HL Deb 02 May 1985 vol 463 cc404-21

7.10 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Extension of parliamentary franchise]

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 36, leave out from ("been") to end of line 37 and insert ("resident in a member state of the European Economic Community other than the United Kingdom".).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment bears on matters which we discussed at an earlier stage of the Bill but I am anxious to ask your Lordships to reconsider the position. We have achieved a situation where British citizens who are employed by the European Community full-time in Europe are now entitled to vote in elections in the United Kingdom. It is our view that although that is a step forward it is still restrictive.

As I think I indicated at earlier stages of the Bill, we should like to see British citizens throughout the world allowed to vote because it is on the basis of citizenship and not necessarily residence that the vote should be granted. There are already as we know parts in the Bill which allow people to do this only if they give an undertaking that they will return to this country at some later stage. I do not want to rehearse again the arguments about those people who are not, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon said, tax dodgers but people who are actually doing a good job for this country as salesmen, businessmen or missionaries or in voluntary service overseas, and so on, who still regard the United Kingdom as their home base and who regard United Kingdom politics as being important to them in relation to their pensions, their future and the safety of the world, if you like.

I do not go so far as that in this amendment; but feel that if we believe in the European Community then people of British citizenship who are resident in Europe on a semi-permanent basis—that is to say, people who intend to return eventually but who are for all sorts of reasons resident in Europe for the time being—are entitled to vote and to take part in the political deliberations of this country. It is on that basis that I beg to move this amendment.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as I think I indicated in Committee, the Government accept that there are powerful arguments for making special arrangements for British citizens in the European Community. The background is—and I think the noble Lord will be aware of this—that the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place recommended an extension of the franchise to all British citizens in the Community who have previously resided in the United Kingdom. The main considerations, for the Select Committee, were that the demand for an extension of the franchise had come mainly from British citizens within the Community, and that common membership of the Community gave British citizens in other member states a closer connection with the United Kingdom than was shared by British citizens elsewhere.

We consulted the political parties on this recommendation in November 1983. The parties varied in their enthusiasm for the principle of extending the franchise, and at that stage it was only the Liberal Party which supported an extension to all 3 million British citizens resident around the world. But not one of the parties, whatever their view on the main issue, thought that if the franchise were to be extended at all British citizens in the Community should have the vote in circumstances where British citizens in other parts of the world should not. It was this factor that lay behind the Government's decision to introduce a Bill giving the vote to British citizens around the world but limited to a period of seven years after departure.

7.15 p.m.

The Government's aim all along has been for the Bill to have the widest possible degree of support by all the parties. We have had to compromise on the extent to which the principle is given effect to make sure the principle itself is established. Although we have some sympathy with the noble Lord's amendment, we are fairly sure it would not command widespread support in another place; and it is surely for another place to have the final say on the way its Members are to be elected. I welcome the spirit in which the noble Lord has moved his amendment, which I know does not go so far as perhaps he and some others of his party would wish it to, but I have to say that I hope he will not press it. If he does, I hope that your Lordships will not support it.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I intended to intervene but I rather assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, would speak and I was giving him the opportunity to speak first.

When we have discussed this matter in the past we have had the prospect held out that if we extended the franchise in the way in which my noble friend has suggested all sorts of tax dodgers and other unsatisfactory people would be enfranchised. Now my noble friend has come forward with a far more limited amendment dealing exclusively with the Community where the same scale of problem clearly does not exist.

With great respect, I find the argument of the noble Lord the Minister singularly unpersuasive. The idea that the other place—I do not want to overstate the argument that he put before the House—is manifestly going to be right on matters of this sort, and that we should adopt an attitude of appropriate humility when discussing these questions, seems to me a rather far fetched proposition.

It could be argued that in the final analysis we are slightly more disinterested than another place. Although I very much welcomed the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, which was carried on the last occasion, it seems to me that the Minister's case today, justifying a position where we would be consciously deciding that people working within the EEC, of which we are a member and which is at the very heart of our foreign and economic policy, should in fact be disfranchised, is one of the least impressive I have heard. That seems highly undesirable and I am bound to say that nothing the Minister has said today has dissuaded me from believing that my noble friend's amendment is entirely right.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, it was extremely courteous of the noble Lord, Lord Hams of Greenwich, to anticipate that I would want to speak before he did. I just wanted to make absolutely sure that the Liberal Party and the SDP were of one mind in this matter, and therefore I waited for his speech. I find that the Alliance is truly an alliance and that they hold the same point of view. I can now reply.

