Paul Tyler writes… Voter engagement and Votes at 16: progress!

Today, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee is doing something I don’t recall any other Committee doing before it. It is publishing a report in draft, and asking for public feedback before making final recommendations.

In announcing this initiative Graham Allen, the Committee’s Chair, writes, “we raise issues around re-building our political parties, their funding, conduct of MPs, how the Media can work to improve public involvement, and how we can restore a sense of excite around our democracy”. These are all clearly crucial issues for Liberal Democrats.

Despite being dominated by Labour and Conservative MPs, there are suggestions in the draft report of a fairly radical prospectus to increase participation. They even took evidence and considered the thorny matter of electoral reform but – unsurprisingly – did not agree a recommendation in this area. Specifically, they call on all parties to consider the following issues for inclusion in their 2015 manifestos:

• The civic and legal duty of all citizens to register to vote
• Registering to vote closer up to or on the day of an election
• Online voting
• Extended or weekend voting, or a public holiday for voting
• Compulsory voting
• All-postal voting
• Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds

On the last in that list, we made significant progress this week. With Liberal Democrat and Crossbencher colleagues in the Lords, I had tabled amendments to the Wales Bill suggesting that the franchise ought to be extended for Welsh Assembly elections and for any referendum on tax-raising powers. Working with Jenny Randerson, our Minister in the Wales Office, we secured a very positive response.

Of course, Liberal Democrats support Votes at 16 for all UK elections – if it were up to us we would extend the franchise comprehensively tomorrow. The Conservative Party remains formally opposed. Yet even they were unable to resist the remorseless logic of an extended franchise in a referendum in Wales, after the successful Scottish experience.

The UK Government has committed to bring forward amendments such that the Welsh Assembly can enable votes at 16 in a tax-raising referendum, if it wishes. This will reflect the precedent in Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament set the referendum franchise. There is strong cross-party (save for Conservative) support for Votes at 16 in the Assembly, so there is a very real prospect that they will use this power. Jenny Randerson was instrumental and determined in securing this agreement, which Adrian Masters, the Political Editor of ITV Wales, hailed as “a significant symbolic step for Welsh devolution and for supporters of votes for 16 year olds”. Praise indeed!

You can read the Select Committee’s full, draft report on voter engagement online here (pdf), and you have until 9th January 2014 to submit evidence via the online form. Our Lib Dem Parliamentary Committee will certainly participate. We will keep an eye on comments to see if we should reflect any LDV readers’ points in our own response.

In addition, I am hoping that the Select Committee will examine the cross-party draft Bill (pdf) on party funding we published in May 2013.

* Paul Tyler is the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on constitutional reform issues

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  • Votes at 16 is fine. Compulsory voting is not. Some people’s religion forbids them from voting. People who are forced into voting are not going to be an informed electorate. And as for online voting: it’s not technically possible to get it secure AND verifiable AND anonymous – I reckon verifiable would be the first to go.

  • I feel votes for 16 year olds should be implemented for elections 2020

    No for compulsion borders on stupid in my opinion what are we going to do open non voter prisons. Make Westminster more fair and people believe a vote makes a difference they will vote

    Number one biggest point the three main parties are all so close together on some points as the saying goes you can’t get a fag paper between them, what’s to vote about

    Examples Trident, Global warming and deciding for us, false promises facts on the NHS, alleged support for higher minimum wage but in five years. The list is endless who ever says compulsion is a good idea should first ask what stops voting now.

    If you then take the 4 UK nations if figures are to be believed England has less per head of the four and if you live outside of London many will feel that Westminster favour london because it’s where they spend most of the time

    This is meant as constructive look why voters don’t vote forget compulsion

  • No to compulsion.

  • Compulsion gets the relationship between voter and government entirely the wrong way round.
    Governments should be in fear of the voter. The voter (or non-voter) should not be compelled by government.

    As for the age of voters. I have never seen a suggestion that there should be an upper age limit. Why not?
    In the place where Paul Tyler works the average age is 70 (according to Paul’s recent blog on the subject of the age of members of the House of Lords) and there are plenty of people over 90. They do not worry themselves with any sort of elections there, which is why they should all be thrown out and replaced by a democratic body.

  • Dave G Fawcett 15th Nov '14 - 1:46pm

    I see nothing inherently wrong with the introduction of on-line voting as a tool to use with other forms of electoral procedure. Surely it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of modern society to develop a secure,interactive system for casting a vote. After all the banks can do it for their customers.

    For me, the big no-no would be all-postal voting. Whilst it has a place as another tool, it is perhaps easier to subvert than a good on-line system would be. We should however be looking at electronic voting at polling stations. In the end, any system is open to tampering and fraud if not policed properly.

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