Schedule 1 Amendments

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 22 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions 10:30, 22 Tachwedd 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in schedule 1, page 82, line 9, leave out ‘18’ and insert ‘16’.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 29, in schedule 1, page 82, line 21, leave out ‘18’ and insert ‘16’.

Amendment No. 27, in schedule 1, page 95, line 4, at end insert—

‘113(1)The Representation of the People Act 1985 is amended as follows—

(2)In section 1(5) (extension of the parlimentary franchise), for “18” substitute “16”,

(3)In section 3(8)(a) (extension of the franchise for European Parliamentary elections), for “18” substitute “16”.’.

New clause 2—Minimum age of voting

‘(1)In section 1 of the 1983 Act (parliamentary electors), for subsection (d) substitute—“(d) is of voting age (that is, 16 years or over)”.

(2)In section 2 of the 1983 Act (local government electors), for subsection (d) substitute—“(d) is of voting age (that is, 16 years or over)”.

(3)In paragraph 6(5) of Schedule 4 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 (c.2), for “18” substitute “16”.’.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

The amendments would bring the voting age down from 18 to 16. They give us the opportunity to consider why young people should not have the vote at the age of 16. It is argued that young people are not interested in voting, do not have the capacity to vote and are too innocent and naive about the world of politics; they are also told that others know better than they do about the issues that concern them. Those points were all made in the previous century when discussing votes for women, and it will be interesting to consider the modern parallel.

The Committee has spent many hours discussing how best to encourage the population to participate and engage in our democratic process. The turnout in the general election in May was only 61 per cent.   However, turnout among 18 to 34-year-olds was a mere 37 per cent. That is cause for concern. On Second Reading I was heartened to hear the Minister say, about voting at the age of 16, that nothing was ruled out and that she was open-minded about the way forward.

I remind the Committee that article 12 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which the United Kingdom ratified in 1991, sets out clear participation rights for children and young people, encouraging them to give their views and to participate fully in decision making.

In 2003, the Electoral Commission undertook research on voting at 16; it also considered the age of candidature, which is currently 21. In 2004, the commission said:

“There appears to be insufficient current justification for a change to the voting age at the present time”,

and recommended a further review in five or seven years. It would be a great disappointment if it were to take another five or seven years to give voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds. The Bill’s provision dropping the age of candidacy from 21 to 18 has attracted cross-party support.

In the late 1960s, the voting age was dropped from 21 to 18. A number of people who now are distinguished parliamentarians would have been disfranchised if the voting age had been 21, including Gordon Brown, Simon Hughes and John Redwood[Laughter.]

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Llafur, Livingston

You have just lost your argument.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I am sure that everyone would like at least one of those parliamentarians to have participated in the electoral process.

I now move on to the main question: why should 16 and 17-year-olds have the vote? Over the past five years, citizenship classes have been introduced in all secondary schools. As a result, our 16-year-olds are now equipped with the knowledge and the skills to vote. Having reached that stage at the end of their time in secondary school, it seems ridiculous that they should have to wait two more years before being allowed to exercise their democratic choice to select a politician to represent them.

Now that we have citizenship classes, we ought to follow them through and give young people the vote once they have finished at secondary school. David Bell, the chief inspector of schools said in a recent democratic citizenship lecture that citizenship education was a key focus in one in five schools. The result is that young people are informed, engaged and ready to vote. That is very telling, and we need to take account of it.

I turn next to the matter of good voting habits. It is clear from research by the Social Market Foundation that those who vote at the age of 18 are more likely to continue voting for the rest of their lives. It found a link between the age at which people are first able to vote and their inclination to vote more often. People who turn 18 in the year leading up to a general election are significantly more likely to vote than those who   turn 18 the year after a general election; the latter have to wait for up to five years before exercising their vote. For example, those who were 17 in 1992 had to wait until 1997, when they were 23, to vote. In the 2001 election, when they were 27, they were tracked to see what they did, and only 49 per cent. of them bothered to vote. By comparison, 65 per cent. of those who had been able to vote in 1992, and who therefore voted again in 1997, also voted in 2001. The research demonstrates that those who vote young vote often. Although lowering the voting age will not erase the birthday lottery, it will ensure that everyone can participate in a general election by the time they turn 21. That will establish healthy electoral practices, which I am sure we all support.

On the Floor of the House yesterday, I mentioned the European experience of voting at 16 and 17. I was vociferously heckled from one side of the Chamber because I managed to incorporate young people and Europe in the same sentence, which got some hon. Members rather excited. In municipal elections in Germany, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to vote, and the turnout for that age group is higher than for older age groups, such as those aged 24 to 35. In local elections in Austria, the turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds reaches 90 per cent. To return to the point with which I started, turnout among our younger voters is currently 37 per cent., and the possibility that we could increase that figure to 90 per cent. by incorporating 16 and 17-year-olds certainly gives us pause for thought.

Numerous organisations have actively supported such proposals for a number of years, including Barnardo’s, the British Youth Council, the Children’s Society, the Electoral Reform Society, Girlguiding UK, the Local Government Information Unit and many more. It is unfortunate that when the Electoral Commission considered the issue in 2003, it did not take too much account of the wealth of research that had been carried out in the previous 10 or 20 years.