Of course it is for another place rather than this one to have the last word on who should or who should not have the franchise for election to that House. I said "the last word". That does not mean that the opinions of this House are in any way wasted and I am sure that the other place would always respect even on matters of franchise a view expressed in this House. But the whole basis of the way in which we deal hopefully with matters of franchise is one of compromise and discussion between the parties. In another place such discussions did take place. A point of view was put forward on behalf of the official Opposition which was contrary to some of the provisions that now appear in the Bill and that are going through. Both the Government and the official Opposition decided—your Lordships may think very sensibly—to enter upon a compromise arrangement where the best of all worlds was possibly not given the proper emphasis so far as the Government or the official Opposition saw it. But there was a compromise and by that compromise I regard myself as being in honour bound.

Having said that, let me say also why I believe that this amendment is not a good amendment. I said on Second Reading on behalf of my noble friends, and at Committee stage, that it was not right to include under one umbrella people who were not working for the EC—and I especially spoke in favour of that and voted in favour of that in Committee—but who have gone abroad whether to countries of the EC or elsewhere.

I dealt with the various categories that, in frankness, all of us know reside abroad. There are some who do it for very good reason, for medical reasons, and one respects and sympathises with those British citizens who reside abroad for that reason. There are those who do it for trading and industrial reasons, and I have no doubt that that is for the benefit, in many cases, of this country. One respects that category.

I ask your Lordships to bear in mind, in dealing with the EC, that Spain and Portugal are about to enter into its membership. Obviously we will welcome them with open arms on the basis that, happily, certain matters have been cleared up between ourselves and Spain; that has been a very helpful and successful negotiation, I have no doubt. However, particularly when dealing with Spain do I remember that there are many British subjects—I am not sure that we are proud that they are so—who have gone to that country, in order, it is well known, to escape justice in this country.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I should point out that it has just been announced that a new extradition treaty is being concluded between Spain and this country. Those people to whom the noble Lord so frequently refers in this House will no longer find themselves on the Costa del Sol, or wherever it is they are.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I welcome that intervention, but all of us know that excepted from all extradition treaties are offences which relate to fiscal matters. There are, therefore, many offences which will not come within the purview of an extradition treaty, glad though I am to know that that treaty is going to be signed.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, who is always courteous, for allowing me to intervene. Is the noble Lord seriously suggesting to the House that our decision on this question as to whether to enfranchise many tens of thousands of British citizens living in the EC should be dependent upon what happens to five, six or seven people who may have gone to Spain having committed some fiscal offence, as I think he described it? Is he seriously suggesting that on that argument, and that argument alone we should disfranchise a substantial number of our fellow citizens?

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, one of the mistakes of an intervention—although the noble Lord well knows that I am more than happy always to give way to him, or any other noble Lord—is that sometimes the intervention takes place before the original speaker has a chance of completing the point he was trying to make. I was certainly not limiting what I had to say to seven or eight people. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, presumably knows these people so well that he was even able to give the number. I was not able myself to say how many such people there were in Spain or elsewhere. I was obviously adding that up in regard to all the EC countries and mentioning Spain as an example only because of the media emphasis on Spain having been used in the past as a retreat for some of the people to whom I referred.

It is not only those people to whom I refer. It is not only those people about whom I would want to use any sort of offensive language. I am resting upon the principle, not only of the agreement which was reached, which in my view binds me, but also on the principle which does not apply, in my view, to those people employed in the EC. It is those people who are resident as a principle in this country, who pay taxes in this country, who are influenced by what happens socially and otherwise in this country by virtue of their residence, who really should, as a matter of principle, be given the vote. There should be an exception to that principle and rule only when people are engaged in the diplomatic service and, therefore, in the service of the United Kingdom and those people we dealt with in Committee, if I remember correctly, on the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles.

