Elections Bill

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Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Mar 2022)
Moved by
121: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Addresses of candidates at parliamentary electionsHome address form: statement of local authority area
(1) Schedule 1 to RPA 1983 (Parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.(2) In rule 6 (nomination of candidates)—(a) in paragraph (5)(b), for the words from “state” to the end substitute “—(i) where the candidate’s home address is in the United Kingdom, state the constituency or the relevant area within which that address is situated;(ii) where the candidate’s home address is outside the United Kingdom, state the country within which that address is situated.”;(b) after paragraph (5) insert—“(6) In paragraph (5)(b)(i), “relevant area” means—(a) in relation to a home address in England— (i) if the address is within a district for which there is a district council, that district; (ii) if the address is within a county in which there are no districts with councils, that county;(iii) if the address is within a London borough, that London borough;(iv) if the address is within the City of London (including the Inner and Middle Temples), the City of London;(v) if the address is within the Isles of Scilly, the Isles of Scilly;(b) in relation to a home address in Wales—(i) if the address is within a county, that county;(ii) if the address is within a county borough, that county borough;(c) in relation to a home address in Scotland, the local government area in which the address is situated;(d) in relation to a home address in Northern Ireland, the local government district in which the address is situated.”(3) In the Appendix of forms, in the Form of Front of Ballot Paper, for the address after “Catherine Angelina Smith” substitute “(address in [relevant area])”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment amends Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 to give candidates at parliamentary elections the option of stating the name of the local authority area in which their home address is located on the home address form required by rule 6(4) of that Schedule.
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, government Amendment 121 concerns the details about candidates that appear on ballot papers at parliamentary elections. We are bringing forward this amendment in response to concerns raised by Members in the other place.

Currently, candidates at parliamentary elections are required to disclose on the ballot paper either their home address in full or the name of the constituency in which the home address is located. The original purpose of requiring candidates to provide information about their address was so that electors could identify them as specific individuals. Given that MPs are elected on an individual basis, they need to be identifiable, even if many electors may make choices by party affiliation. The current requirements were introduced by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 and give candidates the option of having just the constituency they reside in recited on the ballot paper instead of their home address. This was intended to provide security and privacy for candidates, while still ensuring electors can see if a candidate has a local connection to where they are standing.

We have listened to concerns raised in the other House that there should be a further option for candidates who wish to indicate in a more commonly understood description where they live, without sharing their full address, so that their security can be better protected. The amendment intends to enable candidates to use the local authority area in which their home address is located as the address they give. We consider that the local authority will be a familiar and comprehensible indication of locality to most people. I beg to move.

Amendment 121A (to Amendment 121)

Moved by
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I am grateful to those who have spoken, and I will think about the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Khan. This is a balanced proposal which has come from concerns from Members in another place; we all know of recent sad events. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, says about people seeking to pass off where they live. This is a democracy, and I have been in politics for quite a long time, and if someone does not live very close to their ward or constituency, a leaflet comes pretty fast through the door—usually from the Liberal Democrats—with lots of big arrows over it, claiming, not always correctly, that they live somewhere on Mars. I think that democratic challenge would offer a control. The Government hope that there would not be unintended consequences.

We are suggesting a further option and, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said, sometimes the local authority’s name is closer to people’s understanding than the name of the constituency. While I understand what the noble Lords are saying, one would not want this to be abused in any way to deceive electors. I point out to your Lordships that it is an option already available to candidates at local and mayoral elections, so we consider it appropriate to extend the option to candidates at parliamentary elections. Although I listened carefully to what was said by both noble Lords, the Government believe on balance that this is an appropriate move to make in present circumstances, and in light of this I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, will withdraw his amendment and the House will be able to support this very small change, which brings parliamentary elections into line with local and mayoral elections.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I thank the Minister for that response. I am now perplexed but not confused, so at least he has helped with the confusion. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Khan, for reiterating the issue of unintended consequences. Having listened to the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
123: Schedule 6, page 116, line 30, leave out from “to” to end of line 40 and insert “a relevant provision.
(1A) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b), “relevant provision” means—(a) where the person is or will be registered in a register of local electors in Northern Ireland, section 10(4A)(b), 10A(1A)(b) or 13A(2A)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as applied by Schedule 1 to the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989), and(b) where the person is or will be registered in a register of local government electors in Great Britain and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a), paragraph 9(1) of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the requirement relating to preparation of date of birth lists for polling stations in Northern Ireland, so far as that requirement relates to date of birth lists for proxy voters.
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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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How very wise the noble Lord was to miss that particular commitment, is all I can say. A number of his colleagues were blessed by that promise.