Most importantly, organisations run for and by young people strongly support reducing the voting age to 16. The British Youth Council has been campaigning on the issue for more than two decades. Reducing the voting age has also been one of the main manifesto commitments of the UK Youth Parliament since it was established in 2000.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Llafur, Dundee West

My hon. Friend mentions the UK Youth Parliament. Would she care to discuss the percentage turnout figures for voting for that Parliament?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I am not sure that I have the figures to hand, but there is a clear view in the Youth Parliament that exercising the right to vote in municipal and general elections is the way forward. Young people might feel that the Youth Parliament is a sop to them, and that they want engagement in the country’s democratic process. Therefore, the voting figures might not be that high, which is what I think my hon. Friend is suggesting. However, that is no reason not to support the arguments for introducing the right to vote in local, general and other elections.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Lady is making an eloquent case. The respect agenda is shared by all political parties, so is there any empirical evidence to show that young people who have the opportunity to vote behave in a more socially responsible way? In other words, does the evidence that she cited from Austria and Germany show that young people behave with more civic responsibility because they have been given the opportunity to vote?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

There is certainly something in that argument. Young people are already engaged in lots of civic activity, and the various pathfinders around the country encourage them to engage with their local communities and take a leadership role in them. If we are asking them to do that, it is only right and proper that they should be able to exercise the right to vote.

Let me briefly put the issue in context. The voting age has already been reduced to 16 in eight countries around the world—countries with various types of Government, such as referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Croatia, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovenia. Iran has a voting age of 15 and, as I mentioned, in Germany and Austria 17-year-olds can vote in municipal elections.

I believe that the question is not whether young people will be allowed to vote at 16 and 17, but when that will be the case. I started by saying that over the years, there have been arguments about why women should be allowed to vote and why the voting age should be lowered from 21 to 18. I am certain that even if a provision to lower the voting age is not incorporated in this Bill—I am convinced that we will have an interesting debate about that in a few moments—we will talk about the issue again in future. I believe that the voting age will be lowered to 16.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on tabling the amendment and on her presentation of the case for it. She covered the ground admirably, and I do not intend to repeat the arguments that she adduced.

It was useful to have a foretaste or trailer for this debate in the Chamber yesterday, when there were questions to the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. It was clear from those exchanges, brief as they were, that there is support for the proposal among hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are also some who will never support a lowering of the voting age. Indeed, the impression given is that they would rather like the voting age to be considerably raised—and perhaps the franchise to be reduced as far as possible, as well.

I personally believe that there is a strong argument for a common age of majority. There are different views about what a common age of majority should be, but my party’s policy is that the voting age should be 16. The hon. Lady set out some of the arguments for that. I note that attitudes to age, maturity and discernment have changed over the course of history. We have already debated lowering the age for parliamentary candidacy from the age set in 1695 to 18. You will recall, Mr. O’Hara, that I mentioned the   heading of the paragraph in the 1695 Act that talked about “infancy” extending until the age of 20. Few people now would perceive a 20-year-old as an infant, yet in 1695 that was clearly the case. When talking about the age at which people can make an informed choice, we must consider the environment in which we are living and the other choices that people are required to make at particular ages.

If the only argument against lowering the voting age is that some 16-year-olds are not sufficiently mature to—[Interruption.]—switch off their phones in Committee, or to display other aspects of mature behaviour, including using the vote sensibly, I have to say that the same argument could be applied to people of any age.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 10:45, 22 Tachwedd 2005

Some people, even up to the age of 90, will not be sufficiently mature to cast their vote sensibly, but we in this country consider that a universal franchise is appropriate. There is no test of intelligence, maturity or engagement before people are expected to vote. On the other side of the coin, many 16-year-olds are deeply engaged in political issues. Any of us who attend mock elections in schools—in my constituency the Liberal Democrats always win at a canter, but that is beside the point—will know that considerable debate goes on. People are inquiring at that age, and they want to know what the political issues are. Indeed, they are encouraged by the citizenship courses that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson) mentioned.

I want to pinpoint one other aspect, which correlates with the point made by the hon. Lady about the first-time voter. There is evidence that people who have a delayed first-time vote do not exercise their vote in future elections, whereas those who have an opportunity to use their vote at an early stage of their majority do so more readily. That is a simple actuarial, statistical fact. The average first-time voter is not 18 but 20. If we have elections at four-year intervals, as the number of people who pass 18 immediately following an election is approximately equal, on a normal distribution, to the number who pass the age of 18 immediately before it, we are making the majority of people wait until they are 20 or older to cast their vote in a general election for the first time. Is that sound, in terms of what we expect from the country?

If we moved the age of voting majority to 16, the average person voting for the first time would be 18 or older. That is simple mathematics. [Interruption.] I can see that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) apparently has difficulty with that, but it is simple.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

It is perfectly simple, but it is not mathematics; it is just arithmetic. It is the use of statistics, which proves absolutely nothing.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

An interesting distinction: it is not mathematics, just arithmetic, and it proves nothing. On the contrary, it proves that, on the basis of the proposal made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, the average age of a person casting their vote in a general election for the first time would be 18. It is worth bearing in mind that we are disfranchising, for general election purposes, a considerable swathe—a whole cohort—of young people between the ages of 18 and 20, and some between the ages of 18 and 22. I ask the Committee to consider whether that is appropriate in this day and age.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Llafur, Dundee West

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that there should be one single adult age for Army service, alcohol, gambling and marriage? Should the age of 16 apply to all those, or just to voting?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The age for an awful lot of those is 16 at the moment—but let us not get bogged down in that argument, because there is a genuine debate to be held about the right age of majority. I am not speaking for the party here, but personally, I am not necessarily wedded to the view that 16 is the right age of common majority for things such as marriage or serving in the armed forces.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

May I remind the Minister that even under this Government’s licensing laws, the age for consumption of an alcoholic beverage is 14.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The age for purchase is higher, but for consumption it is lower. Fourteen is the legal age for consumption under supervision, so let us not have any such nonsense.

