HC Deb 19 February 1960 vol 617 cc1607-73

Order for Second Reading read.

12.51 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) upon what seems to be the successful birth of his legislative child. I hope that other similar Bills will be successful. I trust that the appearance of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the right hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Vosper), on the Government Front Bench does not mean that he intends to strangle my legislative child at birth today.

The Bill is a very short and simple one, which everybody can understand. It has no elaborate Clauses or Schedules. It is very much to the point. However, it appears to have excited some degree of controversy. I cannot claim that it is a non-controversial Bill. I had hoped that when I introduced it I should have been able to make it in the full sense of the term a non-party Bill, because I thought that hon. Members on both sides of the House, and especially the young hon. Members, would be prepared to back it.

I had hopes of the Liberal Party, but, after asking a veteran Privy Councillor belonging to that party whether he would support my Bill, and having been told that he was in favour not of bringing the age of eligibility to vote down to 18 but of raising it to 25, I gave up the Liberals in despair.

I wanted to have some dignified names attached to my Bill, so I consulted a Labour Party Privy Councillor who sits on the Opposition Front Bench. Curiously enough, he had the same opinion as the Liberal, so I gave up the Privy Councillors in despair.

Then I turned hopefully to the Young Conservatives. I knew that my name would he rather apt to frighten them off, so I sent an emissary. I sent the youngest member of the Labour Party that I could and made him my "unusual channels". There was no response. I expected to get support from the younger Conservatives in the House, because I have every reason to believe from consultations which I have had that very many Young Conservatives in the country support the Bill. Indeed, one of the ablest cases for votes at 18 was made at a conference I attended, and which was addressed by a young Conservative barrister from the Bow Group. I will not mention his name, because that would damn his chances of ever getting here as a Conservative Member of Parliament. I am all in favour of the Bow Group, but I understand that it has not much influence in the House at present. The real power behind the Conservative Party is in the hands of the "bow and arrow" group.

I do not, of course, expect a great deal of support, except on affectionate grounds, from the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). However, I remember the Young Conservatives operating in Ayrshire very powerfully. They even operated in my constituency, but not so powerfully. What is the function of the Young Conservatives in the country today? I know the point of view of the hon. Member for Ayr. He wants there to be a strong Young Conservative party in the constituencies in order to drag in reluctant voters to support him at the next General Election—and, of course, he will require them.

I am greatly interested in the Young Conservative organisation. What is more, the Young Conservative organisation will be interested in what the hon. Member for Ayr does today. As far I can gather, the hon. Member looks upon the Young Conservatives as useful people to support his organisation at election time so that he may be returned to Parliament. At elections the Young Conservatives are mobilised and sent round at the last minute to pick up veteran electors of 82, 83 or 84 who have not turned up to vote. At the end of the day the Young Conservatives are told, "Nip off into the back streets and see whether any centenarians have not voted, and then bring them along to vote for the Conservative candidate."

However, if there is a Young Conservative who says, "We have brought these electors to the poll. Are we ourselves not entitled to exercise the right of voting?", there is no answer. I have no doubt at all that as a result of this debate the Young Conservatives will be saying "If we are so important to the Tory Party, why are we not given the right to vote at 18?".

I have been told that the Bill is "flying a kite". It is, of course, the beginning of a new agitation, or, rather, the renewal of an old one, because it seems almost to have escaped attention that on a previous occasion the House gave votes to people under 21. We had a very great democratic Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and during his Government, prior to the General Election of 1918, there was put on the Statute Book the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which provided that soldiers who had served during the war should vote as citizens. The Conservative Party supported that Measure, being far more democratic and liberal than it is today. There was also a small Act in 1922 which embodied the same principle, and that seems to have passed through the House without any discussion.

Therefore, I find that I am not doing anything very revolutionary at all. I am merely asking the Government to give a little consideration to a principle which was embodied in legislation as far back as 1918 and then allowed to lapse. Lloyd George was a great democrat, and it was rather curious that thirty or forty years later we should get another Lloyd George as Home Secretary, but when he was asked in the House about the possibility of votes at 18 he repeated that one speech we have heard from him so many times—very short, very eloquent. He said, "No, Sir."

That Lloyd George, who is now Lord Tenby, was a Liberal who became a Conservative. He was a Liberal-Conservative or a Conservative-Liberal and he was a "yes-man" who said, "No, Sir." He did not leave many footprints on the arid desert of Parliamentary time, except this short answer. Then he went to another place and joined the board of Associated Cement. We have never heard of him since; he is forgotten already, except for leaving behind him nothing but a series of "No, Sirs." That is an awful warning to the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State. There will be no statue to this Lloyd George, not even in cement, either in this place or anywhere else.

I do not know much about the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State. He does not feature in debates in which I am interested very much, but it is an awful warning to him that, if he says "No, Sir" in this debate, he will, in my view, be remembered in history as a sort of footnote to the representation of the People Act, 1949 (Amendment) Bill. There is time for him to secure immortality by tearing up his brief and giving votes to the young Tories.

The vote was given after the 1918 war because it was thought that "fit to fight, fit to vote" was a reasonable principle for the franchise. Indeed, it is. It was the whole idea behind that Act of 1918. Although it has been allowed to be forgotten, today the argument still holds good—that if we take a young man at 18 and put him in the Army, or the Navy, or the Air Force, then he is entitled also to the franchise and to full citizenship. If there were nothing else to back the case for my Bill then I submit that the phrase "fit to fight, fit to vote" concentrates, into a simple phrase and unforgettable slogan, a great democratic appeal. Since 1918, we have had another great war and a number of little wars. Young people have been called up to fight in Cyprus and Korea and against Mau Mau and in all sorts of smaller wars and yet, at the same time, we have refused them the right to vote. That is wrong.

Only a short time ago I asked the Secretary of State for Air at what age an airman was allowed to be a member of the crew of a V-bomber, the bomber which is likely to carry the hydrogen bomb, if the necessity arises—and we hope it never will. The answer was that at 19½ a young airman could be a member of the crew of a V-bomber, which could go out and destroy a city. Yet the argument may be put from the other side of the House that that young man is not responsible enough to have a vote; not responsible enough to put a cross on a ballot paper, but responsible enough for dropping a hydrogen bomb and destroying civilisation. Therefore, I say that this argument is absolutely unanswerable and alone would sufficiently justify the House passing my Bill.

There is far more to it than that, however. There is a growing—I would not say a burning—interest in the new generation. The right hon. Gentleman's name was on the Albemarle Report. That Report is a very good study of the younger generation and contains some interesting conclusions. There is another Report, "The Younger Generation," which was compiled by the Youth Commission of the Labour Party. I read it with great interest and I believe that it is a very notable contribution to the sociological literature of our time. The Commission was presided over by Mr. Gerald Gardiner, a very eminent Queen's Counsel, and I advise all hon. Members, before this Bill is discussed in Committee, to peruse its conclusions.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman let us have a copy of it now, so that we can peruse it while he is speaking?

Mr. Hughes

Certainly. I am always ready to oblige the younger generation, even to the point of lending my brief.

This Report really is interesting and I am glad to see that it is quoted in today's leading article in my old friend, The Times. I must say that The Times has turned the other cheek and has given me more space than I would have had at advertising rates. The Times has thought it wise to analyse the case for the Bill and, of course, finally to reject it. This shows that this is a subject which will be of interest in future.

It may be that as a result of this debate there will be discussions in every kind of organisation throughout the country, and possibly it will be one of the issues at the next General Election. Of course, it may not be. The only way it may not be is, I expect, that this Report of the Youth Commission will become the policy of the Labour Party and then the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will proceed to steal that policy and put it into effect before the next election.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

This Report is dated August, 1959. Were its recommendations the policy of the Labour Party at the last General Election?

Mr. Hughes

Obviously, the hon. and learned Gentleman does not keep himself appraised in politics. I was about to say that this Report was submitted to the Labour Party and is to be discussed at its next conference. I am confident that it will become a key talking point in politics. The headquarters of the Tory organisation may not be keen about this. It does not quite know where it is. Is it interested in the future generation, or is it interested merely in election tactics by which it thinks it will continue to keep the support of the people?

Let us go on a little further. My Bill is not based only on the reason that people who are called up for military service should be entitled to vote. The substance of my argument is that at the age of 18 the young people of today are citizens. They take a responsible part in society and they are entitled to have their say in electing Members to this House. Young soldiers and young miners should be entitled to vote.

I represent a large percentage of miners. At 18, the miner in the mining industry of South Ayrshire or in other coalfields does some of the most responsible work of the community and gets big wages. We know the old slogan, "No taxation without representation." The young miners between the ages of 18 and 20 do responsible and dangerous work in the mines. They handle complicated machinery and draw big wages, far higher than those of the age group at the other end of the scale—the old-age pensioner. Nowadays, therefore, there is no logical argument for saying that a young miner, who may be married and, possibly, have a child or two, should not be entitled to vote at elections.

The hon. Member for Ayr knows quite well that there is a great tendency to marry earlier in Scotland, as is shown by the figures for the hon. Member's burgh. The young worker who draws big wages needs a house for his wife and family. He is entitled to be as much of a pressure group for new housing as the old-age pensioner at the other end of the scale. The hon. Member for Ayr will know that if the young person who marries at the age of 18 gets on to the municipal list of the Burgh of Ayr, he probably has to wait ten years for a house.

If young people can marry and have children, they are entitled to a home and to consideration in the housing legislation which is passed by this House. They are entitled to have progressively-minded people on the local authorities and in this House interested in getting homes for the younger generation as soon as possible. I could go on through the Rent Act and through the whole gamut of occupations.

I turn now to some of the considerations which have been well outlined in the Albemarle Report, which points out that the young people of today have much more money to spend than the young people had twenty years ago. It was estimated by the authorities who were consulted by the Albemarle Committee that the average young industrial workman has over £5 a week to spend and that at the age of 18 the young woman of today has about £4 a week.

These people have a purchasing power. They are interested in the Purchase Tax and in the economic policy of the Government. About two-thirds of our young people leave school and enter employment at the age of 15. They go to work. Under my Bill, they will have three years' apprenticeship in industry before they come on to the register to vote. If we are to have the old democratic slogan of "No taxation without representation," we have no right to keep these people off the register.

I could give a large variety of arguments which are outlined in the Gardiner Report and which are relevant. At the age of 18, young people cease to be juveniles for the purpose of the National Insurance Acts. At 18, they are classified as adults for the purpose of National Insurance. At the age of 18, a young man can drive a motor car. Surely, this, too, affects the legislation with which we are concerned today. If he commits capital murder after he is 18, he is liable to the death penalty. Other hon. Members will be able to reinforce these illustrations.

There is an abundant case for recognising that young people of 18 are entitled to the full benefits of citizenship. What are some of the arguments that may be adduced in opposition? I will be told that the young people are not responsible and that this is the age of the Teddy boy, who is interested not in politics, but only in "rock and roll," and who is immature. Similar arguments have been used over and over again against every extension of the franchise.

I remember the controversy about votes for women. I remember the ridicule that was heaped upon the pioneers of that campaign. Then, we were told, "They will not take any interest in politics, so why give them the vote?" Women are interested in politics today. Not even the hon. Member for Ayr would advocate the taking away of votes from women—not at all. He is an enthusiast for them, whether under 18 or over 18.

I need not labour the point with the Joint Under-Secretary, because, by a curious coincidence, he was a member of the Albemarle Committee. That Committee's Report completely disposes of the idea that young people of today are too frivolous, are interested only by the sensational and are not sufficiently mature to take their responsibilities seriously. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has come armed with a copy of the Albemarle Report, in which he has already replied in advance to the arguments that may be advanced against the Bill from the other side of the House.

There are some eloquent passages in the Albemarle Report. One of them states: One cannot in fact indict the young for the growth of delinquency without also indicting the older generations for apathy and indifference to the deeper things of the heart. That disposes in advance of a good deal of the criticism of the younger generation that will arise in this controversy.

The rate of juvenile delinquency and criminality among some of our age groups is regrettable, but the Albemarle Committee Report states that only 2 per cent. of the younger generation were involved. Are we to condemn 98 per cent. of our young people who have not been in any trouble because of the 2 per cent. who have? In the female section, only 0.2 per cent. of the younger generation were involved. Are we to disfranchise 98.8 per cent. of the female population because of certain tendencies of 0.2 per cent. of that section? There is little more I can say unless we are to have this argument brought forward, perhaps not here, but in the columns of the less responsible Press.