To return to the substance of Clause 11 and the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord True, I remind the Committee that the Law Commission said that there should be a comprehensive overhaul of election legislation brought forward in a proper Bill. The Committee on Standards in Public Life produced 47 recommendations for change. Both those ideas have been rejected by the Government on the grounds that there has not been enough time, it needs more consideration and there would have to be wide consultation before they could be brought in. Finding that this proposition has been dumped into the Bill is inconsistent with that view against having a comprehensive reform of electoral law, along the basis that independent sources strongly recommend.

I was impressed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about the views of the Mayor of Greater Manchester and his reasoning. That struck me, as someone who lives in the area over which the mayor casts his eye, more powerfully than it probably did other noble Lords. There is no element of self-interest in what the Mayor of Greater Manchester said. It grieves me to say that in the May mayoral election, Andy Burnham, the mayor, won a plurality of votes in every ward in every borough in Greater Manchester, including all those which at the same time returned Tory, Liberal Democrat and, in one or two cases, independent councillors. There was a clear view from the electorate that they wanted this personality as the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Whether we like to believe it or not, it clearly transcended people’s normal political convictions to say, “In this case, I am voting for this person.” That characteristic of the mayoral election frankly surprised me, because I am not a supporter of mayoral systems, but I must admit there was a powerful advert for it in that election.

There is also a powerful advert there for the retention of a first and second choice. It was not called into play in Greater Manchester so we do not know what the figures would have been, but we know the result in those places where it has been called into play, and people have quite easily adopted the idea that they have a preferred candidate but, if it cannot be that one, there is another who would do as their second best. That development of an overall mandate is a powerful benefit of the present system, whatever its authorship might be. It might well be the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and I have been on the same side of any discussion.

I strongly support the view that we should delete Clause 11 and retain the current system of electing our mayors in the big cities.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, it has been a lengthy debate. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that I have not presented any amendment. I am presenting to your Lordships’ House a Bill which has been passed by the elected House, and your Lordships are expressing opinions on it. It is certainly not the Government who have sought to Christmas-tree the Bill with a generalised debate on proportional representation. The actors in that are elsewhere than at the Dispatch Box.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the amendment which was introduced in the Commons and is now Clause 11 was a Christmas-tree addition to the Bill by the Government.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I will come to that, my Lords. If the Committee will be indulgent, I think it has heard quite a lot of debate on this subject and I will try to come to the point. As I see it, this very lengthy debate boiled down to two things. First, do we like first past the post? Regrettably, a lot of your Lordships who spoke do not seem to like it, although, like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, having fought a few elections myself, it seems pretty simple and clear for electors to stick a cross on a piece of paper and get a result. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, was not impressed by that, but the simplicity and clarity of first past the post has a lot to say for it. The second issue in the debate was: should we do this now, in this Bill and in these particular elections? I shall seek to address both of them.

It is irresistible to contemplate the thought of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, poring over his opinion polls about how popular PR is. I remind him that, before the referendum in 2011—you can look it up on Wikipedia if you like—the opinion polls said how rapturously enthusiastic the majority of the British public were about PR. When the actual argument came along and it was put, they voted for first past the post by—I cannot remember the figure, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said it was 68%. I would not advise the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, to put too much faith in his opinion polls, although it is a characteristic of that party.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I just make one point of clarification. It is not an opinion poll but a tracker of opinion over time. If the public should be asked about changing the system, will the Government ask the people in the areas with police and crime commissioners and metro mayors to have a referendum to see whether we want to change the system that we already have?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, whether it is a poll or a tracker, the noble Lord is welcome to look at it. I will persist with my remarks, which will address the point he just made.