This is a serious argument. There are no easy rights and wrongs, and no one should pretend that there are. We will do the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North a disservice if we reduce the argument to caricature. It is a serious argument, which we need to have.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) will have an early-day motion on precisely this subject a week today. That will be valuable.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I beg hon. Members’ pardon; it is a ten-minute Bill. That will test the opinion of the House, at least in the initial stages. The hon. Lady’s amendment is worthy of consideration by this Committee, and on the Floor of the House on Report.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend mentioned citizenship. It is generally accepted that according to inspectors of schools, citizenship is not particularly well taught and is sometimes forced out of the curriculum by more pressing considerations. Does he not agree that in most schools citizenship would be taken very seriously and extraordinarily well taught if there were any danger of pupils going out and voting?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I would like to think that that would be the case; my hon. Friend makes an important point. But allowing people to vote as an extension of the curriculum is not a sufficient argument in itself. The wider societal question concerns the stage at which we expect people to be—to use the new Labour term—stakeholders in our society. To be a stakeholder in a society means to pay taxes, to engage in the world of work and to do a number of things that a child is not allowed to do. Some would argue strongly that it also means to exercise the franchise—to vote. That is an argument that we need to have, and I hope that I have outlined my party’s position.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has introduced the amendment, as it allows us to consider this matter. I was pretty sure that I disagreed with her before I came to the debate this morning, but she made some very good points. However, having listened to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I am now convinced that I oppose the amendment.

Using arithmetic to show the average age at which people first cast their vote is meaningless. The hon. Lady’s argument about tracking, and the difference between people who turn 18 in the year of a general election and those who become 18 just after one, is interesting but it, too, is meaningless. If people wish to exercise the right to vote and to take part in the democratic process they will do so, and if they do not wish to do so because they have something else more important to do, they will not, whatever their age. I am unconvinced that all that makes any difference.

I think that I was 22 the first time I voted, because it just happened that way. However, in that year there were five elections. Or perhaps I was younger than 22 after all—[Interruption.] There is nothing wrong with my arithmetic; I just wish to deny that I was right about the year when I became 18, because it seems such a ridiculously long time ago. In one year there were four serious elections, including a referendum on devolution, which gave me my first opportunity to vote. Having had to wait a long time did not put me off voting, or politics. I do not believe that people who desire to take part in the democratic process will be influenced one way or the other by the year in which they cast their first vote. The statistics are interesting, but the argument does not make sense.

There is a good reason for the age of majority being 18. That is the age at which maturity is reached in many ways. It is also, importantly, the age at which our society considers that people should have the responsibility of voting. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North spoke of giving rights to 16-year-olds. However, we should also consider the   question of giving them responsibility. Voting and taking part in the democratic process should not be entered into lightly. It is a serious responsibility, especially if one votes the wrong way.

We already give an awful lot of responsibility to 15, 16 and 17-year-olds. To an extent, they should be given a bit of breathing space in the growing up and maturing process, and should not have all that responsibility thrust upon them at 16. That is not to say that people of 14, 15 and 16 are not engaged with politics, the political process and debate. In my constituency, I organise a schools debating competition that is extremely popular and well attended, and produces debates of high standards in which 14 to 18-year-olds give extremely good speeches, learn the art of debating and become engaged in the political process. I have seen many such people grow from 14 and 15-year-olds who are mildly interested in such matters to 18-year-olds who engage in serious political debate, many of whom voted for me in the last election when they reached 18. Of course, many of them did not, but that is their right when they reach the age of majority: to decide how to vote.

There is a big difference between teaching citizenship and engaging young people in the political and democratic process, and in the process of using reasoning and argument to come to a conclusion. I wish that many Members of this House had learned that ability before—or even after—they became Members of Parliament, never mind at 16. Many have, but many have not.

The 16-year-olds whom I have observed in my constituency will be fully engaged in such matters later, but there is no good reason to thrust that responsibility on them at 16. The hon. Lady’s argument about when women were allowed the vote does not apply, because 16-year-olds will become 18-year-olds in due course—a prospect that did not apply to other disfranchised groups, such as women and some other sections of society. Disfranchisement was forever for such groups, but that is not the case with 16-year-olds, who will reach the age of 18 and of majority later, and get the responsibility of voting. There is no need to thrust that responsibility on 16-year-olds.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

We should not decide this debate on the basis of whatever the distinction is between mathematics and arithmetic. Perhaps it has more to do with biology.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Clearly the Committee does not understand the difference between mathematics and arithmetic. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland agrees with me—because in the Scottish education system there are entirely different exam papers for arithmetic and mathematics. Arithmetic is much easier than mathematics; it is simply about the relationship between numbers, whereas mathematics is a much more complicated process and concept.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

The distinction is relevant, but not worthy of examination.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East 11:00, 22 Tachwedd 2005

Thank you, Mr. O’Hara. That is why I said that the decision should not be taken on the distinction between mathematics and arithmetic.

