HC Deb 02 December 2003 vol 415 cc357-8
5. Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the findings of the Electoral Commission in its report on elections in Scotland. [140747]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

I recently met the chairman of the Electoral Commission who briefed me on the official report on this year's Scottish Parliament and local government elections. I very much welcome this report. My right hon. Friend will consider very carefully all the recommendations made by the commission.

Mr. MacDougall

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Does she share my disappointment about the declining turnout at elections, especially among young people? Will she assure me that she will use her good offices to do everything she can to improve the figures and to get young people to appreciate the value of their vote?

Mrs. McGuire

I think that the House shares my hon. Friend's disappointment at the turnout at the last elections, in particular at the decision by so many young people not to vote. There was a 10 per cent. reduction from 1999. I share the view that elections lie at the heart of a representative democracy. It is incumbent on all of us who support democratic politics to do everything we can to ensure that young people recognise the value of our democracy. Part of that value is their participation in elections.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con)

Is the Minister content with a situation in which the Electoral Commission finds that more than one third of the non-voters in May's elections decided to abstain in excess of one month before those elections? Why might that be the case?

Mrs. McGuire

Perhaps the Conservative party had a disaffecting effect on the Scottish people. In all seriousness, however, the issue is not one of party political banter. There is a major difficulty of engaging with young people. All political parties share that problem. No hon. Member can say, hand on heart, that we are invigorating young people in the way that we should. Instead of making cheap jibes across the Floor of the House, the hon. Gentleman should participate in a positive discussion on how we engage young people in the process.

Mr. Duncan

Leaving aside the fact that the Minister wanted to ignore party politics but then proceeded to blame the Conservative party, perhaps as part of her big conversation she will listen to the voice of ordinary Scots, who believe that Scotland has too many politicians and that they are over-governed by a burgeoning Administration. Is not the lesson of the Electoral Commission report that by promising 129 MSPs, when there is a commitment to reduce them, 22 Ministers and one part-timer to do the jobs that used to be done by five, with the cost of the Scottish civil service up by £125 million a year, the people in Scotland are apathetic and disaffected with what the Government have done to government in Scotland?

Mrs. McGuire

There is absolutely no evidence to underpin the hon. Gentleman's statements— [Interruption.]—By any objective calculation, people in Scotland support the idea of a Scottish Parliament. That is not why they did not vote at the election. I am not making party political points. There is a serious issue about how we engage with young people, which was at the core of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. MacDougall). We should have a positive discussion on that instead of bantering words across the Floor of the House. I am willing to meet the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) to hear his ideas on how we can all engage young people in the democratic process, not necessarily in party politics.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op)

Does the Minister recall that when proportional representation was introduced for the Scottish elections we were promised that voting participation would increase? Given that it has not, does she agree that the time has come to end proportional representation for the Scottish elections and to move to a system of two first-past-the-post Members for each Westminster constituency?

Mrs. McGuire

That is a debate for another occasion.