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Elections: Registration

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that every eligible United Kingdom citizen between the ages of 18 and 25 registers to vote.

My Lords, the Government are committed to doing all that they can to maximise registration, including among 18 to 25 year-olds, and are looking to modernise the system to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to register to vote. We have commissioned research to explore the registration of groups whom we know are underregistered —which certainly includes those between 18 and 25. We are also closely studying the experience in Northern Ireland, where promising work is being done to get young people registered.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He knows as well as I do that if people are not encouraged to take part in the democratic process through the ballot box, there are other ways that have horrendous consequences. What plans have the Government for the coming year and elections to encourage people to register to vote? I declare an interest as grandfather of the Bite the Ballot movement, which encourages young people to engage with democratic institutions. Will the Government enable registration forms to be made available in schools, colleges, workplaces and places where young people spend their leisure hours, and also online? Could that be an immediate action?

My Lords, there are two problems with registration for 18 to 25 year-olds. One is the question of how far they are motivated to register. The other is simply how good the Government are at catching these people and making sure that they fill in forms. I am informed that the number of young men registered with a doctor is remarkably low. This is the biggest single hole in our registration. The percentage of 18 to 25 year-olds registered to vote is around 56 per cent. The percentage of people over 25 who are registered is well over 90 per cent.

My Lords, the Minister will recall the debate that was held in your Lordships’ House at the beginning of January about electoral registration, where there was widespread concern from all sides of the House about the Government’s approach to individual registration and how it will cause a decline in electoral registration, including among young people. There was also concern that that decline in registration would benefit only one political party—the Conservative Party. In the light of that, the Minister will recall that there was widespread support from all sides of the House, including from the Conservative Benches, for a cross-party approach to addressing these problems. The Minister then undertook to go away and discuss with his colleagues such a cross-party approach. Can he update the House on how he has got on with his discussions, three months later?

That is a very good question. I have discussed that with colleagues, and we are continuing to discuss it, and I thank the noble Lord for maintaining the pressure on it. We have a real problem with how to get 18 to 25 year-olds caught up within the general system of interaction with government agencies. They move around much more frequently; they move between home and university; and they tend not to get caught up by a number of the ways in which government interacts with people.

May I suggest to the noble Lord, in the most helpful of ways, that he send a copy of the draft Bill on House of Lords reform to every 18 to 24 year-old and see how many are thus motivated by the democratic impulse of the Deputy Prime Minister to come out and vote?

My Lords, only this morning I was told by one Member of your Lordships’ House who spends time going out to schools that when talking with school students, one gets a very strong commitment to House of Lords reform. I recall that the Labour Party’s last manifesto committed it to House of Lords reform. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and others will maintain that strong commitment when they discuss the Bill this time next year. It seems to me sometimes that there is nothing else on the minds of noble Lords opposite.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in a debate among young people in this House last year, there was a very strong vote against House of Lords reform? However, that is not my question. My question is: what progress is being made on the institution of citizenship education in schools as a compulsory subject?

My Lords, successive Governments have struggled for some time with the whole issue of citizenship education in schools, and as the noble Baroness knows well, schools have struggled with how well PSHE as a whole is taught. I have asked about citizenship education and students tell me that they have had a bit on the European Union and a bit on Parliament in between the instruction on how they should behave in relations with the opposite sex. We all know that citizenship education remains a problem. It is a problem with which the Department for Education and others are grappling, but I encourage the noble Baroness to keep pushing.

My Lords, it seems, as my noble friend will undoubtedly be aware, that the young are interested in single issues in politics. Would it not be a good idea to encourage those single-issue groups to inform the young of just how important it is to get involved in the political process in order to get anything done, and that voting is part of that?

My Lords, the localism agenda—and, indeed, reviving local democracy—is clearly one very important part of getting young people re-involved in democratic politics, because it is easier to understand how they interact with local politics. I have to say to all Members of the House that the way in which we handle the issue of constitutional reform over the next year will send a signal to young people about how responsible we are, at Westminster, in reacting to constitutional reform issues.

My Lords, the Minister seemed to indicate earlier in reply to my noble friend’s question that it has taken until now, three months later, to discuss within the department or the Government the issue that my noble friend raised. How much longer do we have to wait for it to become an all-party, cross-party discussion that might lead to the sort of positive results that the Minister seems to want?

I welcome the noble Baroness’s commitment to cross-party approaches to all aspects of political and constitutional reform. On the question of motivating people under the age of 25 to be involved in politics, we very much need an all-party approach, and that is one of the areas in which we all need to take a rather more responsible attitude than the circus of Westminster sometimes provides.