In case any hon. Member has the notion that my opposition to allowing access to the electoral franchise at 16 might be due to the demographics of Northern Ireland, and the idea that a united Ireland might thereby come about two years earlier, I should mention that there are some good party political reasons why I might support such an age change. We have the largest youth organisation and university associations of any of the Northern Ireland political parties, and more young people come to our meetings. Our party allows associate membership at 16 and we prepare people for the day when they become eligible to vote.

The approach that has been taken to changing the voting age has implied that this is an exact science, and that on reaching one’s 18th birthday a light suddenly comes on, so that one is prepared, mature and able to vote. The truth is that there are many people who would, at 16, be better prepared to vote than others aged 18 or over. The question, therefore, is what is broadly true of people at that age.

During election times, children often come to the door when I call at houses, because the parents are too busy watching television; having talked to both the children and the parents, I often find that the children often have a better idea of politics. However, although children are growing up and maturing faster, and have more insight into political issues, it is not just age that matters, but experience. People can be taught in school and have citizenship classes. They can, as they often do, have visits from politicians, and they can understand the issues very well. However, something more is needed.

I wonder how many of us hold the same views now that we held at 16. Experience of life often changes our opinions. Some people have a sense of responsibility at 16 and some do not; there is a balance. Despite the fact that people are maturing earlier, I expect that political maturity does not run parallel to maturity in other human activities. The House needs to take into account the fact that people are taking major decisions when they vote in elections. They affect the future of the nation. Therefore, we need a good case for changing the voting age from 18 to 16. The case has not yet been made.

Time is very much on the side of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. The trend will be for people to mature politically at a younger age. However, before we decide to put people aged 16 on the electoral register, from which we take people for jury service, perhaps we should consider how many people would like their future to be decided by a jury   of 16-year-olds, whose seriousness about some of the matters in question might not be what those in court would expect.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab) rose—

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

This is a volunteer, I suppose.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane PPS (Rt Hon Peter Hain, Secretary of State), Wales Office

No, but my grandfather was.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we were to let 16-year-olds in Belfast and the rest of the UK have the vote, those young people would need a great deal of education and encouragement to vote—especially in the Belfast area, because it is third from bottom in the UK for registration levels, with a rate of 72.6 per cent? Twenty-eight per cent. of those eligible are not even registered.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Unquestionably, but even if the age were changed to 16 I think that there would be a very low take-up. It might not be pleasant to say so in this Committee, but voting for political parties is not one of the top two or three desires of 16 or 17-year-olds today. As the statistic cited by the hon. Gentleman suggests, it is not even one of the top desires even of those who are 18 or older.

We must ask ourselves if the broad swathe of 16 to 18-year-olds are sufficiently politically mature to take the necessary decisions. I do not believe that they are. We would be making a grave error if we simply cited the trend of history and said that we were saying these things when women were disenfranchised, and those between 18 and 21.

The case has not been made for the voting age to be 16. Why not 15? Why not 14? Why not dash straight from the maternity ward to the polling booth? We must have an age, and no one has told us why it must be 16 as opposed to 18. If the case is to be made, it must show that there is something magical about the age of 16—that that age has a rationale behind it that forces the Committee to adopt it. The case has not been made. I remain open about any future changes, because it would be to my party’s political advantage to agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, but I do not believe that we have reached that stage yet.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

We are talking about a test for voting, and the current test is the test of age. Hon. Members might believe that the test should be the ability to handle mobile phones, in which case I would fail. I apologise, Mr. O’Hara, for having allowing mine to ring in the Committee earlier.

Hon. Members:

Again.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already had a spot fine.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

I shall see you later, sir.

Rumours are flying around the House that I have been appointed president of the “votes for foetuses” organisation, which I totally refute. This is a serious debate about why we should allow our citizens a vote at a certain age. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) that the case to lower the   age to 16 has not been made. We are talking about an arbitrary age. Any age would fit the arguments that have been advanced. The point about the age of 14 is fair. Is that the next stage of a process that has been going on for many years? Do we then move to 12? I have not heard the argument that we should change the age to 16 simply because people become 16. That is the important point.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East mentioned jury service, which I particularly want to discuss. The two might not be allied. I might be totally wrong—

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

I want to be assured that I am wrong. Forgive me, but the matter was discussed. It is a very important issue. I am less concerned if the two are not allied, but the Minister would be equally concerned if they were allied, and we might not be arguing as we are today.

My concern is that the case has not been made—and even if it had been, I am not sure that such a change should be made in an amendment to this Bill. It is a bigger issue, and should have formed a basis of the debate at all stages of the Bill. I am sorry that we are introducing at this stage of the Bill a subject of such import that would have such an impact on our society. That might be a good reason to exclude it at this stage, so that we can have a proper debate on this subject, using all the processes of Parliament.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Llafur, Worsley

I understand that nationally, the UK Youth Parliament supports votes at 16. Interestingly, however, the members of the Youth Parliament and their deputies from Wigan do not believe that the voting age should be lowered to 16 now. Michaela Neild, a member of the Youth Parliament who recently spent a day at Westminster, recently sent me a note saying that

“instead of lowering the age political education should be given, and explanations of the various political parties” should be given to young people

“at ages 16 and 17, so that when a person is 18 and able to vote at an election they will be more informed.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North made some strong arguments, and it is good that we are having this debate. She said that citizenship was a key focus in one in five schools, but that is not enough. It shows that we have some way to go.

