler

It is not quite as simple as that. It is true there are certain majorities in certain districts which provide Members with a majority larger than that gained by other Members. It is very difficult, if we take the normal size of the constituency as approved by the Boundary Commission, to alter that situation very deeply. We certainly feel that whatever the system, the Conservatives will be returned.