On the basis, therefore, first, that an agreement, and a sensible one, has been reached between the main parties in another place; secondly, that I believe that the last word ought to be with them and we are dealing with a Bill which has come from the other place; and, thirdly, because of the reasons which I believe actuated the other place, I say that this amendment should not be agreed to.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, that is a most extraordinary argument. I have always understood that in this country all citizens are entitled to vote unless they have the misfortune to be either Peers, lunatics or criminals. Under which category are the people we are now going to exclude to be ranked?

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am most grateful for the support I have received from these Benches. There are two reasons why I reject the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. First, he does not take into account Clause 2(3)(e), under which people have to make a declaration that they do not intend to reside permanently outside the United Kingdom. I should have thought that the people to whom he refers as evading criminal laws or taxation laws were not likely to sign a declaration saying that they did not intend to reside permanently outside the United Kingdom. I should have thought that that was the reason they had gone there in the first place.

More specifically, from these Benches we must reject what I believe to be the rather sordid compromise that was reached between the Government and what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is pleased to call the official Opposition, by which I presume he means the Labour Party in all its forms in another place. Frankly, if this House has a role it is to question cosy agreements that are reached by political parties that do not necessarily represent the whole of opinion within the country. It is on that basis as much as any—although I know our chances of carrying this amendment are, in the circumstances, very small—that we have a duty on these Benches to say that we are not prepared to deny the rights of British citizens who are doing a job for Britain abroad as well as for themselves. We are not a party to that shabby compromise and, therefore, I feel that we need to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree that the old adage of half a loaf being better than no bread is very real in these circumstances? I believe that we won a good battle when we obtained permission for the officials of the Community to have their vote. One recognises the reaction in another place which at the end of the day will and should have the last word. If this amendment has the effect of removing the half loaf that we have, I cannot think that it is a wise way of wanting to use the powers of this House. Even at this late minute, rather than put that at risk by having a vote on the record, it would perhaps be better not to proceed to lose the half loaf that we already have.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I understand what he is saying and the dangers to which he refers. But if the status quo ante the amendment is now acceptable to the Government and they are prepared to allow that position to go through to another place, and indeed to support it—because that is the only way that it will get through—and they do not like the position as it would be amended by my amendment, they can revert to the previous position. It would surely be cynical for the Government at this stage to accept the situation as amended by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, but say that they are not prepared to revert to it if things go further than that. That would be an extremely cynical attitude to take. While I understand the logic of the position of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I feel that in the circumstances the danger is considerably less than he fears, and on that basis I propose to take the amendment to a Division.

7.31 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 20; Not-Contents, 99.

Airedale, L. Hampton, L.
Banks, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. [Teller.]
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Diamond, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Falkland, V. Lawrence, L.
Gladwyn, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Grey, E. McNair, L.
Ogmore, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Rochester, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Seear, B. Winstanley, L.
Stedman, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hood, V.
Barber, L. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Beloff, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Belstead, L. Kinnaird, L.
Birk, B. Lane-Fox, B.
Blease, L. Layton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Long, V. [Teller.]
Brockway, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Broxbourne, L. Malmesbury, E.
Caithness, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Merrivale, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mishcon, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Molson, L.
Chelwood, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Clitheroe, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Coleraine, L. Munster, E.
Colville of Culross, V. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Colwyn, L. Nicol, B.
Cork and Orrery, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cornwallis, L. Onslow, E.
Cottesloe, L. Orkney, E.
Cox, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Craigavon, V. Rankeillour, L.
Craigton, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Croft, L. Rea, L.
Davidson, V. Reigate, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Renton, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Renwick, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Romney, E,
Ellenborough, L. Sandford, L.
Elton, L. Sharples, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Ennals, L. Southborough, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Ferrier, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Galpern, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Swinfen, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Glenarthur, L. Trefgarne, L.
Gowrie, E. Trumpington, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Vickers, B.
Greenway, L. Vivian, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. White, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Windlesham, L.
Henley, L. Young, B.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Young of Graffham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.39 p.m.

