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Voting Age

Volume 456: debated on Monday 29 January 2007

20. What further research the commission is considering into the social and political awareness of those at or near the current minimum voting age in relation to proposals to reduce that age. (111471)

The vast majority of 16 and 17-year-olds are decent, caring and responsible youngsters who have complex and important decisions to make about their careers and education, and they pay taxes and can join the services. They have a bigger stake in democracy than any of us in the House. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not be afraid of trusting them with the vote? Will he ask the commission to drive the issue up the agenda?

That is ultimately a matter for the Government. I recall that on a previous occasion, my hon. Friend asked whether there could be a discussion about that during the passage of the Electoral Administration Bill, and there was indeed such a discussion. At that point, the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, said:

“We will keep this under active consideration, not because we believe that there is some absolute right figure or because we believe that it is an exact science, not even necessarily because we think that it is a question of rights, but because we are concerned about participation.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 22 November 2005; c. 167.]

My understanding is that that remains the Government’s view.

It is my impression that as citizenship is being taught in schools, the rising generation know a lot more about the electoral system than their predecessors and their parents. However, one thing they lack is a philosophical understanding of the differences between the various political views. Will the hon. Gentleman recommend that some component of philosophy be built into citizenship studies so that young people know what they are voting on as well as how to vote?

The commission is concerned about that and it is happening. It has said that the developments in citizenship education and new research information may lead to different conclusions over time. Its position is that it stated in 2004 that it would undertake a further review of the issue within seven years, but it will need to consider whether that remains appropriate in the light of any changes to its mandate following the recent report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.