Another argument put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was that new parties could not arise. A very great new party arose under the present system: it is called the Labour Party. It supplanted the other party, and it did so because it was popular. As we will see on a later group, one problem is that the parties that want to make the change are those that are not popular, or generally less popular.

That is what the debate was about. I listened with great respect and persistence to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake —he spoke for nearly 20 minutes. It could have boiled down to one sentence: he did not like first past the post and he wanted your Lordships to stop this proposition. I will now try to address both those points.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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If I may say so, the noble Lord had a good go. I will give him one go.

Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
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If you make a comment about what somebody said, you need them to be able to come back and say you have got it wrong. The precise point I was making in my speech was not that I favoured PR—although I happen to—but that, irrespective of whether you support PR, the way the Government are doing this and what they are doing is wrong. That is exactly the argument I am making. It is really important not to distort what people are saying in their speeches.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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One might have thought, listening to the noble Lord, that he was talking about his liking for PR, but I will read very carefully what he said in those 17 minutes.

There is one specific amendment that I should like to address, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Mann. Although he is not in his place, a specific question was asked on Amendment 144D. That amendment would allow returning officers to establish polling stations for five days ahead of the day of a poll. Although advance in-person voting is not available in the UK, voters are already able to cast their vote in advance of the poll by post. The amendment would pose significant logistical challenges for returning officers, including the need to prevent double voting, and could create an inconsistency across the country as to when and where people were able to vote in person, so I would not be able to accept that amendment in this group.

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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The noble Lord is characterising my vote. It was against the alternative vote system and not for first past the post. We voted on an alternative vote system. That is not what the Minister is suggesting the vote was on.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has been here all through the debate, but I maintain the position that the Electoral Commission has reported. I have given the facts to the Committee on the problems that arose under the supplementary vote system.

Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
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My Lords, with respect, the Minister partially reported what the Electoral Commission said. It pointed to the fact that the level of rejections in the 2016 election was 1.9%. It said the single biggest issue in the 2021 election was the design of the form. Those are critical factors in forming a judgment about the voting system.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord says let us have a look at 2016. The noble Lord also said not to pay any attention to the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto which is explicit on this point before the Committee. He wants to go back to 2016 for one thing and not back to 2017 for another. I think the noble Lord is rather picking and choosing his arguments. I wish to make progress—

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
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The Minister made an important point in his argument about the 2011 referendum. That was on first past the post for Westminster elections. Is the Government’s contention that they want to see first past the post for all elections in the UK, including the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the London Assembly? If that is so, why have they not introduced that in this Bill? Why pick on this particular electoral choice?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am speaking to what is before the Committee at the moment. As far as the Scottish and Welsh elections are concerned, the noble Lord knows very well that there is devolution, which this Government respect.

I will respond to what the noble Lord said about the London Assembly. It involves rather more complex issues in terms of the Assembly’s potential make-up. We will be considering further how these principles could be applied to the London Assembly and perhaps promoting the use of first past the post, but we are open to representations on how that could be implemented. For the moment, the proposition is on these specific elections, against the background I have described: the Government committed to first past the post, the Elections Bill and the evidence of problems in 2021.

I turn to the broader amendments—which I must because they are before the Committee—from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It is always the less popular parties which clamour for PR. They want to introduce a new clause abolishing the use of first past the post at parliamentary general elections held more than six months after the passage of the Bill. For the reasons I have already discussed, we cannot accept that. First past the post ensures a clear link between elected representatives and constituents in a manner that other voting systems do not. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, was compelling on that point.

The new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is not clear even on what sort of electoral system he wants to introduce—that is the most bizarre thing about the amendment that he is asking your Lordships to agree with. He wants to get rid of the present system within two years, but he does not say what would happen if an election came along before that or in the period where there was uncertainty because a new system would require further primary legislation to enact it. There is a real risk, if we went down the road proposed by the noble Lord, that we might not have an established legal method as to how Members of the other place were elected. To be confronted with this question mark of an amendment when the Government are charged with being frivolous—I think the proponents of this amendment are frivolous. All we know from the noble Lord’s amendment is that he wants a system that would have had, over the past five parliamentary general elections, a mean average Gallagher proportionality index of less than 10—that will get them jumping around in the pubs in Saltaire and Moulsecoomb, I am sure.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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I am sure that the Minister knows that this is copied from the SNP amendment in the Commons. One may talk about umpteen different proportional systems—and no electoral system is perfect, of course—but there is a choice to be made, putting it simply, between the Irish and the Scottish and Welsh systems. I prefer the Irish, but I think it would be appropriate to have some consultation among parties before a decision was finally taken. The point that a number of us have been making throughout the Bill is that, on constitutional matters such as this, it would be appropriate to aim for some consensus among the parties, rather than have each party—as in our aggressive two-party system—changing the rules to favour itself.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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The noble Lord has completely failed to answer the core question. He has thought about this amendment and tabled it, it is here on the list and in it he says:

