Local Government Electoral Reform

Feb 28, 2018 | Articles, Assembly Business, Uncategorised | 0 comments

Plenary 28th February 2018

13:45
Watch on Senedd TV
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Diolch, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. I wanted to ask a couple of questions, if I may, relating to your recent statement on reforming local government electoral arrangements in Wales. One of your proposed reforms is to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. One of the arguments that has been used recently in support of that move is the principle of no taxation without representation, but I note that 16 and 17-year-olds aren’t actually supposed to pay council tax, and figures from HMRC for 2014-15 suggest that only around 15 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds pay any income tax. So, I think it’s a laudable aim to extend the vote, but I wonder: is there an argument that perhaps we could extend the vote to some 16 and 17-year-olds but perhaps it might be extended to those who are actually paying tax?

Alun Davies AM

Alun Davies AM

Title: Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services Party: Welsh Labour

I’m not entirely sure of the point that the Member seeks to make, but I will say to him that the decision to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in local elections—and I hope the National Assembly will follow in due course—is that we’re talking about extending and deepening a franchise to enable people throughout our communities to play an active role in taking decisions upon the future of those communities. It is the view of this Government, and I think of people on most sides of this Chamber, that 16 and 17-year-olds certainly should have the capacity to be engaged in political debate and discussion, and should have the ability to vote and take part in decisions that will affect them and their friends’, neighbours’ and families’ lives. I think we are in a process of renewal and change at the moment. I’m looking at extending the franchise in order to enable us to hold local elections on the new franchise, which will also seek, of course, to ensure that all foreign nationals who are resident and living in our communities will also have the vote.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, I’m aware of those proposals as well. If I can restrict these questions to the 16 and 17-year-olds issue for the time being, another perhaps related point is that we have in this Assembly recently passed legislation that in effect banned 16 and 17-year-olds from being able to use sunbeds or to get a tongue piercing. We in UKIP supported those pieces of Government legislation. If you’re now saying that 16 and 17-year-olds should have an automatic right to vote, so they are able to exercise political judgment, but at the same time they’re not able to exercise judgment over issues like using sunbeds or getting a tongue piercing, does that not present an anomaly? Can you see that the electorate may see that there is a certain incongruity about the attitudes that are coming from the Welsh Government with those two seemingly conflicting attitudes?

Alun Davies AM

Alun Davies AM

Title: Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services Party: Welsh Labour

I think most people are aware that reaching the age of majority for different parts of social activity, whatever it happens to be, may happen at a slightly different age for different issues, and we’re aware of that. A 16-year-old may be able to vote but they won’t be able to drive. We’re aware of these issues.

What I’m looking at doing is doing something slightly different, and that is to invest in more cohesive communities, where people feel enfranchised and able to play a full part in ensuring that people have not just the right to vote and the ability to exercise that vote but also, of course, the knowledge and the capacity to be able to participate in political conversations and political debate about the future of those communities. I hope that we’ll be able to go further and ensure that we then extend the ability to vote in all sorts of different ways, from electronic voting through to voting on different days, and ensuring that people, whoever they happen to be in our communities in Wales, are able to play a full part in determining the future of those communities.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, you raised the important point there that people need the knowledge. If you’re going to give them the responsibility of voting, they need the knowledge, and I think that that is a crucial point. Now, you said in your statement that:

‘Within schools, the active citizenship theme of personal and social education will provide young people with an understanding of politics and the right to vote.’

That’s the end of your quote. Now, it has been raised recently by young campaigners—who actually support what you’re doing and who actually want the vote to be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds—that many of them feel that what they have in schools at the moment in the active citizenship theme, which you alluded to, isn’t actually sufficient to give them that political knowledge. So, I wondered were you seeking to change that element of the national curriculum in Wales, working with the education Minister, or does your statement actually indicate that you think that the education system at the moment does provide 16 and 17-year-olds with that knowledge?

Alun Davies AM

Alun Davies AM

Title: Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services Party: Welsh Labour

The Member will be aware that we are refreshing the curriculum in its entirety at the moment. Can I say this? I do remember the Member giving a media interview during the election campaign where he said that he never canvassed, never knocked on people’s doors, because he saw it as a terrible intrusion upon their lives. I would suggest that the Member does knock on some doors and does talk to people who he seeks to represent. Were he to do that, he would find some very engaged 16 and 17-year-olds—young people who want to play a part in shaping the future of their communities, young people who have both the knowledge and the vision for what they want to see in the future. So, I wouldn’t take quite the view that he takes, but I do accept that we do need to ensure that through a curriculum refresh we do ensure that these matters are fully covered in the curriculum. But I’ve got far more faith in 16 and 17-year-olds than, perhaps, the Member for UKIP.