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Mr. Hughes: You may look perturbed, Mr. Winterton, but the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) said that that is a relief. The opportunity for biographical descriptions may come to him at any moment in a Committee, and we look forward to what may be sufficiently later in his life for it not to cause him any trouble now.

It seems to me that the law would benefit from a bit of revision in this area. On occasions we may not have realised the consequences of the legislation that we have introduced. Whether we like it or not, many rights come at 16, and I shall explain why I think that 16-year-olds should be given one of the most important rights.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is making a scintillating speech. Knowing him, I feel sure that the amendment is motivated by high principle and not by any grubby popularism. Given that he is a fervent admirer of the European Union, can he tell the Committee in which member state, if any, people are entitled to vote at the age of 16?

Hon. Members: Norway!

Mr. Hughes: As far as I know, the answer is none--not even in Norway, unless Norway legislated yesterday. My speech has not been heard there--I shall remember to take it to the folketing when I next visit.

This country was one of the first to allow people to vote at 18. We do not necessarily have to wait for others to do something, or to be the last to do it. An increasing number of other countries allow voting at 16, although they are not European Union countries.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): This is not intended as a light-hearted point, but the hon. Gentleman is making an interesting argument for the right to vote at 16 and I wondered whether he recalls the 1960s song "Eve of Destruction" by Barry Maguire, which came out during the Vietnam war and contained the line:

Mr. Hughes: There is the rub. Some very important rights come at the age of 16: 16-year-olds can marry, have children, fight, work and pay taxes. They are old enough to kill and to pay tax. Colleagues may anticipate my next point, because the argument about no taxation without representation is the obvious consequence of that.

5.45 pm

Despite the Government's intention to retain them in education or training, many young people want to go out and work. I think that when young people are faced with choices between education and work, and between work

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and joining the armed services, they should be allowed to influence the policies that determine those choices and affect their citizenship.

There is another supremely important point, as well as the taxation and representation point. If we as a Parliament are involved in decisions to commit our armed services to going to war--although that may not require parliamentary approval--there is a strong case for allowing those whom we are committing a say in those decisions.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to "clean up" the legislation. People are allowed to view R-rated films at the age of 18; does the hon. Gentleman wish to lower that to 16? As for no taxation without representation--or no taxation without the ability to vote--a seven-year-old buying sweets will pay value added tax. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the payment of tax by seven-year-olds should therefore be the rule?

Mr. Hughes: Everything that is sold is subject to indirect tax.

Mr. Evans: It is still tax.

Mr. Hughes: It is, but it is not a personal tax in the sense in which income tax is a personal tax.

I have not given much thought to the question of films, but in a way the hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. There is a range of legislation relating to the age of consent which the Home Office should consider.

Attitudes change; society changes. In earlier centuries, people--monarchs as well as subjects--married at 11, 12 or 13 and had children. That was considered entirely legitimate and normal. Things have moved on, however: subjects have become citizens, and we have more democracy. We should continually re-examine issues such as this. Liberal Democrats, with the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, have concluded that it is time for us to think of making progress.

Mr. Grieve: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: I will give way once more; then I want to make some final substantive points.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman said that he did not think taxation on expenditure was in the same category as personal taxation. If someone is fortunate enough to be left money by a grandfather at the age of seven and it is put in trust, it will be liable to tax. The person concerned will be directly affected by that tax in exactly the same way as someone over the age of 18 but will have no voting rights. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that voting rights should be extended to people of that age.

Mr. Hughes: No, I am not, but a number of serious issues are involved. Matters that the House has considered before should be put on the agenda again. The Government are taking a sensible and positive attitude; I compliment them on that, and hope that the Committee will join me, but there are wider issues to be considered.

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In my constituency, we are currently trying to involve the community in part of Rotherhithe in deciding the location of new play and sports facilities for young people. There is considerable local debate about whether voting rights should be given to those over 18, those who are householders or those who are over 11--who will be using the football pitch and the play areas. There are similar issues involving communities elsewhere in the country.