“The simple majority system must not be used for any Parliamentary general election after the end of the period of six months beginning on the day on which this Act is passed.”


Who knows when the end of the Session will be, but let us say that this Act is fortunate enough to get on to the statute book, that means that for any election in 2023 or 2024, we would not be allowed to use first past the post—if your Lordships agreed to the amendment that the Liberal Democrats have put before the Committee, supported by the Green group—but would have to flounder around to find some other system, which the noble Lord will not specify, which would have a mean average Gallagher proportionality index of less than 10.

I am accused—the Government are accused—of coming to this Dispatch Box arguing for first past the post, which people understand, while the people on the other side come forward with a kind of canard of nonsense, such as in the noble Lord’s amendment. We are also asked for citizens’ assemblies, but I can only repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott said, with much greater eloquence than mine, that we did have a big citizens’ assembly of nearly 20 million people who decided this in 2011.

I am not convinced by the arguments that I have heard on proportional representation; I do not believe that this is the appropriate Bill in which to try to change our system from first past the post within six months, as is proposed. But, returning to the core of the question, I do believe that it is reasonable to have a simpler system than the system that proved so confusing and led to so many wasted votes in the London elections and that we should go for first past the post, as the Government have maintained very clearly. I ask the House to reject the amendments that have been tabled.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not want to get into any discussion at all about what sort of electoral system is best because, to me, that is not what this clause is about. It is about changing the system without any consultation at all. Much of this Bill has had no consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny. Our concern—my big concern—is that lack of consultation, working with local people about the proposals. With the changes to the mayoral system and the PCCs, but the mayoral system in particular, it is extremely disappointing that the Government decided to bring these in—very, very late and after they had been told originally that it was out of scope. That, to me, is the big problem with Clause 11. I am disappointed that the Minister did not address my concerns around the fact that it was disrespectful to the House and that an Elections Bill should have more consideration.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I am sorry that the noble Baroness—for whom I have the greatest possible respect, as she knows—feels that way. The House of Commons did not seem to regard it as disrespectful. I have submitted that there is nothing novel or unusual about first past the post. It is not one of the kinds of systems that is suggested. The Government have made it clear to the electorate that they wish to maintain and support first past the post. We have an Elections Bill, we have the evidence of the difficulties caused in the London mayoral elections, and I think it is reasonable for the Government to seek to address that. Others may have different opinions, but I think Parliament would be remiss in not considering whether there is a better system than that which led to hundreds of thousands of wasted votes in the London elections last spring.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I have the greatest respect for the Minister but—with the greatest respect—that really did not address the issue. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Well, there you go. I am still below the average age—just. The important point is that they are not mutually exclusive. This is about how we encourage people to participate in democracy and, as the noble Lord said, participation is not simply about voting. We want people to properly engage in civic society. That includes other groups which campaign and organise, because that is what influences our politics. Young people are certainly doing that, which is why we are very strongly in favour of this.

Of course, we have the evidence. Scotland and Wales now have a lower voting age, but they are not the only places. The Isle of Man and Jersey have it, as do Guernsey, Brazil and Austria, and it applies to some elections in Germany, Malta and Norway. There is strong evidence of how it can encourage participation and build this in, because when people start voting at a young age, they continue to vote. That is a really important point.