There was one very interesting quotation in the Albemarle Report. It says, on page 31: Again, a quotation from Burns' poem addressed to the Unco Guid is relevant: 'What's done we partly may compute But know not what's resisted.' That quotation from Burns alone should make the hon. Member for Ayr look affectionately at my Bill.

The Report continues: In other words, it is easier to note obvious instances of 'anti-social' behaviour than realise how much worse might well have happened, in present conditions, had young people not made so many positive, often unconscious, decisions to ignore this kind of appeal or resist that unworthy but shiny temptation. It is easier to condemn by a blanket misreading all new forms (in dress, in dancing, in popular singing) than to acquire the close knowledge which will permit an appreciation of the strengths some of these new forms reveal. If those publications, in particular, which now use so much of their space in headlining the aberrations of a small proportion of young people were to exercise as much effort, but a more sensitive imagination, in looking for the signs of positive and worthwhile life, we could assure them that they would have no shortage of exciting material. After all, who are we to say to the younger generation that they are irresponsible? During my lifetime we have had two world wars to destroy Germany. We are now rebuilding that country. The Daily Mail of the day before yesterday said that this country has spent £15,000 million on defence and that Britain may well ask what she has got for her money. We can expect the finger of youth to be pointed at us. There will be controversy about whether we can give £3 million to the Youth Service. We will not have an answer if the younger generation say, "Are you entitled to preach to us about responsibility?"

Finally, dealing with the "couldn't care less" attitude, may I. once again, quote from the Albemarle Report, because it will dispose of the right hon. Gentleman's argument in advance: Probably the most accurate reply to such assertions is also the most obvious: that today's adolescents are much like those of other generations. Yet we would add this: that when we compare what is so often said about adolescents with the overwhelming unanimity of regard expressed in the evidence of those with long and intimate experience, especially in 'difficult' areas, we are left predominantly with a sense of respect and admiration for most young people's good sense, good will, vitality and resilience. The right hon. Gentleman put his name to that Report. I ask him to show his respect and confidence in this generation by giving them the right to be citizens and by giving them the franchise at the age of 18.

1.25 p.m.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

I was disappointed towards the end of the speech made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I thought that he was about to lead us into rather interesting ideas. Having started off on one line of thought which suggested that because a person of the age of 18 could marry, have children, and acquire a house, he should have a say in the housing policies of the country, or at least have a say in deciding on the people who were sent to decide them, I thought that he would follow that by saying that because a child went to school at the age of 5 and made use of the education services he should be represented, or be able to choose his representatives, but the hon. Gentleman did not go that far.

I am sorry that I missed the first moments of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but after I entered the Chamber I heard him suggesting that hon. Members on this side of the House virtually dared not vote against the Bill because of what the Young Conservatives who support us at election time might say. I wonder whether he dare vote for the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the relative strengths of the Young Conservatives and the Labour Youth Movement, he will find that he is more likely to lose by the Bill being passed than we are.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

That proves conclusively that those of us who are engaged in supporting the Bill seek to make no party points.

Mr. Goodhew

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was about to say that, because I oppose the Bill, it would put my motives beyond suspicion because I would lose by voting against it.

I know a young girl who has just turned 18. Although her father happens to be the hon. Member for St. Albans, she does not seem particularly interested in politics. She goes to a Young Conservatives' dance from time to time, but I suspect that she is probably more interested in whether there is a super band which plays the "cha-cha-cha" divinely. If she goes to a meeting of the Young Conservatives, it is probably to find out whether Caroline's father lets her wear black stockings at secretarial college.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

Is the hon. Gentleman attributing to this young lady the same motives for joining the Young Conservatives that he would attribute to all the other Young Conservatives, that they just go dancing and want to discuss homely matters?

Mr. Goodhew

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It might be said that this young lady, who is my daughter, was driven away from politics because her father was involved in them. It is not a bad thing for her to have other things in her mind. I would be anxious if I thought that she was consumed with an interest only in politics.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire mentioned The Times editorial of today. I congratulate him on having got his editorial. It is most unusual for a Private Member's Bill. In the short time that I have been in the House I have noticed that this kind of article is very popular with hon. Members on both sides. When one is issued, it is treated like a pronouncement by the Delphic Oracle. I have seen hon. Members rise to their feet, their eyes sparkling and their chins jutting forward defiantly as they hurled the quotation across the Chamber, rather like a young petulant child who, when he wants to reinforce his argument, turns to his friends and says, "Anyway, Nanny says no, so there." I do not know whether Nanny is always right, but she may be when we are dealing with infants, or at any rate with people who are legally infants.

The editorial went on to mention various things that a person may do when he reaches the age of 18. It also referred to the things that he may not do until he reaches the age of 21. The whole point was summed up in that editorial when it quoted Halsbury's words that the infant is regarded as of "immature intelligence and discretion."

That is a point that we might have in mind when thinking of an age limit of 18 or 21 as defining an infant. I do not altogether accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman, who spoke of a person being fit to fight and, therefore, fit to vote. There are many people who serve in the Armed Forces at an early age who are not called upon to take positions of responsibility. Of those who serve in that way and merely have to learn to obey orders and how to carry out the orders, few reach the higher positions. The hon. Member referred to the pilots of the V-bombers. Those men have exceptional qualifications. It can, therefore, be argued that this should apply only to those persons of higher intellect who, before the age of 21, reach positions in which they have to form a judgment and to act upon it.

We may already have reached the stage when we believe a person of 18 has attained that position. If so, we have not merely to say that a person of 18 years of age is entitled, on our assumption, because of intellect and intellectual standards, to vote at election times. If that is the case, is it not time that instead of just playing about with this Bill we revised the whole definition of an infant in law? Why should we treat this one aspect of a citizen's rights on its own rather than say, "All right, education has improved to such an extent that now, in 1960, we can say that a person of 18 years should be regarded as of full age"?

If we can say that, we can also quite clearly say that this Bill is unnecessary because, when talking of full age, we can substitute 18 years for 21 years. The point that should be occupying our time today is whether or not we have reached the point when we can look at the whole position of the person of 18, rather than looking at it, just in isolation, on this one point of voting. For that reason, I believe that we should not give this Bill its Second Reading today but should set our minds to looking at this subject as an all-party inquiry to see if we can sort out the status of the infant as opposed to that of the adult.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I am very glad that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) made his speech. He gave us an insight into his own view of the Young Conservative movement which, had I said it, would have been thought to be a cheap party point. Coming from the hon. Gentleman, with his intimate political and family knowledge, it is put beyond dispute. If it is the case that these hordes of Young Conservatives join merely for the dances, we have less to fear from them than we thought. On the other hand, many of the young Socialists are highly political people, showing a highly desirable interest in politics—which is, perhaps, why they get slung out of the party from time to time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on bringing in this Bill. He is a Welshman who represents the Scots with very great distinction, and he is also a grey head who represents the teen-agers of Britain. Whether or not the Bill goes through, I am confident that this will be the beginning of a serious agitation for a lower age for the franchise which will continue until, long after my hon. Friend has been buried, we gather in Parliament Square to unveil a statue to him, and hon. Members on all sides of the House will congratulate him retrospectively on the foresight they denied when he was active.

I join with him in congratulating the Labour Party on appointing a commission. The commission was appointed last year, and the reason why its report did not become party policy was that there was no annual conference intervening between the publication of the report and the General Election. Hon. Gentlemen will notice, I hope, that our policy emerges from our annual conference, and I hope that at our next conference this matter will be taken up.

I also get some pleasure from the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. There is an old tradition that the Home Secretary of the day should be present at certain important births. This has been somewhat modified by practice but, at any rate, we can, perhaps, interpret the right hon. Gentleman's presence today as that of a midwife and not an abortionist. I hope that he will be able to support the line taken by the Albemarle Report.

My hon. Friend's case is unanswerable, and I want only to sketch over one or two small points in addition. "Fit to fight and fit to vote" does not mean that when one is old enough to fire a revolver one must be old enough to use a vote, but that if one is thought by Parliament to be material suitable for conscription and to be put into action one should have some say in the sort of military action in which one will be involved.

When I joined the Royal Air Force we were given a lecture by a wing commander who had, no doubt, given the same lecture all his life. His theme was that we sentenced ourselves to "jankers". He told us, "You put men in Parliament, and Parliament passes the Air Force Act, and that Act gives the Air Council the right to forbid you to go about the streets unshaven." Then, with a great smile, he said, "You are really sentencing yourselves." None of us there had the vote—we were 18. It did not occur to him that the lecture he gave to the old "sweats" before the war could not possibly apply to the young war-time aircrew.

I remember coming back to this country in June, 1945, in a troopship, passing through the Mediterranean, and hearing broadcasts about the General Election of that year. One looked around and wondered how many of the soldiers on board were eligible to vote. I certainly was not, and large numbers of others were not thought fit to have a say in that General Election.

One point that should be remembered is that when we say that a person gets the vote at 21 we mean that 21 is the minimum age. However, since General Elections come only every five years, the average age at the age at which they get the vote is 24. If this Bill were passed and 18 years were made the minimum age, and the period between General Elections were five years, it would mean that the average age at which the vote would be exercised would still be only 21. There is here a practical consideration.

I support everything that has been said by my hon. Friend, by the Gardiner Committee and in the Albemarle Report about the responsibility of young people today. We hear all this rubbish about "rock and roll." In fifty years' time, the young people whom we have in mind will be old-age pensioners—probably saying, "The trouble with the youngsters of today is that they do not appreciate 'rock and roll'". They will have gone on to something else. Every generation accepts the standards of its time, and the youngsters of today will then be looking down on those coming along with something new.

What effect will the Bill have on the stability and the efficacy of the Parliamentary Government? It is a very great mistake just to ask, "Should Parliament pay attention to those of 18 to 21 years?" I should like to put it the other way round altogether and to ask: how can we make those of 18 to 21 years take an interest in Parliament? A far greater danger for this country today is that people will not be interested in Parliament. We shall get them interested only if they start young.

The rôle of Parliament and the value of Parliament in modern society was discussed by the House the other day when it debated the Report of the Committee on Procedure. We shall discuss it again when we discuss the Report on Accommodation, and so on from time to time. Parliamentary self-government is not practised by a thousand million people who live in the Soviet world. Parliamentary government does not now have a particular rôle in France—it is all left to General de Gaulle.

I sometimes wonder very much whether the younger generation are brought up to realise what Parliament is. Like other hon. Members I very often take school children round the Houses of Parliament. I take them to the House of Lords, bring them to the Central Lobby, take them round the House of Commons—then they go home. What do they make of it?

Again, if on television they watch the formal opening of Parliament, what do they make of it? What they see is a tribal assembly. It is all there—the chief sitting on her throne and, about her, the witch doctors—the bishops—and so on. There are the judges, the wise men of the tribe, in their wigs, and the landowners and the commoners. It is a purely feudal survival.

Of course, we know that the value of this is that it reminds us of our history, and underneath the feudal clothing that we wear is the sinewy strength of a modern democratic State. But do we get it across to the young people? When young people talk politics and about the affairs of their community, do they really realise what Parliament can do for them? Parliament, if it is to mean anything to them at all, must be seen as an instrument capable of being used.

I am very much in favour of the pageantry and procedure of Parliament; I believe in it and think that it is good. It has been developed over the years in order that we may get our business through quickly. The real value of Parliament is that people may use it in order to do the things which they want to do.

I remember the pilot who wrote to me at the time of Suez. He said, "I am in Cyprus. I am a pilot of a bomber and I am going to be sent in a day or two to bomb Egypt. I think it is wrong. What am I to do?" All I could do was to write back and say, "It is not for me to say what you should do. You are an officer in the Royal Air Force and you must carry out your orders. But Parliament is sitting and here are reached the big decisions about Suez." I do not know whether that man was old enough to vote. But we do not need armed action if there is Parliamentary action.

That is why The Times today has missed the point. It says: … there is the distinct possibility that 'youth' (in the context of young clubs, maintenance grants, and so on) would be added to the already long list of special-interest groups by placating or cajoling which the parties distort their electoral programmes. But what is Parliament for if not to meet the needs of young people on the representation of young people themselves? The people who make gramophone records have their pressure groups and the people who make Teddy boy trousers have their pressure groups also. Everyone connected with young people and their spending has a pressure group except the young people themselves. We want the young to feel that if there is something wrong Parliament is the place to which they should turn.

