Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill [HL] Debate

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Baroness Kidron

Main Page: Baroness Kidron (Crossbench - Life peer)

Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill [HL]

Baroness Kidron Excerpts
Friday 28th January 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Kidron Portrait Baroness Kidron (CB)
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My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I am sitting here wondering whether I would have stayed on at school to the sixth form if there had been a polling station. It might have ignited my interest a little more than education did.

I rise to make a couple of points and to support the noble Lord in his tireless attempt to get the vote for 16 and 17 year-olds. For the past two decades, I have had the privilege to spend time with many young people, first as the founder of Into Film, which runs thousands of film clubs across the UK in state schools, and now as chair of the 5Rights Foundation, which seeks to build the digital world that young people deserve. From this front-row position, I have repeatedly observed that in the political arena children are often spoken about but seldom heard, and that when it comes to investing money or political capital the interests of the young are woefully underrepresented.

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says:

“States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

That is why the working group on General Comment 25 on the relevance of children’s rights in the digital world, which I was lucky enough to chair, decided to undertake a global consultation with young people as part of our process. Colleagues from the University of Western Australia organised workshops with local partners that involved more than 1,000 children in 28 countries. The inclusion of children at this scale was unprecedented in the writing of a UN treaty, but when last year the General Comment was formally adopted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child it was not only widely embraced as a ground-breaking document in relation to the digital world but celebrated because, in spite of the fact that treaty documents are not known for their poetry, it vibrated with the lived experience and views of children from Kigali to Berlin, Karachi to Boston and beyond.

As an interesting aside, it was notable that there was greater consensus among our young contributors about the needs, values and practical application of children’s rights in the digital world than there was among the global community of experts and politicians. Any world in which young people already had a voice would have already seen the passage of the much-delayed online safety Bill, the introduction of age assurance, which we discussed this morning, and fair taxation of the tech sector.

Part two of Article 12 states that

“the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”

But the reality of the current political process is that the preoccupations of those with votes to bestow become the preoccupations of the political marketplace in which votes are spent. As a result, we fail to represent the young. They have the worst employment rates, are paid less for their labour and have become burdened with debt for their education. Even in this period of eye-watering public spending of £400 billion to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, children and young people, who have suffered disproportionately and in ways that they may never recover from, have got a truly paltry settlement.

Again, we have consigned them to be poorer, to live at home for longer, to pay more for what we all took for granted and to look forward to bearing greater responsibilities for looking after the old—while leaving them the unpaid cheque. While we ask this under-represented group to suffer the consequences of decisions that older populations make in their own interests, we also demand that they make life-defining choices and show adult behaviours before the age at which they can vote: choices that tacitly require investment in a future over which they have no purchase. In doing so, we demand high levels of those same qualities that we doubt they own: those of maturity, commitment and wisdom.

My experience is that young people display wisdom, energy and foresight in copious quantities—but anyway, the right to vote is not contingent on maturity or wisdom. If it were, many of us adults might be considered unfit. Voting well or correctly is not a consideration here, but having a voice in the present and the future is. The arguments about introducing an unfit cadre into the electoral equation sound suspiciously like other arguments for exclusion made at other times about other groups.

The question that we need to answer is not about their suitability but about ours. We have allowed a crisis to develop—a lack of engagement and faith in the political process that threatens its legitimacy. We have failed to deal with many of the most intractable issues of the day, and we have left for the next generation a multitude of fiscal, environmental and political debts. Lowering the voting age is not a question of our altruism. It is about recalibrating power and ensuring that the long-term interests of the young form part of the political marketplace in which they can spend their votes.