Picking up the point that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made, the noble Baroness, Lady Davidson of Lundin Links, changed her mind through her experience in the referendum campaign. I read an article that she wrote for the Tory Reform Group as a consequence of that experience in 2016. She said:

“Those in favour of the status quo argue that while the referendum offered a clear, unambiguous choice, parliamentary elections present a more muddied, multi-layered decision which require a more mature electorate.


But having watched and debated in front of 16 and 17-year-olds throughout the referendum, I have found myself unable to agree. My position has changed. We deem 16-year-olds adult enough to join the army, to have sex, get married, leave home and work full-time. The evidence of the referendum suggests that, clearly, they are old enough to vote too.”


I agree with her. We should do this.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I fear I cannot accept these amendments, although, having been mildly disobliging on the previous group about those against first past the post, I will open with an area of agreement. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, my noble friend Lord Lexden and the party opposite that we must do more—as much as we can—to engage young people in civic education and understanding what it is to be a future citizen. We are also having other discussions on trying, we hope, to persuade more young people to vote. There is strong agreement there.

We cannot accept these amendments because the Government, having reflected on the matter, simply do not believe that a reduction to 16 is the correct course. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts made a very strong speech on this. There are many difficult questions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, about what constitutes full adulthood, which society has to wrestle with. We think, in common with most countries in the world—although not, I acknowledge, the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales—that the current position is correct.

We made that very clear to the electorate; we were not trying to hide it, because it was and is a subject of discussion between the parties. We have been criticised for our manifesto not being clear, but it was absolutely clear on this point:

“We will maintain the voting age at 18—the age at which one gains full citizenship.”


That was very explicitly stated. You may not agree with that, but it is the position. I hope the Committee will respect that. Eighteen is widely recognised in the vast majority of democratic countries as the right age at which to enfranchise young people.

There are difficulties. For example, the very radical proposal by the Liberal Democrats to legalise cannabis was not for people below 18 because they were not mature before that age. In 2010, the party opposite raised the age for using sunbeds to 18. Other examples have been given on some more fundamental and difficult questions of peace and war. With respect to the arguments I have heard, the Government believe that the settled, present position is correct, in common with most other democratic countries.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond’s amendment seeks to lower the voting age to 16 and 17 year-olds by linking the franchise to taxation. I fear I must disappoint him; taxation has never been the basis of democratic representation in this country. For example, an American citizen of voting age who works and pays taxes in the United Kingdom does not have the right to vote in parliamentary elections simply by virtue of tax. However, a British citizen of voting age who pays no income tax, such as a student, rightly retains the right to vote, as do those earning less than the tax-free allowance. In council tax there is a class S exemption—I think it is called that; it was in my day—for households of 16 and 17 year-olds precisely so that they should not pay council tax. The mixing of taxation and voting rights raises difficult problems. It would also potentially disfranchise people who could, for a range of reasons, be unable to work or find work or who may be working but not earning enough to pay taxes.

With respect to those who have a different opinion, the Government have reflected on this. Engagement is important; I was very proud when I was leader of a local authority—I know many other local authorities do the same—of the UK Youth Parliament and youth engagement through schools. I have similar recollections to the noble Lord opposite. These things are important. Let us work together across parties to try to do that, but I cannot recommend that the House adopts this principle in the Bill. I forecast to the Committee that, if it were proposed, because it was a manifesto commitment by the Government to maintain the present position, it would not find favour in the other place. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, in withdrawing this amendment, I point out that, if we are saying that there is a problem—which the Minister has admitted, but has said that this is not the answer—then the question of how we manage to get more young people on the register, which we will come to on automatic voter registration, is important. The very near collapse of citizenship education in our state schools is an urgent matter, which we should all address on a cross-party basis. I look forward to the Minister returning to that. I hope he will take back to his colleagues in the Department for Education how important many of us feel this to be.

I merely remark to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that the extensive coverage in this Bill of the extension of overseas voting is there because Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservatives Abroad and the Conservative Party’s international office decided that this would be to the Conservatives’ advantage. Surveys in the mid-2000s suggested that 68% of those voting overseas were voting for the Conservative Party. I was suggesting earlier that a little bit of balance and cross-party agreement on how one extends the electorate might be desirable. Sadly, I do not think this Government are in the mood for that. That is one of the many things I regret about the way this Bill has been introduced and is being handled. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.