Baroness Elles moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 37, at end insert — ("(e) the person is the wife or husband of a person referred to in paragraph (d) above, is a British citizen, is resident outside the United Kingdom and satisfies the conditions set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this modest little amendment is really an addendum to the amendment which was adopted in Committee giving the right to British officials in Community institutions to vote. Referring back to the previous amendment, I would point out to your Lordships that these votes are not only for another place; they are also for the European Parliament. This House has just as much right as the other place to decide who votes for the European Parliament or indeed for another place. It so happens that there are three Members of the European Parliament from this House and only one from another place. Thus, if it was a question of numbers, one could say that this House has more right than another place to decide who should vote in European parliamentary elections. To say that it is unconstitutional that this House should have anything to say on the representation of the people is an extraordinary attitude to take. It is one that I have never heard before, and hope never to hear again.

To come back to my modest little amendment, this refers to the amendment giving the right to British officials to vote in both European and national elections regardless of whether or not they had been away from this country for five years. As I indicated before that amendment was adopted by your Lordships, it did not include the right of spouses of such officials to vote; so this amendment merely enables the British spouses of British officials in the Community institutions to have that right.

I accept that the amendment may be badly drafted. If that is the case, of course I shall be prepared to withdraw it on the understanding that the Government will be prepared to redraft it in the same spirit and within the same parameters, to be adopted on Third Reading.

I press the Government very seriously to consider urging their colleagues in another place that this amendment should be adopted, coming from your Lordships' House. It is frankly nonsense to say that this House has no right to give any guidance to another place on who should vote, particularly in relation to the European parliamentary election. I should point out that it will be only British officials in the Community insititutions who will not have the right to vote in European parliamentary elections, subject to the five-year limit, if this amendment is not adopted in another place. Thus, I urge the Minister to use all his energy and powers of advocacy to persuade the Secretary of State in another place, and the Government, to adopt it.

I should also ask the noble Lord opposite whether his party in another place will accept this amendment, or whether they will vote against it. I hope that noble Lords in this House who are Members of the Opposition will make sure that their votes in this House will be reflected in another place. I beg to move.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I hope that the strictures, always mildy given by the noble Baroness, about those who said that it was completely unconstitutional for matters of franchise to be dealt with in this House, were not applied to me. I made it absolutely clear that, whereas I thought that it was constitutionally possible and perfectly proper, my only comment was that in my view the last word in regard to elections to that body should remain with that body, and I used the words deliberately.

I have only this comment to make on the amendment. It seems to me to be perfectly logical and proper, in view of the amendment that was passed at the Committee stage in regard to officials of the EC, that their husbands or wives (as the case may be) should be included in the franchise. At Committee stage I expressed a view on a matter which, as I understood it, had not been considered in the other place. I took a view on behalf of my noble friends, or of such of those who wanted to support me, and I said at that time that I did not think that that view was contrary, so far as I knew, to any policy that had been expressed by my party. In the light of the noble Baroness's question to me, I repeat those words.

However, as I said, the matter has not been tested. I cannot speak for the Opposition—the official Opposition, I repeat—in another place, and I merely record that I myself see this as a logical and proper amendment following upon what was passed at the Committee stage.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I hasten to say that this amendment has our full support. Nothing that I said on the last amendment detracts from our support for the original amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, at the Committee stage, or for this amendment which goes with it. We certainly wish it well. We very much hope that the Government will give the noble Baroness the assurances for which she is asking. Like her, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will use his good offices with what I should prefer to call the "paid" Opposition in another place.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, I regret that I had to be absent at the previous stages of this Bill. Therefore, I am obviously more ignorant than I should be. For the record, I wonder whether my noble friend Lady Elles, or the Minister, can help me. Representa-tions have been made to me that if my noble friend's amendment is carried NATO employees would find themselves at a disadvantage. Am I right in thinking that because NATO officials are employed directly by Her Majesty's Government their position will not be at all adversely affected by this amendment? If my noble friend or the Minister can help me on that matter, I shall be grateful.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, when the House is as empty as it is at the moment I should never think it appropriate to raise the temperature on such a Bill as this, which, apart from our differences on the last amendment, is not appropriate for normal party strife. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, who asked about the position of the Opposition in relation to her amendment, I should like to say that it has our warm and enthusiastic support. I am glad to be able to reassure her that the Social Democratic and Liberal Parties will vote for it enthusiastically in the House of Commons.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I do not think I shall accept my noble friend's invitation to discuss again some parts of the first amendment except to say that when she reads the record she will note that my words were that another place should have a final say. However, relating to this particular amendment, I must say that the Government fully accept that if it is decided to give the vote to Community officials then their spouses should also have the vote. All I have to say now to my noble friend is this. As she is aware, the amendment now before your Lordships does not have quite the effect that I believe she wants it to have. Therefore, perhaps I may suggest that she withdraws the amendment on the understanding that we put the matter right at Third Reading.