I was impressed by the young students who marched along with placards protesting against the new buildings that were going up. When the big building was proposed for Piccadilly Circus a meeting was held in this House organised, as it happened, by an hon. Member and bringing together some of the "anti-uglies" among some of the architectural students who were interested. Also to the meeting came a lot of Members of Parliament and ex-Ministers; a very distinguished group. It was decided to send a petition to the Minister of Housing and as a result of the meeting it was further decided to hold an inquiry. One of the "anti-uglies" said to me afterwards, "It never occurred to me that Parliament would help us in this matter." Their plan for action was confined to processions and marches. The idea that Parliament could help had not got through to the Royal College of Art or from whatever college it was where they were working.

I want to help young people today to realise that Parliament is here to be used. That is what the Bill will do. It will convince them that more even than in the past Parliament is not just an honorary, ceremonial sword but an instrument which they can use for their own purposes.

Happily, this is a very simple Bill. I hope that the Minister is not going to recommend a Royal Commission, an inter-Departmental inquiry, or another look at the meaning of the word "infant" in Scottish law or a review of Colonial penal matters. This is a simple issue of the kind which Parliament is well qualified to grasp and decide—do young people have a vote at 18 or not?

In this age of complexity on economic and political matters which face back benchers like myself, it is a great joy to come to something which is well within my comprehension: indeed, there is only one civil servant in the Box today. Let us give the Bill a Second Reading and move forward in a direction which, I think, no one will deny is bound to be the pattern of the future.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has delighted the House today, as he has done on previous occasions, with the variety of Bills that he has brought forward. No direct reference is made in the Bill to nationalising The Times newspaper, but I am delighted to see that, in spite of that, The Times has taken a great interest in the Bill. On a previous occasion the hon. Gentleman tried to give us the impression that he had the support of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in his proposal to nationalise The Times, so at any rate there was a similarity of themes. But on this occasion I am delighted to see that the hon. Gentleman has the backing of quite a number of hon. Members opposite. I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman has not produced a Bill to force us to recognise the virtues of the patron saint Robbie Burns. That is perhaps because he is a Welshman representing a Scottish constituency.

The Bill appears to be a very short and simple Measure. It consists of one thin piece of paper with all the important things on one side of half of it. But, of course, it is much more far-reaching in its intentions than the House has heard so far today. I want to say something about it in my capacity as one of those hon. Members who is far nearer 18 than many other hon. Members. Indeed, for two years I was the youngest Member in the House and the youngest Conservative Member during that time. I shall have something more to say about that in a moment.

I want to look back to the time when I was 18, because then I was still at school and I did not know very much about politics, although I do remember 1945, when a disaster happened at any rate to the type of society in which I have been brought up to believe. I knew about that, and, of course, in the years that followed I had the benefit of an annual visit from the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who came down to inspire us with his speeches and to tell us that not all was lost and that, perhaps, one day the sun would shine again. And it did.

That was all very well, but, of course, although at the age of 18 I had received inspiration from the right hon. Gentleman I had not heard the other side of the case. I was still mildly prejudiced in favour of the Conservative policies in which I had been brought up and schooled. I may say that even though in later years I have discovered something of the policies and intentions of hon. Members opposite, that has not shaken me in the belief which I had at 18. However, it is fair to say that I had not then heard both sides of the question, and I think many would agree with me on that.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

The hon. Gentleman is making a perfectly valid point in relation to himself and, obviously, in relation to many other hon. Members of the House, but he surely would not suggest that it is typical of the majority of the population still to be at school at the age of 18. As has been pointed out, most of them have been at work for three years by that time.

Mr. Cooke

x: I am quite prepared to agree that I may not be typical of many of Her Majesty's subjects, but that does not fail to entitle me to express my views and the views of people like myself. After all, we are striving to raise the school leaving age more and more, and are looking forward to the time when all young people will remain at school till they are 18.

I have mentioned the hon. Member for South Ayrshire who introduced the Bill and have said that he is a Welshman representing a Scottish constituency. I have a kindred feeling with him because I was born in Wales and have a Scottish mother. Fortunately, my father is deeply rooted in Gloucestershire, and, therefore, I am entitled to represent Bristol as a local man.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire made great play about an organisation which he described as the Bow Group, and he described a number of my hon. Friends as belonging to the "bow and arrow" group. I do not belong to either. I should describe myself as belonging to the "No" group. I do not belong to any group at all. I prefer to make up my mind on various matters of public interest after having heard both sides of the case.

Mr. Lipton

Subject to the Whips.

Mr. Cooke

There have been a number of occasions in the three years during which I have been a Member of this House when I told the Whips that I did not agree with various proposals. I have even absented myself on occasions when I have not felt inclined to support the Government. I shall continue with that policy and I hope that other hon. Members on both sides of the House will do the same.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said that he had sent an emissary round the House to sound the opinions of young Tory Members. I am sorry to say that the emissary did not reach me. I had heard nothing of the plans of the hon. Gentleman until I became aware of the proposal to introduce the Bill today. I suspect that one person who was sent round by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire was his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon). I should like, in passing, to say that I have had a certain intimate personal contact with the hon. Member for Greenock because in his medical capacity he gave me a penicillin injection last winter.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

I see that the hon. Gentleman has survived, unfortunately.

Mr. Benn

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that my hon. Friend actually helped him to get a safe seat?

Mr. Cooke

If the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) knows anything about medicine, he will realise that my seat was very much more uncomfortable after the injection.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said that he had an unanswerable argument in favour of this Bill in that if one was fit to fight, one was fit to vote. If that be an unanswerable argument, I do not propose to deal with it but to leave it for other hon. Members to discuss. I, too, am armed with a large quantity of papers. Not only have I managed to get a copy of the document on Labour Party policy from which the hon. Gentleman quoted, but I have also a copy of the Albemarle Report, and some other learned books, from which I will quote if it becomes necessary, but I do not wish to weary the House with quotations unless it is absolutely vital for me to do so.

We have been trying to discuss the Bill in an academic sort of way, but it has great political implications. When we discussed the question of the use of motor cars at election times that became a political issue, and this is a political issue because, obviously, there is bound to be speculation about the effect on future elections were the Bill to become law.

I think I can say that at the last General Election I had quite a lot to do with the average type of constituency in the United Kingdom. We have all types of constituencies in Bristol. I speak from my experence of Bristol, West and I had a lot to do with the two neighbouring constituencies which changed their political complexion at the last election, Bristol, North-East and Bristol, North-West. I was asked the usual questions at election meetings. Two questions came up at every single meeting. One was, "What about Suez?". One had only to say "Well, what about Suez?" and, usually, the questioner had nothing more to say. It was a dead issue. The second question was, "What about Hola?" If one asked the questioner, "Where is Hola?" usually he did not know. Today's subject was not a burning issue. There was not much enthusiasm about it one way or the other and it received only lukewarm support.

Of course, I think that the Labour Party was very clever in bringing out its document just before the General Election. It was a case of flying a kite—this Bill is a rather similar example—to see what people would think about it. Hon. Members opposite ought to reflect on the public reaction to their document, because there was not much enthusiasm one way or the other. I maintain that if the Bill became law, it would certainly favour the Conservative Party because, as all the world knows, the Young Conservative movement is very successful—whatever the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East may say about its social side and activity, quoting my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew).

Whatever anyone may say, those social activities are not a bad thing. We should all lead very dreary lives if we shut our politics away in a watertight compartment. It would be like a Member of Parliament spending the whole of his time in this Chamber listening to everything his hon. Friends had to say. Some of them speak very intelligently outside this Chamber in other parts of the building, although I do not think it is necessary for me to say exactly where.

The Young Conservative movement is very successful. There are a large number of young Conservatives in my constituency and I think that the young Liberals are reasonably successful. At the last election the Liberal candidate in my division, after having taken the young Conservative beauty queen out to tea, announced to the local newspaper—after he had just saved his deposit—that he would return to Bristol after the election and form a group of Young Liberals. That is just by the way, but I think that the two parties are successful in attracting young people, and here I come to my point.

I am very surprised that the hon. Member has introduced this Bill, for the reason that his party does not seem to appeal to young people. The young Socialist movement has been singularly unsuccessful and perhaps we might give a word of advice to the party opposite on that subject. It is because they are so intensely political that they fail in this respect. It is necessary to get people together because they like being together and then, possibly, there may be an opportunity to talk about useful things.

The Socialist Party approaches the matter from the wrong angle. I can give an example of the sort of thing that young people, young Socialists, tend to do when they get together. I am told that it is proposed to form a young Socialist group in Bristol. A report in the Bristol Evening Post states that a Bristol Left Club is to be formed to boycott South African goods and to picket certain shopping areas in the city. The club will also do social work which, no doubt, is a very good thing. The sponsors are Mr. Christopher Boyd who was formerly the Labour Member for Bristol, North-West, and, I see to my surprise, the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. That only goes to show the danger to which the hon. Member is exposing his party by supporting this Bill.

It might be suggested that this Bill is part of a logical series of events dating from the Reform Bill of 1832 which increased the franchise, though it did not achieve very much. The increase was from 5 per cent. to 7.1 per cent. of the adult population. In 1864 the figure went from 9 per cent. to 16.4 per cent. In 1872 we had the Ballot Act which was introduced by a Bristol Member. In 1884 the figure increased from 18 per cent. to 28.5 per cent. In 1918 women over 30 were given the vote and the figure went from 30 per cent. to 74 per cent. In 1928, it increased from 74 per cent. to 96 per cent., and in 1948, from 96 per cent. to 96.7 per cent. Surely, that is far enough. Surely, it can be said that that, is a pretty wide extension and before we go further, we ought to think seriously about whether it is advisable to do so. I can give more details if necessary.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I did not catch what were the percentages to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Mr. Cooke

They are percentages of the adult population, over the age of 20.

Mr. Lipton

Including peers and lunatics.

Mr. Cooke

I am not sure whether these figures have anything to do with peers and lunatics.

Those who oppose giving the vote to people of 18 will say that people of that age will vote for the wrong reasons, that they will be attracted by the wrong sort of things, just as Mr. Cliff Richard and Mr. Tommy Steele are the idols of the teen-agers. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East that there is nothing wrong in having such people as idols or that there is anything unhealthy about "rock and roll" and the things which go with it. My point is that people of this age group are more interested in that sort of thing, and that it might not be a bad idea if we leave the voting age as it is now.

If we had these young people in, the T.V. glamour boy politician would have even greater sway than he has now. We already have a reported case of a young woman who when asked which political party she supported, mentioned one of the parties opposite and said, "I am going for that party because the leader is so madly attractive." She was a teen-ager. I leave the House to say which Opposition party was intended.

To return to the Bill, although some would know how to use their votes at 18, I maintain that many would not. It is not quite so simple as it looks and this Bill would have very far-reaching consequences in all kinds of directions. Should we want 18-year-old Members of Parliament? That could easily happen, for, if we are to allow the vote at 18, we must allow a candidate to stand at 18.

Mr. Benn

We can have a Member of Parliament of 18. The Sovereign assumes full responsibility at 18 and the Sovereign is "in Parliament assembled." That is the precedent.

Mr. Cooke

The hon. Member is a genius for knowing the ins and outs of the constitution and I am grateful to him. Perhaps he will correct me in any other references I shall make. We could get 18-year-old or 19-year-old Members of this House as a consequence. That, of course, would benefit our cricket team, but it might not benefit us in other directions. We would also have 18-year-old hereditary peers. Perhaps that would be a good thing. I maintain that there is absolutely nothing wrong in 18-year-old hereditary Peers doing all the things we read about in the gossip columns of our great national newspapers, but I suggest that it would be better for them to do that sort of thing first and later to take on their constitutional responsibilities. Some may be at school and would have to have their schooling interrupted if they were to attend at Westminster.

The real obstacle to the Bill is that this is far too big a subject for Private Members' legislation. The last time electoral reform was discussed I believe it was through the formula of a Speaker's Conference. That, I feel, is the way in which this matter should be approached. I should not like to leave the House with the impression that I am steadfastly opposed to the principle of the Bill. I am trying to put the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal. I feel it is not the right way to go about it to pass a Bill of this kind this afternoon. I shall not oppose it, but we should have an opportunity to look at the problem in a much wider way on another occasion.

I saw the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in his place a few moment ago. He gave the answer to this problem, although perhaps hon. Members would not agree with him. He said in 1948: Our view is that 21 years of age is the appropriate age for people to undertake the duties of citizenship. It requires a certain amount of maturity and experience, and we feel the long-established practice in this country of regarding 21 as a suitable age should be continued."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 2233.] He is a wise man in constitutional matters and he said that then. If we were to consider this subject further, how much more useful it would be to have the wisdom of right hon. Gentlemen like him, and some of the younger Members, to look at the matter thoroughly. Here we are on a Friday afternoon with a large part of England blanketed under snow and many of us suffering from winter ailments. Are we on this occasion to pass a Bill which would have very far-reaching consequences, a Bill which, although we may learn quite a lot about its intentions this afternoon, we have not had the opportunity to explore as much as we should like?

