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Political Engagement

Volume 459: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

18. What assessment he has made of recent work undertaken by the Electoral Commission on political engagement; and if he will make a statement. (131439)

The Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society have recently published the results of their fourth joint audit on political engagement. However, the hon. Lady will know that the Speaker’s Committee has no role or duty to make a specific assessment of that or of other recent work undertaken by the Electoral Commission on political engagement.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply but, like me, he will have noted that that report showed that 70 per cent. of people were willing to sign a petition and that 55 per cent., which is about the same as the number of people who voted in the last election, had done so. Does he therefore think that the way in which the House deals with petitions from members of the public can be improved, and will he discuss with the House authorities how we can use petitions from our constituents more effectively?

The Speaker’s Committee has no specific role in examining those matters, but the hon. Lady makes a very important point. The growth in early-day motions in the House has led to an awareness that there are many ways in which people seek to draw issues to public attention, and petitions are one way in which they do so. She makes a valuable point which, I am sure, will be considered.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a need to engage younger people in the process, and should not greater support be given to the UK Youth Parliament, and excellent youth MPs such as Luke Springthorpe in my constituency, who do a great deal to engage young people? Perhaps we should even provide votes for them at 17 rather than at 18.

Yes; the commission informs me that it has enjoyed significant success in increasing young people’s interest in politics through activities such as advertising campaigns, educational resources, workshops and a grant programme. An independent survey of 18 to 24-year-olds found that 52 per cent. of them had seen the commission’s 2006 local elections campaigns, and 24 per cent. claimed to have voted because of them.

Will my hon. Friend give encouragement, through the Speaker’s Commission, to the Electoral Commission, to continue to encourage voters and potential voters to register to vote where they are, which will help young people and others to take part in elections, whether local or national.

Yes, the recent study of the Electoral Commission by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the Electoral Commission’s response, indicated that the Electoral Commission does indeed intend to devote more resources to electoral registration and the mechanics of voting.