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Voter Registration: Young People

Volume 616: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2016

The Government are building a democracy that works for everyone, including young people. Online registration has made it easier and faster to register to vote, and since its introduction a record 4.2 million applications to register have been made by people aged 16 to 24.

That was a very interesting answer. How can the Government be building a democracy when they have excluded nearly 2 million people who were allowed to vote in the referendum, and are going ahead with boundary reviews that will particularly affect young people in universities?

We are absolutely committed to taking account of the issues that matter to young people. As for the boundary changes, it is right for us to ensure that every seat is of equal value. It cannot be right for some constituencies to contain 95,000 people and others 38,000. We will ensure that every vote is equal, and that includes those of young people.

As my hon. Friend will know, next week the Youth Parliament will sit in this place. Does he agree that many 16, 17 and 18-year-olds are taking a growing interest in public affairs and what we do in the House—that is certainly what I find when I visit schools in my constituency—and that such initiatives will help youth registration?

It would be remiss of me not to note that the Youth Parliament will be sitting in this very Chamber on 11 November under your command, Mr Speaker. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing young people discuss the issues that matter to them. When it comes to “every vote matters”, we should bear in mind the fact that young people are interested in issues such as mental health and a curriculum that works for everyone, and those are the issues that are being debated in the Chamber. We look forward to working with young people to ensure that their voice is heard.

I hope that the Youth Parliament will be sitting under my encouraging chairmanship rather than under my command, but I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the sentiment that he has expressed.

The Minister will be aware that 16-year-olds in Scotland are able to vote for Members of the Scottish Parliament and for councillors, and that the plans for devolution under the Wales Bill might mean that 16-year-olds are allowed to vote for Welsh Assembly Members and councillors. Will he now give proper consideration to a full and positive report on the need to ensure that 16-year-olds can vote for Members of the House of Commons so that there can be full democracy for people aged 16 and over?

We discussed this issue at the previous session of Cabinet Office questions. We will not be lowering the parliamentary voting age, because since the general election Parliament has debated the proposal a number of times and repeatedly voted against it. It is important to recognise that most democracies consider that 18 is the right age to enfranchise young people. A person must be at least 18 to serve on a jury for similar reasons.

My hon. Friend referred to the need to ensure that every vote is equal. In the light of the number of spoiled ballot papers in elections for police and crime commissioners, will he think again about reintroducing the first-past-the-post system for elections of that kind in England?

My hon. Friend is right that we need a clear and secure democracy if we are to continue to have confidence in our system. In the elections for police and crime commissioners, about 8 million people voted and there were more than 300,000 spoiled ballot papers. For the EU referendum, in which 35 million people voted, there were just 25,000 spoiled ballot papers. There is clearly an issue that the Government will want to look into.

Has it occurred to the Minister that if the Government were not so aggressively making it difficult for millions of people to be included in the register, and if the previous Prime Minister had not so arrogantly dismissed the case for enfranchising 16 and 17-year-olds, the referendum result would have been different, and he would still be Prime Minister?

It is important to recognise that in the referendum a record number of people voted on one side—17.4 million voted for the UK to leave the European Union—and that a record 46.5 million people were registered to vote, of whom 3 million registered using the individual electoral registration system online. That shows that people have full confidence in the future of our new system.

Does the Minister agree that more young people might register to vote if they thought that it would make a positive difference to their lives, and that decisions such as trebling tuition fees, abolishing the education maintenance allowance and restricting young people’s housing benefit only act as a disincentive for them to become involved in politics?

The hon. Lady is right, but there is a problem with young people’s registration: we allow 16-year-olds to register to vote, but only 37% of them choose to do so. As I said earlier, we need to take account of the issues that matter to young people. Such issues will be debated by the Youth Parliament next Friday, but none of those to which the hon. Lady refers are on the agenda.