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Voting: Young People

Volume 753: debated on Monday 7 April 2014


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to increase the number of young people registered to vote.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government have announced that five national organisations and every local authority in Great Britain are sharing £4.2 million in funding to promote voter registration, including among young people. The Cabinet Office has written to electoral registration officers encouraging them to use this funding to support the delivery of Rock Enrol, a learning resource which provides an opportunity for young people to register to vote and enables them to discuss the importance of doing so in schools or colleges.

My Lords, only 44% of young people aged 18 to 24 actually voted in the 2010 general election, citizen training is virtually non-existent in our schools and we have the threat of IER, which risks wiping thousands of young people off the register. When are the Government finally going to do something to engage young people and get them on to the register?

My Lords, we are conscious that this is a long-term problem. The number of young people voting in elections has been going down for the past 25 years. When I was drafting my party’s manifesto for the 1997 election, I remember being told by a number of people in my party that we had to recognise that fewer young people voted than older people. That problem has been growing and it is still growing. With schools, students forums, funding a number of organisations, and working with Bite the Ballot and others, we are doing our utmost to mitigate that. From June this year we are also introducing online registration, which we hope will help young people find it easier to register.

Bearing in mind the Electoral Commission’s recent report on voter registration fraud, what safeguards are there to ensure that only those students at university who are eligible to vote in our national elections are the ones who register? In particular, what care is being taken to ensure that postgraduates on a one-year course, who may be eligible to register, do so but are taken off the register when they leave?

My Lords, I suspect that a number of us in this Chamber are registered in two different places and have been for many years. Many students are registered in two different places, at their home and at their university. In all matters of electoral registration we have a balance to consider between keeping fraud to a minimum and doing everything that we can to encourage all British citizens to register.

My Lords, while I welcome everything that the Government are doing to encourage increases in registration among young people, does the Minister accept that these efforts are very limited and that there is a lot more that they could be doing at relatively little cost? This could include, for example, sending out registration forms to young people when they get their national insurance numbers, when they get their driving licences or when they are applying for student loans. What consideration are the Government giving to those sorts of measures?

My Lords, in the most recent visit by representatives of Bite the Ballot to the Cabinet Office they presented it with a draft voter mobilisation Bill that would indeed mean that when young people interacted with the state they would be reminded on each occasion to register. There are a number of quite tricky questions about government and the citizen, and how many things that you pull together in each interaction between government and the citizen, and we may be producing a Green Paper on this next year. We are conscious that the ICT revolution makes all this much easier, but the privacy lobby is not entirely keen on us making it as easy as we would like.

My noble friend will be aware that the schools initiative in Northern Ireland saw a 50% increase of the entire young people’s population. Why are we not running such a scheme in the rest of the UK?

My Lords, we are looking at the Northern Ireland Schools initiative that took electoral registration officers and others into schools, with forms, and that is one of the things that we will need to consider. We are also talking with teachers from the Association for Citizenship Teaching and others about how to energise students in schools and in further education colleges, to make sure that they are reminded that they have the opportunity and the duty to register to vote.

My Lords, is not underregistration among young people only a symptom of the disconnect between the politicians and the people? Does not the sight of a Cabinet Minister hanging on when she should go only aggravate that condition and that disconnect?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. We all know that there is a broader and long-term problem, which did not arise simply with this Government, of popular alienation from politics, and a sense that national politics and Westminster have little to do with the lives of young people in particular. All of us here and in the other place have a shared interest in combating that, rebuilding trust in politics, and regaining a sense of shared citizenship and political values. The Government cannot do that on their own.

My Lords, bearing in mind that these are all citizens and subjects of this country, have the Government considered compulsory registration?

Does the Minister agree that one of the factors that may lead to young people not registering—or, if they do register, not voting—would be if, prior to an election, a major political party were to promise to fight to reduce tuition fees but immediately after the election join with others to treble them?

The noble Lord thinks he makes a very fair point. I might also point out that one of the reasons for people not being interested in elections is that so many seats are safe seats and they know who is going to be elected anyway so there is no point in voting. The noble Lord will remember that he actively opposed the alternative vote.

My Lords, have we applauded the work of Bite the Ballot on its National Voter Registration Day—5 February—when it enrolled 40,000 new voters at a cost of 15p a head, which is far less than the government cost? Will we give our support next year to a countrywide National Voter Registration Day?

My Lords, the Government are actively interested in working with as many voluntary organisations as we can in maximising registration. We congratulate Bite the Ballot on its success this year and we very much hope that it has greater success next year.