I am working to encourage the secondary schools in my constituency to engage in Youth Parliament activities and school debates, but sometimes their agreement to that participation is a bit slow. I also want schools to meet me regularly for question and answer sessions on the role of a MP and the political issues of the day. We recently saw some innovations in local democracy week. The Wigan members of the Youth Parliament have something that they call political speed-dating, which is scary for politicians to get involved in. Interestingly, when they voted at the end on who had had the best interactions, the local politicians came out best.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome talked about the birthday lottery—but people can vote soon after their 18th birthday, at local elections. That is important: people can vote not only at general elections but as soon as possible after their 18th birthday, at the next local elections. Indeed, the figures that my hon. Friend cited for Germany and Austria are for municipal elections.

Local authorities are responsible for a great many matters that affect young people. They are responsible for schools, youth services, and leisure and sport facilities; they are involved in key areas such as transport, which is important to people of that age. We must encourage engagement at that level; not enough is done about that. Citizenship and youth participation are important, and if we, as politicians, feel that people in their 30s are not engaged, we must look back at the era when there was not a Labour Government and ask why the Conservative party did not do more during the 18 years for which it was in power.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Sometimes it is reasonable to make a party political point, but that is not a reasonable one. The Conservative Government introduced the national curriculum in education, and before that there was no question of citizenship education. The hon. Lady was not here so she might not remember this, but it was a Conservative Government who introduced personal and social education—

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. The hon. Lady has made her point. We have, commendably and remarkably, come this far without engaging in party politics, and I hope that we can continue like that.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Llafur, Worsley

I think that if she checks, the hon. Lady will find that there has been much more focus on citizenship education under Labour Governments. Only one in five schools is focusing on it now, but there were nearly two decades when work could have been done. Work is being done now, but we must do more and redouble our efforts. We are taking the subject more seriously, and working to get our young people ready for political participation, but I want to make the point strongly that that should have been done sooner.

I agree that the argument now is about when, not whether, we should move to voting at 16. Young people in my constituency do not necessarily say that the time is right yet, but we must redouble our efforts so that all schools have a key focus on citizenship.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

May I corroborate what the hon. Lady says? I have also spoken to 16-year-olds who are divided on the issue of the right to vote. However—this also touches on what the hon. Lady is saying—they are united in the feeling that local authorities, in particular, should have better mechanisms for listening to what they have to say on the provision of services. We ought to encourage that across the country.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Llafur, Worsley

My experience of local authorities has been that they are very good at that, but there is space to say that we must redouble our efforts. All schools must have a key focus on citizenship and political education, and some of them do not. I want to get to a point at which the members of the Youth Parliament in my constituency feel that they are ready for votes at 16, and I take my cue from that.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Transport)

May I slightly gainsay the points made by the hon. Lady, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome? When suffrage was extended to women, women were not united in the belief that they should have the vote. Some very formidable women in public life, such as Margot Asquith, argued strongly that women should not have the vote, at a time when other women were arguing to the contrary.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Llafur, Worsley 11:15, 22 Tachwedd 2005

That is a difficult point. Women now comprise—I am not sure of the exact numbers at the time of the votes for women debate—more than 50 per cent. of the population, but it is not even worth considering whether that is a comparator. The group of young people aged 16 and 17 is much smaller. When I have consulted on the matter in my constituency, the young people who are very involved—to the extent of coming down here for the day and getting involved with the Youth Parliament—make the point that they do not feel quite ready yet.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

This has been an interesting and useful debate, and I warmly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North for introducing this subject to the Committee this morning. The points that she and other hon. Members raised touched on a number of different issues that are dealt with by the Bill as a whole. We are concerned that as many people as possible should be included in participation in our democracy; that has been a running theme throughout the Committee. In particular, we have been concerned that young people are not registered to vote and are not participating in the vote. That is why there will be new duties on electoral registration officers to ensure that they cannot just stand by and leave it to people not to register, but must tackle the problem of under-registration and lack of participation.

We also talked, on Second Reading and during the earlier Committee stage on the Floor of the House, about whether our democracy is representative. How representative can a democracy be if it does not fairly represent women, or if it does not fairly represent and hear the voices of minority ethnic groups in the UK? There has been much discussion of the themes of enfranchisement, representation and inclusion. For example, we had a long discussion about whether people with disabilities were properly able to be put on the register so that they then had their right to vote, and we also discussed the armed services. Those are examples of our concern, during consideration of the Bill, to ensure that we have as much inclusion as   possible, so that our democracy is founded on the strongest possible basis and has the greatest legitimacy possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North asked whether we had drawn the line in the right place at 18, or whether we should move to 16. That is an important point, and she made a good case. The hon. Member for Belfast, East rightly said that any age limit is not an exact science. He also raised the point about young people not having experience. It is true that young people do not have the experience of older people. They do not have the experience that I have, for example, of forgetting the names of people whom I know very well, of needing reading glasses, or of just being around for an awfully long time.

However, they have different experiences, and the question is whether we want to draw more on those experiences than we currently do. Young people have experience of things that we in this House and in local councils spend a lot of time talking about; for example, bullying in schools. For most of us, if we have had personal experience of that, it is a long-distant memory. They also have experience of why young people do or do not carry knives; that is a new phenomenon, which was not around when we were younger. They have experience of street crime, which is very age-related in terms of one’s likelihood of being a victim. A middle-aged woman walking down a street is not likely to be a victim of street crime, but a 15-year-old boy might be mugged not once but twice on his way to school. The question of experience therefore cuts both ways.