It may be convenient if I add that, although the amendments carried at the Committee stage were not defective, on reflection we believe that there is probably a better way of giving effect to the principle that lies behind them, and we shall also be preparing Third Reading amendments which, if your Lordships agree, will replace those which were moved by my noble friend at the Committee stage. I hope that that will be acceptable to her.

My noble friend Lord Home asked about NATO. So far as officials of NATO are concerned, my noble friend's amendment would not cover them. As far as I know, it has not been suggested elsewhere or in your Lordships' House that NATO officials should have the vote in the same way as officials will have it now as a result of my noble friend's amendment. We do not think that it would be possible to go further. It introduces many difficulties about where one actually draws the line. One can think of the British Council, and others. I hope that that answer to my noble friend Lord Home at least sets the scene for the record in the way that he asked.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, with regard to NATO officials, I had always understood that they were either officials employed by the United Kingdom Government, where they were British citizens, or indeed they were members of the armed forces. However, in view of what my noble friend the Minister has said, which I do not find very reassuring, I should like to make further inquiries, and, if necessary, look at this particular aspect again on Third Reading. I do not think my noble friend Lord Home is entirely satisfied. However, perhaps before I say anything further my noble friend may like to say a further word.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I think that I said that it had not cropped up before. I shall have to seek advice on this and I am subject to correction, but, as I understand it, as it has not been raised before, it is probably better if I take it away and consider it. I shall, of course, write to my noble friend and to my noble friend Lady Elles and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Home, has raised this issue, and given the fact that Third Reading is the final stage of the Bill so far as this House is concerned and we shall not then be able to return to the issue, would it be possible for the noble Lord to let us know—those of us who have participated in the debate, including, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Home—what is the Government's view of this matter certainly a few days before we come to the Third Reading of the Bill?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall certainly copy correspondence to all those who have taken part.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, in view of the undertaking of my noble friend the Minister that there will be a redrafting of my amendment in the same spirit as the draft and similarly that the amendment that was adopted at Committee stage will be redrafted but that it will still include everyone now in the Bill—that is, that all those now employed by the European Community institutions will still be included in a redraft—I am willing to withdraw the amendment.

I would press my noble friend to do all that he can to make sure that the Government support the amendment, particularly in view of the many letters and representations that I had from officials on returning to the European Parliament last week following the adoption of the previous amendment. Regardless of party, the amendment was received with great jubilation and a feeling of great gratitude towards your Lordships' House as the House that had considered their position. Otherwise, they would have been the only officials in the institutions without the right to vote in either national or European Parliament elections. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 3: Before Clause 20, insert the following new clause:

("Reduction of minimum age requirement for parliamentary candidates.

. In section 7 of the Parliamentary Elections Act 1695 (no person aged under twenty-one years to be capable of being elected a Member of Parliament) for the words "one and twenty" there shall be substituted the word "eighteen".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we discussed at Committee stage an amendment similar to the next amendment to this. It would therefore be helpful to the House, I believe, if we discussed Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 together. Amendment No. 4: Before Clause 20, insert the following new clause:

("Reduction of minimum age requirement for local authority candidates.

.In section 79(1) of the Local Government Act 1972, for the words "twenty-one years" there shall be substituted the words "eighteen years".").