Mr. Emrys Hughes

If the Bill passes its Second Reading there will be a Committee stage and the country is not always under snow. There will also be the Third Reading in which every opportunity to debate the Bill would be given.

Mr. Lipton

And there is the House of Lords.

Mr. Cooke

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire has had longer Parliamentary experience than I have had, but, in spite of his charm in putting this Bill a stage further and having discussion on it upstairs, he will know that most of the great changes in our franchise have been brought about by rather different forms of legislation. I suggest to him that that might be the way to proceed on this occasion.

I have listened to the persuasive charm of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who so often delights the House. I hope he will long continue here. When I was looking at my television set during the General Election, I saw that my hon. Friend the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) had been elected. Then I was delighted to see that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire was also elected. I did not happen to know his Conservative opponent, but I thought "Here is part of a House of Commons we just cannot do without. I am glad he is back again. I should like to give him my congratulations". We have had a valuable discussion today and we owe that to him.

Even though other hon. Members may have contributed in their way, we cannot do as we like in this House. It is not like that other, happier place where anyone can raise anything at all, and even find time to do so. Perhaps when the hon. Member has finished here he may be translated to that happier place. Then he can go and join—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The bishops.

Mr. Cooke

—the bishops and perhaps even have tea with the noble Lord, Viscount Tenby, on whom he cast such severe strictures today. Perhaps when he knows him better he might persuade the noble Lord to work along his lines. We have seen today the proper use of Friday afternoon for the discussion of some interesting matters. Many people have been able to say what they think, but I do not think that at one fell swoop we should pass a Bill which would completely alter the whole franchise of the country. I do not wish the hon. Member ill in any way at all, but I do not think this is the occasion to do what he wants to do.

2.8 p.m.

Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)

I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He fastened on to exactly the right argument when he said, "Fit to fight, fit to vote." The right to vote is, after all, the right to exercise citizenship, and the right to fight is in defence, basically, of the whole concept of that citizenship—our life and our liberties.

I have been waiting for this opportunity since I was 18 years of age. At that age I had just enlisted as a private in an infantry regiment. I was rather shocked by the reference made by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) to the suggestion that there is some distinction between serving men who are highly qualified technically and serving men who serve in a rather humble way in obscure parts of the Services. During my military service I progressed up the ladder of promotion. Towards the end, to give myself an air of spurious authority, I grew a moustache almost as magnificent as that belonging to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I also cultivated a deep, booming voice. But I do not think that at the end of my military service I was any better or worse fitted to vote than when, as a humble private, I was peeling potatoes—it must have been round about two tons of them—or washing about 5,000 greasy plates.

After all, voting has never depended on education. I felt that at the age of 18 I should have had the right to vote. It is true that in my platoon we were not a collection of Sophocleses or Aristotles. I do not think any of my N.C.O.s came in that category, but I do not think that lack of political education was confined to those under 21. There were those among them who were just as informed or as ignorant, according to background, as those over 21.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire made some very useful points. In the first place, we have more people than ever before in this age category. They are growing up faster, marrying earlier and taking on wider responsibilities. All these three factors must contribute to their right to exercise their civic responsibilities in all kinds of ways, because they are becoming more and more concerned at an earlier age with the problems of government and local government. For this reason, young people should be admitted to full citizenship.

Those of us who support the Bill base our support on two simple beliefs. First, we believe in democracy, and, secondly, we believe in youth. Democratic government should be based on the principle of the widest possible franchise and the widest area of free thought and discussion. In the growth of our democracy, we have seen the franchise gradually extended step by step as it has been given to the middle classes, the industrial workers, rural workers, women over 30 and then women under 30. These extensions have always been opposed by those who said that the proposed new category of voters lacked experience. But how do they gain experience unless they are given civic rights?

It used to be said that women were not fitted to vote. Flow could they be, when they had little incentive or opportunity to take an interest in political affairs? John Stuart Mill made the point very well in remarking that it was necessary to go into the water before one could learn how to swim. Speaking of the non-enfranchisement of women, he said: A practice which keeps citizens in relation to Government like that of children to their guardians is itself the cause of an inferior capacity for political life. The same argument applies exactly to young people over 18 years of age.

Our democracy rests on the principle that thought and discussion are the basis of true government and that every citizen has the right to contribute to this thought and discussion. This is the whole advantage of democracy over dictatorship. The danger of a dictator, apart from the dangers of tyranny is inefficiency. Nobody dares to contradict him, or to express new views or opinions. The danger of the despot is that errors of judgment are never counteracted or corrected by contrary ideas and the errors of dictators mount up like compound interest until the final disaster. In a democracy, on the other hand, more and more opinions influence our deliberations. The more opinions that we can call in from more and wider sections of the community with their different experience, the more we avoid what Bentham called the sinister influence of the partial franchise. What new opinions can youth provide? It is argued that the young people lack experience. I suggest, however, that experience is not the mere accumulation of birthdays. There are two qualities that young people can offer. First, they have idealism and they may, possibly, help to counteract the influence of people from whom the experience of life has eroded all idealism. Secondly, the young people possess imagination. We need these two qualities of idealism and imagination in our political life.

It is true that the inrush of new voters will lead to an element of unpredictability, but that is a good thing. We do not know which way they will vote. It will make the whole political scene unpredictable. Nothing is so well suited to keep politicians and political machines on their toes as unpredictability. I hope that this inrush of new voters will force the political parties to shake up their ideas to meet the challenge of the times and to remind the diehards, on both sides of the House, that this is not 1860, but 1960. We must be prepared to accept a lot of new ideas in the government of the country.

Some people argue that the young people are too interested in "rock and roll", but what is wrong with that? Perhaps we can do with a little more "rock and roll" in political life. I suggest, therefore, that young people can add to and assist in our political activities. We should not underestimate the capacity of young people to act on the basis of their own experiences. One hon. Member suggested that the Young Conservatives are stronger than the Young Socialists. He omitted to take into consideration, the many youth sections of the trade unions.

In Scotland, a short time ago, I met some young miners who represented the Youth Committee of the Scottish National Union of Mineworkers. Some of these young men were under 21 and some of them were married. They were serious-minded in their politics and fully capable of exercising the franchise and wishing to do so. I suggest, therefore, not only that young people can add to our political experience, but that they have the right to do so.

If young people are fit to get married—and the law allows them to marry—fit to work at skilled trades and fit to die for their country, they are fit to vote for their country. I cannot see any illogicality in this line of reasoning. If the 18–20-year-olds get the vote, they will force the politicians to take the needs of youth more seriously. There are many needs of youth, including more and better education, more and better training for jobs, especially technical training, more and better spare time facilities, including clubs, playing fields and equipment.

It is remarkable that our young people do so well in international sport when one considers the poverty of facilities, the lack of indoor tracks and the lack of proper facilities for deep diving in swimming in comparison with, say, America. The 18–20-year-olds would exercise political pressure for improvement—and we need it—in all these amenities, among which must also be included more and better housing for young married couples.

There is no party advantage in this proposal. The other day, I asked a young teenager how he thought teenagers would vote if the Bill were passed. I was surprised at his answer, because he seemed to me to be an intelligent young man. He said, "I think that we will all vote Liberal." I asked why. He replied, "Well, the Liberals are the underdogs, and teen-agers consider themselves the underdogs and they may well vote Liberal."

There are not more than six Members of the House of Commons who wish to see another Liberal Member of Parliament sitting here. I have never been able to understand the use of statistical data by those national newspapers, including one based on Manchester, which profess to see signs of a Liberal revival in the election of six Liberals out of a membership of the House of Commons of well over 600. That is a curious use of statistics. If we were to get two more Liberals in the House, no doubt the same newspaper would be demanding that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) should form a Government.

We on this side have no wish to see more Liberal Members, but if the young people vote Liberal it will be a challenge and one that must be faced. Personally, I did not believe that young teen-ager. I think that when teen-agers cease to be underdogs and get political responsibility, they will show political responsibility in the way they vote.

I have referred, in passing, to the great legislative landmarks of the past that have widened and deepened our democracy and gradually extended the franchise to different social classes. Today, we can add a year of new political significance to the footnotes in our history books. I hope that in 1960, today's Bill will become an Act and will mark a further landmark in the progress towards the full democracy for which we are striving.

2.19 p.m.

Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)

The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for introducing the Bill and giving us the opportunity to discuss a matter which has not been discussed for some time—the voting age. It is right that we should discuss it and I congratulate the hon. Member on his luck in the Ballot and his choice of Bill.

It is true that the hon. Member sets his sights rather high when he is not trying to nationalise some of the organs of the Establishment and when he is trying, as today, to reform the Constitution. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the hon. Member. He and I came into conflict in South Ayrshire at the by-election when he was first elected in the early part of 1946. I remember a subsequent agricultural debate, in which he and I were both engaged, in which he suggested that the reason for his election was that his great knowledge of agriculture was superior to mine and that this was recognised by the farmers, who, therefore, elected him. I say to him now that if his Bill had been the law of the land at that time I am sure that all the youth and beauty of South Ayrshire would have voted in their thousands and given me the majority.

I hope that the Home Office and the House will not dismiss this idea out of hand. It has to be considered extremely seriously. I do not base my arguments in favour of the idea so much on the hon. Gentleman's, which he put so amusingly and cogently when moving his Motion. I have never accepted that the principle, "Fit to fight, fit to vote" was right. I was a little more moved by what I thought was his second slogan, which was, "Fit to hang, fit to vote"—as I understood him.

I follow the arguments which have already been put to the House by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I think them extremely important. We have had in the last few years a great new consciousness of the people under 20 who are normally referred to as the teen-agers. There is, of course, a great deal of criticism of their narrow trousers and boots and many of their activities, but I am convinced that as education has advanced the people of that age group now are more responsible than the people of that age group at any time before.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Member opposite said, that it is right that in a Parliamentary democracy we should give them this voice, and not only because they have a right to it after they have reached 18, which, after all, is a watershed in the lives of the majority of us in this country. The majority of them are working, many are married, many have quite big responsibilities, and they have a stake in the community.

It is by an historical fact that we have the age of 21 as the qualifying age. As the Labour booklet the hon. Member referred to says, it came about owing to the legal historical accident in the Middle Ages that the merchant's son became of age when he became literate and was able to do accounts, the socman's heir at 15, if I remember aright, while the knights' rule was 21. That rule became the universal one. I suggest that for the franchise we could change it today.

I hope that the idea will not be rejected by hon. Members and by my right hon. Friends out of hand. I think it should be examined. Perhaps a Friday afternoon and a Private Member's Bill on a single sheet of paper are not quite right for amending the Constitution. We have normally had for such changes inter-party conversations and a Speaker's Conference.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Cromwell altered the Constitution without a single piece of paper.

Mr. Mathew

I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I must say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South-East that it is a great relief to have a Bill one can understand without too much intellectual effort. However, I seriously feel we should further this proposal in the normal way by preceding such a reform with a Speaker's Conference.

There has been a change in the age pattern in this country, and, unhappily, the population will become older and older. I think, therefore, that there is an argument, perhaps a limited one, for saying that in a Parliamentary democracy the more people still in working life who can vote the better, because we shall have more and more retired people, and if the age pattern of the population continues to develop along the lines foreseen by the statisticians the centre of gravity will be much higher. I think that that is an added reason for examining this question.

Several hon. Members have said, quite truly, that maturity has developed earlier in young people over the last few years. I do not need to pursue that matter any further. It is quite clear. People are marrying earlier, not only in Scotland, and they are taking on responsibility earlier than they have in the past.

I would for a moment regret that the hon. Member did not include in his Bill certain other reforms of the 1949 Act. I should like to see at an early date an amendment of Section 9, the Section which deals with postal votes. All of us in this House have our experience of the last General Election very much in mind. There is no doubt that, having accepted the principle of the postal vote, we ought to go to the full extent and say that any man or woman otherwise entitled to vote who for any reason is temporarily away from that address at which he or she was on the qualifying date should be allowed the postal vote.

