Political Engagement: Young People

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 27th January 2016.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Conservative, Norwich North 11:30 am, 27th January 2016

What plans the Government have to increase the number of young people registered to vote.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

What plans the Government have to encourage more young people to engage with the political process.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Government Whip, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The Government’s new online electoral registration system has made it easier and quicker for everyone, especially young people, to register to vote. The process now takes less time than boiling an egg. We are also working with groups such as Bite The Ballot on the national voter registration drive, which is an excellent initiative to persuade more people to register to vote that runs for the whole of next week, in which I encourage everyone to get involved. The British Youth Council’s Make Your Mark ballot led to nearly 1 million young people voting throughout the UK and informed the Youth Parliament’s debates in this Chamber.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Conservative, Norwich North

I welcome the Minister’s support for next week’s national voter registration drive. Last year’s drive helped nearly 500,000 young electors to register to vote. Would he support repeating last year’s projection of an image of a ballot box on to the Elizabeth Tower? I understand that you, Mr Speaker, are a fan of that, as am I, so we need to persuade Westminster City Council to allow that.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Government Whip, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend deserves top marks for creative marketing ideas, but after the use of the Elizabeth Tower for unauthorised projections, including of Australian cricketers and various bits of Gail Porter, I am told that the subject excites strong passions in Westminster council and, quite possibly, the House authorities, so I should probably urge her to discuss her proposals carefully with them.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

When I visited Harris school in my constituency recently to talk to its pupils about the role of an MP, I met bright youngsters who wanted to learn more about how Parliament works. Does the Minister agree that getting more public figures to talk and answer questions in schools would be a great way of engaging young people with the political process?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Government Whip, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I do. My hon. Friend has set a great example and shown that public figures—even MPs—can stimulate interest and engagement in democracy.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What further Government or private sector databases are the Minister’s Department thinking of using to boost registration among young people?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Government Whip, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman raised this point with me a little while ago and asked about credit reference agencies, among others. We might be able to use other sources of data, but some base a lot of their information on the electoral roll itself, so we would need to ensure that the process did not become circular. There may be things that other people can add, however, and all sources of data offer potential ways to reduce the cost, and improve the quality and speed, of our registration efforts.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, a huge number of young people became politically active and engaged in Scotland, but the current generation of 16 and 17-year-olds will not have the opportunity to vote in the EU referendum, although they will have to live with its consequences for much longer than most people in the Chamber. Why do the Government not accept that the best way to encourage young people to vote is actually to give them the vote?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Government Whip, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Since the general election, we have debated this particular question four or five times—perhaps more—and collectively decided against it, with healthy majorities, on every single occasion. We can go over this again, and I am happy to have further debates with the hon. Lady as needed, but the House has made its collective decision plain.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration

The Labour party’s initial analysis shows big drops in registered voters in many university towns. The figure for Canterbury is down 13%, while those for Cambridge and Dundee West are both down 11% on last year. Those universities that have enabled students to register to vote when they enrol have all seen high levels of student registration. Will the Government issue guidance to all vice-chancellors immediately to suggest that they adopt such a system in September?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Government Whip, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

It is not quite that simple, but I sympathise with the hon. Lady, in that several new approaches that are being trialled in universities throughout the country are extremely promising. We want to pursue those, so perhaps the hon. Lady and I can discuss that further at our meeting later today.