The amendments touch on the same principle although one relates to parliamentary elections and the other to local government elections. The objection of the Minister, as I understood it, was that there was very little evidence of pressure for reduction in the age of candidature from 21 to 18. I find that difficult to believe. From a speech already quoted, I believe, I have culled some additional words. I quote: I have been made aware of the long-standing Young Conservative interest in having the qualifying age for election to public office reduced to 18". Those are the words of the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary in a speech to the Young Conservative conference in Scarborough in February 1980. The final paragraph of the speech reads: In my view the case for changing the law is a strong one. I find it difficult to see why young people who are entitled to vote and are regarded as full citizens should not be allowed to present themselves to their fellow citizens for election to office".

I do not think I could have put the statement more clearly myself. It is illogical to have a situation where the decision-making process is given to people at 18 but that the people over whom the decision is made are not allowed to present themselves to the electorate until they are 21. This is a simple straightforward amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, in all deference, it is one of the privileges of those who do not have responsibility either for the Government or for the Opposition to bring forward adventurous and sometimes extremely worthy resolutions and amendments. If one has responsibility either in Government or in an Opposition that hopes to be the Government, then one obviously has to say that despite the many worthy arguments to support the proposition that those who have the vote should have the right to sit—a proposition for which, speaking personally, I have the greatest sympathy—responsibility points to the matter not being incorpo-rated in this Bill in this House in this way.

Responsibility dictates that there should be proper discussions upon matters of this kind between the Government and all other parties democratically represented in the other place and that those discussions should take place, one hopes, in an atmosphere of common sense with all the arguments being advanced and possibly a proper arrangement then being reached so that one can deal with such an important constitutional matter upon an agreed party basis.

No such discussions have so far as I know been set up by the Alliance in another place. There have been no arrangements made for meetings to be held to discuss these matters. It is therefore quite wrong, in my respectful submission, for an amendment sensibly to be brought before the House at this stage. However, I do hope—I say this with every sense of responsibility—that the points that have been raised perfectly properly by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will indeed form the subject matter of consultations that may well take place in the future. After those consultations, decisions can be taken—but not in this House this evening.

Lord Sudeley

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 were put down separately. However, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that he would like them to be taken together. I shall speak to both, although I shall put my remarks in two different pockets, the first pocket being the first amendment relating to candidates between the ages of 18 and 21 being able to stand at parliamentary elections. When I raised the question of local authority elections at the Committee stage, the Minister said that there was not much support for anything of this kind in another place. Given that local authority and parliamentary elections come under the same umbrella, I should like to call attention to an Early Day Motion in another place signed by a number of honourable Members which calls for: The age at which a person may stand for public office to be brought into line with that at which Parliament has deemed them fit to vote and further recognises that the real power in any election will still be the ability to choose and not the possibility of being chosen". It is worth remarking that one of the signatories of the Early Day Motion is a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

In addition to support in another place, young members' groups of all the major parties are looking to us to put through this amendment. I have received a document from the national Young Conservatives which says: If necessary we are prepared to lobby on behalf of participation of Young Conservatives in council affairs". They go on to say: It is in the best interests that Conservative candidates are representative of the electorate". Although the arguments refer here to council candidates, they are sound.

With other countries of the Commonwealth, we owe a common allegiance. If, as a development from Empire, the Commonwealth is not the fiction that it is sometimes held to be, it is worth bearing in mind that in two countries of the Commonwealth, Australia and Canada, candidates are eligible to stand for election at 18.

I should like to deal with the arguments put forward by the Minister at Committee stage in regard to local authority elections. They seem rather curious and unsatisfactory. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has said, the Home Secretary agreed in 1980 that people should be able to stand for parliamentary election or public office between the ages of 18 and 21. The Minister said that he would look into the matter, and write to me. I now see the possible error of my ways in not pressing the matter to a Division then because when the Minister wrote he did not change his position.

The first argument that the Minister produced in Committee on 16th April was that those people between the ages of 18 and 21 need to gain more experience before standing as candidates. This argument is surely self-defeating. Those between the ages of 18 and 21 are already adjudged experienced enough to vote, and there should be no distinction between their capacity to judge a candidate by voting and their capacity to be judged as candidates.

8 p.m.