It is done. We know, every one of us in this House, instances of people who, last October, were on holiday, but who were able to combine business with pleasure to such an extent that they were able to cast their votes.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I hope that the hon. Member will not pursue this subject, because it is outside the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Mathew

If you please, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am suggesting how the Bill could be improved. No doubt, when it goes to Committee that may be considered. I dare say that it is outside the Long Title. However, I will not pursue it any further except to say that there is in the electorate a great demand for this amendment and for arranging that people should have the vote when on holiday.

I do not think that the administrative difficulties would be nearly as great as they are sometimes maintained to be by the Home Office and, indeed, the party organisations of all three parties. I think that this is something we should do and that it should be examined, and I hope that the Minister will have something to say about it.

It gives me great personal pleasure to support the idea behind this Bill, for it should be examined. We should not take a rigid attitude towards the voting age. I hope that the House will have an opportunity, as a result of a Speaker's Conference, of a further debate upon this proposal. At present, I myself feel quite confident that we should extend the franchise down to 18 years. I have listened to a number of opinions on this matter and that is my view at present.

Although, as The Times leader says, the law does allow greater intelligence and greater responsibility to those over 21, this is really a fiction. We all know that the agricultural labourer gets his full man's wages at 18, and he is probably just as mature at 18 as he is at 21. We all know plenty of people over 21 who, if we had our own personal way, would not be allowed to vote in any election at all. There is plenty of immaturity over the age of 21, and I think that, as a class, the under-21s are just as mature as some of the others.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) mentioned that he was at school at 18 and was a member of the Conservative Party. Perhaps I might make a personal declaration that I was also at school at 18, and presented a whole series of Socialist volumes, including the works of Karl Marx, to the school library, where they still are—I regret to say, very much thumbed. Indeed, I received an acknowledgment from the school librarian, a retired schoolmaster, which was courteous but extremely cold.

For these reasons, I hope that the House and my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary at the Home Office will not dismiss this idea out of hand. As the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), is now in his place, I should like to conclude by reminding the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire that when introducing the Bill, he gave us the family history of the Lloyd Georges, and explained what the "bow-and-arrow" group had done with this. In point of fact, during the debate in the House on the 1949 Representation of the People Bill, the right hon. Member for South Shields, who was then Home Secretary, took exactly the same view as did his Conservative successor, and indeed his predecessors, that in the view of his Government 21 was the proper age to undertake the duties of citizenship.

Our record is very good. Every time in our history when there has been a reform, since the time when the Reform Bill of 1832 came before the House, everybody has said that it was impossible. The Duke of Wellington at that time said that England would collapse within six months if the Reform Bill was passed. Every time we move forward, as we steadily have done, towards the "one man, one vote" principle, we always see a class of people who say, "This is quite impossible". We know from our own personal experiences that there are plenty of people who say, "Well, of course, most of these people should not have the vote". When we ask them exactly where they would fix the age and educational standard, the answer comes that it should be about five years younger than their own age and just below the educational standard which they have themselves achieved. These are the people who are the real "bow-and-arrow" group.

For these reasons, I hope that the House will give the Bill a sympathetic reception.

2.33 p.m.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

I am the seventh speaker to take part in what has been a very interesting debate, which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). Of those preceding six speakers, none of them has been opposed to this Bill. This is rather interesting, because we have had three Conservative Members, one of whom has said that he will not vote against the Bill, another of whom, the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew), who indicated that he welcomed the Bill, and another hon. Member who made a similar kind of suggestion to that made by the hon. Member for Honiton, namely, that this was a proper matter for a Speaker's Conference.

I must confess that I was surprised that three Conservative Members should have given what is, in effect, a lukewarm welcome to the Bill, and certainly no opposition to it. I find that very surprising indeed, in view of the attitude which The Times takes up this morning. Whatever the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) may say about the Delphic Oracle in relation to party documents and declarations, he apparently regards The Times as a Delphic Oracle, and is willing to cast a certain amount of doubt on this Bill therefore.

I should like to take up a point which he mentioned, which is the real substance of the objections to this Bill, and I think the substance of the argument in The Times, which is this. Because we have not reformed the property laws, and because we have not completely in the common law of England given adult status to those who are 18 years of age and over, therefore we ought not to give them the vote. No one has so far argued that we have not got to give them the vote on principle, but rather because there are obstacles in the way. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) said that, as this was a Private Member's Bill, we ought not to take this kind of action at this particular juncture. The hon. Member for Honiton said it was an all-party affair and that a Speaker's Conference was the right way to do it, while the hon. Member for St. Albans raised the argument that because there are other obstacles, such as the law of property and so on, these matters should have been looked at first of all.

An all-party conference, as the hon. Member for St. Albans suggested, would go into the whole question of civil liberties and the rights and responsibilities of persons of 18 years of age and over. This is a very interesting suggestion, and while I have no wish to appear to be selling the pass to the enemy in that I do not wish my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire to see his Bill lost, I find it very attractive. I would welcome at least the Joint Under-Secretary at the Home Office telling us that, while the Government cannot accept the Bill in its present form, nevertheless, such a Committee will be set up. That, at least, would provide us with some justification for what we have been trying to do this afternoon.

I listened very carefully to what the hon. Member for Bristol, West said earlier. I never knew that the toxic effects of penicillin were so long-lasting as to cause him to end up with such a confusion of argument. Some of these arguments were very good, some I did not understand, and some were downright bad. Nevertheless, the hon. Member comes down in favour of the Bill, at least to the extent of not opposing it. The hon. Member used the same argument as the hon. Member for Honiton when he said that the question of the reform or extension of the franchise had always been opposed. To re-echo Disraeli, the Tory Party has always been in favour of reform, but always the last reform, and not the next reform. That, I hope, is not true of this particular matter. The Delphic Oracle of The Times, which the hon. Member for St. Albans worships so much, in fact might be wrong.

The point is that, as the hon. Member for St. Albans has argued this case of property, we should have a look at it. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) said, that people are marrying younger, and they are marrying younger, I suggest, for simple biological reasons. They are maturing physically much earlier. It is a remarkable fact that due to the national nutritional programme—for the nation decided twenty years ago to feed its people to a conscious and better plan—this is so. We have seen in every report of the Ministry of Health and of the Department of Health for Scotland the figures of the height and weight of children rising every year, even during the war. That is an almost incredible fact. Even during the war, with all the restrictions on food, nevertheless, the actual standard of health and development of our children has consistently grown, until we now have what is called in the newspaper world a "beanstalk generation".

This is a generation which matures very early. When we read the Albemarle Report, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, we see that many of the difficulties which have arisen with juvenile delinquency and so on are in fact the direct consequence of this earlier maturity. We also know that because of the fact that people are maturing earlier, the incidence of marriage at an early age also rises. One in four of all young women are now married by the time they are 19 and one in two by the time they are 21. These are figures from the 1957 Report, and they are quite remarkable.

The other side of that coin, and the rather tragic side, which is connected with what the hon. Member for St. Albans said, is that one in five of the girls who marry before 21 end up in the divorce court. I wonder why? Is it immaturity, or because their domestic circumstances are in many cases quite difficult? They may not have their own homes at all, for legally they are not entitled to their own homes. Perhaps they are not tenants at all, because under the common law of England they have very few rights as far as householders are concerned. Many of them have to live with their in-laws.

I suggest that if we are to permit early marriages we ought to grant legal rights whereby these young people can try to make a success of their marriages. Bachelor though I am, I cannot accept that early marriage will necessarily be a failure and that the later in life people marry the more likelihood there is of such marriages being successful. These are not valid arguments. Such matters can be dealt with only by the people concerned. Much depends upon their adaptability. It is a matter of personal decision and I do not think it can be a subject for comprehensive social analysis. I admit, however, that if social pressures of an adverse character are applied, even the best people may find their marriages unfavourably affected in time.

Therefore, it is valid for us to wonder about the property rights of people under the age of 18. The hon. Member for St. Albans was arguing the case for us by asking us to consider the status of people of 18 and over. If we were to say that 21 years of age should be the golden rule, the age of legal right and obligation, and that we should have none of this nonsense about people incurring responsibilities under the age of 21, the logical conclusion would be that we must have the franchise at 21 and no earlier. The hon. Member is therefore arguing the case for considering the position of those who are 18 years of age and over. Therefore, I submit that no one can fairly turn the argument on its head and say that because people do not have property rights they ought not to have a vote.

There is a phrase in a musical hall song to this effect: 'Twenty-one today, twenty-one today, I've got the key of the door. Never been twenty-one before. I do not fully understand the context. Does it refer to the fact that at 21 a man is a householder? All the laws of franchise were founded on a household basis up to 1918. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire said, in that year the principle of property-ownership for voting was breached, as was the principle of voting below the age of 21. It was also breached at a time when men were returning from the war to a land fit for heroes, and were then given the right to determine how the country should be governed.

There has been a lot of argument about what is called in The Times, "The non sequitur of 'fit to fight, fit to vote.'" I wonder if we might turn that outside in and ask whether the slogan "Unfit to fight, unfit to vote" might not be worthy of some thought? Governments of old men throughout the years have declared wars and young men have had to fight these wars. While I do not, of course, subscribe to the idea that if a man cannot fight for his country he ought not to vote for his country, it seems to me a forceful protestation in favour of the claim that if one is fit to fight for his country he is fit to vote for the Government of that country.

There are policies pursued by Governments which land many young men in very difficult situations and they may lose their lives as a consequence. Five hundred young men lost their lives in Cyprus and, whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the Cyprus situation, 500 people paid the supreme penalty because of specific policies of specific Governments. Should the participants who have paid this penalty have had no say at all in the policy persued by their Government? It seems an incredible position to defend to say that a man has to be responsible for the result of policies laid down by other people but that he should have no say in the formation of those policies.

The other argument which seems to me almost too difficult to refute is the argument that a man at the age of 18 must accept full responsibility to the extent of paying with his life, and that when he commits the final evil he must accept full responsibility and go to the gallows. Although there is full responsibility for evil, there seems to be no power or reward for good. I do not see how people can balance one with the other.

It has been said that the politicians may argue from the point of view of who will benefit by getting the votes. Does this matter? Is this the argument of the democrat—who will get the votes? Will it be the Liberals or the Tories, or are the Labour Members subscribing to this idea for purely party reasons? I do not think that argument is worthy of consideration. I think that all my friends who are interested in politics—and the hon. Member for Bristol, West, is no exception—were interested long before they were 21. We on these benches are Socialists because ours is the party of protest and of reform. I heard of one Conservative Minister who was said to be bitterly disappointed because his boy who was at college and was 18 years of age was a Conservative and not a Socialist. He was disappointed because his son was not progressing through the normal processes of thought—that is, from achievement to senility.

When the hon. Member for Bristol, West was testifying to his political evolution he was giving us an example of the classical disadvantage of having been educated at Harrow. The poor soul has never seen the other side of the argument. But that is no reason for saying that the hon. Member at the age of 18 was not intensely political. The fact is that most people who are interested in politics to the extent of coming to Parliament had that interest very early in life. There are many people in universities who can ask much more intelligent questions than one is ever asked at the hustings, given a general group of citizens. There is an astonishing amount of knowledge among the young people and it is quite refreshing to go to meetings and to find that they are so interested in matters of public policy.

I believe profoundly that while this Bill may not succeed—and even the Under-Secretary might be so hard of heart or so determined to stick to his brief that he cannot see his way to agreeing to an all-party inquiry as was suggested by the hon. Member for St. Albans—nevertheless we have started a movement which cannot be stopped.

2.47 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) has said that not one Member on this side of the House has been wholeheartedly opposed to the Bill. I am glad that I can now satisfy his demands. I in no way disapprove of the thoughts that have been expressed by a number of hon. Members in seeking to redress the wrongs of those between the ages of 18 and 21, including the difficulties of young married couples seeking a home of their own, although frankly I feel that when we digressed into those channels a few moments ago we were not, strictly speaking, dealing with the Bill. Nevertheless, I agree that the other wrongs to which reference has been made should be put right.

On the subject of voting at 18 years of age, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) told a sorry story of the education that can be achieved at Harrow. At the age of 18 those who are still at school may have very little political knowledge. It is the aim of practically everyone in this country to increase the school-leaving age. We all wish to see the school-leaving age progressively increased. Therefore, there will be a time not too far away when far too many children and adolescents will not have had the great experiences of life to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) referred to the experience of young miners earning good money. Indeed, if it is a question of young men earning good money and possessing a house and family, there might be an argument for giving them the vote. It is the aim of us all to see the school leaving age rise to nearer 18, but I would not like to see the vote given broadcast to all young people irrespective of them having real experience of life.