Here, we are discussing the national Parliament, local government, Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the European Parliament. I believe that we should lower the voting age from 18 to 16, not lightly, ill advisedly or wantonly--to use a phrase from elsewhere--but because we feel that the time has come to do so. If the Minister says that the Government are willing to put the issue on the agenda even more formally, that will be a step forward.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: I will give way one more time; then I really must finished my speech.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman seems to consider the fact that many 16-year-olds work and pay taxes to be a good reason for giving them the vote. Does he accept the logical corollary, which is that as an increasing proportion of 16-year-olds are not in work but are in full-time education or training, the strength of his argument correspondingly decreases?

Mr. Hughes: No, I do not accept that. This is a topical time to raise that point. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that one of the issues that was important for us at the election was a commitment against tuition fees. That isa huge issue among the student community. It is controversial in Scotland, where it is being debated at the moment. Young people, whether in work or education, are directly affected by our decisions. For those in education, policies on who should pay for education, whether they have grants or loans, whether the money is repayable, whether there is a graduate tax and whether there are tuition fees are all important matters. Those young people do not pay tax in the same way as those who are in work, although they are liable--increasing numbers of students do weekend or holiday jobs to pull in the money to keep them through their time as students--but that does not mean that they are less likely to be interested in and affected by decisions of Parliament.

I have given some important reasons, but the key reason why the Government should consider my proposition is that we are trying to engage young people in the political process. The Government have said that they want to do that. The people of this country are apathetic when it comes to voting. Young people vote less than any other category; older people vote more. Many young people say that they do not think that we represent them. The hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward) is currently the youngest Member of Parliament.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): No; it is my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie).

Mr. Hughes: I beg the hon. Lady's pardon and that of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), who is the

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youngest Member of Parliament. The hon. Lady is the youngest woman. They have on their shoulders the responsibility of trying to represent all those youngerthan themselves--a responsibility that various Liberal Democrats have had before, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) and David Steel. Young people ask them to put their views because they are the youngest people in Parliament. The youngest ever Member of Parliament was 21. I know from my constituency experience that lots of young people feel that we do not represent them. We do not sound like them or look like them. When they start being interested when they do civics, politics, social studies or citizenship at school, they cannot engage.

On new year's eve last year, Paul Waugh wrote an interesting and informed piece in The Independent entitled "Vote at 16 to be considered by ministers". He started:

which, for another two weeks, is this year--

    "a Representation of Young People Bill would allow the UK's 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in general and local elections."

He went on to say:

    "The cross-party move follows a new study that shows teenagers are much more interested in politics than commonly assumed, even though many are disillusioned with the main parties."

On an important party political issue, the article carries on:

    "Labour backers of the idea believe it could restore much-needed idealism to the Government's battered image and confirm Tony Blair's reputation as a ground-breaking premier."

Further on, the article says:

    "A Home Office working party on electoral law will be presented with the proposals next summer"--

that is this summer--

    "once it has concluded its current consultation on electronic voting and polling stations in supermarkets."

It continues:

    "Although Labour stands most to gain from an expanded youth vote"--

my colleagues and I disagree with that, but it is what the article says--

    "the Tories and Liberal Democrats believe under-18s could reap them electoral dividends.

    Policies such as the lower minimum wage rate and benefit restrictions for the under-18s . . . could lead to a backlash against Labour, they say."

My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) is quoted as saying:

    "The simple fact is that people under 18 feel that they are prejudiced against in grounds of age. They pay tax, can have sex and die for their country, but they can't vote."

I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether the issue is still on the Government's agenda, whether a Home Office working party will be presented with a proposal, as the article said, and whether, even if the Government cannot agree to it today, they are willing to put it on the agenda for early all-party consideration with the support of Ministers and civil servants.

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We strongly support the proposal. Young people would respond positively. It would deal with apathy in this country and would engage many people who feel alienated. We hope that the Committee thinks that it is a good idea, that the Government will give a warm response and that it will be supported by all parties.

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