The second argument adduced by the Minister at the Committee stage on my amendment on local authority elections was that those between the ages of 18 and 21 have more pressing demands on their time than to be able to stand for election. This surely is a curious argument. If all over the age of 21 are able to stand, only a tiny minority—it must be less than 1 per cent.—do stand, and the logic of the Minister's argument surely is that there is no need for anyone over the age of 21 to stand for election as 99 per cent. of the electorate seem to have more pressing claims on their time.

The third argument that the Minister used was that he has only received occasional letters on the matter of local authority elections. How many letters are usually received on matters to do with amendments raised in this House and how does that figure compare with the very few letters which the Minister said had been received on this particular issue?

The fourth argument of the Minister was that there had been no demand for a change in the law on this matter. However, I do not think that the Minister clarified the distinction between apparent and real demand. There was no apparent demand for votes for those between the ages of 18 and 21 when such voting was accorded in 1969; yet during the debate which preceded the Representation of the People Act 1969, providing for the vote for those between the ages of 18 and 21, a Member of another place said: There has not been much pressure for votes at 18. Indeed, there is no sign of the Strangers' Gallery bursting at the seams to hear what we are discussing". Yet, my Lords, what happened at the last election?—hundreds and thousands between the ages of 18 and 21 voted; and I understand that the majority voted Conservative. So much for the arguments of the Minister in Committee which were against my amendment.

I thought that I would go a stage further and show that the Minister had produced an argument for my amendment. The Minister said: I accept the noble Lord's point that it is for the electorate to decide … whether or not they wish to vote for a person of any age. Of course I accept that argument".—[official Report, 16/4/85; col. 683.] To conclude, bearing in mind first the words of the Home Secretary in 1980 to which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred, and secondly the Minister's statement at the Committee stage that it is for the electorate to decide whether or not they wish to vote for a person of any age, I hope that the Minister will reconsider this amendment.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this matter. I know that the House wants to get on with the Bill which we have been discussing this afternoon, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that this is not a matter for this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, it may be illogical that if one has the right at the age of 18 to vote for candidates for Parliament, one should not also have the right to stand as a candidate for Parliament. However, I do not agree. It may be illogical from the point of view of a computer but we are human beings. When I was 18 I was still at school and would have been absolutely appalled if I had found myself in Parliament. I would have been completely ignorant and completely at a loss. I do not think that it is practicable.

As we all know, the younger Pitt was Prime Minister at the age of 23, but in those days universal suffrage did not exist. The only matters with which governments were concerned were foreign affairs and defence; they were hardly concerned with anything else. We cannot compare William Pitt being Prime Minister at the age of 23 with a man or woman being Prime Minister at the age of 23 now. It would be quite absurd.

As we all know, government is now extremely complex. To a certain extent the same is true of local government. A councillor, particularly in a large metropolitan council, has to deal with millions and millions of pounds. How can a young man of 18, 19, 20 or even 25—I would go as high as that—understand that? I am all for young people—I have been treasurer of boys' clubs and have been a member of the executive of boys' clubs for many years. However, I could not support this amendment; I should like to support it, but to be practical I cannot.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I too cannot support this amendment. Although a young person at the age of 18 probably has the experience to judge whether another is suitable to represent him in Parliament, I doubt whether anyone at the age of 18 actually has the experience to serve in Parliament. It must be borne in nind that when the voting age was dropped from 21 to 18 Peers who had reached the age of 18 but who had not yet reached the age of 21 were still, and still are, excluded from serving in Parliament.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, when the matter of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sudeley—the second amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that we could take with his amendment—was raised at the Committee stage, I undertook to write to my noble friend Lord Sudeley when I had had a chance to look into the points that he raised. My noble friend quoted a speech—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned it again tonight—given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary when he was Minister of State with responsiblility for electoral matters in 1980. It is no secret that the Government have in the past given careful and indeed sympathetic consideration to this issue, on which a recommendation was made by the Speaker's Conference of 1973–74. It is equally no secret that, in all the circumstances, it was decided not to proceed with a reduction in the minimum age, and the Government gave an answer to this effect in another place on 16th February 1984. The Government detect absolutely no enthusiasm among the general public or from young people themselves for a reduction in the minimum age either for parliamentary or for local government candidates.

