HC Deb 05 January 2004 vol 416 cc16-8
23. Bob Spink (Castle Point)(Con)

What representations the commission has received regarding reduction of the age for voting. [145849]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

May I join in the congratulations to my friend and pair, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), on the honour of a knighthood that has been conferred on him for his long and loyal service to the House and to the nation?

The Electoral Commission is conducting a formal review of the minimum age for voting and expects to publish its report before Easter. The commission has conducted an extensive public consultation exercise in connection with the review, and has received a wide range of views, which it will take into account when formulating its conclusions and recommendations.

Bob Spink

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will know that opinion is mixed on this issue, even among youngsters themselves. Will he please urge the commission to be brave and innovative in its response to this consultation, and to give a message to young people that we are prepared to trust them and to listen to them, even at 16? There are many good young people, and even though turnout might be low in that age group, I believe that they should be offered the opportunity to share in our democracy.

Mr. Viggers

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Electoral Commission is well aware of the activities of the Votes at Sixteen campaign and others who have been campaigning for the vote to be extended to this younger age group. I am sure that the commission's forthcoming report will include an assessment of the level of support expressed in relation to the recommendations that it makes. Any change in the minimum voting age would, of course, require primary legislation.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)(Lab)

If young people were consulted on the highly controversial decision by the Electoral Commission on the ward boundary review of metropolitan authorities—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about the age for voting. It has nothing to do with boundary reviews. I call Dr. Starkey.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)(Lab)

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether the Electoral Commission is aware of the Nestlé family monitor study of young people's attitudes towards politics, which clearly showed that 53 per cent. of young people aged between 11 and 18 supported the reduction of the voting age to 16 or even lower. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the commission takes note of this extensive survey?

Mr. Viggers

Yes. A completely separate point is that the Electoral Commission has been keen to identify initiatives that would assist in reconnecting young people with politics, in line with its statutory duty to promote public awareness of democratic institutions. This is a separate point from that of the reduction of the voting age.

Matthew Green (Ludlow)(LD)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Liberal Democrats strongly support the reduction of the voting age to 16. Will he tell the House whether the Electoral Commission received any representations from the Labour party during the consultation period and, if so, whether they were received before or after the Prime Minister changed his position from opposition to agnosticism on this issue?

Mr. Viggers

Yes, I think I recall that the Liberal Democrats were indeed active in encouraging people to fill in forms relating to the Votes at Sixteen campaign. I also think I am right in saying that they were successful in encouraging 23 people to write to the Electoral Commission.