Several hon. Members, the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in particular, mentioned their own military or other experience at the age of 18. I do not want to bore the House with my own experience, but at the age of 18 I was a sea-sick young ordinary seaman and I spent most of my time, as did one other hon. Member, peeling spuds and trying to keep my dinner in the proper place. I was completely uninterested in crusty old politicians of 30 and was concerned with the vital affairs of life at the age of 18. Although I had a vague idea, very vague, about the political leanings of the two parties, I think that even at the height of the war it would not have been the right moment to give me a vote, because I was too busy considering other things.

We have had from almost every speaker on the other side of the House the old-fashioned military jingoism of "old enough to fight, old enough to vote". In 1944, when the war was winding to a close but nevertheless when we were still going through one of the greatest struggles of our history, the idea of votes for those under 21 was rejected by a large majority—16 votes to three—by the Speaker's Conference. If at the height of a war a Speaker's Conference rejected this suggestion, why should we change the position today by a Private Member's Bill?

Today we are pledged to peace. Let us get away from the idea of "old enough to fight, old enough to vote". Let us hope that war is outdated. I could agree with the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock—old enough to have a family and be a householder. That is a far better argument. But the hon. Member for Greenock also referred to the high divorce rate, which perhaps shows a certain fickleness of mind, as he said—

Dr. Dickson Mabon

May I correct the hon. Gentleman on that point? My reference to the high divorce rate was linked with the complications in law about living with other people and having no tenant rights. I was not reflecting on the fickleness of young people.

Mr. Wells

The hon. Gentleman mentioned "fickle" or some similar word in passing, but I agree with his main contention about legal difficulties, because a house is of more value than a vote to a young man.

Some earlier speakers today made sweeping remarks about the Young Conservatives and the young Socialist movement. One point which has not been made is that in our party we believe firmly in giving Young Conservatives full executive authority right to the top. For instance, I was selected to fight two elections. I was interviewed in the Midlands before the 1955 election and subsequently in the south-east of England before the 1959 election by selection committees, and subsequently by larger meetings of the local organisations. On both those committees in two different areas there were Young Conservatives under the age of 21, or their elected representatives. I am sure this is the general practice throughout the Conservative Party. So we in our party allow our young people a fair share in the selection of their Members of Parliament—

Mr. Lipton

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the selection committee consisted of people under the age of 21?

Mr. Wells

I am saying that at the selection committee there is a representative, or two as the case may be, of the Young Conservative movement.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I cannot follow the conclusion of the argument, but I accept the facts. Does the hon. Gentleman mean that there is a bad choice of Conservative candidates by the Conservative Party or that the presence of young people under 21 justifies this Bill?

Mr. Wells

I am only halfway through my argument. My point is that in our party we have young people on selection committees and other committees. Those young people who do the work for us are representatives of those who are politically keen and politically active. One hon. Gentleman opposite mentioned the young trade unionist movement, which takes an active part in the affairs of the Labour Party, and presumably their seniors wish them well.

Is it not much better that young people who take an active part in the affairs of the political parties should do it in that way? Is it not much more suitable that young people who are "clued up" should express their opinions through their party organisation rather than that we should give the vote to the kind of young people who have gone about daubing swastikas on walls and making other unsuitable gestures recently?

It was said earlier than only 2 per cent. of the juvenile population are delinquents. I am glad to hear that the figure is so small, but the fact remains that there are juvenile delinquents and that there are many other young people who are fundamentally bored with politics.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)


Mr. Wells

The adult delinquent is in prison and therefore has no vote. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think perhaps that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has come into the debate half an hour too late.

Mr. Willis

If young people are to be trusted to select candidates for Parliament, they should also be entrusted to vote.

Mr. Wells

Those who are entrusted in that way, which is only a part of the process, are those who are politically interested. The bulk of young people are not politically interested.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

How does the hon. Gentleman know?

Mr. Wells

One does know.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Is it not true that the boast of the Conservative Party is that the Young Conservatives are the largest single political organisation in the world? Is it not true that the Labour Party claims a high membership for its young Socialist movement? Is not the same claim made by the trade union branches and by the Co-operative movement? Also, do not the Liberals make the same claim and do not the student organisations in all the universities claim that we are the most politically alive nation in that respect? If that is so, what proof is there of the hon. Gentleman's contention?

Mr. Wells

The proof of my argument can be found on any street corner, in almost any coffee house, though there may indeed be large numbers of young people who are politically-minded in the universities and in the vicinity of technical colleges. What I urge the party opposite to do is to give its own supporters more autonomy within the party. It was the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, or another speaker, who said that the young Socialist movements, one after the other, had come to a bad end—

Mr. Emrys Hughes


Mr. Wells

Yes, indeed—because they were too keen—

Mr. Hughes


Mr. Wells

The phrase used was that they came to a bad end because they were too keen. Let the Socialist Party organise its young people more on the lines of the Young Conservative movement. Let those go to dances who are so inclined, and let those go to political meetings who are politically inclined. Within the Conservative Party, the young already enjoy a good measure of representation. I should like to see that extended among those who are "clued up". For the rest, the swastika daubers should have no vote.

Mr. Willis

They are not all under 21.

Mr. Wells

Indeed, those were who were brought up in court in Scotland.

Coming back to the point about the young airman of 19 who was fit to fly a V-bomber, he had gone through the most rigorous mental selection tests. He, indeed, was old enough to fight, if we have to use this unattractive phrase.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Would the hon. Gentleman give the young boy in the bomber a vote? Does he think that he is responsible?

Mr. Wells

If a satisfactory mechanism could be found to introduce a Bill to give the vote to some but not to others, that might be realistic, but I believe that it would smite at the fundamental principles of democracy and that it would be undesirable. It is, therefore, much more democratic to have a straight age level, separating those above and below the age barrier, rather than to try to weed out those who have reached a higher intellectual level. As one hon. Member said, laughingly, we all like to think that the intellectual level would be just a little lower than our own and the age for voting just a little lower than our own. It is surely better to give the vote to all at 21 than to try to weed out some during the odd three years.

I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire would agree that there are many 18 to 21 year-olds who are completely unfitted to vote and who would probably not bother to vote. There can be no partisan thought behind this Bill because none of us knows how they would vote. I should like to think that they would vote Conservative. Someone quoted the young Liberal lady who was going to vote for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) for a certain reason. Of course, he quoted it slightly wrongly.

There can be no doubt that the young people in this three-year bracket are learning the experiences of life. That is what we want our electors to have—a good experience of life and a reasonable standard of education. It must be my final point that in raising the educational age we improve the standard of young men to a better educational level than existed before the First World War in this country. Voters must have a proper blend of education plus experience of life before they are fit to vote, and it is my submission that until one has reached the age of approximately 21 one is not fit to have a vote.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I have listened with interest to hon. Members opposite giving a considerable amount of advice on how the Labour Party should conduct its affairs and organise its youth movement. I cannot understand why they should be so anxious for us to improve our organisation, because it would inevitably jeopardise their seats.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), who has made it clear that he comes from a minority group, did not attempt to grapple with the realities of politics until he was 18. But the vast majority of people do not go to Harrow. I am sorry that the hon. Member did not have the good fortune to have a grammar school or secondary modern school education, for he would then have found—I quote the experience of members of my own family—that children of 14 and 15 discuss current affairs of the day and, in that way, reach towards the time when they will have some maturity in political and also social and economic affairs.

The most cogent argument that came from the opposite side of the House, although no one except the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) seems to have been other than lukewarm about it, was that of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), who tries to equate responsibility with—in the Armed Forces, at any rate—the degree of attainment in technical or other proficiency.

It seems to me—my hon. Friends have made the point clearly—that the responsibility for giving up one's life is a great one and that anyone who is in the position of having to lay down his life because of the situation into which the Government have got the nation ought also to have the right to decide—my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dickson Mabon) made the point clearly—in respect of what kind of policies he should be called upon to exercise that responsibility.

Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)

It seems to me that the argument about the right to die and, therefore, the subsequent right to vote loses a great deal of its validity in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, where the right to fight becomes a matter of choice since we are now moving towards a volunteer Army, Navy and Air Force. Therefore, the circumstances in which people may be called upon to fight will be emergency circumstances—those of a war. It would seem to me to follow, if one wants to pursue this argument, that in wartime, when there is compulsion to fight voting rights should perhaps then be amended. That would not seem to me to be a prudent proposal.

Mr. Pavitt

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's point. It is not a question of whether or not a person is voluntarily in that position. It is the fact that the nation has required him to have that responsibility as a result of war and his life is in hazard because of the political or international situation in which he finds himself.

I commend very much the breath of fresh air that the Bill has brought into the House. I might almost say "a breath of South Ayr". The Bill is clear, short and distinctive. The main argument that the younger generations have against politicians of the older generation is that too often the older politicians give lip service to such ideas as these and say "You, the youth of today, are the leaders of tomorrow, when you will be capable of" this, that or the other; but it is always "tomorrow". The younger generation are always looking to us to do something practical in line with the phrases which we so often utter.

A feeling of frustration arose in our Youth Service, which grew up during the war, as a result of a circular issued by the Ministry of Education in 1951, when the service was cut because of the economic situation. The cuts were described in the popular Press as being in parts of "the frills of education."

The Bill is a practical expression of faith in our young people. It is not just lip service or a matter of words. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is saying, "Give the Bill a Second Reading and show the younger generation that we consider them to be an important section of the community, important enough not only to exercise their views through the many organisations which have been mentioned today, but to exercise their vote when it comes to a General Election."

The Bill has become more and more important in view of the changing trend in the social pattern during the last three or four years and because the world has discovered that the economic advantages of the teen-age market are something to be fought for. Those of us who ever have time to look at television have seen only too frequently how advertising aims itself at the teen-age market. The huge sums being spent by teenagers on "pop" records, for example, means that, economically, they are being wooed. Their attention at election times is sought by the political parties, and in between elections it is sought by economic groups who hope to create high incomes for themselves out of their spending power.

If that spending power is to become an important part of our economic system, surely we should be helping them towards some responsibility in the way they spend. This Bill does nothing but enable them to feel that not only are they being got at for support at election times by politicians and for money in between by industry, but are a part and parcel, an integral part, of the community, with the right to exercise their vote at the age of 18, and that they are capable of playing a part in the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock has given chapter and verse on the question of maturity and I will not repeat his argument, which is incontrovertible. Any reading of the British Medical Journal during the past year underlines that maturity is reached earlier than it was previously, and in this changing physical pattern the argument falls behind the Bill for the vote at 18.

The social background over the last generation has been tending all the time towards being passive. Entertainment tends towards being passive. This is the danger the younger generation face—the idea that one can be cynical, that politics do not matter, that trade unionism and social service do not matter, all because "they" the people up above, decide everything and responsibility "does not rest on our shoulders." If the Bill does nothing else but demonstrate to young people that we feel that they should be active, that they themselves have a part to play in the community, then it will have played its part in receiving some attention here today.

Some comment has been made about "rock and roll." I welcome the fact that the younger generation have had a reaction against sitting in front of a television screen and feel that they must exert themselves physically by flinging themselves about in a dance hall to "rock and roll." I used to do the charleston and I suppose that that dates me, but I was criticised by my elders in just the same way as "rock and rollers" are today.

However, these generalisations will not do. The other night I spent the hour between 5.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. at the Royal Festival Hall, at an organ recital of music by Bach. That is not the easiest kind of music to understand. I find it difficult always to get in tune with organ music by one composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, played at the Royal Festival Hall. The hall holds between 2,000 and 3,000 people and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there whose ages were between 16 and 25. In fact, it was largely a teenage audience, so that at the same time that we are looking at teenagers in relation to "rock and roll" "pop" records, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley, let us realise that many young people are buying long-playing records of serious music and going to serious concerts.

We talk of this generation not being interested in serious things, but every library return shows that more books are being read by more people. More cultural activities—though perhaps at a lower level than most of us wish—are being undertaken by the younger generation. One of the results of the Education Act, 1944, has been that more and more young people in all sections of the community are taking part in more and more diverse interests. In my generation there was not so much opportunity, because we were not living in an affluent society. Today the opportunity is there and young people are seizing it.

Responsibility is something which cannot be taught. It is the kind of thing which one acquires by being given it. I do not believe in guided democracy. I believe that it is possible to attain full democracy only if people exercise and use it. If we want to preserve democracy in this country, the right way to go about it is to ensure that people take advantage of it at the earliest opportunity.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. This is a case which will appeal not only to the younger generation, but to all fair-minded people in the community.