My hon. Friend argues that it is good to catch people when they are young and have good voting habits. We are familiar with the argument that establishing good eating habits in young people means that they will eat well for the rest of their lives. If they have good exercise habits, they will probably exercise well for the rest of their lives. The idea of catching them when they are young is a good and substantive point that is worth considering.

My hon. Friend also talked about the gap between the end of citizenship classes and the beginning of effective citizenship participation. That is a new point. We did not have citizenship classes before and therefore that gap was not an issue. I agree with her that it seems logical that after completing all the education and citizenship classes—my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) rightly pointed out that these classes are not yet as pervasive across the country as we hope they will be—people should immediately participate in democracy by being able to vote.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Is it not the case that in most parts of the country there are local elections every year? I appreciate that in some places they do not occur every year, but perhaps two out of every three years. In my part of Essex people have the chance to vote in local elections on the first Thursday of May every year. Everyone coming out of those citizenship classes will be able to vote in such elections when they are newly 18.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

My point is that citizenship classes finish at 16. If people do not vote until they are 18, there is a gap. That is the only point I make on this. Hon. Members asked about juries. The Juries Act 1974 sets the age of qualification for jury service and therefore there is no connection there. The electoral register is used as the data for selecting people for jury service as a matter of convenience, but there is no logical connection.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I think that the Minister has missed the point about jury service, probably because I did not make it sufficiently clear. The test is whether those who argue that people are sufficiently mature to vote at the age of 16 would be prepared to submit themselves to a jury of 16-year-olds. If not, why should 16-year-olds be taking decisions in the court of public opinion?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In local communities where there is a particular problem with youth crime, serious consideration has to be given to how young people are involved in the deliberation of the youth justice system, such as in the community justice centre in Liverpool. There is an argument for including more young people in decision-making in the youth justice system, which affects them not just as defendants but as victims. Returning to jury service, those over 70 are excluded, but they are not excluded from the electoral register.

Finally, I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. We will keep this under active consideration, not because we believe that there is some absolute right figure or because we believe that it is an exact science, not even necessarily because we think that it is a question of rights, but because we are concerned about participation. If lowering the voting age can help us with participation, we must look at it. We cannot just drift into a situation where in some areas only 70 per cent. of the people are on the register, and of those, only 30 per cent. vote. In the context of our desire to increase registration and participation, we will look at this. I thank my hon. Friend for withdrawing the amendment

Hon Members:

Oh!

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I thank her for indicating that she will seek leave to withdraw the amendment. None the less, I thank her for giving the Committee the opportunity to debate this matter.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I wish to make a few brief comments. In tabling the amendment, I am not arguing for a common age of majority. One can recognise that while 16 and 17-year-olds should have the right to participate in our democracy, they must have certain protections. In the wider community, we recognise the need for protection against discrimination on the grounds of gender and race, and the need for minimum wage protection. I wished to make that clear because that matter was raised by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome.

I also wish to express my surprise at the comment made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest about the research on voting habits that has been carried out by the Social Market Foundation. As politicians, we must be concerned about whether people choose to vote. We must examine all evidence and take steps to encourage people to vote.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Lady made some interesting points about first-time voters in general elections. However, I made the point to the Minister in another context that, in most parts of the country, there are local elections every year. Are local elections not considered important?

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

Of course they are. I want to see young people engaged in local, general, European, and London mayoral elections. However, parliamentary elections are especially important because they concern the running of the whole country.

I was heartened to hear what the hon. Member for Belfast, East said about leaving the matter open for the future. He did not dismiss the idea out of hand. The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) recognised that this issue will have a huge impact on society, and he is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) made some important points about the roles of local authorities and local government, and how we need to engage young people to participate. I thought that the concept of political speed dating was scary; I am not sure for whom, the politician or the young person. I was heartened to hear what my right hon. Friend said about inclusion and participation, which all hon. Members want to see improved in our electoral administration.

On the basis of the debate and the comments that have been made by hon. Members from all parties, I accept that now may not be the time to act, but it very shortly will be. However, I will certainly pay close attention to what the Minister does in the next months about her undertaking to keep the matter under active review. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South 11:30, 22 Tachwedd 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 67, in schedule 1, page 83, line 7, leave out paragraph (b).

It is a particular pleasure to table an amendment during these proceedings. My amendment concerns schedule 1, paragraph 61(5)(b), which reads:

“in paragraph 6 omit ‘holding the paper so that the presiding officer can see the official mark on the back of it’.”

We seek to have paragraph 61(5)(b) removed because Opposition hon. Members believe that it is totally unnecessary. Indeed, it is not only unnecessary; it is not at all helpful. I ask the Minister why that paragraph should not remain in the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962. In some respects, we are talking about a symbolic gesture. Symbolic gestures are important. In this instance, a symbolic gesture underlines the fact that there is an ongoing process that is designed to stop fraudulent voting. Ballot papers   have been smuggled into polling stations in Northern Ireland and used. In some cases, they have later been found to be fraudulent ballot papers.

It is important that we highlight—rather symbolically, I admit—the fact that an anti-fraud device is in use. The more we can do to underline the fact that the ballot has important processes in place to ensure its credibility and its true nature, the better.

