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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord makes the budgetary position much clearer at the second attempt. I shall look at this matter further because I am not certain that the position is stable in the long term. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
("(3A) A person may not be appointed as an Electoral Commissioner if the person--
(a) is a member of a registered party;
(b) is an officer of a registered party or of any accounting unit of such a party;
(c) holds a relevant elective office (within the meaning of Schedule 6); or
("(6) In this section "registered party"--
(a) includes (in relation to times before the appointed day for the purposes of Part II of this Act) a party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998; and
(b) in subsection (3)(b) also includes (in relation to times before 1st April 1999) any political party.").
("( ) the age at which people may be eligible to stand for election;").
The fourth report of the Home Affairs Select Committee was debated on 7th December 1998 when I drew the House's attention to this matter. I do not rehearse all the arguments then raised, but for those noble Lords who were not present at the time I refer to paragraph 123 of the report of the Select Committee:
It is urgent for the commission to keep the issue under review. Although I am concerned particularly with the younger age limit, it should keep under review all issues as regards age. This may be an era in which anti-ageing genes mean that an upper age limit is not applicable. On the other hand, if more people, sadly, develop Alzheimer's the age limit may need to be reduced. The commission should consider and report on both ends of the spectrum. The political parties should not pay mere lip service to the wish to hear younger representatives taking part in decision-making rather than acting as observers. We encourage them to take part in political debate but do not allow them to do so in their own right. I beg to move.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I support the amendment. I have never seen the point of having a democracy in which one limits the qualifications of the people whom one elects--apart from fairly obvious limitations on people who are in prison, and so on.
There are strong reasons for limiting the qualifications of those who elect: they should have a certain maturity. Having done that, one has established the fact that one has a democracy whose electorate is capable of choice. That choice may be wrong but, if necessary, it should be allowed to choose wrongly.
Noble Lords will remember that considerable efforts were expended in seeking to limit the residential qualifications of people who were elected to various councils. I always thought that that was a very bad thing too. We should give the widest possible scope to those who wish to stand for election and are allowed to do so, while limiting the qualifications of those who elect.
I shall not rehearse all the arguments. We have heard several already. Perhaps I may call attention to a detailed article in the journal, Public Law, in 1980. The most powerful argument is the one put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley: because it extends voter choice. As a general rule, electors should be free to elect whoever they want. It is their responsibility. It is not for us to impose restrictions on them. That is a powerful case.
The arguments are different from those employed for lowering the voting age. The two do not have to be the same. If one has a differential age, it is more logical to have a higher age for voting than for standing for election to public office.
I have tremendous sympathy for the motivation underlying the amendment. I have a problem with the amendment because I am not sure that it is the best way to achieve that goal. I am not sure that the commission should consider the issue. We should grasp the nettle and bring forward a Bill to reduce the qualifying age for standing for election. We have rehearsed the arguments. I should like to see the age limit reduced rather than pass the responsibility to the commission to review the issue. Indeed, I have toyed with the idea of bringing forward a Private Member's Bill on the subject.
I welcome the amendment as a way of putting the issue on the agenda. The noble Baroness has raised the issue previously in this Chamber. I look forward, therefore, to the Government's response on the matter.
Viscount Astor: I took part in the debate in December 1998 when we discussed whether the age for standing for election should be lowered. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn--he answered for the Home Office--and I were in perfect agreement on the subject: we did not think that it was a good idea.
Lord Norton of Louth: I shall endeavour to enlighten my noble friend. The criteria on which the argument is based are completely different. With the voting age one is giving the power to all. One is saying, "You are able to exercise that vote however mature or not you are". It is a universal application. As regards standing for election, the electors make the choice. One is talking about two completely separate matters.
I have a more serious objection in principle. For a number of years we have been encouraging further education. There are forums within university systems for people to play a part in political life. I do not think that those in further education should be encouraged to rush off to stand as councillors, MPs, and so on. We should be sending the wrong message. The idea of an 18 year-old suddenly wanting to become an MP almost fills me with horror. Perhaps someone who wants to do so at 18 should be disbarred for a number of years on principle!
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