3.16 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

Those of us who were in the Chamber at the time listened with delight to the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that the decision of the House will belie my hon. Friend's general experience, which is that he is years before his time. If, by any strange mischance—

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman make that as a serious and general political comment, because it is very significant and important if he is expressing that opinion from the Front Bench opposite?

Mr. Greenwood

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press me too far on that, but on this issue at least my hon. Friend may well be ahead, certainly of most hon. Members opposite, and it is on them, of course, that the decision will rest.

If, by some mischance, the Bill does not get a Second Reading, I am certain that in twenty-five years we shall have a Conservative Government telling the House that a Measure of this kind is a most important step towards a property-owning democracy, because hon. Members opposite are always avid in seizing their opponents' proposals in the nick of time.

With the single exception of the full-blooded reactionary speech of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), the speeches from hon. Members opposite have been very different in tone from those to which the House has listened in debates on previous proposals to extend the franchise, speeches made by people like Sir Frederick Banbury and Sir George Cockerill. Nevertheless, in the speeches from hon. Members opposite, including even that from the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew), we have had just a taste of the old Tory argument of why things should not be done or, if they should be done, why they should not be done now, or in this way.

The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) very properly asked whether the Bill was the policy of the Labour Party.

Mr. Doughty

I am the Member for Surrey, East and I have not spoken on this Bill.

Mr. Greenwood

The hon. and learned Member may have forgotten, but he intervened to ask a question when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire was speaking. I am sorry that he should discourage the kind of courtesy which I was about to show him and which was not of a kind invariably extended to him.

The hon. and learned Member asked whether the Bill represented the official policy of the Labour Party. To some extent, that question has been answered by my hon. Friends, but perhaps I may add a comment. Because of the printing dispute, the document upon which the Bill is based was not published until the middle of September, just after the date of the General Election had been announced. However, we in the Labour Party were at pains to put in the manifesto upon which we fought the election that, among the many proposals which a Labour Government would consider, was a lowering of the voting age. We went on to say that that would be a major change in our electoral law and social practice and so we would, in the next Parliament, initiate discussions on it with the other parties.

As the House knows, we did not win the election, but since then we have been hopeful that hon. Gentlemen opposite would initiate the discussions which we said we would have initiated if we had been the Government. Those discussions have not been forthcoming. We therefore very much welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend has provided for airing this subject today. It is not a subject on which the party has an official line, but I personally welcome it very much.

I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), who suggested that perhaps the time had come for reviewing the whole question of the legal status of men and women over the age of 18, but I do not think that that is tremendously relevant to our discussion today.

I do not want to rehearse all the arguments that my hon. Friends have deployed, but I want to remind the House of what has been said in the past on similar occasions, because the arguments advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite today are not the sort of arguments which I think will be generally raised among the public. Members of the public may well be tempted to prophesy doom and destruction if a Measure of this kind passes into law. I do not think that we should be discouraged by that, because every time a similar proposal has been made there have been similar prophecies of gloom. I suppose that one can take it as a step forward that we have not heard them voiced in this House today.

On 7th October, 1831, during the Second Reading of the Reform Bill, Lord Lyndhurst said in another place: & whatever name the Government choose to give to this Bill, it is in fact and in substance a revolutionary measure. It will endanger the Constitution itself. To the monarchical institutions of the country I have been attached, both by habit and education. I do not wish for a change that might affect the rights and privileges of the Crown, nor for one which will bring about a republic, or a republic in the shape of a limited monarchy. Republics are tyrannical and vicious, arbitrary and cruel, and unsteady. I do not charge the Ministers with having introduced this Bill for the purpose of subverting our form of Government; but such will be its effect. Nevertheless, Parliament has continued to flourish from 1832 to the present time.

We were reminded earlier of what Mr. Disraeli said. I should like to remind the House of what Mr. Gladstone said in 1867, because one of the most noticeable features of the discussion today has been the way in which the members of the Liberal Party have been absent and have only popped in in their glamorous way from time to time. When the Reform Bill of 1867 was introduced, Mr. Gladstone opposed it on these grounds: I do not think it is a proposal to which Parliament will ever agree. I do not think that we are called upon by my consideration of the circumstances to hand over the majority of the constituencies into the hands of the working classes. That, I think, may be a point which all of us on both sides of the House may find useful from time to time in dealing with troublesome Liberal interrupters.

In 1917, when there was a proposal to extend the franchise, it was fiercely fought in the House of Commons by people like Sir Frederick Banbury, but the most interesting example of opposition came in another place, and it is an argument which will have a special appeal to my hon. Friend. It is the speech of Lord Finlay, who was actually Lord Chancellor at the time. He said: Now, my Lords, what would be the effect of the admission of these six million voters to the Register if that contingency happened? Would not there be a vast amount of material for agitation, by those who are called pacifists, who are in favour of a hurried peace, among the millions of women who without political experience it is proposed to enfranchise by this Bill? The noble Lord went on to say: My own belief is that women as voters for the Imperial Parliament are as much out of their sphere as they would be sitting as Members of either Chamber of the Legislature."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 10th January, 1918; Vol. 27, c. 471, 472.] Ten years later, when the Government proposed to introduce what became known as the "flappers' vote" it was objected to in this House by only ten Conservative Members of Parliament. And I think that the time will come when a Measure of this kind will become the law of the land.

I was particularly in sympathy with one of the things that my hon. Friend said because I cannot pretend, just as he cannot, that my own or earlier generations have a record of which it is easy to be proud. We have seen the countryside eroded and spoilt. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his colleagues pointed out in the Albemarle Report, we have seen youth services neglected over a long period of years. Half the world's population are living in poverty, and the hydrogen bomb is a threat of which I believe young people are well aware. I cannot believe that the state of the world will deteriorate still further, if we do today what my hon. Friend is asking us to do.

I particularly welcomed the hon. Member for Honiton's defence of young people, because I am getting a little hit tired of older people criticising the younger generation of today. That is the kind of attitude of mind which can only prolong the old antagonisms between young people and older generations. I want to get rid of these antagonisms, and I believe that the most effective way of doing it is to help them and not to criticise them.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) made most valuable contributions on that point. They told us, in effect, that what we have to do is to make these young men and women of between 18 and 21 feel that they are a part, and a badly-needed part, of society. On this side, we are saying, and I hope that it will be generally welcomed by hon. Members on both tides, that the best way to make them feel a part of society is to confer upon them the full obligations and responsibilities of citizenship. I hope that we shall do that, because I believe that we badly need their optimism, their confidence and their vigour to compensate for the caution and conservatism that age and tiredness tend to induce.

It is for that reason that I shall follow my hon. Friend happily into the Division Lobby, if there is any hon. Gentleman so misguided as to force a Division on this wholly estimable Measure.

3.27 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

I do not wish to curtail discussion of the Bill, but it may be convenient now to follow the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) and indicate the Government's attitude to the issues raised by the Bill. I think that we agree on two things: first, that the Bill is simplicity itself—on that, we all congratulate the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—and secondly, that it has been a very good-humoured debate. For that, again, we are indebted to the persuasive charm—I think that that was the term used—of the hon. Member in introducing his Bill.

Althought it has been a good-humoured and light-hearted debate, I do not think that any hon. Member who has spoken has under-estimated the importance and seriousness of the issue being debated. The Bill, in fact, proposes a major alteration in the electoral law, and alterations in the electoral law—particularly any alterations in the franchise—are obviously not matters on which Parliament does, or should, embark lightly. That is particularly the case at present, because both in the debate in this Chamber, and in the debate outside there is anything but a unanimous view on the alteration proposed. This consideration of the importance of the issue ought to guide our general approach to the Bill.

As the House knows, under the present law the minimum voting age is 21 and—with a temporary exception that I will mention later—it has always been 21. The law on this, as on so many other matters, is based on the proposition that 21 is the accepted age for assuming the full responsibilities of an adult. This general proposition is expressed in Halsbury's Laws of England. Here, perhaps, I may be excused for following The Times leader, though at somewhat greater length, because it is relevant.

Halsbury says: An infant (that is a person who has not completed his twenty-first year) does not possess full legal competence. Since he is regarded as of immature intellect and imperfect discretion, English law, while treating all the acts of an infant which are for his benefit on the same footing of those of an adult, will carefully protect his interests and not permit him to be prejudiced by anything to his disadvantage. An infant, owing to his want of judgment and capacity, is disabled from binding himself, except where it is for his benefit. I do not want to weary the House by repeating the catalogue of items mentioned either in The Times leader or in this House today about what a person under 21 can or cannot do, but I believe that they are of some relevance and should be listed. A person under 21 cannot, as has been said earlier in the debate, hold legal estate in land. He or she cannot, with certain exceptions, hold an office or post of public or pecuniary trust. For example, he cannot act as the clerk of a court where it is part of the duties to receive moneys, nor as a bailiff nor receiver.

A person under 21 cannot sit in the House of Commons nor, as a peer, sit or vote in the House of Lords. He or she cannot be a mayor, alderman or councillor of a municipal borough or of a metropolitan borough, nor be a chairman or member of a county council or a district council or parish council. He or she is exempt from jury service. He or she cannot, unless a widow or widower, marry without consent of parents or guardians. A person under the age of 21 may be a partner in trade or business, but incurs no liability for the debts of the firm or for the acts of his co-partners.

I could add to that list. Indeed, several additions have been made. I suggest that these examples bear out the accepted principle that 21, and nothing less, is the appropriate age for undertaking the full responsibilities of citizenship. If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire really feels that 18 is the correct age at which a person should receive a vote, then I think that, in logic, he ought to extend this privilege to the other responsibilities which have been mentioned. Indeed, that seemed to me the point taken up by his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon).

It seems entirely logical that all these responsibilities should be exercised at the same age, and I am not at present aware or advised that there is any strong view that this age should be other than 21. At 18 it is true that, as has been said, a person may indulge in activities from which he has hitherto, until the age of 18, been debarred—we have had examples of that—but he is expected to wait till 21 before exercising that discretion which comes after longer experience.

At one stage of the debate I thought that we were anticipating the debate which, I understand, is scheduled for today week on the Albemarle Report, in which I have an interest. I should make it clear—and I think that it is known to the House—that the terms of reference here, unlike those of the Gardiner Commission, were limited. I think that I should read the terms of reference so that there may be no misunderstanding. The Albemarle Committee was given the following terms of reference: To review the contribution which the Youth Service of England and Wales can make in assisting young people to play their part in the life of the community, in the light of changing social and industrial conditions and of current trends in other branches of the education service; and to advise according to what priorities best value can be obtained for the money spent. The terms of reference did not include the subject under discussion today, nor did the members of the Committee feel it their duty to discuss it.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who principally referred to this Report, was, I think, fairly selective, as he is entitled to be, in his reading of it. I appreciate that he advanced the argument of earlier maturity. It has been argued today and on other occasions—the hon. Member for Greenock certainly advanced it—that earlier maturity provides a reason for granting the vote at 18. Early maturity, at least in the physical sense, is certainly true of those in their early 'teens, but I doubt whether, in fact, it applies at the ages under discussion in this Bill.

In paragraph 150 of the Albemarle Report, the following words occur: We have been much impressed by the abundance of evidence about the earlier maturity and at least superficial sophistication of many young people in the last school year at the secondary modern school. This was one of the reasons which prompted the Committee to recommend reducing the lower age limit for the Youth Service from 15 to 14 years.

At the same time—I think that this is the significant point—the Committee found no reason to alter the upper limit of the age range, which remains at 20. If hon. Members opposite wish to pray in aid the Report of the Albemarle Committee, they should have regard to the fact that the Committee did not recommend a reduction though it would follow logically, if the Report is quoted in connection with this Bill, that the upper age limit of the Youth Service should be lowered from 20 to 19, or 18.

We are here concerned with responsibilities of citizenship and it does not follow that they can be assumed any earlier because of the earlier maturity of school leavers. There is an argument, which was raised twice in the debate, that the longer period of education now available justifies giving the vote at 18. I think that this argument may be used in reverse in the sense that the longer a young person remains at school the less chance he has of acquiring experience of working life and preparing himself or herself for these responsibilities. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells).

Mr. Lipton

Public schoolboys leave school at the age of 18 to go to a university, which they leave at the age of 21, with no experience of working life whatever. Yet they are welcomed, especially on the benches opposite, as Members of this House.