I was asked about the question of numbers. I can say that we have received fewer than half-a-dozen letters on this subject. I can also say that we have received far fewer letters than we have received on other electoral issues, such as the extension of the franchise, the deposit, absent voting, and so on. I hope that that puts other people's general views into context.

The consequence of reducing the minimum age would be to give the electorate a message that we wished to encourage young people of 18, 19 and 20 to stand for public office. I fully accept the intention on their part to stand, but I also entirely agree with my noble friends Lord Massereene and Ferrard and Lord Swinfen. I believe that membership of Parliament or of a local authority surely calls for more maturity than young people of that age group are likely to have. My noble friend Lord Sudeley repeated an argument which was advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in Committee, suggesting that the voter should choose. That is all very well, but one can take that to a logical conclusion, which is that it is an argument for no restrictions at all on the right to stand.

I am sorry, but this is an issue which we have considered carefully. It is a change which, to my mind, would be undesirable. Having said that, I do not think that I can repeat the arguments that I put forward in Committee, and I hope that both the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and my noble friend Lord Sudeley will not press their amendments.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It is strange, is it not, that we reduce the age of majority to 18 and allow people to do all sorts of things save only to stand for public office. To hear some of the arguments one would think that Parliament and the local councils are going to be flooded with 18-year-olds. The noble Lord the Minister in his wisdom and knowledge says that these people are not mature enough to stand. My belief is that that is something which should be tested by the electorate—the electorate now entitled to vote at 18 years of age.

In International Youth Year, if we are serious about the principles which relate to that great event, particu-larly those relating to participation, it seems to me that this is an important gesture that the Government ought to be willing to make. I feel strongly on this subject and so do my noble friends, and we shall seek to test the feeling of the House.

8.11 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 22; Not-Contents, 78.

Airedale, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Banks, L. McNair, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Mayhew, L.
Diamond, L. Monkswell, L.
Falkland, V. Ogmore, L.
Gladwyn, L. Rochester, L.
Grey, E. Seear, B.
Hampton, L. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Sudeley, L. [Teller.]
Kilmarnock, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Lawrence, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Barber, L. Colwyn, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Cornwallis, L.
Beloff, L. Cox, B.
Belstead, L. Craigavon, V.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Craigton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Croft, L.
Broxbourne, L. Davidson, V.
Caithness, E. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Campbell of Alloway, L. Drumalbyn, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Elles, B.
Chelwood, L. Elton, L.
Clitheroe, L. Faithfull, B.
Coleraine, L. Ferrier, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Gibson-Watt, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Glenarthur, L. Onslow, E.
Gowrie, E. Orkney, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Rankeillour, L.
Greenway, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Henley, L. Reigate, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Renton, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Renwick, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Romney, E.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Sandford, L.
Kinnaird, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Kinnoull, E. Southborough, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Layton, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Long, V. [Teller.]
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Swinfen, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Trefgarne, L.
Merrivale, L. Trumpington, B.
Mersey, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Molson, L. Vivian, L.
Monk Bretton, L. White, B.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. Windlesham, L.
Munster, E. Young, B.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

8.19 p.m.

Schedule 4 [Miscellaneous amendments of the principal Act]:

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 5: Page 37, line 34, after ("(5)") insert ("for").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 are all technical amendments making minor changes in the provisions of The Representation of the People Act 1983. I beg to move Amendment No. 5.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 6: Page 37, line 34, leave out from ("onwards") to end of line 35 and insert ("there shall be substituted the words "and a district council or London borough council may assign officers to assist in carrying out all or any of those duties."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 38, line 11, leave out from beginning to ("Subsection") in line 12 and insert— ("(d) for subsections (4) and (5) there shall be substituted— (4) It shall be the duty

  1. (a) in England and Wales, of a district council or London borough council, and
  2. (b) in Scotland, of the council of a region or islands area,
to assign such officers to assist the registration officer as may be required for carrying out his functions under this Act. (5) ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Repeals]:

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 8: Page 53, leave out lines 25 and 26.

On Question, amendment agreed to.