Local Government Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 10th July 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 10th July 2003

My Lords, as long ago as 1970 the age of eligibility to vote in public elections was reduced from 21 to 18. However, the age at which an individual can stand for election remains at 21, and my amendment seeks to reduce the age of eligibility to 18.

The Local Government Information Unit recently commissioned an independent inquiry into local governance and recommended that the age of candidature for local elections should be reduced to 18. It felt that that was especially important in local elections, for which there is generally a very poor turn-out, particularly among those in the youngest age range. It believed, and I agree, that reducing the age of candidature would be a step towards encouraging young people to vote and to play an active role in local government in their areas.

The British Youth Council gave written evidence to the commission. It cited research showing that young people do not engage in the political processes, not because they are apathetic but because they see politicians as negative and unrepresentative of their views. That view is rather supported by the report of the Hansard Society, published in December 2001. It considered why people failed to vote in the 2001 general election and found that many of the young people who did not vote were very active in interest groups and that some of them were even members of political parties, but that they did not vote then because they felt that it would make no difference to their areas or their lives. I believe that the large number of people who turned out to march against the war demonstrates that they are not apathetic but that they care.

The Government have quite rightly introduced citizenship lessons for young people in schools, so it is possible that young adults will be quite politically aware at the age of 16. Nevertheless, they will have to wait two years before they can vote and five years before they can stand for election to their local councils. I have been unable to find many activities in relation to which 21 remains the age of eligibility. The only one of which I am aware is the requirement to be 21 to hold a heavy goods vehicle licence. It seems to me rather odd that we can trust young people to be soldiers at the age of 18 but not to be members of the allotments sub-committee of their local district council.

I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at the principle behind this amendment, even though I have not quite got the technicality right. I beg to move.