Mr. Vosper

I was saying that the argument about extended education—and we are all happy to see the period of education thus extended—may be used as an argument either way. I do not want to go further than that. I wish now to turn to the argument regarding National Service.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Will the Minister correct the impression he has given regarding the fact that the Albemarle Committee argued that the facilities of the Youth Service should apply up to the age of 20, because the same definition does not apply with regard to the Children and Young Persons Act where, after 18, persons are regarded as adults, so that argument is cancelled out?

Mr. Vosper

No I do not think that that is relevant, simply because the Albemarle Committee feels that youth services should be provided for young people up to the age of 20.

I am glad that the argument about National Service has not been pressed, and that we have devoted ourselves to other reasons for making this change. It was not accepted by the Government or Parliament of the day when National Service was in force. Of course, National Service, has now been discontinued. There is a wider argument that in time of war a person of 18 is regarded as old enough to fight for his country. This is a delicate subject. I should be the first to recognise the service which many young people between the ages of 18 and 21 have rendered to their country and I hope I shall not be misunderstood if I say that the argument I have just mentioned has perhaps more emotion than logic behind it. The capacity to serve, and to serve bravely in the field, is not necessarily the same as the capacity to form a mature judgment of public affairs.

The question of what is the right minimum voting age has been fully considered from time to time. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) referred to several of the occasions when it was discussed. During the First World War—this was mentioned in one or two speeches—there was one exception to the age of 21, because then the age was temporarily reduced to 19, but only for males and military voters on active service. This provision was allowed to lapse at the end of the war and was not revised during the Second World War, when the view was taken by the then Government that, under conditions of total war, there was no ground for distinguishing in this matter between members of the forces and civilians, and that there was no sufficient case for a general reduction of the voting age.

The matter was last considered by the Speaker's Conference of 1944—this has not been mentioned in detail—but the conference rejected by 16 votes to 3 a proposal that the voting age should be reduced to 18. In the Committee stage discussions on the Representation of the People Act, 1948, this proposal was again ventilated.

In view of the references by the hon. Member for Rossendale to what Tory speakers have said, I wish to quote what was said by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in 1948. I am happy to see him back in his place. He said, in 1948: Our view is that 21 years of age is the appropriate age for people to undertake the duties of citizenship. It requires a certain amount of maturity and experience, and we feel the long-established practice in this country to regarding 21 as a suitable age should be continued."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 2233.]

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In view of the fact that that quotation has cropped up all along in this debate, is it not true to say that my right hon. Friend had not at that time had the opportunity of considering the arguments which have been put forward today?

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I also had not had the opportunity of considering the working out of the Education Act, 1944, the effects of which we are just beginning to feel.

Mr. Vosper

I was quite prepared for the right hon. Member to say that he had changed, or was changing, his mind, but in view of the fact that the hon. Member for Rossendale referred to the attitude of some prominent Tories I thought it relevant to quote what the right hon. Member said only twelve years ago.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

That is a long time.

Mr. Vosper

In the light of the considerations I have outlined, and having regard to what has been said in this debate today, the Government's present attitude is as follows: first, the proposed reduction of the voting age to 18 would be a major constitutional change. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire will understand that I mean no disrespect to him when I say that major constitutional changes of this nature cannot appropriately be made by a Private Member's Bill. They should be preceded, as they always have been in the House—I think that there is no exception to this—by careful examination by a Speaker's conference; that is, if they are to be pursued at all.

On this point, while we shall, of course, consider what the hon. Member and his Friends and hon. Members behind me have said in this debate, I am bound to say that, having regard to the general considerations in favour of keeping the voting age at 21 and the clear division of opinion in the House—and I am quite certain, in the country—the Government are not at present convinced that there is a case for initiating action, for example, by way of a Speaker's conference, in the direction of reducing the voting age to 18. In any event, I do not think that it would be right to make a change simply by way of a Private Member's Bill. Accordingly, I cannot advise the House to support the hon. Member in the Lobby on this Bill.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)

I am another one who very much welcomes the initiative taken by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in introducing this subject to the House.

He has had it said to him that this is a simple Bill. I consider that it is all the more valuable for that. This afternoon we have heard. I think, most of the arguments in support of the hon. Member's proposals as embodied in his Bill and a few of the arguments against. My right hon. Friend, in my judgment, has outlined the major considerations which should influence us if it should come to a Division in the Lobbies. Therefore, I shall not at this stage seek to go over all those arguments again. I feel that the House would not wish me to do that, and it would be an encroachment on the time of other hon. Members.

It struck me that the arguments in favour of the proposals of the hon. Member are much more attractive than those against. Speaking for myself, I found the arguments put forward by the hon. Member and those who have supported him, and also some of the arguments submitted in the leading article in The Times today—to which repeated reference has been made—very compelling arguments. As has been suggested, it is always the case that one can argue that the present is not the right time. Every measure of reform has no doubt been confronted with just that argument. We have had a number of examples quoted to us.

In passing, I must say I was glad that the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) has been gazing into his crystal and recognises that in twenty-five years time the Conservative Party will still be in office. I think one reason why he was right is that by that time this extended franchise will be in operation and the young, the middle-aged and the elderly will have decided that clearly their interests are best represented by a Conservative Government.

There is a pamphlet, which is known to hon. Members, which had for its title "Change is our Ally". If we are to continue to use the arguments which have been used in the past against all change, we cannot expect to make the progress which this House and the country wishes to see, and to which, indeed, we are committed.

It can, of course, be argued, as has been argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), that between the ages of 18 and 21 there is not the maturity, responsibility or judgment that is necessary to entitle someone to vote. It is true that there cannot be quite the experience because, clearly, in the nature of things, those who are 18, 19 or 20 years of age cannot have had the same experience of things as those who already have the vote.

There is also danger in the fact that those who propose these ideas have not had the opportunity to have them tested in the crucible of experience. But this reverts to the argument, which I reject, that somehow or other the so-called youth of the present age do not have the maturity to exercise a vote.

I understand that there are now 4 million young people between the ages of 15 and 20—that is to say, 4 million in the age-group that we are now considering or who would be affected by the extended franchise suggested by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The hon. Member has made a mistake. We are talking not about the 15-year-olds, but about the 18-year-olds. There is a substantial difference.

Mr. Leavey

I am obliged and stand corrected. Of course, we are speaking of the 18–21 age-group.

It is fair to say, therefore, that in considering the bringing forward of the voting age and in considering in this context, as we must, the raising of the school-leaving age, we shall approach—if not in this decade, in the next—a situation in which people leave school and have the right to vote at one and the same moment. There is a considerable gap that needs to be bridged before that stage is reached, but it is a position which we should have in mind and one which is worthy of reference in this consideration.

On the issue of experience, wisdom and judgment, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) mentioned, we all know only too many people who have the vote and who, in our private judgment, are not very prudent in the exercise of it and whose judgment is not, perhaps, what we would wish it to be. One has evidence of that very largely in Scotland, Wales and in other places.

Mr. Wills

Is the hon. Member suggesting that the people of Scotland over the age of 21 do not deserve a vote?

Mr. Leavey

If the hon. Member reads what I have said, he will not take offence; but if the cap fits, he must wear it.

I wish to raise a matter in connection with our references to youth generally. It seems to me that we are now in danger of referring to youth as a group or class in a way which is damaging to youth. We are reaching a position where we are almost invited to say, "There goes a youth". We are trying to create a class of society. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has referred to "one nation". The consequence of this debate and of the general debate which follows it in the country is, to some extent, to place people in categories—the old folk, youth and other such subdivisions. I believe that that itself is unwholesome.

I further think that in the context of this discussion there is a serious danger if, when we are criticising, I hope in an objective way, the youth of this country, the adult community should be expected to indulge in an orgy of self-condemnation because of a few shortcomings on the part of a few younger people. That, it seems to me, does not serve the interests of this age group of youth, and I would not think it the sort of understanding which the young people of this country really want, nor, indeed, the sort of understanding which can be helpful. To that extent I feel that the focus upon youth can be undesirable.

Nobody, I feel sure, would question the immense value of the work of Lady Albemarle's Committee and of a great deal more work carried out in many ways by others, by educationists, by disinterested people who have the interests of young people at heart, but I think there is a danger that we shall make the youth self-conscious, make the younger people feel that in some way there is something different about them. I am a little apprehensive that in our discussion today on the hon. Gentleman's proposal, with which I freely agree, we may be in danger of doing that.

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman who is tempted to make encouraging noises at me, because I do not propose to support the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I feel it necessary to say why, although I think my right hon. Friend has given full, good reasons why this Bill is not a Measure which we ought to put on the Statute Book at this time or in these circumstances. I believe the hon. Gentleman knows very well that this is not the way that this change should be brought about. [HON. MEMBERS: "How else?"] There are many ways in which this could be brought about, and I have no doubt it will be a matter for consideration by my right hon. Friend in due course as to what we might do.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman has refused absolutely any possibility of a Speaker's Conference and has given purely negative advice.

Mr. Leavey

My right hon. Friend, of course, must speak for himself and his colleagues. I am permitted to have minor disagreements with him and to make them clear in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The only thing which alarms me about that is that it should win some accord from hon. Members opposite.

None the less, I cannot believe that the introduction of this Measure is the way to approach this major constitutional change.

Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

I should like to ask whether it is now the charter of the liberties of a Tory Member of Parliament that he is allowed minor disagreements with the occupants of his party's Front Bench.

Mr. Leavey

That is a slightly cynical intervention and does not contribute greatly to the discussion of this Measure, but I take it in the spirit in which it was delivered, because I do not really think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would want to be denied the same right himself, and if he were claiming it I think he would claim that right in much the same words as those which I have used.

The other point I want to make relates to this question of principle. It seems to me a thoroughly wholesome principle that we should say we are not so much concerned to do things for people, but we are very much concerned with enabling people to do things for themselves. If he interprets that principle, then the hon. Gentleman is surely on the side of the angels, a situation not altogether novel to him, I am sure, but it does mean, if we believe that people should have the opportunity, and indeed be tempted to exercise their vote, that then it is obviously only those who have the vote who can provide that opportunity. That is a quite vivid example of the haves and have-nots, in which the haves, that is to say, those aged 21 and over, are going to be able to say yea or nay to those who were born rather later.

We are confronted with the difficulty that age is a very unsatisfactory yardstick, but it is the only one we have, unless we breach the principle upon which the present franchise is based. I feel that that would be a very hazardous thing to do. It was suggested by one hon. Gentleman speaking earlier that it might be a possibility that there might be some selective process. I personally reject that. I do not think it would be acceptable for a moment either to this House or to the country, and therefore we are driven to continue to rely upon age as a yardstick, and as the distinction by which we allot this privilege and this burden. Whatever may happen in the future in the way of legislation, will be related to age.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East claimed that he would like to see a great deal more interest in the activities of Parliament, and that he had found, as other hon. Members and I have found, that there is great and intelligent interest in political matters amongst the age group to which we are directing our attention. I hope I will not be thought unduly flippant or showing any disrespect if I say that it is conceivable that the more young people learn about this place, the less interest in it they might have.

Hon. Members


Dr. Dickson Mahon

Because speeches like this one, perhaps?

Mr. Leavey

That is a cruel cut from the hon. Gentleman, to which I will not respond in kind, although it would seem that the House would be more amused by interchanges between the two Front Benches below the Gangway, which are sometimes a good deal more amusing and entertaining than some of the set-piece speeches.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

And more to the point.

Mr. Leavey

The question is whether giving the vote to a larger number of people would automatically mean that we should have a larger number of members of the community interested and active in political affairs. I do not know, but I think that that is one of those things which those hon. Gentlemen who are privileged to be called "learned" in this House would call a non sequitur. It does not seem to me to follow automatically that, because a greater number of people should be given the opportunity to vote, they would automatically, in the nature of things, take a greater interest in Parliament, and there is the point of view that that is not altogether desirable. I think we have all accepted that in education and in our schools, party politics should be excluded, that interest should be stimulated in the affairs of the country in matters that are going to be currently of interest, but that party differences in politics should be eliminated. We know here that the real political fight means nothing if the party element is not present, and I am—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Leavey

I was trying to make the point that it is questionable, and I am not sure that I am convinced by the arguments that, by increasing the electorate, we thereby add strength and vigour to the Parliamentary process and political—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot move that Motion while another hon. Member is speaking.

Mr. Leavey

While the hon. Member may not agree with me, may I say that I have the same rights as any other hon. Member to put my point of view.

Mr. Lipton

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Leavey

I was delayed for a few moments by those interruptions. I hope to conclude what I was about to say. The next point that I should like to make is that it has been—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.

  1. PAWNBROKERS BILL 13 words