Why is that line from paragraph 6 in the direction for the guidance of voters in voting in the 1962 Act being removed? To remove it has little impact on any measures in the Bill, but to retain it has import, because that line highlights the fact that there are voting processes in place that protect against fraudulent ballot papers.

Symbolism in this respect is important. We use symbolism in many ways, so why should not we use it here to highlight, both to the voter and to staff at polling stations, that there is an ongoing process to ensure that the ballot is protected from fraud? That must be important in democratic terms.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

We have said all the way through the stages of the Bill that we have three concerns about electoral administration. We wish to ensure that everyone registers to vote, that as many people as possible vote and that no one fiddles the vote. Nothing in the Bill reduces security. On the contrary, it contains a great many provisions that increase security.

The purpose of the amendment is to amend paragraph 61(5)(b) of schedule 1 to the Bill. The amendment would reinstate the requirement for voters, when placing their ballot paper in the ballot box in the polling station, to hold the ballot paper

“so that the presiding officer can see the official mark on the back of it”.

Paragraph 61 applies to Northern Ireland elections only. The result of the amendment would be to distinguish between Northern Ireland local elections and parliamentary elections. I assume that that was not the intention.

It may help if I clarify the changes that we are making to procedures for voting in polling stations. Those are set out elsewhere in schedule 1. At present, voters, when placing their vote in the ballot box, are required to hold out the ballot paper so that the presiding officer can see the official mark on the back of it. The hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of the symbolism of that. I must confess that I did not even know that that was the rule. However, it is the rule, and it is obviously highly symbolic to some people.

The ballot paper is shown to the presiding officer as a security measure. Its aim is to ensure that only valid ballot papers are placed in ballot boxes and, for example, to prevent a situation in which an invalid vote is put in the ballot box and a valid vote removed from a polling station, possibly as part of some attempted electoral fraud. The idea is that somebody would put another piece of paper in the ballot box and leave the polling station holding the real ballot.

The Bill changes the rules that govern the use of the official mark on ballot papers at parliamentary elections. That mark currently takes the form of a perforation on the ballot paper. We shall replace the perforated official mark with another form of security mark—an appropriate security marking—which may be bar codes, underprinting, special inks or watermark paper. Those changes will enable more automated procedures to be used in the printing of ballot papers, and in the dispatch of postal ballot papers. However, in future, the mark may appear on the front of the ballot paper only. For secrecy reasons, we do not think that we should specify that voters should show the presiding officer the official mark when voting. Do hon. Members understand that in future the bar code might be on the front of the ballot paper? If a person showed the bar code, it would show how they were voting. Previously, that was not a problem. However, we wish to maintain the existing security measures.

The effect of paragraphs 71, 80 and 83 of schedule 1 will be that when voting, voters at parliamentary elections will be required to show the presiding officer the back of the ballot paper so as to disclose the number and other unique identifying marks such as the bar code before putting the ballot paper in the ballot box. Thus, there is no reduction in security for parliamentary elections as a result of changes to the official mark.

However, in considering the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Northampton, South, we discovered that we may not have the right consistency across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in parliamentary and local elections. The hon. Gentleman might therefore have inadvertently brought a problem to our attention—[Interruption.] But not the problem that he thought there was. I can deny him that satisfaction but I ask him to withdraw the amendment. We will let him, and the Committee, know the result of our investigations.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

I am delighted to hear that we have inadvertently found a reason for the amendment. On the basis of the Minister’s reply about security, which was my main point, I understand that it has been thought about; it is an important issue and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the schedule be the First schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall refer to only a couple of points in the schedule in detail because most of it just implements the substantive points that we have discussed on a wide-ranging basis in Committee.

First, I draw the attention of the Committee to the possibility in the Bill of parents taking their children into polling stations and showing them how to vote, which refers back to our previous debate. The idea is that when children are too young to vote, as well as attending citizenship classes they will be able to see their parents participating in democracy.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for addressing that point. Any sensible person would realise that it is not a good idea for a mother to be deterred from voting because she has a young child in tow—

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Or father, as the hon. Gentleman said. Does the Minister have no concern, however, about the provision applying up to the age of 18? First, someone who is just under 18 might be considered to have a potentially intimidating effect in a polling booth and, secondly, it has implications for the secrecy of the ballot. I ask the right hon. and learned Lady to consider whether that is really the intention of the proposal.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Those issues must be considered, but many people feel that they do not know how to vote, or that there is something mysterious about it. If people feel unconfident they might worry about what will confront them when they go into the polling booth. Therefore, the advantages of parents taking their children with them, if they so choose—it is for them to decide—well outweigh the disadvantages.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady in respect of younger children, and if that were the principal reason for the change that would be a strong argument for allowing more than one person into a polling booth, something that we would normally deplore whether or not one of them was unsure about the voting procedure. We normally say that it is inconceivable that two people should enter a polling booth at the same time. Many over-18s, who are already entitled to vote, might have the same reservations about the mechanics of voting and might well want a more experienced person to join them in the polling booth. We do not encourage that. Indeed, when we monitor elections elsewhere in the world, we strongly advocate that it should not be allowed.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

