Thank you for that helpful assertion, Madam Deputy Speaker.
In my maiden speech, I felt the importance of contributing in the Chamber, but this is the first time I have felt a great weight of responsibility on my shoulders. That is not because of the grandeur and the status of this place, but because the subject of my private Member’s Bill—votes at 16—has been selected by Oldham youth council. I am pleased to say that members of the youth council are here in the Gallery today. I am very proud of the town where I live and that I now represent in Parliament, and the Oldham youth council make me extremely proud of the young people who are growing up in our town. If anyone believes that young people do not have political views, that they are not well-informed or that they have not educated themselves about the issues of the day, I urge that person to contact their local youth council and get their own education.
Our democracy and our franchise have always evolved. Two hundred years ago, working men and women marched to Peterloo, demanding the right to vote. Next year, we will reflect on 100 years of women’s suffrage—100 years since women were first given the right to vote. Less than 50 years ago, 18, 19 and 20-year-olds were still denied the right to vote. Our franchise has always been in evolution, and we have always had to take into account the mood of the public. Importantly, the evolution of our franchise has always been about expanding democracy to make it as inclusive as possible, so that it is not an exclusive club in which power is held by the few.
There are different approaches to that. I would respect it if the Government said, “We have heard the debate, we have taken into account the points that have been made and we have seen the evidence base, but ultimately we have arrived at a different conclusion.” I would respect that. I do not respect the Government working in the shadows, scared of having a parliamentary vote because they know they cannot win it. The Government are not in charge; they are weak and cannot even control their own Members.
I pay tribute to Government Members who have listened to the debate held by our young people who want a voice in our democracy. Shame on the Members who have not pushed for that in their own party. At a time when we have the weakest Prime Minister in generations and when the Cabinet is in shambles, Back Benchers could have stood up and moved this issue on with the Government of the day, but they think it is far better to stay in position and hope that at some point the greasy pole will be theirs to climb. I hope that it is and that they get their just reward for acting in the way they have.
In the Labour party, we are confident in our policies, and in our arguments. We believe that the best way to win an argument is to go and speak to people— to convince, inform and hear back—and, if need be, to change position.