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Voting Age

Volume 489: debated on Thursday 19 March 2009

The Electoral Commission’s 2004 report entitled “The Age of Electoral Majority” concluded that there was insufficient justification for reducing the voting age to 16. The commission has since refocused its activities on the objectives of, first, regulating party and electoral finance and, secondly, delivering well-run elections. It believes that issues such as the extent of the franchise are matters for Government and Parliament to decide.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. He will be aware that the Electoral Commission said that it would look at the matter again within five to seven years, so does he agree that it is time for the commission, independent of political influence, to look at the subject? Now that we have managed to allow young people to use this Chamber, although many Opposition Members wanted that not to happen, is it not time to consider young people a bit more than we have in the past?

It is indeed true that in 2004 the Electoral Commission said that it would revisit within five to seven years the case for lowering the voting age, but as I have just explained, the commission has since refocused its efforts. The refocusing is not in any sense an abrogation of its responsibility, but follows a review of the commission’s activities by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The refocusing has been welcomed by the Government and the Committee.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Electoral Commission is right to refocus in that way? Like most Members, I regularly visit schools in my constituency and hold question-and-answer sessions with fifth and sixth formers. They are very interested in a number of subjects, but none of them is the slightest bit interested in having the vote at 16.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Most of the responses to the consultation held in 2004 supported lowering the voting age. However, the commission found that more general opinion polling suggested strong support for keeping the current minimum, and that young people seemed divided on the issue.