I have concerns about the provision, but not because I wish to prevent children knowing about the voting process; I understand what the Minister says in that respect. However, she will know that if three mothers go to a polling station together, they might have a number of children with them, which could create problems. I am not against the measure in principle, but we should consider the practicalities within the polling station and the problems that might arise, not least the distraction of the polling officers. I should be pleased to hear the Minister’s comments.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The presiding officer will still be in charge of what goes on in the polling station. If three mothers, each of whom has two children, go to a polling station together it will not be possible for one of them to take six children to watch her voting. We must approach the issue pragmatically. It is a change, and I know that change alarms some hon. Members, especially when it involves children. Let us step back and consider whether people will think that the measure is sensible.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Can we clarify one thing? I thought that permission was being sought to bring children up to the age of 18 into a polling station, not into a polling booth, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said. If they are to be allowed into a polling booth, he is right to make the case that intimidation is a possible outcome. I see no difficulty in allowing children up to the age of 18 into a polling station, particularly in view of the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. Do we not want to fill the gap for people until they are allowed to vote at 18? This would be a way of making it normal for them to go to a polling station.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. Before we proceed, we are getting bogged down on a point of detail.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

On a general point, but not a point of detail, I hope that I can help the Minister by telling her that I know of a mother—she will remain nameless lest it cause trouble for the returning officer who was on duty at the time—who took her child, aged approximately four, into the polling booth at a general election and allowed the child to see the ballot paper going into the ballot box. I understand that the incident caused no trouble whatsoever, and has educated the child well.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 11:45, 22 Tachwedd 2005

Many parents want to take their children into the polling station with them. The presiding officer will still be able to regulate what goes on in the polling station. For practical reasons, someone arriving at a polling station might have a five-year-old and a three-year-old with them, and they could be told as soon as they come through the door that they have to leave those children at the door. There is also the need for parents who are looking after children to have easy access to voting without having to get somebody to mind the children. There are two issues here: first, teaching children about democracy by bringing them to polling stations; and secondly, not putting artificial barriers in the way of children when it would do no harm to allow them in to polling stations.

As for people being allowed to apply to the Electoral Commission to observe what goes on at the count or in polling stations, I fear to mention this in case I cause another controversy, but I look forward to the day when not only international observers but citizenship classes will go to polling stations and counts. I would welcome the idea of a local secondary school from Southwark, or from my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, taking a group of young people to observe the count as part of a citizenship class. I know that people can see counts on television if the result is on a knife edge—which it is not in Camberwell and Peckham—but I do not see why people should not go and observe them. The idea of parents taking their children to see the vote, and of teachers taking their citizenship classes to polling stations and counts, is about opening up our democracy, including more people and enthusing them to participate.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

The point is easily settled, because the presiding officer has the right to ask people to leave the poll, be they children or otherwise. I shall be happy as long as that is emphasised in the instruction notes to presiding officers. However, I would like an assurance that that will be done, because some new officers might not know that they have those powers.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that presiding officers will be in control. I am trying to resist suggesting that the issue could be the subject of the Electoral Commission’s performance standards. For the most part, we should just see how people manage, and I am confident that things will go well.

I have mentioned citizenship classes and young people going to polling stations, but one point that we have not discussed in relation to the many paragraphs in part 1 of schedule 1 is the requirement for a signature when someone votes in person. The requirement for a signature is another security measure, and it underlines the importance of the fact that the voter must be the person who should be voting. People have to sign for registered post that is delivered to them, but they do not have to sign when they go into the polling station. The Bill introduces the requirement to sign, and the signature will be kept for a year. That will provide additional security if there are subsequent allegations of people impersonating others and stealing their votes, because we shall be able to check the signature. We hope that that will be a deterrent to personation.

I have no further points to add on the schedule, which we have discussed in detail.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The right hon. and learned Lady interpreted our concern as being simply reactionary, which is quite wrong. I strongly welcome the view that parents should be allowed to take small children into the polling station; I have no problem with such an obvious and sensible move. However, there is a distinction between small children, who cannot reasonably be left unsupervised outside a polling station, and older young people. I do not want to return to the previous debate, but those young people are adults in many respects, and they are entitled to enter the polling station with their parents. Indeed, by virtue of paragraph 57, someone of 17 can enter with any voter.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s point, I am not totally convinced that that is the approach that we want to take. Why are 17-year-olds allowed to accompany any voter, when grandfather, who lives in the neighbouring polling district, is not? The provision does not ring true, and we need to look at it. I would have put a limit on the age of children who are allowed to accompany a voter, consonant with the age at which children cannot reasonably be left unsupervised.

Eventually, the provision will be challenged. The presiding officer can restrict the number of children who enter a polling station at any one time. I can imagine that if presiding officers were to exercise that right in the last few minutes before a poll closed, they might well be challenged. That is highly hypothetical,   but this is the stage at which we have to present hypotheses for consideration. I am not totally persuaded.

The other point that the right hon. and learned Lady made was about the need for a signature before a polling paper can be received. Absolutely; that is what we have been saying all along. It would be much more effective as an anti-fraud measure if we had not only the signature of the elector when they arrived but a specimen signature as part of the registration process. That is precisely the point that some of us have been banging on about in proceedings on the Bill. I hope eventually to persuade the Minister that that is an elementary precaution that will reduce fraud. A signature in vacuo does not do a lot, as there is no way of knowing whether that is the rightful elector’s signature unless there is a comparator from the registration process. We have half the precaution, but not the other. We have the key but no lock, or the lock but no key. That does not seem an entirely sensible way to proceed.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.